As we consider both the ecclesiastical and the social implications of the doctrine of humankind for the kingdom of God, we run straight into the problems caused by both individualism and collectivism.
Collectivism in ecclesiology can be seen in the more hierarchical models of church government, with the emphasis on the body governed by the bishops. On the other hand individualism can easily be seen in the free church model. Both collectivism and individualism bring with them attendant problems. Where is the priesthood of all believers reflected in the more hierarchical structures of church life? There seems to be an inbuilt clergy/laity divide which does not reflect the teaching of scripture on being the body of Christ. The potential for each member to use their gifts can so easily be lost when the individuality of the believer is lost to a structure that works top down. One does not see this problem only in the ancient church models but also in those where the church is run like a business, where the church members can be treated more like customers rather than members of the body of Christ.
On the other hand individualism so exalts individual choice that the corporate nature of the church is in danger of being lost. This can be seen when baptism is divorced from Church membership, when this happens baptism is reduced to a celebration of someones conversion rather than their incorporation into the body of Christ. This also accounts for the democratic way of administering church government. The church meeting becomes the central decision-making body where every-bodies input is sen as equal in value. The individualistic model leads to a lack of acknowledging the proper place of leadership as given in the New Testament. One sees the model of just pastor and deacons in many Baptist churches, where deacons assume the roles of both the new testament eldership and the diaconate. This leads to a lack of recognition of those called to spiritual leadership in the body.
The relational view of man as given in the Bible , leads to a more healthy emphasis because it recognizes both the importance of the communal and the individual aspects of man. The emphasis on relationship at the heart of the Christian view of man, shows us the importance of both freedom and a structure of leadership that guides that freedom. Biblical leadership is neither totalitarian nor democratic but pastoral, leadership is valued because it leads each person to play their part in the body. Many Baptists seem almost scared at any concept of authority being exercised by the leadership. It is assumed that all authority must be against the individual’s interest, I have never understood this even though I am a Baptist. Good leadership will listen to the people and try to lead them according to the word of God.
The observations made about the relational view of man above apply equally to social matters, the christian can not espouse a Capitalist philosophy similar to Adam Smith’s without contradicting the clear teaching of scripture on the other hand liberation theology is fatally flawed with its acceptance of the Marxist collectivist view of society. We need to work on the development of concepts of leadership and justice which will accord with the biblical view of man.
The challenge to us today is to be truly counter cultural and advocate a Christian view of man and work out its implications for the church,family and society generally.