Several problems exist within the context of the question, “Why can the church not be thought of as merely like-minded individuals voluntarily coming together for the purpose of worship?” The first apparent fault lies in the word “like-minded.” Not only should believers be like-minded, but united in heart and purpose as well. A follower of Christ must not merely see through the lens of individuality, but understand the body of Christ is corporate.
Applying the nature of the Trinitarian God, according to Dr. Peter Althouse in his lecture on the Doctrine of the Trinity, we would be making a fundamental error if we equated God as three individuals to God as three persons. If the idea of ‘individuals’ is better removed from a Trinitarian mindset concerning the essence of God, so should ‘individuals’ be taken out of the church relational infrastructure. As Dr. Althouse suggests, church, as a corporate gathering of persons, should not be seen as a hub of independence as compared to an identity defined by a community dependent on its interconnections and networks. Since the modern notion of free will has become culturally synonymous to the individual, associating the nature of the individual to the ecclesiology of the church would misrepresent God’s intended purpose for the gathering of saints. Furthermore, if the church’s role is diminished to a volunteer opportunity or as the cultural thing to do, the gathering of any fellowship will lose sight on the significance of amalgamating koinonia with worship, and the holy effectiveness produced when worship precedes community. Without hearts fused together for the ultimate goal of experiencing God and His manifested presence, church is reduced to the status of social club or volunteer program.
Subsequent to confessing the existence of God is the acknowledgement of the Trinitarian God: the Godhead, three in one – Father, Spirit, and Son. A tri-unity of God, as Van Gelder asserts in The Essence of the Church, sheds light on how the social nature of the church should be in reference to the social community of the Trinity. The tri-unity complies with the relational aspects of God; thus, the Trinity offers a relational template for the social community component of the church. In addition to the Godhead serving as a marker in viewing the church as a social community, other focuses emerge such as the reality of the church associated to the being-ness of God and the roles of the Father, Son, and Spirit relative to creation and re-creation, as Van Gelder notes on page 35. In essence, the three persons within the Godhead provide the highest representation for human community.
Understanding the greatest fellowship of all can invigorate a community of faith in the body of Christ, especially in light of these final days before Christ’s second coming. The social ramifications influenced by a Triune God can move believers in ways that could only come in the context of community. If several gather together to confess and worship in truth in a corporate setting, faith among the body will be enhanced from person to person. For one to know God cannot come without a relationship. The existence of God itself testifies to the ongoing relationship He has with the church and the individuals within. So what God imparts in a relationship with one His children can be shared communally so that multiple hearts can be refreshed and enlightened. By analyzing such a brief example, we can see how the glory of God can be made known relationally, which thus fuels the church, as a community of faith and as the body of Christ. The church, with the anticipation of consummation, must live and operate in the Spirit at all times so the Triune God relationship mirrors the way in which believers gather with one another, depicting a corporate relationship with God opposed to an individual relationship.