The Christian Body in 1 Corinthians

The Christian community is
given the work of witnessing to the oneness of God. Everything the
community and its individuals members do serves the unity of the Church
for the sake of the world

The Christian phalanx and
its work

The Christian community is a
single loaf (1 Corinthians 10.17). This community must also eat from this
single loaf. But because the loaf is pure, it is too hard to break open
unaided. The community must look back at its giver and ask him to open it. Then
it may tug and a piece comes off and the Christians can eat this pure bread,
and strength will flood into every part of the Christian body. After many
meals, strength will start to enter the Christian mind too, and the body will
become aware of all those around it, floundering and exhausted, that it can
feed from the same loaf. In breaking this loaf open for others the Christian
body learns Christ’s action. Christ’s action makes them first takers, then
thankers, then breakers and givers. Christ draws them into his four-fold
action, and by it they pass him on.

Those seized by this king are no
longer civilians, spectators or passengers. They have been given a new
employment. They must hold the line. Each must grasp those on either side of
him in the line. They must not let the buffeting of the forces coming against
them loosen their grasp of one another. No member can oppose the forces tugging
against him without every other. The other members are the gift given to each,
and the responsibility each must bear. Each member has been seized, and must
seize and hold in their turn so that the whole defence stays intact. They must
also grasp whoever they can reach, and pull them out of the world and into the
Christian body. They may no longer treat anyone as a strangers. They are the
gift shoved into his hands and the responsibility they must each bear.

There are two modes of
Christian. There are those who are in holy war mode, who hold the line, form
the perimeter of the community, who man the walls and keep the look out. They
are watchmen and prophets. And there are those who are off-duty, who must take
care of their households, and of the weaker and vulnerable, and teach the
inexperienced. How does Christ arrange his troops in the body? He puts the
artillery where it will cover the infantry, and the infantry where it will
cover the artillery. He puts the men on active duty at the front, and on guard
duty all round the perimeter. Where do the women go? There are two modes of
women. There are those married to the community in the person of the guild of
women – the virgins and widows. They have no domestic concerns, so can
concentrate on their whole-community function. The guild of women go right
behind the front line. The guard will protect them and they will support the
guard. When the enemy attacks the guild of women will call God directly –
praying perhaps without even without articulate words. And there are those
married to the whole community in the person of one man – their ‘husband’ – in
an illustration of the way God has married himself to this community as a
whole. But the whole body is domestic and therefore vulnerable. The weakest are
not only women and children but the immature, but those beginners who used to
be big men in pagan circles. They will be the most vulnerable. They will make
the community vulnerable if the community treats them as experienced too soon.
They may not be put on the edge with the priestly warriors, the guards. But the
Son is vigilant. He holds the body together under his protection. He is its
kinsman, redeemer and husband.

On the first day of the week the
body processes out of march formation into camp formation. In camp formation it
celebrates an interim feast in which it celebrates the bridegroom, and the
strongest nearest to him. Then it assembles back into march formation, Christ
moving back from the middle to the front, the strongest back on the outside. As
this proper relative location of the body to the head is established this newly
established order spreads outwards so the whole universe falls into place
around the body around Christ. He is the spindle that pegs time to its place in
the centre of eternity.

What happens when the body,
taken in by an appearance of competence, puts the inexperienced Christian too
near the outside? The double-minded man (James 1.8) wants to drink from the cup
of the Lord, but cannot wait, so takes a sip out of the first cup to be offered
him. He wants to drink from both cups. He is slowly poisoning himself on all
the various incompatible drinks. They lay claim to him, and will finally
succeed in their claim. He is the weak point through which all these mixtures
find their way in to Israel’s body. Israel must try to spot him before the
outside force do. When first encouragement, and then warnings have not
succeeded, it must throw him out and fill his place, so no gap is opened by
which the enemy can come in.

If the enemy sword finds an
Israelite in the rank who is contaminated with gentileness, who has
internalised the food, teaching, practices of the Gentiles, the Gentiles can
touch him. Their blows will not bounce off the Christian body, but bite into
the whole body through him. He will be subject to that same decay that the
gentiles intrinsically are. By his death he will have joined them, and finally
have become one of them. They will claim him and that Israelite will fall. Let
another take his place (Psalm 109.8).

Covering for one another

Standing in for one another is
the Christian task. Discerning the body means knowing when every member of the
body is present. This means recollecting the last and least, and not beginning
to celebrate until they arrive. When they do not arrive, it means going to find
them and bringing them in. It may not be the fault of the individual that he
does not re-appear next eucharist. He has been separated from the troop in the
course of the engagement and cannot find his way back alone. Discerning the
body means taking the census, counting the sheep and going after the one
missing. And it means covering for him, doing what he cannot do for himself.

The community may not start
celebrating the feast without last member safely accounted for. To start before
the last arrives would indicate that such a member, who comes after everyone
else, and is lowest on the social ladder, is not a vital part of the body. It
would be to claim that the body is whole without him. But every last member
must be brought in before the body is whole and present. The body that eats
before this moment, swallows division and weakness and condemnation. Until we
bring him in, Christ is absent because he is precisely that member who is in
debt, sick, cannot afford clothes (Matthew 25.42-3) and so unable to appear in
the assembly.

