John S. Mogabgab
Among the dimensions of the spiritual life Weavings is committed to exploring, none is more important or more elusive than the corporate. Parker Palmer's diagnosis of our current situation suggests why the corporate facet of our faith is so slippery: "Today we live in a culture of brokenness and fragmentation. Images of individualism and autonomy are far more compelling to us than visions of unity, and the fabric of relatedness seems dangerously threadbare and frayed." [The Company of Strangers (New York: Crossroad, 1981), p. 20.] In the midst of culturally reinforced individualism, sustaining a grasp on the corporate dimension of the spiritual life is like trying to stay astride a beach ball in heavy surf.
In prophetic contrast to the images of individualism and autonomy offered by contemporary western culture, the New Testament relies on corporate images to express the dawning of God's reign on earth in Jesus Christ. John, for example, employs the image of a mutual indwelling between Jesus and his disciples to portray the nature of the church and its witness in the world (John 17:23). Paul writes often and eloquently of the Christian's being "in" Christ and maintains that the gathered community is the very Body of Christ (1 Cor. 15:22; Rom. 8:1; Phil. 3:8f.; 1 Cor. 12:12f.). The church, then, is more than a collection of individuals united by common convictions or common goals. Paul appears to believe that the corporate identity of the church derives from and reflects the identity of the risen Christ, an identity which is mysteriously more than merely individual.
It is within this perspective, so foreign to present experience, that Paul's image of "upbuilding" one another has its place. For Paul and others in the earliest years of Christianity, it is precisely the "fabric of relatedness" in Christian communities that bears witness to the present reality of God's reign on earth. As one friend put it recently, the primary calling of the church is not to transform society but to be the place where society is transformed. ...
In the second-century manual of church life commonly known as The Didache, we read this admonition: "Meet together frequently in your search for what is good for your souls." [Cyril C. Richardson (ed.), Early Christian Fathers, Library of Christian Classics, vol. I (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953), p. 178.] These words are more than an encouragement of Christian fellowship. They indicate that because we have been gathered into Christ through baptism, our personal spiritual growth is mysteriously intertwined with the lives of all in the community of faith. I invite you to enter more deeply into the mystery of our corporate identity in Christ.
From Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, July/August 1988. Copyright © 1988 by The Upper Room. Used with permission.
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