Arguing for unity in the congregations to which he is writing, Paul emphasizes the concept of the church as the body of Christ in order to make the members of the various branches of the new, local congregations respect one another and stay united (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17 and in general Rom. 12 and 1 Cor. 12 and 14). Like most New Testament readers, Pete Ward takes this as an indication that the congregation must primarily be understood as the body of Christ – tending to imply that those who are outside the congregation are outside the body of Christ. Even so, he says: we should place significantly more emphasis on the way that our connection to Christ makes us part of the body, rather than the other way around. … There is vital truth in this: the church is the body of Christ. At the same time, however, the failure to reverse the order and say that the body of Christ is the church means that we are often unable to imagine ourselves [as Christians] outside of the institutional box.
Paul writes more frequently about ‘we in Christ’ or ‘the congregation as the body of Christ’ than about ‘Christ in us’. Yet he can also write powerfully on ‘Christ in us’, e. g. in the following passages: ”It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” (Gal. 2:20). Likewise, addressing his fellow Christian Galatians, he says that he is working so that “Christ [may] be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). Also well known from Eucharist liturgy is Paul’s prayer that ”Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). To Paul, ‘Christ in us’ is our ”hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). As the spirit of God and his Son was breathed into our nostrils at creation, so Christ now once more indwells us for our re-creation in his image so that we may ”be conformed to the image of the Son of God” (Rom. 8:29). This way of thinking is found everywhere in Paul’s letters. He cannot imagine how Christian people can gather as the body of Christ if Christ did not first take shape in those people, making them Christians. The same way of thinking is found in the Gospel of John: ”if a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).
Paul has good reasons for writing more about ‘we in Christ’ than ‘Christ in us’, even if the two ideas are closely related. Ward is probably right to argue that the major problem today in our churches is that church people are ”concerned to oppose what they see as the individualism of contemporary society”. In 1 John 5:12, however, we read that “he who has the Son has life.” having the Son by having him within us is linked to – or leads to – the possibility that we are ‘in’ and ‘belong to’ the body of Christ. The former – ‘we are in’ – is at least as important as the latter – ‘we belong to’. Whatever Christianity is, it is a new life in Christ in the midst of the old pre-Christian life. It is more of a movement than a once-and-for-all status. As Paul puts it: “I am still running, trying to capture that by which I have been captured” (Phil. 3:12).
This article paper argues that we are in serious need of a new appreciation of ‘Christ in us’ as a basic concept in missional ecclesiology for sociological as well as theological reasons. At least in Europe, and especially Northern Europe, we have what I call fluctuating societies, meaning that churches and congregational life are beginning to look much more like a process, where Christ is being presented and represented to people in all sorts of ways, than a status, where specific people ‘are in Christ’ for good as his very church. This also seems to be the reality in the many kinds of churches labelled as ‘emerging’ by Gibbs and Bolger among others. Christian conversion is always conversion to identification with Christ. If you take Christ away from the Bible and the Church nothing important is left. Belonging to the Lord the church is the church (kyriakos) as far as and as long as it is facilitating faith in Christ among people in and around the church. The “Church should be designed around people’s desire for God” as PeteWard puts it.
The Age of authenticity
In his opus magnum, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor points to a number of major époques leaving each their layers in the development of the Western world, such as reformation, civilization, deism, humanism, mobilization and authenticity. As individuals and churches we have many layers from all these times at our backs. They determine the condition for mission and church life. Taylor suggests that we call the present époque “The Age of Authenticity”. In his Ethics of Authenticity from 1991 Taylor traces the philosophical roots of this age:Herder put forward the idea that each of us has an original way of being human. Each person has his or her own “measure” is his way of putting it. This idea has entered very deep into modern consciousness. It is also new. Before the late eighteenth century no one thought that the difference between human beings had this kind of moral significance. There is a certain way of being human that is my way. I am called upon to live life in this way, and not in imitation of anyone else’s. But this gives a new importance to being true to myself. If I am not I miss the point of my life, I miss what being human is for me…. Being true to myself means being true to my own originality, and that is something that only I can articulate and discover. In articulating it, I am also defining myself. I am realizing a potentiality that is properly my own. This is the background understanding of the modern ideal of authenticity and to the goals of self-fulfilment and self-realization in which it is usually couched. This is the background that gives moral force to the culture of authenticity, including its most degraded, absurd, or trivialized form. It is what gives sense to the idea of “doing your own thing” or “finding your own fulfilment.”
