In sum: “to be saved” in the Pauline view means to become part of the people of God, who by the Spirit are born into God’s family and therefore joined to one another as one body, whose gatherings in the Spirit form them into God’s temple. God is not simply saving individuals and preparing them for heaven; rather he is creating a people for his name, among whom God can dwell and who in their life together will reproduce God’s life and character in all its unity and diversity.
Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God
This passage serves as an epigraph for my epilogue to the 4th edition of Bruce Shelley’s popular work, Church History in Plain Language. Revising Shelley’s work was an honor but also a humbling undertaking. The most humbling challenge by far was the charge to offer a new conclusion to the work taking note of the remarkable growth of the church in the “Global South.” Trying to picture the changing face of Christianity in a couple of chapters was daunting; I could work for 10 years to tell the story of the faith in the last 100 years and have only begun.
I hold a modest confidence toward other revisions concerning Gnosticism and early theology, but one of the very satisfying things about the project is the epigraph. I found these words not only a faithful rendering of Paul’s teaching about the church but also fitting and prophetic when considering the church today. The awakening of Christianity around the globe has awakened my own convictions about the church. An almost pesher quality permeates my reading. Like Peter I declare “this is that” – this great global embrace of Christ is that church one sees in the New Testament.
Peter declared the Pentecost phenomena of Spirit- outpouring and tongue- speaking was that which Joel had prophesied (Acts 2); in this event the Spirit had overcome geographic, cultural, and language barriers to form his people; but so as not to miss the point, the Spirit also falls on the half- Jew in chapter 8 and the non- Jew in chapter 10. The Spirit gathers the church from across racial lines. Reconciliation requires a transforming of persons, but this transforming involves the forming of the people of God from every people and nation. Reconciliation apart from reconciliation with his people seems out of step with the Spirit’s work in the first century and in our own.