The Vision of Residence Life
By the work of the Holy Spirit, through the means of mutual sanctification, the goal of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary residential community is the glory of God and the advancement of the kingdom of God.
The world has a right to look upon us and make a judgment. We are told by Jesus that as we love one another the world will judge, not only whether we are His disciples, but whether the Father sent the Son. The final apologetic, along with the rational, logical defense and presentation, is what the world sees in the individual Christian and in our corporate relationships together. – Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century
Seminary is a unique time of training and discipleship for future ministers of the Gospel. The distinctiveness of the environment affords on-campus residents the unique opportunity to develop character consistent with a Christian calling. At SBTS, the theological training of the classroom is complemented and demonstrated in the relational refinement of the SBTS community. As the community grows in mutual sanctification, a beautiful presentation of the gospel is displayed for a watching world to see. To the degree that Christians do not reflect the character of Christ in community, the scriptural promise of sanctification is invalidated and the beauty of the gospel is tarnished.
The Source of Christian Community
Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate… Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual reality. In this aspect it differs absolutely from all other communities… Christ opened up the way to God and to one another. Now Christians can live with each other in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one. But they can continue to do so only through Jesus Christ. – Dietrich Bonheoffer, Life Together
Essentially, Jesus Christ establishes and maintains the unity of believers. Christian community finds its source in the person of Christ, not in the idealized philosophies of his followers. The apostle Paul writes: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). In Jesus Christ, there is unity in diversity. In Christ, “there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4–6).
The Goal of Christian Community
Christian community is evangelical in purpose. Christian community is not an end in itself. Though a means to edify the Body of Christ, the Scriptures do not encourage community merely for the sake of self-edification. Rather, Christ establishes community for the effective demonstration of the gospel and the advancement of his kingdom. Praying to the Father on behalf of his present and future disciples, Jesus intercedes:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20–23; emphasis added).
The joint purpose clauses, “so that” (vv. 21, 23), explicitly link Christian community to the public testimony of Jesus Christ. Previously, in the Gospel of John, Christ admonished his disciples: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). The unity, love and selflessness of a Christ-centered community evoke the attention of a divided, egocentric world. An unbelieving and hopeless world looks upon a community which is unified in the love of Christ and is compelled to question the selfless and loving nature of such a community.
The Biblical Command for Christian Community
Christians are not responsible for creating the unity of the Spirit; Christian community is a spiritual reality in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Christians are exhorted to “eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3) and to “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil 2:2).
The Scriptures do not merely command Christians to maintain the unity of love in Christ; moreover, Scripture instructs Christians in how they may maintain the unity of love:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:3-8).
As servants of Christ, Christians are called to adopt the mind of their Master. Though the Incarnate God, Christ chose the life of a servant on earth. He did not look to his own personal interests; rather, he humbled Himself to the obedience of his Father and the service of others. Superior regard to the Master and humble disregard of self are indispensable for Christian community: “Unity lives where self-regard dies and self-regard dies at the foot of the cross” (Greg Gilbert). As Christians continually strive to conform their minds to the mind of Christ, the beauty of Christian community radiates for a lost and dying world to see.