Thursday, 12 April 2018

The body of Christ --- a model

Jesus did not directly create the Church. Rather, he came to bring about ‘The Kingdom.’ His concept is very simple: if God is King — a sort of divine ruler — then we live under him and must obey his rule and obey only him. When all humanity does obey God as King, life on earth will be transformed, leading to an earthly paradise. He called it ‘The Kingdom’.

         The Church is one of Jesus’ principal means of bringing about the Kingdom. Unfortunately, the word ‘church’ has three separate meanings:

  • A building in which Christian services are held.
  • A Christian group or denomination, such as the ‘Church of
    England’ or ‘Baptist Church.’
  • All the people of God; the group of all baptised believers.

     The third definition is usually the best. To distinguish this model from the other two, it is common to talk about the Church Universal which means all believers of all denominations, wherever they worship God.

      It’s often useful to models and metaphors of the Church to help explain how it works. One of the first is St Paul’s idea of the body.

      The ‘body’ model of the Church says that each Christian member acts like an individual jigsaw piece so, like a human body, the Church relies on all Christians working together in harmony. St Paul sometimes calls it ‘the mystical body’.

      The mystical body is St Paul’s favourite way of describing the way a group of Christians work together when bolted together, spiritually, in a congregation. He says the true Church comprises all believers, past present and future.

      The Holy Spirit of God lives in the soul of each member. Therefore, all members of the Church are inter­linked. This fact explains why (for example) the Collect for All Saints’ Day talks of how ‘[God] has knit together his elect in one communion …’ where the phrase ‘knit together’ recognises that a link exists, but without trying to define it. It is unclear how this ‘linking’ occurs, but it certainly operates in a spiritual way.
      St Paul’s most detailed description of the body occurs in 1 Corinthians 12:1–12. In it, he explains, systematically and in a sometimes witty way, the possible errors we cause if we ignore this aspect of the Church. If one person in the Church body sins, then all others become spiritually ‘polluted.’ Conversely, all acts of love and spiritual goodness help cleanse all other members of the body.

Just before distributing the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the priest takes a wafer of bread, breaks it symbolically, and says

    We break this bread to share in the body of Christ.

Everyone responds, saying,
    Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in the one bread.

The body imagery occurs in many Collects. Probably the best known is the Collect for All Saints’ Day:
    Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord … 

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