There is much talk today about community and about the church becoming the good news for the sake of the world, and I certainly am a proponent of this community aesthetic as the primary apologetic for the gospel.
One place we see the connection between community building and the Gospel is in the book of Romans. Without going into a big proof of this premise, I contend that Romans was written to the Roman churches to bring unity to the Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. For example, in the climactic theological sections (Romans 9-11), Paul speaks of the envy and/or pride between Jews and Gentiles and the sovereignty of God in bringing the Gospel to all as He pleases. Looking at Romans in its context we see that all the theology in Romans is written to a pastoral purpose. So, the question is "how does Paul's theology in Romans work to bring about unity?".
The Pastoral Theology of Romans
We begin by understanding that the problem Paul is addressing is a lack of Morally Beautiful (i.e. loving and unified) Community in the Roman churches.
To address this problem, Paul takes the recipients of his letter down a path toward conviction of sin. The conclusion is that the real point of cause of the problem is the heart and that a true follower of God needs not a circumcision that is outward but a "circumcision of the heart".
If we look at Paul's life we can see how this circumcision of the heart happened to Paul. Paul was a righteous person according to the external trappings of the law (Phil 3). But he found himself to be miserable and having one serious character defect - he was covetous or filled with envy (Romans 7). You see, Paul could obey the external elements of the law and created a theology to support this observance as the key to righteousness as a Pharisee. But the law also contains inescapable demands for a pure heart and Paul personally was laid low by the tenth commandment; "Thou shall not covet". Paul was ruthlessly honest and desired to obey all the law. When he was convicted of sin, namely his envy, he was undone. This conviction occurred on the road to Damascus in the presence of Jesus. Wrath was revealed in the gospel. The law was upheld and Jesus provided the answer in His atonement for the wrath of God.
This covetousness turned Paul into a violent offender who opposed true religion. Who did he covet? What was he envious of? How did this make him the chief of sinners? The answer is Paul coveted and envied Steven and the Hellenistic Jews who were externally breaking the traditions of the law. They were law-breakers and yet they found what Paul was looking for. They had shalom. They drove Paul to jealousy. The church had found peace between the nations. The nations, the Hellenistic Jews, were bringing their offerings to the feet of the apostles and the wealth of the nations was flowing into Jerusalem via this supposed heretical Way of Jesus Christ.
Steven, the law-breaker, did not wear phylacteries. He trimmed his beard. He associated with the gentile world. He was ceremonially unclean.
Paul was furious!!! "How could You give him a word of grace? How could you give this rebel against tradition the power of miracles like a prophet? When I saw his face shining like an angel and I realized You gave him, this disloyal Greekish Jew, You gave him shalom and happiness and peace like an angel. We tried our best to take away that peace. We tried to shut him up but he just kept smiling. Our stones could not touch him. It is not fair!!! I labored for you all these years and you never gave me a fatted calf that I could make merry with my friends".
"Oh Paul..why do you persecute me. Is God the God of the Jew alone? Is there but one God of all? Did I not create the heaven and the earth? Is it not my right to grant love and forgiveness and mercy? Behold, I will show you what a great work I will do through you to these very people. I forgive you Paul. This fury you feel is covetousness. You too are a law breaker and I forgive you. Stand up. Go to a man named Annanias and I will show you how you will serve me. I will give you what Steven has if you would only ask. For I am the God of the gentile and the God of the Jew and the Your God and Your savior Jesus, whom you persecute."
So, Paul's heart of anger and rage and envy and jealousy was laid to rest. He was convicted. He was forgiven. He was cleansed and His affections were set free. Through conviction of sin and the offer of forgiveness through the atonement that is in Jesus Christ Paul's heart was quieted and for the first time he understood from the heart what it means to love the Lord your God with all his heart, and all his soul, and all his mind and all his strength.