the weblog of Alan Knox

Schlatter on the individual and the community

Posted by on Sep 16, 2008 in books, community | 5 comments

One of the books that I’ve had for a while but haven’t read is The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology by Adolf Schlatter. Last weekend, when I should have been reading something required for school, I found myself skimming through this book. This paragraph (and another) caught my attention:

The terms by which Paul describes God’s grace provide the personal life of the individual with its greatest escalation. The concept of guilt places the decisive event by which our relationship with God comes into being or is broken within the depth of the individual life. As the agent of justification, Christ turns to the individual as the one who gives; “he loved me an gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). The individual is granted God’s love in such greatness and glory that his Spirit moves him. He has become free. That the Pauline community doe not merely not hinder, or grudgingly overlook, or just tolerate this rich and strong emphasis on the individual life but that it rather produces it, provides it with its peculiar greatness. Only the community that truly is the community of Christ, that represents his body, that becomes god’s temple, can consist of such vigorous and free members. (286)

I like the way that Schlatter combines the individual aspects of God’s grace with the community. God offers grace to individuals, but he does not do so in a strictly individualistic sense. Thus, God’s offer of grace to the individuals drives the individual into community with others who have received God’s grace.

Beyond this, the community “provides it [individual life in the grace of God] with its peculiar greatness”. The community should not work to limit the freedom of the individual in God’s grace, but should encourage it. I think this is one place where some “Christian communities” have failed. We do not generally give people the same freedom that God has granted them or the freedom that we see communities encouraged to give people in Scripture.

Of course, with freedom comes mistakes, sin, messiness, and a host of problems for those who want pristine communities. But, for those who are interested in communities of grace-filled and grace-freed people, freedom in Christ is an absolute necessity.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that Christians have become accustomed to living in legalism, where others dictate how you act or how you talk or when you talk or what you do. When we are given freedom, we often don’t know what to do with it. We also continue to struggle with allowing others the same freedom that we’ve been given.

Do you think your community gives believers freedom? Have you ever been part of a community that tried to limit your freedom in Christ? How can our communities better encourage freedom in Christ?


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  1. 9-16-2008


    Christians who have lived in legalism, are very much like prisoners of secular justice, who,having become used to legal restraints can no have a sense of security when set free.

    Their security is in the legal bondage which constrains them.

    Secular prisoners will often deliberately offend again so that they may return to their bondage.

    Performance oriented Christians choose their legalistic bondage for the same reason that secular prisoners offend again, they need the perceived security of bondage.

    Sadly, many accept this situation without question because they have been trained to rely on the prison bars of their own performance, rather than the life and finished work of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

    What joy it is to see some who are set free, glow, grow, and become true testimonies of God’s great grace.

  2. 9-16-2008

    I could quickly answer the questions emphatically yes! and yes!

    But then I must wonder about the what sort of freedom it is that we are speaking of. Some people think freedom is doing any foolish thing that pops into their heads and sounds like it will feel good. And they feel that the Church should condone this. But to me that sounds like and felt like (when I was that person) like bondage, being a slave to sin, watching my body and spirit decay.

    So I think of verses like:

    You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

    Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.

    For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.

    If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.

    For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

    And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.

    Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling,
    And to present you faultless
    Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,
    To God our Savior,
    Who alone is wise,
    Be glory and majesty,
    Dominion and power,
    Both now and forever.

    But yes, we have been set free of the Law. To to move to an incredible freedom that makes it possible now to not just avoid murdering your brother but to become the person that no longer calls him an idiot and a fool.
    And I hope that my community loves me enough to work in Christ to help me arrive in that place, without calling me a fool in the process.

    Just thinking.

  3. 9-16-2008


    Most of the churches that I’ve been a member of have a problem with trying to control their members, and keep them in bondage. They give rules on what is acceptable. Most of the time those rules are spoken as suggestions. But, if you don’t take those suggestion as rules and live by them, you are automically kicked to the curb and not allowed to participate in the “ministry” within the church building. They try to constrain you to live within the walls of the building and convince you that this is abundant life. In reality this is nothing but bondage. This creates a denial of the individual freedom and personal mission.

    Based on what I’ve seen with others and experienced for myself, the only way to attain true community is to have a balance of individual freedom and community responsibility.

    The only way that individuals can know what to do within community is to have the personal freedom in Christ to know who they are in Christ. When you know who you are in Christ, you then know what your gifts are as a person and how to use those gifts.

    When you have personal freedom in Christ, you have had the freedom to experiment with your gifts and talents. You have also had the opporutunity to succeed and fail with what God has given you. That is the best way you can know how to help others.

    Also, when a person has freedom to be who they are, they are more willing to come along side others and help them.

    When each person is living and operating individually, fulfilling their mission within the community that is when community is at its best. Just as, when each part of an engine is working and fulfilling its individual responsibility, the engine as a whole is working in unison to come together and fulfill its collective duty or mission.

    That’s been my experience anyway.


  4. 9-16-2008


    It is much easier to live a life bound by rules and regulations. I once wrote a post called “Putting a Fence around a Tree”

    In a sermon Gunny brought up that God never told them they couldn’t touch the fruit, He told them they couldn’t eat it, but when being questioned by the serpent Eve says “we can’t even touch it”.

    This is common today, instead of don’t get drunk it is “don’t drink”. Instead of dressing modestly we say “you must wear long dresses”. Instead of saying don’t be stained by the world we say “avoid the world at all cost”.

    And as long as I have this checklist by my side me and God are good. So Law not Love dictates our relationship with God and whenver we violate the Law God doesn’t love us and as long as we keep the law God loves us. So as someone said we play dandelion Christianity.

    The fruit of it is horrible. I lived that way for years and I was always afraid that if I messed up on this one surely God will send a swift hand to my bottom to correct me. It is horrible bondage. However the fruit of the freedom we have in Christ is freedom indeed. He sets us free to love, serve, and give of ourselves, but legalism produces a Sin Management mentality and I spend all of my time maintain sin instead of doing the good works Titus and Ephesians said I was saved to do.

    Yes I was part of a Seventh Day Adventist Oneness Pentecostal Holiness Church and it has taken even up to today to free myself by trusting Christ.

  5. 9-16-2008

    Aussie John,

    I agree that many people prefer bondage. Like you said, it can be seen outside of the church as well.


    I’m going to publish another quote by Schlatter in a few days where he says that love is our ethical imperative. If we do anything that is not motivated by and does not demonstrate God’s love, then we are not living in the freedom that God provides.


    Yes, some people try to limit the freedom of others out of a desire for control. I like the way you contrasted this with freedom as coming alongside another.


    I think, regardless of a person’s background, freedom is a constant struggle. Our natural inclination is to walk in anything EXCEPT the freedom that we have in Christ. Of course, our new creation (super)natural inclination is to walk in the freedom we have in Christ.