The people of God, the worshipping community, as ‘new creation in Christ’

This post was contributed by worship leader Mike Hale.

While we are each created as unique individuals, we are also created for relationship with the Triune God, and with all creation—especially with others in the worshipping community. In his essay Baptism and the Christian Community, the late British theologian Colin Gunton described the worshipping community—the church—as being new creation in Christ by the Spirit. Gunton points to the relational aspect of the ever-changing church community, and says that to baptize a person is to bring that unique person into
"….the sphere of the Spirit’s working, into the place where his or her gift may be exercised for the glory of God. The Spirit is the Spirit who creates the community of the Last Days, that worshiping body that is brought into the presence of the Father in the Son and by the Spirit."

"Baptism, therefore, brings persons into relation with that community, so that they are now by means of a sacramental action brought within a new pattern of relationships….that are what they are by virtue of their derivation from and orientation to the Triune God. This is surely the point of Paul’s “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).

"I do not believe that this refers to some invisible inner change or (as in some forms of pietism) an instant transformation in the individual brought about by conversion. Indeed, it is not meant individualistically at all. By “in Christ” Paul means nothing other than in membership of the body of Christ, the church. There is, indeed, a new creation because of the addition to the community of…some unique and particular person."

"By virtue of the addition of a new member, the church is by each baptism reconstituted. That is the new creation of which Paul speaks. By virtue of its relationship to Abraham, it is the same church: the one historical people of God called and elected to praise him on earth. But it is also a different church, for the addition of a unique person to its membership means that new patters of relationships, and therefore a new reality, have come to be. If that reality does not include our children and young people, then our notion of community and of the way God works toward and through it is indeed an impoverished one." (p. 107)

"Baptism has [often] been treated as a rite dispensed to the individual by an institution, rather than as the means by which the person enters a new sphere of relationships which, by virtue of the new member, are themselves changed….One of the ways in which we may enable our own society to emerge from the stranglehold of individualism is in developing, under the gospel, forms of life in which each person is accorded that uniqueness that is the gift of the existence in true community. In that way the church may be, as Calvin taught that it should, the sacrament of society: a living reminder to society of its true nature." (p. 108)
Gunton’s essay is found in Incarnational Ministry: The Presence of Christ in Church, Society, and Family—Essays in Honor of Ray Anderson, (Wipf and Stock Publishers), edited by Christian Kettler and Todd Speidell. Included in the book's collection of 21 essays is The Distinctive Character of the Reformed Tradition, by Thomas F. Torrance, The Ministry of Reconciliation Today: The Realism of Grace, by James B. Torrance, and The Atonement as the Life of God in the Ministry of the Church, by Christian Kettler.