Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Primary Emphasis of Scripture

One claim being made today is that the primary emphasis in Scripture is not on the individual, but on the corporate nature of the people of God. In that regard, it is interesting to hear James Bannerman, the 19th century professor of divinity at New College, Edinburgh:

"In its primary and most important aspect, indeed, the revelation of God contained in the Bible is a revelation to me individually. its discoveries of sin and announcements of judgment, its intimations of grace and its proclamations of a Savior, its offer of an atoning blood to expiate, and a regenerating Spirit to purge, transgression,--these are addressed to me individually; and if I deal with them at all, I must deal with them as if there was no other in the world except myself and God. Alone with God, I must realize the Bible as if it were a message from Him to my solitary self, singled out and separated from other men, and feeling my own individual responsibility in receiving or rejecting it.

"But the Bible does not stop there: it deals with man, not only as a solitary unit in his relation to God, but also as a member of a spiritual society, gathered together in the name of Jesus. It is not a mere system of doctrines to be believed and precepts to be observed by each individual Christian independently of others and apart from others: it is a system of doctrines and precepts, designed and adapted for a society of Christians...

"There are precepts in the Bible addressed, not to believers separately, but to believers associated together into a corporate society; there are duties that are enjoined upon the body, and not upon the members of which it is composed; there are powers assigned to the community, to which the individuals of the community are strangers; there is a government, an order, a code of laws, a system of ordinances and officers described in Scripture, which can apply to none other than a collective association of Christians. Without the existence of a Church, or of a body of believers, as contradistinguished from believers individually, very much of what is contained in the Bible would be unintelligible, and without practical application" (James Bannerman, The Church of Christ, vol. 1, p. 2).

Biblical Presbyterianism--biblical Christianity generically for that matter--recognizes and holds together the great need for individuals to "close with Christ" and to enjoy "communion with him" while also affirming that the religion of the Bible puts us together with other believers who are united to Jesus in a common body called Church. And yet, the priority, the emphasis, is on individuals' response of faith to the glorious God who has shone in their hearts with the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus.

4 comments:

Jim said...

Yes, but it does seem significant and frequently ignored in the evangelical world, that the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray is corporate.

John D. Chitty said...

It seems to be the universal problem when it comes to Christianity. We seem to be unable to walk and chew gum at the same time. The emphasis isn't either individual or corporate, but both individual and corporate. Our life begins individually, being born into a community of others with whom we are to identify and worship and serve God.

. . . not either/or -- both/and!

Anonymous said...

The Holy Trinity teaches us that the one and the many are equally ultimate, I think.

ell said...

Really useful. Thanks