"Salvation must take a social form"

Peter Leithart on the church as salvation

Peter Leithart:

Despite the apparent differences between [certain evangelical and Roman Catholic views of the church], they are fundamentally similar. Both conceive of "salvation" as a something (almost a substance) that can be stored in a reservoir or infused into sinners directly by God. Both believe that the whole point is the salvation of individuals: for the Catholic, the Church is an essential conduit of grace, but salvation is what happens to the individual; for the evangelical, the Church is a nonessential aid to individual salvation. […]
If salvation is the re-creation of man through Christ and the Spirit (which it is), then salvation must be restored relationships and communities as much as individuals. If Christ has not restored human community, if society is not "saved" as much as the individual, then Christ has not restored man as he really is. Salvation must take a social form, and the Church is that social form of salvation, the community that already (though imperfectly) has become the human race as God created it to be, the human race that is becoming what God intends it to be.
The Church is neither a reservoir of grace nor an external support for the Christian life. The Church is salvation. [Against Christianity, ch. I, sec. xv, emphasis added]

Man is a social and political creature by nature. Human society is not merely an external artifice surrounding men, but it is human nature in its developed form. The sons of Adam are natural city-builders, as we see in the examples of Cain and of the men of Babel. What could it mean for God to save man without saving the social elements of his life? What could it mean for God to save the sons of Adam without forming a city?

So, the church is the principal site in which the social form of human life is restored, healed and perfected. Though Leithart might object to this formulation, I think this is a case study—perhaps the most important case study—in how grace does not destroy nature, but rather restores and perfects it. In the city of God, man the socio-political creature is restored and prepared for the glory to come.

(Leithart’s comments here should also guard us against an attitude that seems fairly common these days, namely, that the church is a religious service provider, which services individuals may consume at their convenience.)