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Holiness in the 21st Century

Paradox: Corporate-Individual Salvation

This post begins a new series of posts here at Paradoxology -- posts which strike at the very heart of my blog and my fascination with the tensions and paradoxes of our faith. It's difficult to know exactly where I should begin, and so I'll post them in no particular order of importance or priority.


Pp000430sm_3Corporate-Individual Salvation


Do the ancient scriptures present salvation as purely a "personal" matter or as one impacted/influenced/determined by the relational and/or spiritual ties with ones family or community?

In Acts 16:31, Luke seems to articulate the matter in a clear, straightforward manner:

They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (NRSV)

And yet Paul, in his letter to the Philippians (2:12) puts an entirely different spin on the work of salvation:   

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; (NRSV)

So which soteriological understanding is correct?  Is salvation a purely individualistic undertaking? Or is there a corporate connection to our being saved?

I have already somewhat revealed my position on this by even suggesting that a paradox even exists here (a point, I am sure, that some will take issue with). And I'm not really looking for anyone to simply respond with "both are true" -- that's already implied by labeling this subject as paradoxical.

But I AM interested in hearing your thoughts as to:

  1. why it is important to understand salvation as both personal and corporate in nature (or not!), as well as...
  2. how we should understand these two concepts as intersecting each other?

I certainly understand that this is not the only paradox connected with soteriology.  Perhaps a more significant one lies in the tension between personal choice and divine initiative, or between the importance of faith and works.  But I'll leave both of those for another day.

Ours is undisputably an overly individualistic age -- a fact that has undoubtedly left its mark on popular views concerning salvation in recent centuries.  But how much of a mark has it left? How far have we moderns deviated from the early church's understanding of salvation?  Is our highly individualistic understanding of salvation still defendable?

I look forward to your thoughts and insights concerning this fascinating paradox.


image credit: © avisualplanet.com


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For soteriology I think that there are some paradigms that have to be pointed out first.

For Protestants: usually, salvation points to Justification and not so much to the renewal of the soul. So when they say "are you saved?" they mean have you had your sins remitted by praying and asking for entrance into the kingdom.

For Orthodox: Salvation means both. It is the finished product where the soul is renewed ad the Christian is functioning in maturity. After all how can your soul be renewed if you haven't even come to Christ?

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; (NRSV)

Contextually, Paul is not talking to the heathen or to non-believing Jews, but to Christians. So by a Protestant standard they are already "Saved" so he is talking about the renewal of their souls and Justification in an Orthodox manner.

Here is a great Orthodox quote, "you can go to Hell alone, but we are all going to Heaven together". I forgot who said it, but its still true.

From a RC Juridical and Arminian viewpoint you are convicted and found guilty of sin as an individual even though you are being accused as a sinner based on the dismerits of Adam. But you are found innocent of those merits of another man, Jesus. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

The problem with the juridical/Arminian view is that it is entirely individualistic and has its roots in Modernism. Unfortunately, modern Protestants have forgotten their more noble roots. Older protestants understood that the OT wasn't irrelevant. This the old Prot chestnut, "the OT is the NT contained, the NT is the OT explained". in the OT it was clear that salvation is corporate. This is why God says "you are my people and I am your God", and "All of you be Holy because I am Holy". Even the whole nation of Israel crossed the Red sea together and the Jordan together. Paul uses these as types of Baptism.

Moses says "you saw all these thing happen to you" to Israelites who were the descendents of the people who were delivered from Egypt. In the Rabbinical mind they viewed that they were in their fathers when they left and so they were there too through reviling those events with Passover meals, and so on. Paul points out that Aarron was in Abraham when he made obesience to Melchezidek, and so in Adam all have sinned. So In Christ has a special mystical meaning, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

So the other question I think that is inherent to this is: what happened at Justification? Were your sins only remitted? Or is there an actual new creation? From an Orthodox viewpoint there is an actual new creation that the new birth begets. The in-filling of The Holy Spirit that animated Adam to begin with can now be refilled, and thats what happened on the Day of Pentecost. But this is only manifest in a real way with the renewal of the soul. This is why Jesus says unless you hate your life(soul) you cannot have the divine life of God. And its why Paul says "be transformed by the renewing of your mind".

