Our goal is healthy churches and Christian ministries. This means every member must take responsibility for the whole; every...
Christ Builds Community, Community Builds Christ #2Malcolm Webber
In our last Letter, we looked at the relationship between Christ and Community and the implications of this relationship for leader development.
In the New Testament, there is a very close relationship between the church and the leader’s maturing union with Christ. This relationship can be expressed in two fundamental ways: Christ builds Community, and Community builds Christ.
First, “Christ builds Community” means that the leader’s union with Christ will be expressed in the leader living together with others in the Community in self-giving love, in true servanthood. If you know God, you will love and serve your brother. The indwelling life of Christ in the leader’s life builds Community. Christ builds Community!
Second, “Community builds Christ” means that it is only as a part of the Community that the leader will fully experience the indwelling life of Christ.
The bread of communion is a beautiful picture of this spiritual reality (Matt. 26:26). In fact, it so profoundly depicts the nature and life of the church that Jesus ordained it to be enacted and understood every time His people have a meal together (1 Cor. 11:24-26).
Consider the loaf of bread. It, of course, represents Jesus. He is our life. His past death makes possible the way for our deliverance from destruction – both eternal and temporal; and His present indwelling life is the source of all our victory and life. He is our life (Phil. 1:21; Col. 3:4). We live to the extent that we have partaken (“eaten”) of Him. As we eat Him, so we absorb Him and He Himself becomes the very fabric and substance of our lives. He becomes not just our example and teacher, but in union with Him He actually lives His life in and through us (John 6:56-57). As we eat Him, we partake of His holiness, His love, His goodness, His faith, His power and all His attributes – His life.
And the loaf of bread is eaten by all the saints – together! In this there is wonderful significance.
First, we see that all the saints partake of the fullness of the loaf. It is divided among them. No single believer eats all of Christ. We are each only given a piece of Him. Of course God is infinite Spirit and thus indivisible, and each “piece” of Him necessarily contains the whole of Him. But in His revelation of Himself to and through His body of believers – just like the loaf that Jesus broke and divided among His disciples – He gives Himself piece by piece. “To one there is given this gift… to another is given that gift…” (1 Cor. 12).
Thus, no-one can be independent of the others. It is only together that we have Him in His fullness. It is to the church as a whole that He gives Himself. Individually, He reveals Himself to us in part and we partake of Him in part. We each stand in vital need of the pieces of the loaf that the other members of His church have digested into their souls and lives. Together we possess the whole loaf. It takes all of us together to reveal the fullness of the “absorbed” and indwelling life of Christ.
Thus, the church as a whole grows up into the unity of the faith and “into perfect union with Him” (Eph. 4:15, Williams trans.); and from Christ “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16). We “are being built together to become a dwelling [a holy temple] in which God lives by his Spirit” (Eph. 2:21-22).
Second, notice that the saints eat of Him at the same time. In the corporate life of the church there is the greatest experience of the life of Christ that will ever be revealed to us and that we will ever partake of, on this side of eternity.
It is in union with “all the saints” that we will apprehend the fullness of the Presence and the love of Christ. It is only together with the whole church that we will “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).
It is together that we experience Him. There are no “lone rangers” or “spiritual superstars” here. There are no individualistic ministries here. There are no individual spectators here. There is only the body – the one absorbed loaf – the one expression of the one indwelling Life – the one body of believers who together inextricably form the whole – His church.
Our churches today consist largely of individuals living their own separate lives. We are together, in a sense, once or twice a week under the same steepled roof. At least outwardly we are “together.” Inwardly and spiritually we are islands, going our own separate ways, living our own separate lives. Our lives are not one – one with Him and one with each other, in Him.
The true church will be composed of individuals. But they are men and women who have heard the call to denial of self, and to union with Christ and His church. In Christ and in His church they have willingly and joyfully given up all right to the expression of their own self-centered lives and ministries. Interwoven with each other within the fabric of Christ’s life they have become one. Each is indistinguishable from the whole. Their only life is as part of the whole. They only have meaning as part of the whole. Their own life is not their highest purpose. In seeking Him they have found His church. Christ’s life expressed in His church is their highest purpose.
But they are not without identity. Their identity is in Christ expressed in His church. Corporately their single face reflects His. Together they have partaken of His life. And His life has become theirs. Their life is one. It is His life. It is Him. He is their life – together. His life is their life – together.
This is what Jesus is building – the church – His church, His bride. He has ordained all things to this end. He planned all things from before eternity to work to this end.
In Jesus’ eyes, His church is the most beautiful thing in His entire glorious, magnificent universe. He desires His church. He yearns for His church.
Jesus is even now preparing His church. And one day He will come for His church, as a Bridegroom to His bride. He will come to His church, to bestow His Presence in the fullest measure. He will come to His church, to show forth His eternal wisdom and glory to all the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. He will come to His church, to consummate the marriage of Himself and His bride. He will come to His church, and He will bring her into final, complete and everlasting union with Himself – that God may be all in all.
Thus, in union with Christ, we find life together; in life together we find union with Christ. Christ builds Community; Community builds Christ.
Consequently, for Christ to truly be at the center of Christian leadership, Community must be at the center of Christian leader development. Community-integration is key to healthy leader development. Healthy Christian leaders are built in Community; not in remote academic institutions, not in theological classes within a church building. Healthy leader development does not revolve around academic curriculum, but around culture – a culture of life, Divine self-giving life, a culture of Truth within the Community.
Christ builds Community; Community builds Christ. In seeking Him we will find His church – in all her splendor, and in all her beauty. And in finding His church we will find Him – in all His fullness and in all His glory.