Living in the New Community

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 — Week of 2 Lent

William W. Mayo, Charles F. Menninger, and Their Sons, Pioneers in Medicine, 1911, 1953

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 953)

Psalms 61, 62 (morning) 68:1-20(21-23)24-36 (evening)

Genesis 42:1-17

1 Corinthians 5:1-8

Mark 3:19b-35

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today we have Paul at his strictest, apparently least compassionate moment as far as we know from his writings. A member of the congregation has been living in a sexual relationship with his stepmother, a violation of both the scripture and Roman Law. Paul does not hesitate. Remove this man from among you; “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved; …clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch.”

It is important to know that Paul sees the Church as a new creation, a liberated community entirely different and separate from the reality of the world of sin and death. But we don’t see him advising a sectarian separation out of the world. In fact, he is rather nonchalant about the outside world of things. He tells his congregation — Eat meat sacrificed to idols from the public market, unless it will hurt the conscience of your weaker brother. Don’t divorce your unbelieving spouse unless the other wishes you to. Pay your taxes. Don’t withdraw from society. In tomorrow’s reading he will express no problem with associating with immoral persons who are outside the church. But, within the church, he expects more.

Paul is dogged in his defense of the community of the church. The church is a new quality of existence, and he insists on keeping the quality of that life pure within the community. The new community lives in a new way, and the qualities of the outside world are not to enter into the relationships of the church. If someone fails to live into that quality, “restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1) through correction and teaching. But, as in this extreme case, if that doesn’t work, do not allow what exists in the world to enter into the church. The church is not prohibited from entering the world; the world is prohibited from entering the church, says Paul.

Paul believes that Christians live in a new community. It is better, truer, more authentic life than that of the outside culture of sin and death. He will go to great lengths to maintain that new reality.

Part of that reality is that there is no elitism within the community. Your life in Christ is a sheer gift. No one can earn it. Therefore our only ground for boasting is in the love God has given to us. Paul also rejects any judgment of people outside. He’ll say that in tomorrow’s reading. That’s important. We’re not elitists toward the world either.

Paul asks us to walk a fine line between two unacceptable extremes. One line is a clear distinction between Christian reality and the worldly reality — we are not to live within the Church as people do outside the Church. The other line is a strict prohibition — the Church is not to create a Christian elitism or a sectarian separation from the world.

For those of us in more progressive, mainline traditions, we tend to fall into the error of blurring the distinction between the quality of life within the church and the values of the outside world. For those of us in more evangelical or fundamentalists traditions, we tend to exhibit the opposite error of Christian elitism or even imperialism.

There is a new reality that Paul calls us to, a new community in Christ. God’s forgiveness and acceptance is the creative act that frees us from the inauthentic life of trying to be accepted or to struggling to survive in the world of law and performance. In Christ, we are free to be ourselves, our true selves without compulsion. We are free to act for others, to live for others, because we have been given everything. Living in this new community is our inheritance, and Paul expects us to protect it.

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