The expressive individualism first found among the elite of the Romantic period has become a mass phenomenon. This is Taylor’s perspective for understanding the individuating revolution, the so-called ‘subjective turn’, which has profoundly altered the condition of beliefs in our societies. It is our experience that we can only believe in, stay with and, if it works for us, feel saved in the religion of our own choice, according to our own experience.
Pathetically, as you may find it, but with great importance for his steadily growing number of readers ever since, 22 years old Søren Kierkegaard writes as follows in his diary in 1835:
What matters is to understand what you are meant to be [your bestemmelse], what the deity wishes me to do; what matters is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find that idea for which I can live and die… What good would it be for me to develop the meaning of Christianity, to be able to explain many single phenomena, when it did not have any deeper significance for me and my life?….You must first get to know yourself before you can know something else….
Kierkegaard challenges himself to find his own bestemmelse, not primarily by searching his own inner being as we may tend to do it to day, but by inventing, writing an editing his life so that he can be that life. All of us are alone in each our own skin – having to find our personal truth for our individual bodily-existential lives. In searching for this truth we always have to transcend ourselves. Taylor expresses this condition in an interview:
Transcendence escapes embodiment in the sense that, on the one hand, I do not know if my present way of reaching God, understanding of God or whatever, is inadequate. It does not do justice to reality and I hope that I will somehow be able to climb further. But, on the other hand, there is no way in which I will have a relation to God which is not in some way or the other embodied. It is just like when I am writing a poem and I am trying to find the right word and I feel all the time this is not the right word, but what I am trying to do is to find the right word, so there is no way for me getting that written without finding the word.
By our bodily-existential constitutions we are so much occupied with our own identity, expressing ourselves and becoming all that we can be, that we rarely even think of committing ourselves to be members of pre-existing communities and ideological orders such as churches. In Denmark the rule seem to be that we relate to churches in the same way as to public hospitals: You can visit a church whenever you need to have something done or to attend somebody else having something done, otherwise going to church is out of question, just as it is out of question to visit a hospital without a personal reason for doing so. Where the church kindly invites us to come and be limbs on its body, we only want to be ourselves – and, if possible, have some support for that.
According to Taylor we have developed our former “porous selves” that might be invaded by the social and mystical experience in the church, to being “buffered selves” who are in control of whom we allow to influence our identity even though we do seek personal development and, if possible, also some sort of intimacy. People of the time of authenticity may realise that they need change and even conversion in their lives, but they will only rarely convert to become responsible and committed members of this or that church. They only hope to become responsible editors in their own life, according to some sort of better understanding of it. It is questionable if it is helpful to label our time and place “secular” as if religion has disappeared. What has happened, according to Taylor, is rather a radical change in the condition of religious life:
We have moved from an era in which religious life was more ’embodied’, where the presence of the sacred could be enacted in ritual, or seen, felt, touched, walked towards (in pilgrimage); into one which is more “in the mind”, where the link with God passes more through our endorsing contested interpretations – for instance of our political identity as religiously defined or of God as the authority and moral source underpinning our ethical life.
Religion has been “excarnated” from our daily bodily and cultural routines as Taylor puts it. In this way our cultural conditions but not our existential constitutions as human being have been changed. We are still alone in each our own skin! We still seek to be human beings with an identity by reaching out to others in hundreds of ways from sex over rituals to family life and cultural enjoyment.
Christ only, always, living in me – or: You only believe in what hurts
Not long ago in the Christian revival movements the “fullness” that Taylor sees as the ultimate goal in human life was often found in an experience of Christian conversion and personal piety. From his posthumous “Personal File” lovers of country music and spiritual songs may still meet the truth about Christian faith in “Have Thine Own Way, Lord” from 1902 by the saintly and mystic Bible teacher Adelaide A. Pollard (1862-1934), when Johnny Cash (1932-2003) sings it passionately:
Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after thy will,
while I am waiting, yielded and still.
Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Search me and try me, Savior today!
Wash me just now, Lord, wash me just now,
as in thy presence humbly I bow.
Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Wounded and weary, help me I pray!
Power, all power, surely is thine!
Touch me and heal me, Savior divine!
Have thine own way, Lord! Have thine own way!
Hold o’er my being absolute sway.
Fill with thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!
