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Revisiting the body of Christ

In light of this week’s focus on the body of Christ, I should point readers to a couple posts I did almost three years ago where I took up some of these questions. I would definitely modulate and revise some of the language I tended towards at the time, when I was drawn to speak of the church and Jesus as “one organism, one entity.” I am now firmly convinced that this language, while attempting to do something good, namely to articulate the profound nature of Christ’s union with the church, is ultimately wrong and misleading, and in my opinion can, at times serve ideological ends.

In my first post I raised the question of whether or not the image of the church as the body of Christ was a metaphor. At the time I was perhaps more inclined to say that it, in fact is not. Since then I have found this to be untenable.

In my second post,  I examined the nature of Christ’s embodied presence to the world with a mind toward exploring how the church can rightly be called his body. I stand by most of what I wrote there, but with some important caveats and changes that I think need to be made  to the formulation I put forth at that time. I concluded that post  thusly:

Because the Trinitarian Son is the man Jesus, the reality of his bodiliness participates in the infinity of the Triune life, thus enabling Christ to, so to speak, ‘enflesh’ his embodiment under different modalities through the work of the Spirit. Thus, the Trinitarian Son is the man Jesus who was born of Mary, he likewise is the earthly-historical community that he joins to himself by the Spirit, and he likewise is the one who is with the Father in the Spirit, who is coming to bring all creation into the fullness of the Triune Future. In short, he is the One who was, who is, and who is the come. The First and the Last. The Alpha and the Omega.

The place where I go off track here is precisely in the second “is” that I articulate. Here’s how I would iterate what I was getting at three years ago in a way that I think is much more, well, true:

Because the Trinitarian Son is the man Jesus, the reality of his bodiliness participates in the infinity of the Triune life, thus enabling Christ to, so to speak, ‘enflesh’ his embodiment under different modalities through the work of the Spirit. Thus, the Trinitarian Son is the man Jesus who was born of Mary, he likewise is the sovereign Lord, who binds the earthly-historical community of the church to himself in the Spirit, and he likewise is the one who is with the Father in the Spirit, who is coming to bring all creation into the fullness of the Triune Future. In short, he is the One who was, who is, and who is the come. The First and the Last. The Alpha and the Omega.

Really, this is trying to express what I would now call the way in which the radical particularity of Christ — in his bodiliness — irrupts into the world through the mission of the Holy Spirit. This is all understood under the rubric of promise (cf. Acts 2:33, 39). This irruption in the Spirit of Christ’s concrete presence is what calls forth and creates the church, which stands as a sign of the radical grace of God which transfigures and renews the world. As such the church is created by the Son and Spirit as a sign, sacrament, and foretaste of the coming new creation. All of this is pure gift, pure grace, which apocalyptically comes to us from outside ourselves. Only in finding ourselves the recipients of this gift are we given and bound to one another in the Spirit, thus being able to rightly call ourselves the body of Christ.

8 Comments

  1. Dennis wrote:

    Very nice.

    I also think that when we talk of the “Body of Christ”, we are talking specifically about Christ crucified. It’s His Body hanging on the tree that we are united to. It’s through the Baptism we are clothed in Christ and our old sinful skins are circumcised and nailed to the cross. Then we are buried with Him.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 8:48 am | Permalink
  2. adhunt wrote:

    I know you’ve already put up a bunch of new posts but I was struck by something in this one. It also seems to be something that you wrestle with continually so I wanted to note it. You wrote, accounting for a possibly missing “and” I’m assuming it was something like… …”is ultimately wrong and misleading, and in my opinion, ideological [and?] can, at times serve ideological ends.

    If it is ideological then I’m not sure how you get that since it is a Scriptural ‘metaphor.’ If it can be used for ideological purposes does this actually amount to an argument against using it? It seems like a slightly more sophisticated “slippery slope” argument than anything else.

    I’m also find your tendency to look under every rock and crevice for “ideology” to be a will to power. There simply is no ideological-free zone. No seated and foundational perspective from which to speak. By chasing after ideolologies I wonder if you simply create one yourself…? i.e.- “This confession”…or “this theology”…or “the apocalyptic word”…this is ideology free” I find that to be simply incorrect at best.

    As an unrelated note I hope to see you post on two things that I’ve not yet seen you take up; namely “participation” with Christ and the way in which St. Paul uses “en christw” to signal us being in Christ (not the evangelical’y Christ being in us, which St. Paul talks about but with different language)

    Overall though, I’ve really enjoyed these posts.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Sorry, that was a typo. Its fixed now.

    And I don’t think trying to critique and root out ideology is a bad idea just because the work is never done. I don’t see how this constitutes a will to power.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  4. adhunt wrote:

    Because playing the iconoclast is itself not ideologically free.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    So then we should just ignore ideology? Wow, that sounds so like the gospel!

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    And how are you not playing the iconoclast by just accusing any theology you don’t agree with of being an ideological construction/will to power? You see how this works?

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  7. adhunt wrote:

    Aw come on Halden, I went to great lengths to not be hostile in this thread; don’t rile me up! I don’t have any particular theology in mind in writing this. Neither did I say, or really even imply that we “ignore ideology.”

    My ideology bit was directly related to the part of the comment that you haven’t yet addressed; namely, does not at least some of your critique of “body” language actually come from a “slippery slope” argument? If it does, and I think some of it does, then in treating “body” language as “ideological” you’re really just unseating a metaphor or metaphysics that you feel can be ideologically used, or one that doesn’t sit well with pre-dispositions (like certain kind of “Word” theologies) that you have about the Church’s need to be “unsettled.” Now that is absolutely based on deep reflection and conviction on your part, but what I’m trying to get at is that it acts as the foundation for some of your iconoclasm.

    And if your foundation is up for debate, as all of ours are, then using “this could be ideological” to defrock deep seated tradition is not innocent. But that wasn’t even the thrust of my comment.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. My problem is not with the body metaphor as being suspect or ideological. My problem is with theological constructions on the basis of that metaphor that posit the church and Jesus as together being somehow “one person” in a mystical ontological sense (which by no means can simply be “read” off the text). So I have no problem with the metaphor, just with certain trains of interpretation thereof.

    Also, as I hoped the sentence made clear in the post (maybe it didn’t), my primary concern with this interpretation of the body metaphor is not that it is ideological or could be used as such, but rather that is wrong. I simply noted that it has been used ideologically because I think that’s a relevant point, not because I think it “proves” anything.

    And after all, isn’t a good idea to reflect on that fact that if we say that we’re in some sense the same person as Jesus — who is God — we’re perhaps granting divine sanction to ourselves and our actions in ways that serve our own ends? I’m not saying that that state of affairs “proves” anything. But I think its a question worth asking, and I think any attempt to simply bracket it out is something to be suspicious of.

    Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

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