For in that Christ died, he died unto sin once, but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 6:10-11
Particularly in this age of what Jean-François Lyotard called “incredulity toward metanarratives,” when master-narratives such as Christianity are perceived as inherently oppressive, to be missional must be to live “in Christ.” But long before the possibility of a postmodern consciousness, the first Quakers, acutely aware of the oppressive nature of normative Christianity, were already proclaiming that message.
To be in Christ is to be free of sin, liberated from the self-centeredness that produces human injustice: to have the mind, or mindset, of Christ, who is the righteousness/justice of God. We come into that condition, the Friends found, not by attempting to think and act in a certain way but by allowing ourselves to feel and surrender to the spirit of Christ, “that which is known of God,” already dwelling in our hearts.
If, as we learn from Paul, Christ is kenotic (self-emptying), then his spirit in the heart is the spirit of agapē-love, and to surrender in trusting faith to that spirit is to allow it to “crucify” our self-centered, or adamic, mindset. We are thereby “reborn” in Christ, becoming children of God — that is, “partakers of the divine nature,” agapē. As members of the body of Christ (the one holy Seed, the Friends would remind us, that is yet innumerable as the stars), we share then in love’s perfect glory — which in this world is cruciform — as we grow to spiritual maturity, “unto a perfect person, unto a measure of stature of the fullness of the Christ.”
To live in Christ is, therefore, to be “justified” — to come to think, feel, and act justly — through the gracious working of love, made possible by our trust in the spirit of Christ revealed, if obscurely at first, in our hearts. When we are thus justified, our lives are testimony to the power of God, which Paul identifies both with the gospel and with Christ himself. There can be, then, no question of faith without works; as the apostle James tells us, such faith would be dead, and what is dead does not exist in any effective way. The only thing that matters, Paul teaches, and the only thing that is missional in the sense of living the missio Dei, the mission/will of God, is “faith [i.e., trust and fidelity] working through love.”
In being decentered from the adamic nature and recentered in that pure relationality which theology understands to be the nature of the Trinity, we come to embody the power of agapē, giving living meaning to the words “gospel” and “Christ.” Even if Christianity as metanarrative, subverted by the critical scientific, historical, and ethical thinking it helped nurture, should fall, agapē, as Paul tells us, will not fail. To understand that is, as the author of 1 John might say, to understand that God, and, therefore, the missio Dei, will not fail.
When a person’s interactions with regenerate Christians help her to feel, as Friend Robert Barclay wrote, “the evil weakening in me and the good raised up,” she may be led to the same spirit in which they live. She may also come to accept a doctrinal system. But whether she accepts the system or not, if she lives in agapē then she lives in the reality signified by the name “God.” And offering others the possibility of life in God, in Christ, is the heart and soul of properly Christian mission. Christians present a living Christ to the world only when they live in him and he in them, when their lives consistently express the active justice, mercy, and peace signified by his name. To live thus is to live the missio Dei, the missional life of God-who-is-agapē — and “if it be of God, you cannot subvert it.”
- The mind or mindset of Christ: see 1 Cor. 2:16, “For who has known the mind [noun] of the Lord, that he might think with him? But we have the mind [noun] of Christ.” See also Philippians 2:5, “Let the mindset [phroneistho] as in Christ Jesus be in you ….”
- The righteousness/justice of God: see 2 Cor. 5:21, “For the one not knowing sin God makes sin for our sake, in order that we may be becoming the justice [dikaiosune] of God in him.”
- “That which is known of God … in them”: Rom. 1:19.
- Christ as kenotic: see Philippians 2.
- Christ and Adam: see, for example, 1 Cor. 15.
- Rebirth: see, for example, John 3 and Rom. 6.
- We become children of God through spiritual rebirth: see John 1:12-13.
- “Partakers of the divine nature”: 2 Peter 1:4.
- Members of Christ’s body: see 1 Cor. 12:27.
- One Seed, innumerable: see Gal. 3:16 and Gen. 22:17.
- Glory: see 2 Cor. 3:18.
- “[U]nto a perfect person, unto a measure of stature of the fullness of the Christ”: Eph. 4:13b.
- Christ and gospel are the power of God: see Rom. 1:16 and 1 Cor. 1:24.
- “Faith working through love”: see Gal. 5:6.
- “Love never fails”: see 1 Cor. 13.
- “God is love [agapē]” and “whoever lives in love lives in God, and God lives in them”: see 1 John 4.
- “[T]he name of Christ consists not of letters and syllables, but in righteousness, mercy and judgment, &c.”: Friend James Nayler, 1656.
- “If it be of God, you cannot subvert it”: Acts 5:39a.
Note: like the previous post (“A Quaker Reading of John 4:1-42”), this one owes its existence to a course at the Ecumenical Institute of St. Mary’s Seminary and University. In this case, the course, taught by Michael Gorman (whose forthcoming Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission was used as a text), was called “Paul and the Missional Church.” Unlike the previous post, however, this one was not written as a paper (I audited the course), but has been developed from a quick summary post I made to the class’s online forum when I found that I wouldn’t be able to attend the final session.