This model focuses on the Church being a fellowship of persons and the means by which the fellowship is maintained and produced. The fellowship amongst people is made possible by the grace of the Holy Spirit as barriers of age, class, background and opinion are broken through. But this isn’t just a fancy kind of social club. What makes the Church a distinctive community is its relationship with God, through Christ, by the Spirit. Dulles says that the union within the fellowship of the believers “would surpass anything known to pure sociology; it would be a transforming mystical union, deeper and more intimate than anything describable in moral or judicial terms”.
This notion of close community is very much derived from two Biblical images of Church. Firstly, it looks to the description of the Church as the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 and Roman 12, where Paul writes in verse 5: “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another”. These passages describe the dependence of the members upon one another and the intimacy of their unity. Also relevant is the description of the Church as the People of God, which looks back to the Old Testament and the Israelites and is also spoken of in Hebrews 8:10 and 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”. This is a community of free individuals, united to God under a new covenant. Both images have limitations: the Church as the Body of Christ can lead to it being made divine and the People of God metaphor can be egotistical.
The Church, then, is a community of grace which aims to lead humanity into communion with God. As Stanley Hauerwas says: “The church knows that its most credible form of witness (and most effective thin it can do for the world) is the actual creation of a living, breathing, visible community of faith” (Resident Aliens, 1989). The church is to bear witness to the reconciling power of God, in human relationships and our relationship with Him. Dulles says that “wherever the Church is present, man are already united with God”.