Answers to Questions: Community Conversion

Pastor Richard A. Conners


Question: Is it possible for a community group, like a family, tribe, household, or village to come to Christ altogether at the same occasion?

Answer: We have to be clear about what the question is asking. If we are asking if a group of people may (each) come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus at the same moment in time, at the same occasion of the proclamation of the Gospel – then the answer is, yes. Certainly, multiple people can repent and trust in the Son of God at the same point in time – even families or communities. Acts 16 gives us the occasion of the salvation of the Philippian jailer. Verse 34 tells us that the jailer believed “with his whole household” after Paul and Silas in verse 32 “spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.” So yes, it is possible for a group to be entirely converted to Christ at the same time.

However, let us recognize that for an entire group to be converted each member of the group must have a personal believing response to the Gospel message. Salvation comes through faith (by grace – Ephesians 2:8). Romans chapter 10 clearly implies salvation is based on the exercise of individual faith. Verses 9-11 reads,

“if you [singular] confess with your mouth [singular] ‘Lord Jesus’ and [you – singular] believe in your heart [singular] that God raised Him from the dead, you [singular] will be saved; for by the heart he [singular] believes into righteousness and by the mouth he [singular] professes into salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘all the ones [singular] believing upon Him [he – singular] will not be disappointed.’”

And verse 13,

“for each (one) [singular] who calls (or names) the name of the Lord, he [singular] will be saved.” (translation here is the author’s – grammatical notes in brackets, definition in parentheses)

ConversionSalvation is not communally gained; it is individually received by grace through faith. There is no Biblical evidence for people ‘getting saved’ because they are members of a tribe, family, or community where some or most of the community has embraced the Gospel. There is no such thing as a communal salvation. Yet, individuals are saved – even many at once, perhaps from the same community – and placed into a ‘believing community’ called the Body of Christ.

Since personal faith is the determining factor of true conversion, a person is not automatically a redeemed child of God by virtue of membership in an otherwise believing community. Better said, it is not membership in a group claiming to follow Jesus that saves; it is by faith in the name of the Son of God that one is saved. Being a member of a church does not make one a Christian; but being a Christian does make one a member of Christ’s Church. True Christianity is a matter of faith, not a matter of association with those who believe. So plainly stated, a Christian is one who has individually placed faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ for repentance of sins and eternal life. Just because you are a family member of a household where every other person has trusted Christ does not make you a new creation in Christ. Salvation is a spiritual transformation that occurs in individual souls under the sovereign power of God as His Spirit moves to prepare and draw the heart to repentance and belief.

So if the question is, “Is a person whose tribe or village or family or cultural community has committed to believe in Jesus and follow His way as a group considered truly save by virtue of his membership in that community?” – the answer is no, at least not necessarily. If such a person has truly put their faith in the crucified and risen Son of God and makes such a public profession, then yes. But such belief is not then dependant on the community’s position. They would profess that faith even in opposition to the community. Yet if the person’s faith is in the decision of the cultural community or the tribal chief or the head of the family to believe and follow Christ, then no this is not true saving faith. No one can be considered a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ based upon the family they come from or their national citizenship. No one is saved based on the faith of a communal commitment or the faith of a tribal leader or an adopted cultural religious tradition or the beliefs of one’s parents.

But what about a cultural community whose frame of reference is principally a communal one, where there is not individual property only community property, where personal decisions are made only in context of the good of the community, where important decisions are made in submission to the wishes of tribal leaders or under the authority of a village chief. Can a group of people be considered saved because the leadership of the group, community, tribe, etc. has declared that their community is now following Jesus and that this communal decision is binding for all? The answer would still be, no. Some may of course truly believe in such a setting, but only because the Spirit of God has brought them to believe the claims of the Gospel. Such a person will still choose Christ even if the community rejects the Gospel – even in the face of being cut off from that community or worse. After all, the first Jewish Christians were denounced by the unbelieving synagogue. The Apostles were persecuted and most of them killed. Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, called His would-be disciples to count the cost of following Him,

“Now great multitudes were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.’” (Luke 14:25-27).

This is only consistent with Paul’s message to the Philippian Church (Philippians 1:29) when he told them that God had given them “for Christ’s sake not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” No group decision or communal agreement can mean salvation for the group categorically on account of membership in the community – only if each individual in the group has come to a personal response to the Gospel message could this be said. Even then I suppose we would have to say the group was not the reason for the conversion, but the Spirit doing a beautiful work within the entire community.

Some, out of a desire to see more people reached for Christ, and believing (mistakenly) that individual conversions take too long, that they are inefficient and less productive in fulfilling the great commission, have promoted the idea of the conversion of whole communities, tribes or people groups as a more productive method for evangelizing the world. But we have to remember that, while we are hopeful for whole people groups to become Christians, it is not about method – it is about the work of the Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel. Do we need to be sensitive to communities and to work within cultures that have a much more communal mindset in the way that they live and make decisions? Of course, but we also know that following Christ may mean that we are forced to leave our community, have conflict with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, be isolated from and resistant to our culture.

The Spirit may move to bring faith to entire communities, tribes, families – even cities. But he also may bring faith to the elect of God sprinkled throughout a pagan community or culture, or save only certain souls within unbelieving families. Our job is not to make the Holy Spirit more effective in drawing souls to Himself – such an idea is as laughable as it is dishonoring to God. However, our job is to share the Gospel with whomever we can, whenever we can. Wisdom is necessary in understanding people and interacting with diverse cultures and mindsets so that we might have the greatest opportunity to share the Words of Life in every place with every people. Because we love the souls of men, we do not wish to needlessly offend them. But, we operate foolishly if we forget that the Gospel is offensive to sinful mankind – “to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). The exclusive claims of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ are an obstacle to the hearts of men lost in sin – “the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). “But as many as received Him [faith!], to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

No human culture, no false religion, no tradition nor sociological force withstands the Holy Spirit if He quickens a heart to receive the Gospel. Salvation does not come to souls when we overcome cultural and societal obstacles to the Gospel with clever missionary efforts and evangelistic methods; redemption comes when the Spirit convicts the heart of sin and draws the sinner to repentance through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Maybe the Lord will be pleased to save entire families and communities; yet maybe He will draw only a few. That is the Spirit’s business. Ours is to go and proclaim the Gospel, calling them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21), baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them all the Lord commanded (Matthew 28:19-20), all the while relying on the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). This is the work of making true disciples.

Scripture quotations are from the NASB (1977) unless otherwise noted.

Used by permission.