“…no indifferent matter…”

Picking up from last time

The outward order of the Church therefore is no indifferent matter; it is, on the contrary, of supreme importance since it is found to be related to the Church’s inner meaning and to the Gospel of God itself.  For the good news that God has visited and redeemed His people includes the redeemed man’s knowledge of death and resurrection through his place in the one visible society and through the death to self that every member and group has died.  And in telling of this one visible society the Church’s outward order tells indeed of the Gospel (Ramsey, 43).

Why is this so important?  Why does it matter what we consider church?  Why can’t the unity of the Church be summed up in the things we have in common (e.g., the belief in one God, the faith in Jesus Christ)?  Why should we find a deeper, more complex (and more fulfilling!!) unity than this?

Paul’s letters to the local church in Corinth sheds light on these questions.

Corinth was an extremely active society, grammatically, anyway.  The constant appeals to “we have,” “we know,” “we are” neglect the richness of the thoughts, “God has given,” “God possesses us” and “we are not, in ourselves and of ourselves; but Christ in us is wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification.”  The people at Corinth see themselves in “an individualistic way instead of merging themselves and their gifts in the one Body and so learning to die and live” (Ramsey, 44).

How does Paul respond?  By proclaiming the Gospel, and by asserting the truth about the structure of the Church.  Their pride Paul confronts with the scandal of the cross.  Without the cross, the Corinthians are nothing, but Christ in them is “wisdom and righteousness and sanctification.”  This Gospel–of selflessness and obedience–is not only found by their connection with the Christ event of the past, but by present expression in the one Body.

By their place in the one Body they are to learn to be humble and dependent and to die to self.  Let them consider the Body and exist only as members of the Body, and they will learn of Christ’s Cross whereby men are lost as separate “selfhoods” and found as members of Christ and of one another (Ramsey, 44-45).

Paul didn’t waste any time or space: “Paul…to the Church of God which is in Corinth…called to be saints…with all that call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in every place, their Lord and ours (1 Corinthians 1:1-2).  They are not alone in the Christian race:  “What? was it from you that the word of God went forth: or did it come to you alone?” (1 Corinthians 14:36).  They are not only alone, they depend on those, most especially the Apostles, who preceded them.

And who can forget 1 Corinthians 12, which expresses this principle of dependence fully?

The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you: or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.  Much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary…Now you are the body of Christ, and severally members of it.

“So Corinth learns the Gospel anew by learning the Church” (Ramsey, 45).  What the church, but its unity between members, unity with history, unity with the Christ, and unity with the Divine Trinity itself, is to express the Gospel, and the message of selflessness which this world has a very difficult time embracing.  The individual Christian and the exalted and spiritual group of Christians both learn of the Body and of the Cross together.

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