Sunday, February 22, 2004

Christians and Covenantal Community

"And what does our Good News have to offer them in place of...?" First, the Gospel freely offers its own offense - the offense and outrage of a Holy Other Who lived and died as one of us, sharing "our common lot," and the Good News offers baptism into Jesus' crucifixion and also his resurrection: we are actually united with him in essential death and in new life like his! Beyond that, the Gospel offers not another disposable commodity but the demands and freedom of covenanted community; it offers something most people couldn't ever even imagine they need...we've been talking about abundant life, and abundant life is a large part of what the Gospel offers and gives.

(Please see my earlier post, Jesus and the Church and Jesus...because it relates to the rest of this post. )

As Christians whose heritage not only is that long-ago day of Pentecost Acts 2 speaks about but as Christians who especially claim the heritage of the 16th-century reformers we acknowledge we cannot be fully "Christian" in solitude, as important as those times and places away from the demanding and sometimes insistent crowds are to all of us.

I'll begin by agreeing there's no such thing as a personal savior or personal salvation. I've mentioned the [American] Baptist congregation that was my first church home and being biblically informed no one there ever talked about "personal salvation," so the first time I heard "personal savior" from someone affiliated elsewhere I could not figure out what on earth the "individual" was talking about! I still have no clue; that is so completely unbiblical and I cringe whenever I hear it.

Back to Jesus/Church; here's one of my favorite scriptures, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Godself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: God was reconciling the world to Godself in Christ, not counting human sin against humanity. And God has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Godself...God still is in Christ - now the Church is the body of the risen Christ! No Church, no Christ? Both yes and no on that one: we need to be careful not to posit the Church rather than the Christ as Mediator between God and humanity, as Redeemer and Reconciler of the world. And I agree eventually "That Day" will arrive in which the entire creation has been reconciled to its Creator, and in "That Day" of complete Jubilee, the Church will be out of a job because it's worked itself out of a job. As those Presbyterians insist, the Church is the provisional demonstration of what God intends for humanity so I can't go quite as far as to say, "No Body/No Christ," though I do agree that for here and now the equation No Body=No Christ does hold true.

As Christians in the Reformation tradition we emphasize God's sovereignty supremely revealed in the cross and there is something so drastic and totally inclusive, something so complete, final and all-embracing in the reconciling death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of creation dies and rises with him, all creation finally comes under and lives under Jesus' Lordship: again I'll refer to Martin Luther's declaration that the Right Hand of God - the Sovereignty of God in the Risen Christ - is everywhere, actually fills and permeates every aspect of creation.

Earlier I wrote, "each of us as individuals in covenant ... covenanted persons." True I was in a hurry and when I noticed I'd written "individuals in covenant" I thought, no, not - but that is how it begins: the covenant community of the Body of the Risen Christ transforms the individual into a person. But not into someone who then can begin yakking about have a "personal savior!" Seem to me those people technically need to talk about having an "individual savior."

I'm not saying biblically-informed Christianity is anything but relational; rather I'm claiming it's within that gathered commonality of covenanted community each of us previously privatized individuals (BTW, the "individual" is very much a post-Enlightenment phenomenon) is transformed and truly Christianized, and the results are synergistic, as the HS freely creates a reality that's far greater than the sum of its "individual" parts/members I still like "proprietary" to describe that lone and lonely creature gloating over "Jesus died for me and now I even have my very own personal savior all for myself." As Mark observed, "Sometimes it takes awhile ... to see the benefits of fellowship." Though I wasn't raised in the church nor did I even grow up on the margins or in the shadows of Christianity, there remain lots of times I need to do a major remembering of who I am and where God has lead me and taken me to convince myself indeed I do need to stay within the physical confines of ecclesial community, to at least as large an degree as I need to encounter and dialogue with the "out-there" world that's simply not a "Christian" one, however anyone may try to say it is.

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