Monday, January 28, 2013

Radical Community


In the Apostle Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church, he advocates something truly radical when compared to other organizations and institutions. Paul argues that while all members of the Christian community are loved and valued equally, God bestows special honor and dignity on some whom we would never expect. He contends that those parts of the body that appear to be “weaker” are actually indispensable to the health and well-being of the body (see 1 Cor. 12:21–25). We could read “weaker” as “more vulnerable” or even “less useful.” In the conventional wisdom of this world’s organizations and institutions, such “weaker” members are considered expendable.        

Paul is probably echoing the language the Corinthians were using in order to issue an implicit warning. Paul is saying: You who fancy yourselves to be “stronger,” to be more spiritual or knowledgeable, you’d better be careful. The ones you call “weaker” are the very ones to whom God grants special honor and deems indispensable to the community. These are members of the body who show us and teach us about Christ’s love in ways that we cannot know in any other way. 

What does Christ expect from his body? Tolerance? Well, yes, of course, but more than tolerance. What about acceptance? Yes, certainly, but mere acceptance doesn’t go far enough either. Paul is calling for a new, radical way of being and practicing community, where the very ones many would consider “weaker” are given special dignity and honor. The very ones other organizations would call “expendable” are called “indispensable” in the Christian community.

Paul calls for a kind of synergy of the Spirit where members share one another’s sorrows and joys. He says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:26). Here is where a church differs radically (or is supposed to) from all other organizations and institutions.

Everyone knows how a pain in the foot or hand can absorb the entire body’s energy and attention for days. No other institution whose primary mission is to be effective or to make a profit or grow the institution would put up with that. It would simply cut off the unhealthy part of the body, the part that is causing all the pain, and replace it with a more effective member. Persons and institutions are judged by their effectiveness.

But in the body of Christ no one is expendable, and we are all called to suffer and celebrate together. When the church actually functions in this radical way, then the church becomes an outpost for God’s kingdom on earth. The church, then, gives the world a taste of new wine, of what community is like in God’s new creation.




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