Character, Communion and the Identity of Christ

12 08 2006

Original Sin

Many people misunderstand the concept of Original Sin they often think of it in terms of visiting the sins of the parents on their children. It is amounted to us being born into a situation of sinfulness where it is almost assumed that we will fall from grace. Sometimes, Original Sin is thought of as sinful actions that God holds against us even before we are born. The court room analogy for our sinfulness plays into the idea that Original Sin is about God holding us to account the first human rebellion.

However, to consider Original Sin in either of these ways is to misunderstand that sin is not primarily about our context or past actions, it is about fundamentally about our characters. We are originally sinful not because we are born into a fallen world or because we have inherited the blame for Adam and Eve’s taste for fruit. We are sinful from conception because we are born with fallen characters or to put it another way we are originally sinful because our characters are not God’s character.

The story of the Garden of Eden, taken either metaphorically or literally, reveals that sin is about the people we are rather than actions we commit. We were and are naturally sinful because we considered the idea that God might not know what is best for us, or put another way that God may be keeping a blessing from us (Genesis 3:5). It was not the action of eating the fruit that somehow made us sinful but the fact that we were led astray so easily.

Justification and the Community of Redemption

If we say that Original Sin primarily concerns our individual characters then how do we understand justification and the significance of the community of redemption? I believe justification makes it possible for all people to be reconciled with one another and with God in the covenant community- the church.

In this context, the Eucharist is a celebration of our unity with one another (koinonia) through Jesus the Messiah. It is a celebration of our reconciliation to one another in the mystical body of Christ and the communion we share with one another through justification. When we come to the table whilst still bearing a grudge against a brother or sister, we devalue the meaning of the Eucharist. In a similar way when our actions cannot be reconciled to the rule of Christ in our lives, we devalue the meaning of the Eucharist.

The practice of excommunication (or the ban) is designed to protect the integrity of the Eucharist. Excommunication is a way for the church to say to an offender ‘you’re actions have put you outside the communion, here is how you can be reconciled.’ If there is no salvation outside the church, then excommunication is not a condemning act but an invitation to repent and rejoin the fellowship.

Our communion matters because it is within our common life that characters our characters are formed and conformed to the likeness of Christ. As Abbot Christopher Jamison writes in Finding Sanctuary, ‘Obedience, silence, and humility are qualities we experience through persevering in community life; that is what a community is for: to foster the experience of these qualities through its very structures.’ Jamison observes that for Benedict, ‘once you are outside community, then these qualities are in danger of evaporating’.

Jesus, the Nazarene, the Jew, the Servant Saviour

In today’s pick and mix society people are often afraid of community, likewise they are afraid of identifying. I’m sure you have heard people contrast ‘spirituality’ with ‘organised religion’, or say things like ‘I am spiritual but not religious’. I want to suggest that the opposite is true everyone is religious but not everyone is spiritual!

People are religious in that everyone is worshipping something fame, money, or sex- no matter what it is everyone has an idol. Perhaps the god upon which the human heart is most commonly set is the self. You may have heard it said ‘He was a self-made man’ or even the old joke ‘I used to be an atheist until I realised I was god.’ You see everyone orders their life around something but that thing is very rarely spiritual at least not in the biblical sense.

In the Bible, being born of the spirit is used to refer to someone whose life is rooted in the Spirit of God. This is a world away from the self-centred devotion of much contemporary spirituality in which the interior world is enthroned as a god. Christian spirituality has to do with the Spirit who leads us into Truth (John 16:13).

During the approach to Christmas, we often exchange cards and sometimes we receive or perhaps we will send a card which says ‘Merry Xmas’. I wonder whether we are sometimes guilty of being people of the X rather than the Christ. I mean sometimes we can be vague about the identity of Christ because recognition of identity makes demands of who we are.

I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood in solidarity with the Jewish people as they resisted Nazi persecution. It was his insight that the identity of Jesus as a Jew meant that the church could not remain in communion with its Lord whilst being in sympathy with the Nazi oppression of the Jewish people.

It is not simply Jesus’ race, creed, or colour which is pertinent to the way we live our lives. It is our identification of the way of Jesus, the messiah, which is most significant. The Christian spiritual life is not pick and mix spirituality or spirituality of the X it is embodied spirituality. It is embodied in Jesus, the Nazarene, the Jew, the Servant Saviour!




3 responses

15 08 2006
Mostly Harmless

Is Christian spirituality different than the “incarnational” emphasis of emerging church then James? The embodiment of spirituality being in the “historical” Jesus in his context and not a contextualisation of what Jesus would do if he were us?

15 08 2006
James Church

If by ‘incarnational’ the Emerging Church means to be rooted in the historical Jesus and his context then I have no argument with such a belief.

However, my reading of the Emerging Church leads me to believe that ‘incarnational’ is more often used to mean being rooted in contemporary culture (with little reflection on the spirit of that culture).

6 10 2006

Yes, James, the Emerging Church has been sucking really badly for a few years now. 😦

As for your essay, I think you make good points about original sin, and the deeply communal nature of the Eucharist. I think you’d really like Wainwright’s Eucharist and Eschatology.


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