In this hymn, written when the author had to come to terms with God’s will as she was not able to go to Africa as a missionary as she desired, there is no single word about of the church even though revival meetings and church practices were part of life for Adelaide A. Pollard and partly for Johnny Cash, as they experience being at the road to “Christ only, always, living in me!” At the time of Adelaide A. Pollard, now a century ago, oneness, unity and fullness was a possibility for people in intimate presence with God, filled with his spirit, saved by Christ. The strong texts about God as the potter and human beings as the clay (Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:3,4) are still in the Bible, but probably they are more difficult to experience today with only weak and occasional church practices. Adelaide A. Pollard can sing with Johnny Cash in the second song at the same volume, Wildwood in the pines: “I believe, that Jesus loves me, I can feel it in my soul.”
As a modern counterpart to Adelaide A. Pollard’s song I suggest a very different song by the Danish film actor and rock singer Michael Falch from his album “Fodspor i havet” (Footprints in the Ocean) from January 2010:
Little, unhappy human being!
The devil has written on your wall
Nothing in life is fun
You can never breathe a sigh of relief
A stranger has obsessed your body
It says don’t believe that you have got started
Lighten darkness, put out the joy song of life
You are not fit, get away! Write it in blood
Cut deeply now, and show that you have courage.
Little, unhappy human being
Rise up your body again
You are slipping more and more away
And where you are, I can’t reach
Hey, help me, my beloved friend,
Little, unhappy human being
You fight, and fight every second
You only believe in what hurts!
You can’t trust your mirror
What you see is only faults.
Little, unhappy human being!
In this song to and about himself and to and about many others and maybe everybody else Michael Falch (in English: Michael Falcon) sees the only chance in cutting deeply so that he can get the read colour of blood – in the same way as the robin outside his window (in Danish rødhals, i.e. redneck) who, according to the Christ legend by Selma Lagerlöf, got its red colour when it was relieving the crucified from some of his pain by drawing a thorn from his suffering body by its beak.
“There is only one thing winding over suffering that is passion”, Michael Falch quotes the Danish Nobel Prize winning author Henrik Pontoppidan saying. After the turn in his personal crises some years ago Michael Falch reads the Bible every morning and feels that he is being transformed by Jesus Christ. He is not labelling himself a Christian and he thinks of himself as somebody far from regular church practices and the Christian creed. He is afraid to be governed by forces outside himself, longing to be true and honest to himself. His life is, however, being transformed as he experiences that it is Christianity that makes him serious about the dilemmas, doubts and wonders of life. He knows that life is one “long farewell”, even so he testifies in the last song at his new album that he looks forward to “yet another spring, yet another chance, to share everything and give everything away”. He is, as he puts it in an interview in a kierkegaardian process of exercising Christianity.
Luther’s understanding of Christ pro me
Commenting on Gal. 2:20 on Christ as “the son of God, who loved ME and gave himself for ME” Martin Luther puts ME in capitals in his commentaries to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. He continues:
… Christ is the lover of those who are in anguish, sin and death, and the kind of Lover who gives Himself for us … Therefore read these words “me” and “for me” with great emphasis and accustom yourself to accepting this “me” with a sure faith and applying it to yourself. Do not doubt that you belong to the number of those who speak this “me”.
Luther is not an Kierkegaardian existentialist, nor is he a Taylorian authenticity-seeker. He is as most modern people an individual fighting to find his bestemmelse facing whatever is holy in life, for Luther of course God the Almighty. In his sermon on preparing to die as in many other sermons he emphasises that we have no chance except trusting Christ, and furthermore he tells us that we have Christ as we see him and have faith in him. To Luther faith is a leaven that may penetrate all of the dough – in a process that will continue throughout our lives to the resurrection:
…[through] the true faith of Christ and in Christ … we become members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (Eph. 5:30). Therefore in him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Hence the speculations of the sectarians is vain when they imagine that Christ is present in us “spiritually”, that is, speculatively, but is present really in heaven. Christ and faith must be completely joined. We must simply take our place in heaven: and Christ must be, work and live in us. But he lives and works in us, not speculatively but really, with presence and with power.
To Luther faith is the personal trust that a person has received in Christ, whom he has met and experienced as loving and trustworthy, present in His words, blood and body. The work and presence of Christ in the body of people of faith is real and effectual. By the light of faith Christ is imprinting himself at our hearts so that this light may slowly be spread out in all parts of the body. The indwelling of Christ (inhabitation Christi) in the believers – and not particularly in the church – is very real to Luther. In a sermon from 1525 he talks about the Christians being filled with the “all the fullness of God”, explaining it as follows:
This phrase, which follows a Hebrew manner of speaking, means that we are filled in all the ways in which He fills [a person]. We are filled with God, and he pours into us all his gifts and grace and fills us with His Spirit, who makes us courageous. He enlightens us with His light, His life lives in us, His beatitude makes us blessed, and His love causes love to arise in us. Put briefly, He fills us in order that everything that He is and everything that He can do might be in us in all its fullness and work powerfully.
