JANUARY 10, 2019 BY A LIGHTBOWN
Talking of being in Christ as the gateway to radical new inclusivity
‘In Christ’ is one of the most beautiful of all New Testament phrases. All Christians should delight at being ‘in Christ.’
John Stott, in his 1983 address at the Leadership Lunch following the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. said that ‘the expressions “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” and “in him” occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone.’ ‘In Christ’ is a vitally important and deeply sacred theological concept, yet it is one that is often used indiscriminately and with pastoral insensitivity. Sadly, it is sometimes used to knockdown and exclude rather than to build up and affirm.
For St. Paul being in Christ clearly trumped all other temporal identity markers, but that is a very long way from suggesting that he believed that being ‘in Christ’ rendered all other identity markers superfluous or irrelevant.
And yet, in today’s church, ‘in Christ’ is frequently deployed theo-politically. It is often used to suggest that all our other human characteristics and relationships are worth nothing because the only really important thing is that we are ‘in Christ.’
When ‘in Christ’ is deployed in this way it is often done from a position of significant privilege and moral certainty. Of course the irony is that sometimes those who use ‘in Christ’ in this way are frequently keen to highlight the nature of their own temporal identity markers and relationships.
The term ‘in Christ’ is, I think, so special, so sacred, that we all need to exercise extreme care when using it. It should never be used to suggest that past hurts and pains don’t matter, or even worse in some ways, weren’t real. It should also never be used to rank, diminish or establish hierarchies of (human) being; ‘in Christ’ is the great equalizer. ‘In Christ’ always seeks to include, not exclude.
‘In Christ’ is an expression of divine hospitality. ‘In Christ’ includes and raises up the hitherto excluded, marginalized and ostracized whilst asking the privileged to acknowledge their status. ‘In Christ’ is the gift to the many rather than the prerogative of a self-elected few.
‘In Christ’ is a doorway, or Gate, to the acceptance of greater diversity and ‘radical new Christian inclusivity in the life of the Church.’ ‘In Christ’ is the chalice that holds all who commit to love God and neighbour irrespective of difference. ‘In Christ’ is the sacred word animating the sacramental action of a radically inclusive God.
‘In Christ’ celebrates God’s creativity and the infinite and glorious diversity inherent in creation. In Christ doesn’t mean nothing else matters. It means that everything else matters.
The most famous ‘In Christ’ verse is probably Galatians 3, 28: in which we read that ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’
To borrow a phrase from the Three Musketeers surely this means that the spirit of ‘in Christ’ is ‘all for one and one for all?’ Commitment, as John Stott suggested, to God, and to each other, is the glue that ultimately binds us together ‘in Christ.’
‘In Christ’ doesn’t diminish our differences, temporal identities, and experiences but instead receives them, blesses them, and distributes them in, through, and beyond the Church.
Andrew Lightbown is a parish priest in the Church of England, whose weblog ‘Theoreo’ is a little goldmine of inclusive theology – where all of God’s children are seen to be equal in the sight of God, without prejudice orlimitation of race, class, gender or sexual orientation.
His reflection on the ancient paradigm of what it means to be ‘In Christ’ is – paradoxically – spelt out by radical English Evangelical theologian John Stott, whose provenance is often claimed to be the epitome of the present-day understandings of the conservative Evangelical theological base-line.
However, in Stott’s presentation to a North American National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., “he said that ‘the expressions “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” and “in him” occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone.’ ‘In Christ’ is a vitally important and deeply sacred theological concept, yet it is one that is often used indiscriminately and with pastoral insensitivity. Sadly, it is sometimes used to knockdown and exclude rather than to build up and affirm.”
Sadly, in today’s environment, where gender and sexuality have become the issue de jour, it is mainly radically Evangelical churches that are seeking to distance themselves from the prospect of including LGBTI+ Christians, whose loyalty to Christ is being questioned and rejected – because of their intrinsically different gender/sexual status which, though lawful in the secular sphere, is still being identified by certain conservative Evangelicals as a barrier to membership of the body of Christ. LGBTI+ people are being marginalised because of who they are.
What seems to have been forgotten or just ignored is the Gospel counsel to “love one another as I have loved you” – the message of Jesus to his followers, not considering one’s self as more righteous than another, but rather, treating others with the same respect that Christ has treated us in his redemptive life, death and resurrection “For the sake of sinners”.
Even Saint Paul, whose message can sometimes be considered difficult, we have the assurance that: “In Christ, there is neither male nor female, Greek nor Jew”, but all have been baptised into the Christ who, alone, is our justification and redemption.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand