In light of my post yesterday on the problem of isolation and individualism in our culture I offer you this short expert from Darrel Guder’s excellent book, The Continuing Conversion of the Church.  This is an older book (published in 2000), but I read this in 2001 and it single-handedly recalibrated my understanding of the nature and purpose of the church.  It is probably one of the most formative books I’ve read over the years.

The invitation to respond to the gospel, however, must naturally lead to incorporation into the community of witness.  It is clear from the New Testament that God’s Spirit forms a community of people for mission. God’s call has always formed a people, a community, within which God was known, worshiped, made known, and served. God has selected a single people out of the all the nations of the world in order to make this people a visible sign of salvation. Jesus continued this process with the formation of the disciples into a mission community. The eschatological gathering of Israel, initiated by Jesus, was continued but the post-Easter community of disciples in faithfulness to Jesus. Individual Christian existence is only possible and meaningful within such a community. The life of the community is the primary form of its witness, and it is also the equipper and supporter of each individual Christian in the practice of his or her vocation as witness of Christ. This community is, as ecclesia, called out and set apart for witness, for demonstration before the world of the presence and power of Jesus the king. We must grapple with the problems presented in the institutional church, but there can be no biblically based theology of mission and witness which does not emphasize the centrality of the “called out people” for that mission.

Darrel Guder; The Continuing Conversion of the Church, 68