The LORD said to Abram: Leave your country, your family, and your relatives and go to the land that I will show you. I will bless you and make your descendants into a great nation. You will become famous and be a blessing to others. I will bless anyone who blesses you, but I will put a curse on anyone who puts a curse on you. Everyone on earth will be blessed because of you. Gen 12:1-3
In considering the individual nature of our relationship with God in the context of the corporate nature of the church, the example of Abram is worth considering (which is why I mentioned it). Abram live in a place and time where an individual relationship with a “god” was unheard of; there were family gods (referenced later in Genesis), and possibly local territorial gods.
What is apparent and (to me) profound in these 3 simple verses, is that God demonstrates that He:
- was more than just a rock or hunk of wood
- spoke to Abram “person to person,” thereby instituting a personal relationship with Abram
- was a “mobile” God – he was not tied to that specific geographic location
- was not a “family” God – Abram was called specifically to leave his family (although apparently that did not mean that he couldn’t bring along Sarah, Lot, etc.)
What is apparent through this and through reading the rest of the Bible, is that:
- God’s plan was to develop a new community and that intent was key to Abram’s calling
- God’s covenants with Abraham applied equally with Abraham’s family, hired help & descendants (circumcision speaks for itself)
- Those who are now in Christ are included as members of that covenant (Galatians 3)
While I’m near the subject, I would strongly encourage everyone to make a study of the covenants. Most Evangelicals – referring to the narrower class of evangelicals who distinguish themselves from “traditional” protestant churches – really don’t know much about or understand the covenants, and therefore lack an understanding of the context for their own salvation.
While God’s call and interaction with Abraham does speak of an individual relationship, it is clear that Abraham was never called to be separate from the community that God also called; in fact, for Abraham, he was the originator of the community. God’s purpose with Abraham was not distinct from his purpose for the future chosen people. Abraham’s relationship with God was personal, but not individualized, the way that we western modern/post-modern people tend to view things. God definitely knew Abraham as an individual, and it is clear from Genesis that Abraham grew in his relationship with God in a personal way. However, from what I understand of the ancient world-view, Abraham never would have understood that his personal knowledge of God did not involve his family and his community, as well. Community, for Abraham, was not an ideal; community existed, and Abraham would never have considered an existence apart from community. Although God called Abraham to be a nomad, he was not the Marlborough Man, that American icon of rugged individualism. We really come from different worlds, and we don’t understand each other.
For those of us who are post-enlightenment, Western, and most of all, American, this “other-wordly” concept of community is difficult to grasp. I have somewhat of an objective understanding of it, but I know I don’t “own” it. I am acutely aware that I don’t even understand community in the same way that other non-western cultures do, much less some ancient culture. But, I’ll continue to think about it and write on this topic and who knows – I may even have a revelation.