Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Body of Christ

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

One of my favorite images in the Bible is that of our spiritual community, the church, as the Body of Christ. And this past weekend the Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge in Roanoke, Virginia, gave me an opportunity to reflect on this image with its members and friends.

Generally I do not move in academic circles, so I’m not sure if it’s still the fashion to identify one’s “social location” at the beginning of a presentation or paper as it was a few years ago. It humbles anyone who might claim to write or speak for one and all, because everyone’s perspective may be limited by their social location. (I must admit to faith in the discernment powers of readers and listeners to decide what speaks to them and what doesn’t without such disclaimers!)

I mention this because I believe one of the consequences of the metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ is that it has helped Jesus transcend his particularity, his social location as a first century Palestinian Jewish male living under Roman occupation. In the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians, the Body of Christ is Jew and Greek, slave and free. In our own words we could say that the Body of Christ is now of every race and place, of every age and culture, of every condition and class, gender and sexuality, of every vocation, education, experience, and skill set.

Jesus transcended his particularity, his social location, by leading and loving us into this community. And we transcend our particularity, our social location, by living and loving in this community. The Body of Christ stretches around the globe and reaches backward and forward in time. Now I think that’s cool!

The problem is, others don’t. They want to silence or censure or shutout those with different perspectives. The classic definition of “liberal” suggests a willingness to consider all views. Church historian Martin Marty has pointed out the liability of being liberal: when liberals rise to places of influence in denominations, they leave conservatives in place. But when conservatives do the same, they ax the liberals! Thus, over time, mainline denominations are being skewed to the right.

One of the points I made in my presentation on progressive Christianity this weekend is that Christian fundamentalists and biblical literalists claim they are the “traditional” Christians, when in truth, they are relative newcomers to the tradition. I believe that much of what today is called “progressive” Christianity is really good old mainstream liberal Christianity.

I have been re-reading Kenneth Leech’s Soul Friend, and in his chapter, “Prayer and the Christian Spiritual Tradition,” he writes:

Frequently…expressions such as “traditional theology” and “traditional spirituality” are used in ways which indicate ignorance of the tradition in its diversity. We are in a situation of breakdown so that what often passes for orthodoxy is simply a current convention, and the most deeply rooted orthodox teachings are seen as some novel theory.

So, while listening to the conservative members of the Body of Christ, progressive Christians must never believe that our positions don’t have multiple roots in Christian tradition!

And when conservative members of the Body of Christ question whether we are members of that body and resist listening to us, we must remind them of Paul’s words to the Corinthians about failing to recognize the Body of Christ:

Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be answerable… For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.

In context, Paul is talking about discerning the Body of Christ in each other, not in the bread and the cup. When we fail to see the Body of Christ in one another—and I would add, in the stranger as well—we are held accountable.

I delight in the concept of our spiritual community as the Body of Christ because it celebrates diversity while resisting divisiveness.


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