Henry Neufeld, at the Participatory Bible Blog,

I want to briefly point to something that we often miss in Bible study and theology in the western church–corporate identity. We are very individualistic, and that makes it hard to see when some form of corporate identity is in play.

This turns up in certain views of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Many view the baptism as a single event for the church on Pentecost, into which the individual believer is incorporated when he or she becomes a part of God’s people, normally through baptism. The separate baptism is a more individual idea. (I think there can be some accommodation between these views; I simply want to point out the corporate identity inherent in at least one of them.)

Paul says in Romans 6:3-4:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (NRSV, cf. 2 Corinthians 4:10-12)

Again, our baptism incorporates us into God’s people, and by this means we have a part in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Individualization of faith and church, as exemplified in the above or the notion of cafeteria Christianity is not a stranger to the American faith experience. I’d like to follow this notion of corporate connectedness and some consequences … below the fold.

One of the primary lessons of Leviticus, to over-simplify somewhat, is that corporate sin matters, exists and is important. Put simply, the sin of my neighbor has consequences for me. Now, some political/theological leaders like Mr Fallwell and Mr Robertson like to paint a American corporate image of sin, implying that various natural disasters are God’s way of warning us against our individual or corporate sin. In Leviticus the teaching was that if sin was allowed to remain, remaining un-repented and un-cleansed, then God would leave the land. We dwell however in Babylon, a mix of nominal pagan and atheists (”high” and “low”) as well as other faiths mixed with the Christians. A first question then might be how would a pre-exilic Israelite rabbi view the questions of purity for those those dwelling outside of Canaan during that period? How would they advise on the sins of their neighbors who were unconcerned with holiness? My guess is that the teaching would be that they need pay attention to the purity of their people and that God would deal, in God’s fashion and time if at all, with the other. That “guess” should probably be researched and revisited, but for now I’m going to run with it and hope that if its seen as wrong it will be pointed out poste haste. Certainly the actions and corporate sin of the community of the faithful was of a higher and more immediate concern than the surrounding peoples.

Now much of Levitical purity laws have, it is argued, no longer apply as Christ has been our sacrificial Lamb. However, as Mr Neufeld notes above, the central idea of corporate responsibility and ties have not been lost and indeed perchance are stronger indeed as they are eternal.

Christians in today’s America reject and react with dismay (and worse) against things which they, as Christians, find abhorrent to their faith, e.g., alcoholism, drug abuse, abortion, euthanasia, et al. But that should be, it seems to me in the light of the above, a secondary concern. America doesn’t need for example, on any Christian basis, laws against abortion when Christians are aborting their children. But how, can a Church in America, with its cafeteria of Christian denominations have any corporate presence. Before we try to exert pressure on Babylon it seems to me we must set our own house in order.  How will it look, when we stand before Christ’s at the Eschaton and we try to “spin” our invoking and influencing Caesar to coerce and penal methods on pagans (and our brethren) from their error while our house nearly just as much at fault. What Herculean hero can we find to clean our own (corporate collective) Aegean stables?

As side note,  Bertrand de Jouvenel referred to the modern multicultural liberal democracy as “Babylon” but Corinth of the New Testament times might be another comparison. Charles Townsend notes that throughout history people have had a varied religious response, spanning the spectrum from barely measurable to fervent. While America’s pollsters cricket racers inform us that some 80% of us are Christian … it seems to me more than is healthy (for the visit at that dread judgement seat) run to the weak side of that spectrum today. Is your devotion complete enough to pass the Pascal-like wager that so many of the faithful play with when they divide their commitment to Church and their secular pursuits? More importantly, to me at the very least, is mine?

A final parting thought: The apostolic episcopal framework serves well to help inspire corporate unity and attention those corporate failings. This has been rejected by (essentially all) Protestant American Christians. What was gained by this rejection? Was it worth it?

Filed under: ChristianityMark O.ReligionYou Cry Out

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