Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Is Personal Salvation necessary?

Thomas Smith has a blog called Soulgardeners and has some very interesting topics which he writes about, such as Steps towards solidarity with the poor and Connecting the rich with the poor.
Thomas started a discussion under the title: Asking new questions and many people responded to this. Basically he asks whether, when trying to discover where a person is in his or her relationship with Jesus, instead of asking “have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?” we shouldn’t rather ask something like have you accepted Jesus as the world’s communal Lord and Saviour?” or “how is your communal relationship with God growing?”
From the comments left on this post and which I advise you to read, it is clear that a distinction is made between personal salvation and something more in line with communal salvation. Some people feel strongly for personal salvation while one especially focusses on our involvement with the community.
David Bosch loved to speak of “Creative Tension” and I wonder whether we couldn’t speak of some creative tension between these two concepts. Part of the distinction between the Old Testament community of faith and the New Testament church, is that those who became part of the NT Church all had come to a point of accepting the salvation through Christ as something personal. This is the story of the book of Acts. Small (and sometimes larger) numbers of people listen to the message of the apostles, believe what they say and thereby come to personal salvation. In the Old Testament people were mostly automatically considered to be part of the faith community, merely by being born as Israelites. (Prophets like Jeremiah, Micah and Amos spoke against this viewpoint, of course.)
Even when asking a question such as: “have you accepted Jesus as the world’s communal Lord and Saviour?” or “how is your communal relationship with God growing?”, we are still concentrating on the individual’s personal viewpoint of God and therefore that person’s personal relationship with God. And that, as far as I can see, is absolutely Biblical. We are not saved because our names appear on a register indicating membership of a faith community. I am saved because something extremely personal happened between God and myself through the atonement of Jesus Christ. How we formulate the question is not as important as to help a person to understand that something personal has to happen between him or her and God.
In Evangelism Explosion, with which I’m fairly involved, two questions are asked:

  • Are you sure that, if you should die today, that you will definitely go to heaven?
  • If you should die today and God should ask you for what reason you should be allowed into heaven, what would you answer Him?

This method has been criticised greatly by modern theologians and I, for one, do not consider the questions as “untouchable”. But once again, as in all the questions above, this is just an attempt to evaluate a person’s personal relationship with God. In a post-modern, Western community, I would probably, when speaking to someone about God, rather use phrases such as: Would you mind sharing with me your personal viewpoint about God? How do you understand the work of Jesus Christ? Has this in any way led to a change in your personal life? etc. (And this, of course, would be part of a much longer conversation which could take place over the course of days, weeks or months.)
The crux of the matter is that, once a person has entered into a personal relationship with Christ, that things need to start to change. That person needs to know that, although I have a personal relationship with God, I cannot keep it personal. I am part of a greater community of believers. And this group of believers exist not for their own well-being only, but exist primarily in order for God’s reign to extend into every part of the world. My personal salvation thereby has a ripple effect on community.
There is no conflict between my personal relationship with Chris and my involvement within the faith community as well as the community at large. At most, there exist a creative tension as I deliberate about my involvement as believer within the community.


Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - Posted by | Alternative Society, Church, David Bosch, Evangelism, Evangelism Explosion, Mission, Theology


  1. Great post. My original intention with the question was to articulate a question that could move us beyond a pietistic interpretation of a relationship with Jesus that is not involved with a bigger community. So much of evangelism has been reduced to only getting people saved in an individualistic sense without helping them to participate in the bigger story of the kingdom of Jesus. For me the communal includes the individual/personal relationship with Jesus.
    I sometimes wonder if our preoccupation with success (numbers of conversions) mixed with a marketing and advertising world mixed with individualism hasn’t reduced the gospel into a mono-event?
    I really like the questions you propose … Thanks for taking the time to write this down.