Living in “the time of authenticity” we only recognise something as true when we experience it as a first person or at least trough another first person with whom they can identify. Therefore Christ is what he is to the individual! We can not be Christians in the way of the church before we have become “Christians in my own way”. This is what Luther’s emphasis on pro me invites authenticity seeking people to be when relating to Christ as person to person.
Obviously the church to Luther is necessary as the mediator but never as the container of Christian faith. The church is always at risk forgetting that Christian faith is not contained in the church but in the bodies of Christ-believers, the living stones, who are called to be salt and light of Christianity in the world.
The missional Church and Christ pro me
In all the (interdependent and overlapping) dimensions of the church, whatever they are, e.g. martyria, diakonia, koinonia, leiturgia, institution, sacrament and community of disciples, as Avery Dulles labels them in Models of the Church there is a missional dimension, as the church must always attempt to share whatever it has and does with others. Church Christians must always say to everybody outside their fellowship: “This church is yours as it is mine and mine as it is yours”. The church is like a marriage: If one spouse says to the other: “This marriage is yours” or “This marriage is mine”, he or she has got it all wrong. A marriage is only a marriage as long as it belongs equally to the two spouses. In the same way the church is only a Christian church when it belongs to somebody who always strive to open it up to everybody around it.
The church is only the church as communio in communicatione, an unbreakable community that lives by being broken and shared. People may often meet Christ in immediate and direct ways, e.g. in scripture, revelations, dreams and hearing Christ talking to ones heart. Christianity is, however, a human phenomenon in as far as Christianity also needs to be mediated by fellow human beings, who are send as Go-Betweens, as the Father send the Son (John 20,21, cf. the roles of Anania in Barnabas and Paul’s conversion story, Acts 9).
Not only in the Catholic Church and in Church Growth Movements some decades ago but also in much writing on Missional Church today, there is much emphasis on that “there can be no Christians apart from the church”. There is no doubt that the church is an important instrument in Christian mission. But nor is there any doubt that there are millions of Christians who literally live “apart from the church”. That is the case in the Western world and probably even more among the often un¬-baptised Christ-believers in cultures where non-Christian religions set strong agendas in families and societies. Therefore the question has to be with any church aiming to be missional: Do we only work for people to become Church Christians who can stand up and be counted Sunday morning, or do we dare to let our churches be “designed around people’s desire for God”?
As Christians are growing in Christ – as Christ is growing in Christian people – also the awareness of Christ as the King of the Kingdom of God and thus the universal and communal dimension of Christianity as it is shaped in congregational life may grow. The congregation is not only to proclaim but even more to perform, to live the gospel in ways where new people can be invited to practice and nurture faith in Christ and thus let Christ transform them by taking shape in them.
Christianity is not contained in the churches but in the bodies of the Christians, the living stones, who are the salt and light of the Kingdom of God in the world. The church may be understood as a fluctuating process containing the totally of Christ identification present in all sorts of people in and outside the church.
Christian faith is foremost a bodily practice – of feeling, seeing, listening, meditating, reading, praying, singing, experiencing, confessing, kneeling, walking, eating, drinking and caring for the neighbour. As Christians are being transformed in Christ their bodily practices and thus their bodies are being transformed. The body is the agent and at the same time the object being transformed as Christian faith is growing. The missional church is the community facilitating the transformation of people in the image of Christ.
We have as much Christianity as we have in our bodies. At least in Northern Europe the missional church of the future must be communities facilitating the transformation of people in the image of Christ. In doing this the church is working alongside many Christ-believers with no or only weak relations to the church. Also they are witnessing to Christ by being transformed by him. The church is always challenged to be missional. Mission is, however, not always to be congregational. Christian mission means and demands today – as well known from mission history – what a more mature Kierkegaard considering how to help another person to become a Christian puts in this
To be able to truly help an Other I have to understand more than him – and even so primarily understand what he has understood. When I do not do this, then my more-understanding will not help him… All true help begins with a humiliation, the one helping must firstly humiliate himself under the one, he wants to help, and thereby understand that to help is not to rule, but to serve … it is willingness – for the time being – to tolerate to be wrong and not understand what the Other understands … are your able to find the place, where the Other is, and begin there, then you may succeed in leading him to the place where you are.