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    Entries in Christology (3)


    Community Begins with Christ

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ." He further states, "It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and sacrament." If that isn't enough, Bonhoeffer reminds us, "The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer."

    One of the greatest longings of our time, it seems to me, is for community. And one of our greatest fears, both expressed and unexpressed, is that of being alone. For many, our longing remains unfulfilled, even among those who claim to take part in Christian community, try as we might to connect with others either publicly or online.

    Which leads me back to Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer identifies two ways community is realized for the Christian: in and through Jesus Christ.

    While commentators quibble over the exact meaning of the phrase in Christ, all seem to agree that it is a reality entered into mystically by faith. I think of the words of Paul in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." There has been a crossing over, a transformation, a change of status. Those trusting Jesus are no longer apart from him, but now stand in him.

    What does this mean for community? It means, first, that Christian community is not first achieved by some action on one's own part, but rather is enacted by the person and work of Jesus Christ. We have been incorporated into the Christian fellowship. We do not create it.

    But to enter into the community, we must come through Jesus Christ. And it is through him that we encounter our brothers and sisters. Jesus has made such a community possible through his body and blood. He is our mediator, and the one in whom we receive peace, not only between God and human beings, but between brother and sister. Bonhoeffer says it simply: "Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother."

    Lastly, Bonhoeffer claims that the goal of all Christian community is this: "they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation." It is within the fellowship that we are reminded of what Jesus has done not only for you and me, but for all of creation.

    Bonhoeffer incisively reminds his readers that not every Christian experiences the visible fellowship of other believers. The sick, infirm, the scattered, the solitary missionary worker, they remain part of the fellowship in and through Christ, but lack the daily experience of a common fellowship. For most of my readers, face to face interaction with other Christians is not only possible, it is routine. And, dare I say for some, it is taken for granted.

    So, the next time you interact with others in Christian community, remember how the fellowship has been made possible: in and through Christ. Remember that the presence of other Christians is a gift, graciously given because of God's recognition that it is not good for human beings to be alone (Gen. 2:18).

    Recall that your interactions with other Christians are made possible through Christ, who has removed the barrier of our own egos and united us to one another (it is difficult to feel superior to anyone when one begins to realize the depth of one's own sin). It is difficult not to feel love for others whom Christ has redeemed.

    Then, lastly, remember that you are present with your brothers and sisters as a herald, a bringer of the message of salvation. Spread the Word. Perhaps in doing so, Christians who experience aloneness and lack of community will begin to realize the richness of Christian fellowship, and the true joy of being united to one another, and to God, together.


    Hello, My Name is Christ

    Photo by nicnac1000

    You might have caught the Huffington Post article "Hello, My Name is Church" cycling through social media. If you didn't, read it. It's worth the time. The Unappreciated Pastor captures everything we've heard or thought about Church, and maybe even some things we have experienced. The turn is briliant: confession and repentance. The invitation is clear: "God wants you here...I miss you. I love you. I'm sorry. Can't wait to see you."

    As a member of the church, for all those who have been outcast, hurt, afflicted, rejected, spurned, or forgotten, I would personally like to invite you to come and join our fellowship.

    But beyond a gathering or an organization, I invite you to Christ.

    Let us never forget that Jesus did not command us to go and start churches. He commanded us to go and make disciples. Christ died to make Church possible, yes! Of course. But there is more. He did not die, resurrect, ascend, and send us off to be about our business, to be inspired by his teachings, left striving to do our best and reliant on our own power. When Christ is with us, there is another presence, a power. His life. Him. Jesus charged his followers with teaching all who would come after him to do as he did and said, to baptize in his name, to never forget that he remains with us, and that all authority is his.

    While churches, when at their best, seek out and welcome those that have been lost or disposed of, we must never cease to recall that the invitation to return is first and foremost an invitation, a beckoning, from the one who calls us in the first place. It is not enough to call people back to Church. We must call them back to Christ. We must call ourselves back to Christ. We, the Church, must turn and say, "Hello, Jesus. We've wandered. Sorry. Help us."