    Comment by Tom Smith | Tuesday, April 7, 2009 | Reply

  2. Tom, you are absolutely right with your remark about our obsession with numbers. If my focus is mainly (or even exclusively) on reporting about the number of people who had repented, then that would obviously lead to an imbalance in our approach. I’m just not convinced that changing the questions will make a difference to the end result (not even the questions or conversation I propose). People need to become part of a community of believers who see the need of getting involved in the greater community. And I fear that, if such a vision does not exist in the community of believers within which the new believer is accepted, then that person will also, as so many before him or her, focus only on personal salvation. I tried to write something about this in my post: Can a non-missional group become missional?

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, April 7, 2009 | Reply

  3. Thanks for this, Tom. Scripture has always been about communal, corporate salvation. We can see the nature of this sort of salvation taking root in Israel; or even further back, in Noah and creation/cosmos as a whole. Moreover, we could even, I daresay, date it back to the onset of creation itself, where all the world (humans, animals, nature) is integrally considered sacred, producing the emphatic conclusion by the Creator-God himself, “very good.”

    I am tired of the so-called “evangel” putting peoples feet to the cross, as if it were a partisan thing — “you are either with them, or with us. What’ll it be?” Bullshit. It is more complex than that, more parabolic and indirect; hence the preferential speech-act equipped by Jesus was, without coincidence, parables.

    Thank you for this.

    — You may want to check out my poetry..

    Comment by davidmdavid | Saturday, August 7, 2010 | Reply

  4. I have been looking in communal salvation and have some concerns. I agree that when you start with Christ and move out from there things are good, but when it replace Christ there is a problem. I know groups that focus so much on the form of what people “should” do that it becomes an idol.

    Comment by Tim McCabe | Saturday, September 4, 2010 | Reply

  5. Gotta love the bible!

    Comment by Bible Study | Saturday, October 16, 2010 | Reply

  6. Question: providing one is not a hardcore Calvinist, is one not automatically committed to the idea that, theoretically, nobody could have chosen to be saved? And also that, only a few, and perhaps only one, individual could have ever choose to be saved?

    In which case we must ask the question.. would such an individual really be saved? Or is our mutual dependency is so great that, even in heaven, this individual would not be *truly* saved as he had no community – no kingdom – in which to worship? Or if he was saved, it would at least make such a heaven not quite as good – still perfect in as much that it were free from evil, but not nevertheless not quite as joyful and amazing as it could or should have been thanks to the lack of community? What is the minimum size of ‘the kingdom’ for Heaven to be perfect? How much community do we need?

    I’d appreciate you thoughts 🙂

    Comment by john | Monday, February 11, 2013 | Reply

  7. Hebrew children in the Old Testament were born into God’s covenant, both male and female. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for boys, but the sign was not what saved them. Faith saved them. Rejecting the sign, circumcision, for boys, either by the parents or later as an adult himself, was a sign of a lack of true faith, and therefore the child was “cut off” from God’s promises as clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17:

    “Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

    What was the purpose of this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God tells us in the beginning of this chapter of Genesis:

    “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

    This covenant wasn’t just to establish a Jewish national identity or a promise of the inheritance of the land of Caanan, as some evangelicals want you to believe. In this covenant, God promises to be their God. Does God say here that he will be their God only if they make a “decision for God” when they are old enough to have the intelligence and maturity to decide for themselves? No! They are born into the covenant!

    If Jewish children grew up trusting in God and lived by faith, they then received eternal life when they died. If when they grew up, they rejected God, turned their back on God, and lived a life of willful sin, when they died, they suffered eternal damnation. Salvation was theirs to LOSE. There is no record anywhere in the Bible that Jewish children were required to make a one time “decision for God” upon reaching an “Age of Accountability” in order to be saved.

    Therefore Jewish infants who died, even before circumcision, were saved.

    The same is true today. Christian children are born into the covenant. They are saved by faith. It is not the act of baptism that saves, it is faith. The refusal to be baptized is a sign of a lack of true faith and may result in the child being “cut off” from God’s promise of eternal life, to suffer eternal damnation, as happened with the unfaithful Hebrew in the OT.

    Christ said, “He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be damned.”

    It is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of faith that damns.

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
    An orthodox Lutheran blog

    Comment by gary | Friday, September 13, 2013 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: