One thing evangelicals do well is our incessant hammering on the need for each of us to continually respond in faith to the God who is reaching out to us in Christ. We insist on personal accountability before God.
But if the down side to this has been that we’re slow to realize the fully communal implications of our faith.
As I’ve said before, I used to shrug off the old hymn, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Because, NEWS FLASH!, I wasn’t! I was a couple thousand years too late for that one.
But then I started to realize that the body of Christ is all around me every time I gather with God’s people. And I began to realize that these were people I had wounded, people whom I had judged and rejected and injured. I had become an instrument in the wounding of the body of Christ.
So yes, I was there. And I am there. I participate in the crucifixion when I judge and reject and injure those who are, themselves, members of Christ’s body.
When Jesus places His name on someone in baptism, he takes this identification with them with utmost seriousness. It’s not just that the person is bound to the story of Christ (something else we need to learn more deeply than we have) but that Christ is bound to the person of this story.
And so Jesus tells his disciples:
Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me. (Mark 9:37, CEB)
The disciples weren’t too sure about this whole, “name of Jesus” thing. So they pressed back a bit:
We saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us. (Mark 9:38, CEB)
Everyone who’s not against us is for us. In fact,
I assure you that whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will certainly be rewarded. (Mark 9:41, CEB).
We too often fall into the trap of thinking that our relationship with God is one thing, and our relationship with people is something else. Sometimes we’ll acknowledge the connection by saying something like, “When my relationship with God is askew, it messes with my relationships with people, too.”
There’s truth in that.
But there’s a more profound truth that such statements skirt; namely, our relationship with other people in the body is, itself, our relationship with the Christ whose name is upon them.
Before us is Jesus beyond Jesus.
God has determined to renew each of us after the image of the firstborn Son.
And so, what we do to them, those who bear the son’s image, is done to the son whose image they bear. When we engage the one who is Christ’s, for blessing or for curse, we bless or curse the Christ to whom they belong.