The Church, the Body of Christ

Following on the heels of the last section, where it is made clear that Christ is the Head of the Church, section F-1.03 elucidates the “Calling of the Church” beginning with a discussion of the Church as “the Body of Christ” (F-1.0301). The logic is clear here: If Christ is the Head, which directs the activity of the Body, what is the direction the body is given? If the Body serves to carry out the intentions of the head, then what are those intentions? One thing is made clear in this subsection: Everything the Church has is a gift from Christ. We do not have to figure out how to be the Body, we are the Body and we have what we need. Our only job is to be faithful and intentional about the ways we demonstrate these gifts – faith, hope, love, witness.*

Before we look at each of the gifts, I am struck by the truth the BOO offers us here. Frankly, it is insulting to my self-centered, modern, western mind that we do not have to do anything to be the Church. We already are the Church. We already have the gifts to be the Church Christ intended. Our only job is one of demonstrating it. In my mind, this realization is similar to the argument we have over “Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda.” Some of us love to remind the rest of us that the most faithful translation is “the church reformed, and always being reformed” (these folks are correct, they’re just usually a little arrogant about it is all). The action is not ours, but God’s. We are passive, not active. We are not a reforming people, but a people constantly and continually being reformed.

In the same way, we have these gifts from God that we must be faithful to demonstrate. Truly, these gifts are who we are. These gifts are the “true self” of the Church. As such, our first job might to be similar to what we we do in therapy – get in touch with our “true self” and learn to let the world see that self, not the false one we have created.

So what are the gifts from God that constitute our true self?

Faith

The Church is to be a community of faith, entrusting itself to God alone, even at the risk of losing its life.

To be a community of faith means that we entrust ourselves to God alone. This is one of those truths that we reflexively acknowledge, but rarely live. We entrust ourselves to many, many things other than God. However, I like Paul Tillich’s statement about who it is that Christians should worship: We should only worship the one who determines our existence. No one else deserves worship.

We trust a good many things other than our God, amen? (It’s okay to respond to that out loud.) You and I could both offer the typical laundry list, and we would be correct, if not predictable. But it would be a predictable list because it is a true list, yes?

When it comes down to it, the ultimate question is Do you truly believe that God is the one who holds you in life and death? I’m going to give us the benefit of the doubt and say that, yes, we do believe that. Then a secondary question is How do we demonstrate this faith? It is, of course, pursuing the mission of God even at risk of losing life (my favorite phrase in the BOO).

What does it mean for the Church to lose its life? Christ’s “first body” lost its life. Are we as obedient?

Hope

The Church lives in the present on the strength of that promised new creation.

From the outset, let us affirm that there is a counter-narrative in the Scripture that makes clear that life is not all sunshine and butterflies. I think the writer of Ecclesiastes would agree that, sometimes, life just sucks. I know this to be true. A few years ago, I officiated the Service of Witness to the Resurrection for my father-in-law who took his own life. If I ever believed life was sunshine and butterflies, I stopped that day. And yet…

And yet… To me, this is what “hope” means. We can affirm that life is often not all that we want it to be, and that it is actually quite bad for a good many of God’s children, but, once we have acknowledged that, we turn and say and yet God is still up to something. God will not let this be the last word.

I have little patience for self-professed faithful Christian leaders who believe their present situation to be beyond God’s redemption. The Scripture is clear that we will appear as fools for trusting in redemption. Holding out hope that God is creating all things new makes us look like head in the sand Ostriches. We need to make peace with that.

What does it mean for the Church to believe the truth of “resurrection”?

Love

The Church is to be a community of love, where sin is forgiven, reconciliation is accomplished, and the dividing walls of hostility are torn down.

And another “Well, duh” statement, yes? Again, this is something we know, but the challenge the BOO sets before us is whether we actually live it.

The phrase that jumps at me is “reconciliation is accomplished.” We are to accomplish reconciliation. We are to be the people where it is unacceptable to say, “I’m done with you.” To be sure, there is something to say for healthy boundaries, etc., but I don’t think the BOO specifically has abusive relationships in mind here. Even so, the establishment of healthy boundaries – teaching people how to treat you – is a way that right relationships are restored.

We could spin this a dozen different ways, but how is the Church accomplishing reconciliation?

Witness

The Church is to be a community of witness, pointing beyond itself through word and work to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord.

It is not enough to acknowledge to ourselves that God is the one who is transforming us, but we are to make it clear to all of creation. We are to live in a way that says, “We worship only our God, because it is only through the grace of our God that we can look forward to wholeness and reconciliation.”

In my opinion, this is evangelism. To not publicly proclaim Christ as the one who redeems our lives is to claim the credit. Evangelism is not about “winning” but being humble about our place before God.

How can the Church make clear to the world that it is God who is doing this amazing work?

*The Bible geek in me loves the fact that these are the characteristics that Paul lists in his first letter to the Thessalonians, the oldest book of the New Testament. Once, I tried in earnest to read 1 Thessalonians as if I had never read the Gospels, just to see what it might have been like to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ before the “Gospels.” I have been deeply affected ever since, that the first proclamations of the Gospel consisted of faith, hope, and love. Truly, this is what it means to be a Christian people.