The whole community is the head
of each individual Christian. The mind of each Christian is any member of the
body who can tell him what he should do. If a Christian lacks, for instance,
the gift of compassion, he must put himself under the Christian who does not
lack that gift. He must be apprenticed to whoever has the gift of compassion
and he must regard that Christian as his own head. He must follow him around
and pick up the practices of compassion, by doing so with him and under his
supervision. The Christian with the gift is the head and the master of the
Christian without. Each must eagerly desire whatever gift he does not yet have.
It does not matter which order the basic talents of the Christian are laid down
in. The better gifts are only whichever of those are outstanding: they are not
intrinsically better gifts, but gifts which take you further toward the whole
range. If your neighbour is missing a gift that is suddenly required, you have
to stand in for him. There is no perfection given to any single member. But all
gifts must all be visible in the community that is intended to represent the
catholicity of Christ.

God gives us his Son in three
modes. He gave us first the Son who is his Word, the Instruction and Wisdom of
God. He is the Torah, Scripture and the Law. He gave this Christ to the people
of Israel. Then he gave the Son who suffered, died, was raised and now sits
secured at the right hand of the Father, and who is now purveyor of all good
things for us. He is the Spirit who acts as conveyor belt and escalator to
bring us down the gifts and skills of Christ, and to bring us up to the full
measure of him, and to stand us with him before the Father. This doctrine about
Christ (christology) is joined to a doctrine of the Holy Spirit (pneumatology).

Thirdly he has given us the many
people of the Christian body. He gives each of us the body in the specific
persons of this Christian who is my senior and that Christian who is my junior.
This doctrine about the body of Christ is driven by the doctrine of the Holy
Spirit (ecclesiology determined by pneumatology). In the community directed by
Christ the Spirit we will be brought to Christ the Son who sits with the
Father, and then we will see these three Christs are one.

He has given us this body in two
modes. The body is all those who are more experienced than I am, the Christian
on my right in the line of battle, who is my teacher and protector. What I lack
is chiefly the discernment and advice that points out what is missing from my
performance and points me towards better performance. I lack the experience of
what to ask for. But this senior Christian covers for me, supplying what I
lack. And he has given me the Christian body in the form of all those who are
even less experienced than I am. I have to be the head of whoever is less
experienced than me, so that he can learn from me first to be the hands of
Christ, and later become the head of someone junior to him. It is because I am
the hands (of Christ) that I can serve as head to this junior Christian. I am
the hands and the head so that he can learn to be the hands with me, and take
on the servant role. I am his servant by being his leader.

The member who is more
vulnerable and needy than me needs support and aid from me. He must be visited
in prison, fed, clothed, and shown what to do. He is continually in prison
because he never receives debt forgiveness. To meet his payments to one creditor,
he has to go to another, each time putting himself in debt to a new master. He
is divided by the many creditors who have their teeth into him and are slowly
chewing him up. The Christian community has to pay this debt for him. It has to
get him debt forgiveness. It has to pay off his creditors and masters. It is
not easy for the Christian community to come up with this price, because
landlords do not like to let go of their power over anyone from whom they can
continue to extract payment.

Buying out of one economy
and into another

From the outside the Christian
(eschatological) economy looks smaller than the economy of this world. In this
world every master has his own rules and way of doing things. To get on in his
business you have to share his mentality. But they all feel themselves subject
to the law of eat or be eaten, be predator if you don’t want to be prey. Within
this world the Christian economy looks small, one economy amongst many. But
that is a trick of perspective. The economy of God is not only larger, but much
larger, than the whole economy of all the predators. The Christians are cashing
up out of all the economies of the predators, and buying into another economy.
This second economy from the perspective of the first looks just like the reverse
of competence. But it is much roomier than the first economy. In the first
economy there is only room at the top, so everyone spends everything they have,
every last ounce, scrambling their way up toward the top, over one another’s
heads, treading each other down. Whoever is further up will not be there long,
because the effort of fighting off all the others is exhausting. The first
economy is held in permanent fear. Panic rules. In the second economy there is
space enough, there is a place for everyone, so there is good order.

The priestly work given to the
Christian community is to swallow the trouble dished out by the predatory
economy. The Christians are involved in an exchange work. They are engaged in a
currency conversion. They buy in hard words and sell gentle ones. They take in
abuse and they issue good words, good news, gifts of insight and instruction. 1
Corinthians 4.12 When we are cursed, we bless.. when we are slandered we answer
kindly… They buy closure notices and issue notices of new work. They take
people on, and give them employment. The Christian community has to buy up all
the poor of the earth, out of the many exploitative relationships in which the
not-so-poor keep them. The Christian body has to aid the poorest to escape the
clutches of the many voracious creditors, who milk them for payment. The Church
has a debt consolidation job to do. Once the very poor are released from the
not-so-poor, it is time for the not-so-poor themselves to be released. The
further up the pyramid, the more reluctant they are to release those they hold,
and to be released themselves from the unjust relationships they enforce on
each other.