What we are is determined by our origin. As believers in Christ Jesus we have two beginnings and two sources of being. First God birthed humanity in the Garden of Eden; thus we are creatures of God. Secondly He bore us again in the holy Church, where we are restored creatures in fellowship with God. We share our first birth with all humans but the second is limited to those whom the Father has chosen (1 Peter 2:10, Heb. 13:12).
Our second birth is a virgin birth because no humanity is the cause of it. It is realized in us by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit imparts to believers a new consciousness that shatters the illusion of autonomy, and we joyfully discover fulfillment is being in relationship to God and his local presence in the holy Church.
Often it seems people are approaching the idea of the Christian Church with an image of Jesus holding his arms wide open to embrace any combination of people to create a single group of great diversity. This view assumes that greater diversity signifies bigger arms of Christ. It is a vision that tries to build upon the words of Paul, “in Christ there are no Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.” Read in this way, Paul is an advocate of a holy Church whose primary work is to get foxes and rabbits to live peacefully together.
But the context of this passage (Gal. 3:16) is not a union of diverse people, and this reading misses the far grander and more astonishing revelation Paul is in fact presenting. What the apostle is really saying is that in Christ we become new creatures wholly different from the original foxes and rabbits we once were. (Eph. 4:22) The vision of Paul for the holy Church is expressed not by including in a single tent people who previously disliked each other, but that we are reborn outside of old ourselves (old community) and into a new community, the Kingdom of God, which might be thought of as an angelic community! We become a part of the Kingdom of God where: “there is no male or female,” all sexual compulsions are resolved; “there is no Jew or Greek,” racial, cultural, and religious prejudices dissolve; and “there is no slave or free,” class distinctions are healed and material needs or abundance are perfectly balanced.
Christians must understand that they are not born again to remain as the individuals they once were. As the old story of ten sticks demonstrates, an individual adds nothing unless it becomes firmly a part of unity. Each individual stick is easy to break but bundled together they are very formidable indeed. The consciousness of being joined together is celebrated in holy baptism. It is Holy because it separates us from the illusion of independence from God. The holy Church is the new tabernacle, the place of God’s glory on earth.
The wonder of Jesus is not initially that he is the Savior of you or me, but that he is the door to heaven for all whom the Father calls. To be a part of the Body of Christ, the holy Church, is to be a part of the door through which we are given the grace to be freed from our false imagination of independence. The holy Church is the perfect, the whole, the complete calling of the imperfect, the part, and the incomplete to join with it. The holy Church is an angelic community that is both means to and a complete destination in the Holy Trinity (Gal.5:1,13, 16, 25).
How the holy Church and Christian community might best organize to live these teachings in our daily lives is still a perplexing question after 2,000 years. We are still students in Ecclesiology 101.
Donald WehmeyeR is a PC(USA) missionary serving in Yucatan, Mexico.