“Individuals must be aware that even their hours of being alone reverberate through the community. In their solitude they can shatter and tarnish the community, or they can strengthen and sanctify it.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 66.
My obedience to Christ is not just about me and Christ, and my disobedience to Christ is not just about me and Christ. In a sense my response to the Word of God – whether it is a response of obedience or rebellion, is only secondarily about me and Christ – it is first and foremost about us and Christ. Why? Because my response to the Word of God does not just affect me – it affects us. There is no firewall that can contain the poison of my sin within my own life – my sin will infect the Body of Christ. My obedience will also affect the Body of Christ. Hence, my obedience is not simply for me, it is for you; and my disobedience does not just affect me, it affects you.
The above assumes that we believe the Word of God, that we are indeed one body (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Ephesians 4). The above assumes that we are being perfected into one just as the Trinity is one (John 17). The statements of the foregoing passages are not illustrations – they are statements of reality. We are one in Christ Jesus, we are His Body, we are members of His Body and members, therefore, of one another.
And so Bonhoeffer writes, “…there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community. When the cause of an illness gets into one’s body, whether or not anyone knows where it comes from, or in what member it has lodged, the body is made ill,” (page 66).
We simply do not think or live like this, at least in the West. What passes for Christianity is focused on the self, just as society exalts the self. What we do with our minds is our choice and no one has a right to question it. We can sin with our minds and hearts in the entertainment we watch – and that is our personal life, it belongs to the self and not the community. We can sin with our bodies and that also is our right, our personal life – and who dares to question it. We can sin with our money – after all it is ours too. Life belongs to the individual and when we gather as “Christians” we gather for support and encouragement and worship and then we go our separate ways with the freedom to do as we please…life is to be lived as we please – not to please God, not to serve others, not to bring life and heath to the Body of Christ…but it is to be lived as we please. God understands, surely He understands, He must understand…well, at least if He doesn’t He should and we’ll speak to Him about that one day and convince Him.
“Every member serves the whole body, contributing either to its health or to its ruin, for we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence,” (page 66).
We cannot adequately explain the fullness of the above Biblical passages, but we can touch their fullness and we can learn to live in a consciousness of their reality. Call these passages “mystical” if that helps, but do not call them “mystical” in the sense that they are not part of the flesh and blood and marrow and sinew of everyday life – call the wind “mystical” if you must, we cannot see it and yet we can feel it, hear it, and see its effects.
When we functionally deny the statements of the Bible that we are Christ’s Body we give ourselves license to live as we want and to place ourselves at the center of the universe. We need not submit ourselves one to another. We need not be obedient for the sake of others. We can excuse our sin on the basis that “it only hurts me”…if indeed we think it hurts at all.
The very essence of life together is koinonia, communion; shared life – not shared external life, not living in proximity – though it is that too; but rather shared eternal life in Christ, sharing the very life of God, breathing the very Spirit of God; being the very Temple of God.
We are called to live in this knowledge and consciousness – and we ought to rejoice in obedience to God’s Word as we live in this consciousness; we ought to also fear sin, knowing the damage it will do to others.
This is one reason why a Biblical theology and liturgy of the Eucharist is critical – for whether it is celebrated in a house church or a cathedral, we ought to know what we are doing and why we are doing it and we ought to do it together – for it is not about “me” it is about “us”. However we negotiate our understanding of the Lord’s Table, we must not relegate it to anything less that the transcendent for we are touching the invisible.
This is a reason why Christian “leaders” who fall into sin must not quickly be placed back into positions of leadership (if at all). A leader who commits adultery has taken advantage of another person, just as if a physician had taken advantage of the vulnerability of a patient. Beyond that, a leader who commits adultery, to use but one example of sin, has violated the Body of Christ, has introduced cancer into the Body of Christ, has not protected the Body of Christ, has allowed the poison of sin and of the enemy to enter the Body. It is as if the general of an army had opened the gates of a fortress for an enemy to enter because he was seduced by a beautiful woman or was given a fortune in gold – would such a person be given command of another fortress?
Obedience and sin is not simply about the individual – it is about the Body of Christ – it is about the blessing and the harm that we introduce into the Body, and especially into the lives of those with whom we are most closely connected.
This is not a game, it is not some esoteric flight of imagination – it is life and death.
Sadly, it is antithetical to the way the professing church in America thinks and lives.
But…obedience and awareness can start with us, with me, and with you. Will you be faithful to the Body of Christ and live as if your thoughts and actions do indeed matter…even if you are the only person to do so?