BY DR. JESSE MIRANDA
Recently I was reading in The Daily Bread, a devotional guide of millions of believers. That day’s selection mentioned that during the El Ni√±o winter storms, the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest region suffered great damage. The writer informs readers how the gale force winds leveled acres of trees; the trees that stood alone. However, the trees that grew close together had a root system that was intertwined and stood through the strong winds of the storms.
I was reminded of a major biblical idea which has all but been forgotten in recent times. That is, the idea of “the People of God.” This may appear as a term used by those who boast of some moral superiority or those who claim some preferential status in God’s Kingdom, but in reality, it is a central theme in the Bible. It is a theme that belongs among the ranks of such great biblical themes as creation, covenant, redemption, grace and faith.
UNIDOS IN HISTORY
From the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation, the People of God is a unifying theme. The idea was in the mind of Abraham on his pilgrimage to follow the promise and in the mind of John on the island of Patmos as he had a vision of the multitudes around the throne of God.
Historically, the People of God designation was reserved for the nation of Israel. The people of Israel coming out of Egypt regarded themselves as the People of God on the basis of God’s promise to Moses, “I will take you for my people, and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7). The prophets referred to it in Isaiah where it says, “I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to My people, My chosen, the people I formed for Myself that they may proclaim My praise” (Isaiah 43:20-21 NIV).
The New Testament expands on the idea of the People of God. Paul is careful to state that Israel was not rejected as God’s people (Romans 11:1-2) but informs the Romans that the gospel enabled the Gentiles to enter the People of God. During the Council in Jerusalem it was announced that God visited the Gentiles with signs and wonders “to take out of them a people” (Acts 15:12-14). The gospel became the power of God for salvation and created a new fellowship: the church.
UNIDOS AS THE CHURCH
There is a reason to portray the People of God, in biblical times and in all times, as accepting the mission to be a light to the nations and to work together to establish justice on the earth as a sacred task. Contemporary culture has led us to believe that the ideal person is the autonomous individual who stands apart from and above social structures. But this rugged individualism stands in opposition to the corporate nature, identity and destiny of the church.
The primary uniqueness of the church is that it is the People of God as the all-important defining phrase that God would indicate. In the words of Paul Minear in his book, Images of the Church in the New Testament, “First God and His purpose, then the emergence of this people as a manifestation of His purpose. The accent must be allowed to fall on the God who creates this society as His people by His choice of them.”
UNIDOS AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD
The distinctiveness of the People of God is that it is people in Christian unity and purpose. The New Testament writers used the word “ekklesia” to define the church and express the corporate nature and the interpersonal quality of its existence. The church is the People of God in general but more specifically it is the Assembly of the People of God. Paul’s usual emphasis is that of the local congregation assembled for worship and service (I Corinthians 11:18).
The People of God is an idea whose time has come. Though it is not a new idea, it is an idea that needs new appreciation. We live in a society suffering from individualism and fragmentation that is longing for wisdom regarding the problem of how to live together in community peacefully and safely. Driven by a culture of competition in a society of religious pluralism, we are desperately in need of some good news. The good news is that the People of God idea speaks of survival and solidarity, of family and community for our day. Unidos!
Dr. Jesse Miranda is associate dean of Urban and Multi-cultural Affairs at Azusa Pacific University. In addition to teaching theology in the C.P. Haggard School of Theology, he is a Promise Keepers’ board member and speaker as well as the President of the organization, A.M.E.N. (Alianza de Ministerios Evangelicos Nacionales).