Saturday, November 1, 2008

One Flesh with Christ

I must admit I have run with this "high church" ecclesiology stuff with a bit less exegesis from Scripture than I should have. Granted, I have spent a good bit of time in Scripture and a high ecclesiology seems to have answered logically those passages about the Church that typically stymie evangelicals. Not to mention, it effectively shows the unity of the covenants in a way that a totally spiritualized "low church" ecclesiology never can. In other words, from my past knowledge of Scripture, it makes sense in a broad, systemic sense.

This is interesting since the basic argument I have used with evangelical friends who reject a "high" view of the Church and the sacraments is that they are relying far too much on systematic theology and not allowing the specifics of Scripture to speak for themselves. It's funny that we sometimes think as if (unconsciously, I hope) the arguments we apply to other people do not apply to us. I have to go back and let the Scriptures speak for themselves.

I've been carefully studying Ephesians to flesh out its understanding of what the Church is and how Christ is related to it. I'm running across a couple lines of tension that are featured prominently in this Pauline letter. As far as Christ's relation to the Church, I have noted a basic tension between the idea of Christ as Head of the Church and the idea of the Church as Christ's own Body. Talking about the fact that God has raised Christ from the dead and placed him over all things in heaven and on earth, Paul writes in 1:22-23, "God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (NIV). Christ is "head over everything for the church," but the Church is also his Body, "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." It seems as if Paul is simultaneously maintaining a hierarchical distinction between Christ and his Church and a sort of identity between Christ and his Body. Christ is over the Church but the Church is also part of him. And it is just not any part; it is "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."

We see this paradox again in chapter 4. Paul is exhorting the Ephesians to set aside their divisions, to stop being "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching" (v. 14). Instead, they should speak the truth to one another in love, so that together with all Christians they will "grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up and love, as each part does its work" (v. 15, 16). Christ is not only at the top of the pyramid in the Church, he is also the principle of unity from the bottom up and in all of its parts, even the most elementary and minute. The Church, from its foundation to its peak, is permeated through and through with Christ. We could then say that the Church has a fundamental "Christ-ness" about it.

Later in this epistle, in chapter 5, Paul analogizes from Christ's relationship to his Church about the proper relation between husbands and wives, bringing into sharp focus ideas he has only hinted at thus far. Clearly, in this section Paul establishes the headship of the husband over the wife based on the headship of Christ over the Church. Of course, the husband is not to abuse his position of authority but to love his wife "just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (v. 25).

Paul solidifies his argument that the husband is to love his wife and give himself up to her on the basis of their marital union. He writes, "In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body" (v. 28-30). Paul then makes recourse to the institution of marriage in the Genesis account (2:24): "' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'" (v. 32). Paul is speaking first and foremost about the marriage relationship in this passage but he also means to teach us something about the mystery of Christ in his union with his Church, as he tells us in verse 33: "This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church."

I don't think Paul could put forth what he is trying to teach us about Christ and the Church in clearer or more eloquent terms. Just as the husband is to regard himself as one flesh with his wife, so too does Christ regard the Church as one flesh with himself. Certainly Christ is our Head, Lord, and Leader just as the patriarch in Greco-Roman society was head of his household, but, like the wife and children of the head of the household in ancient times, who exercised authority in the household in the name and authority of the patriarch, the Church exercises authority in the lives of believers in Christ's name and in his authority.

The Christian Church is one flesh with Jesus Christ. We are his body and he feeds and cares for us because we are found in him and he is found in us. When we encounter his assembled Body in public worship, we are encountering Christ himself through his glorious bride. She is "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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