Ultimately, I disagree with Desert pastor in that individual and Corporate Salvation are not paradoxic. You must come to Christ, and then we are all together once you have been granted entrance. This is why the 2 greatest commandments address this: "Hear ye old Israel, the Lord God is One, therefore Love the Lord with all your mind, your soul and your strength (individual),and the second is in the likeness of the First. Love your neighbor as yourself (plural)". the second is like the first because the Lord is One (trinity), and because we must bear each others burdens to manifest our ontological unity with God - The community of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. how can you even have holiness without love?

"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

I believe a key to many of the Oozers personal problems is that they are seeking after themselves to try to alchemically transform themselves with Spiritual/Bible knolege or to justify their own current ideas. And they are not seeking to obtain the knolege of the Oneness of the Trinity by bearing the burdens of fellow Christians. When Charity is paramount, then you will see the Spirit act!

We must all have soteriology on the brain. I posted on the subject today, here. But, I'll have to give some more thought to your specific questions before responding.

I do not see individual and corporate salvation as paradox. Maybe, a tension but not necessarily a paradox. It becomes a paradox when either is overemphasized in the extreme.

Another crucial issue in this discussion is the nature of sin. If I, myself, and I alone sin, then it is I that needs to be saved. But what about corporate sin? What about systemic sin? Doesn't the individual bear responsibility for systemic sin? (Example - Amercian Health Care system, which is sin full.) Hosea 4:3 gives a picture that sin of the people even causes the land to mourn including all the animals that live within it.

There are also numerous biblical examples of corporate households that were "saved" because the head of the household made a choice.

Yes, I believe in the freedom of our will to choose but time and time again we see and hear of examples where a host of factors (especially relationships) have influenced in ways that may or may not be readily apparent. We do not live in a vacuum of isolation. Did I choose to follow Jesus? Sure, but I couldn't possibly have chosen this apart from the drawing power of God and the influence of cultural, communal, family, and who knows what else including family members that died decades before I was born. There is a mystery at work here.

As far as the Phil. passage, is this passage and even this book really about salvation? Perhaps that verse is really about having the convictions to continue to do what they have been taught (as a community) to do? One could easily say that the "own salvation" is of the corporate (this one or singular) body (not individual) since they are Paul's "beloved."

Overall, in American evangelicalism have made a "personal savior" into an individual savior, which I am becoming more and more convinced is a current heresy (which is probably the equivalent to a four-letter word in some circles).

On a last note... Chris, it seems coming from a holiness tradition myself, that there is a paradox with salvation and sanctification in that is it really possible to be "saved" without being "sanctified." I look forward to hearing what conference discussions that you will share.
In Christ,

On a last note... Chris, it seems coming from a holiness tradition myself, that there is a paradox with salvation and sanctification in that is it really possible to be "saved" without being "sanctified."

I think from a Holyness standpoint Holyness people are looking for a singular event when you are sanctified by the Spirit in that an enormous event happens that transforms you so that you dont sin anymore. But from an Orthodox standpoint you have to attinuate yourself through prayer, meditation, study, and right living to be able to understand what God is already doing in you and has already done. And to be able to listen to the Spirit.

But I think Mark brought up a lot of great points about the effects of Sin. and sins effects on the group.

I think overall he did very well to bring it up in the way he did. Although the American Health care system or any other system cannot sin because it doesnt have a soul. Only its plutarchs can use it to sin. I wont take time to write about other health systems, since they cannot be saved.

HI Chris,
I recently posted a Complex Systems model on salvation to my blog. Check it out and let me know what you think. http://frmattmirabile.blogspot.com/


"Complex Systems model on salvation "

Sounds kinda scary. ;)

Fr. Matt, are you referring to this article:


Yep. I thought it had some bearing on the topic since it is meant to depict how salvation is incomplete without the contexts of the ecclesiastical structures and relationships. However, I'm aware that this is a totally new way of conceptualising. Most people have no idea what Complex Adaptive Systems are, and moreso how that could possbily be applied to theology. It is stuff I have been writing on privately for a while, my own little rabbit trail.

Through my studies at Bible College is the first time I have come to hear about the term corporate salvation. There does seem to be a Paradox on this subject. As you read through the Psalms like Psams 71:4 "Deliver me, O my God out of the hands of the wicked". Note O my God the writer of this Psalm uses personal pronoun "my God" SO we can say that Individual people in the Bible did have a personal relationship with God. Even in worship Psalm 63:1 "O God, You ae my God; early will I seek you". So in the light of this there is personal salvation and Corporate salvation. There can be much more said on this like in Joshua where he challenged the people to chose who you are going to serve, but me and my house we are going to serve God. So that verse can be also read in both ways as Corporate or personal.

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