    And even before we turn, it is Jesus preceding us, saying, "Hello, My Name is Christ. Remember?"

    He was not only shamed, beaten, killed, and resurrected so that Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male and female could worship together in the same room. He underwent all those things for you, and for the glory of his Father.

    If a congregation has seen Christ, has truly beheld him, I can promise you that church will not be perfect. But I can promise you that they will know that they are not perfect. And to the degree that Christ is indeed proclaimed as Master, I can assure you that that company of disciples will challenge, sharpen, strengthen, and humble you, in so far as your collective confidence is placed in him. These people, this church, may be messed up, but they are being renewed in their inmost being; their lives are hidden in Christ with God.

    The one who calls you is Christ himself. He extends his greeting. His hand is outstretched. Say hello.


    Wild Goose Not So Wild and Maybe Not Even a Goose

    Yesterday my friend Matt Anderson drew my attention to Catherine A. Caimano's reflections on the Wild Goose Festival at Duke Divinity School's Faith and Leadership blog, and after reading the article this morning I agree with his sentiment.  The review is devastating, particularly coming from someone who identifies with the progressive wing of Christianity.  Caimano is both honest and pensive, chronicling her inmost thoughts alongside her experience of community and conversation while present at Wild Goose.  She longs for a Jesus-centered movement, and instead finds something more akin to a spirituality driven by personal preference and self definition.  Caimano appears to long for a robust tradition rushing forward into the future that evidences new and profound expressions of the work of the Spirit of God, but instead finds disillusioned relativists seeking a spiritually that reaffirms their own best ideas about what Christianity should be like.  The Christianity Caimano found at Wild Goose is less about discipleship to Jesus, and more about crafting and constructing a Christianity that meshes well with a modern, politically liberal view of the world.


    Caimano, towards the conclusion of her post, writes:

    By the time I left, I knew that the Wild Goose Festival was more “progressive” in the liberal political sense than “progressive” in the sense of movement, in the sense of “progressing” someplace new in our faith and discipleship.

    Nowhere was this more evident than in the relatively small number of young people in attendance, certainly far fewer than I had imagined would be there.

    I sought out some of them, and they all had lovely things to say about Wild Goose. They talked about community and singing and conversation and new ideas. But when I pressed them about faith and asked if they had been talking about the role of Jesus in their lives, most said “no” with a real sense of longing.

    It made me wonder: Is part of the church’s future maybe to go further into our past? Is there such a thing as liberal fundamentalism? Is it possible to be a full-on, Bible-thumping Jesus freak and still think that all are included and we should care for the earth and not kill one another?

    Thanks to Facebook, I was contacted very early as part of the grassroots marketing campaign of Wild Goose.  I must admit I was intrigued.  What would a revival style meeting for progressive Christians look like?  What notes would be struck, other than the obvious, with regard to advocacy for the poor and rethinking Christian teaching pertaining to human sexuality?  What would be said about Jesus, aside from the platitudes one would expect from Brian McLaren about a new kind of this and that?  Would there be anything, anything at all said about the centrality of the gospel as a message that demands we be converted, other than in the sense of our party affiliation?  Would there be any mention of God as judge of the liberal/progressive Christian movement, or would wrath be reserved only for the conservative/traditional segments of Christianity?  I considered attending Wild Goose, only as a correspondent who could learn a thing or two, and as a representative of the young Christian community in the United States, who hopes to build bridges and extend respect toward those with whom I have disagreements.

    Caimano, interestingly, captures well my own sentiments: our only avenue toward a renewed future lies in a return to the past.  We must rely on the tradition by placing ourselves under it, rather than attempt to escape it or remake the tradition in our own image.  This does not mean that we cannot press up against the tradition and challenge it.  Being part of a tradition includes the responsibility to join in the discourse regarding what does and does not belong.

    But as Caimano has identified, one thing that definitely belongs in the Christian tradition is Jesus.  We are lost without him.