Spiritual “Corporate Solidarity in Christ” as Model for Pure Practical Human Solidarity and Racial Justice and Unity in Christian Churches in America
I’m thinking about a few theological imaginaries and their repercussions for the possibility to construct a robust Christian ethic of unity and human interdependence. In the theological sense, Apostle Paul has argued relatively in most of his letters, which he sent to newly-established (Jewish-) Gentile Churches in the Roman Empire, by the virtue of their trust in and allegiance to Christ, that followers of Jesus the Messiah now share a “corporate identity in Christ.” This Pauline mysticism is associated with the symbolic interplays of baptism, burial, death, and resurrection, and that both Jewish and Gentile believers have died with the Messiah through baptism and are resurrected with him so they could enter in the new life and enjoy the new eschatological age (Paul’s idea of the new creation). Paul establishes some important points of connection and parallel between the believer and Christ through past, present, and future events. The believer is united with Christ in every intersection of life, and this union in relationship with Christ is the basis of the believer’s corporate identity and the new hope and life in Christ; this spiritual affiliation is also significant for the believer’s present sanctification and future glory with the Messiah-Christ.
For example, in Romans chapter six, Paul employs slavery as a metaphor to describe the dialectics of the (believer’s) life before Christ and the (believer’s) life in Christ. Paul also utilizes slavery to represent dominion under sin and dominion under Christ (For example, read Rom. 6:11-12, 14, 17-18, 19-20, 22-23). In Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification (1998), theologian Sinclair Ferguson articulates a few propositions about this important unity between Christ and his followers; thus, the believer shares
- “in his death (we were baptized into his death),
- in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ),
- in his ascension (we have been raised with him),
- in his heavenly session (we sit with him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God), and we will share in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with him in glory) (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-3).” (page 58)
For Paul, the notion of “corporate identity in Christ” is not just a state of mind or state of being, but an existential reality which should radically transform the identity of the Christian in the world and radically shape the Christian experience in the faith community; the concept is not just a theoretical framework to think spiritually and metaphysically about the Christ-believer relationship and intimacy. It bears moral and ethical implications how should Christians relate precisely to people outside the Christian community. For specific textual references on the doctrine of union with Christ and corporate identity in Christ, see the following Pauline passages: 1 Cor. 15:22; 2 Cor. 5:17, 12:2, 13:5; Gal. 2:20, 3:28; Eph. 1:4, 2:10, 3:17; Phil. 3:9; 1 Thess. 4:16; Col. 1:27; Rom. 8:10).
It is evident in our analysis that Paul establishes a strong connection between two natures and two beings: one is divine and spiritual (Christ); the other is material and fleshly (humanity=man and woman), and the corporeal (man and woman) and the spiritual (Christ) in one life; the rapport between the body and the soul is firmly established in Paul’s theology of the believer’s union with Christ. How should we then imagine or think about the repercussions of this “union with Christ” to foster collective solidarity and nurture collective unity in (Evangelical) Christian churches and among Christians of all races and ethnic groups? In other words, how should this Pauline theological imagination may assist us to reason more rigorously and act more responsibly and compassionately, yet in a practical way, about the effective practicality of racial justice and unity in (Evangelical) Christian circles and congregations? Should we not be concerned about the possible effects of genuine Christian love as justice and peace in public: in the general American society.
Furthermore, I would like to frame this same question differently: why does it appear to be a convincing matter for American cultural Evangelicals and American Christians to embrace this difficult and theoretical doctrine of corporate identity with a spiritual being, who is the Christ-Messiah, and hold to the notion to the “collective union in/with Him,” then to imagine the prospect for Americans of different skin tones, cultural dynamics, and linguistic difference to be united in one mind and spirit in matters of race and ethnic relations, as Paul has urged us to do, and to be protagonists of Christian love and reconciliation in the churches and in our society?
Moreover, the Pauline notion of “corporate identity in Christ” does not heighten the individual integration into the sphere of the Christ, but of the collective incorporation into the realm and life of the Messiah. The collective experience is what is prized in Paul, not the Western libertarian preference nor the individualistic option. If that is the case, Paul then presupposes a lot of things among the members of Jewish-Christian Churches and communities in the Roman Empire, including the following:
- in Christ’s death, all” Gentile and Jewish believers give their complete allegiance to the Messiah (Rom. 1:1-6;3:25-6);
- in Christ’s resurrection, “all” believers were baptized into the Messiah’s death (Rom. 6:4-5);
- in Christ’s burial and resurrection, “all” Gentile and Jewish Christians were buried and resurrected with the Messiah (Rom. 6:6-10);
- In Christ’s ascension, “all” Jewish and Gentile followers were raised with the Messiah;
- In Christ’s heavenly session, “all” Jewish and Gentile believers sit with the Messiah in heavenly, and their collective life is hidden in Christ (Rom. 5:15-20).
- Finally, in the age to come, “all” will share the promises and glories of the Messiah.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue to be silent on racial, justice, and reconciliation issues so the grace of God in the Messiah may abound? How can we who share a collective identity in Christ and exist corporately in him and with him are reluctant to empathize with those who are victims of racial injustice, human denigration, and racial discrimination? May it never be!
What shall we say then? How can we whose destiny—black, brown, white, red, mixed-race followers of Christ—in Christ has been sealed and our common future is assured remain indifferent to the predicament of racial and ethnic segregation in our churches and churches? By no means!
Undoubtedly, the doctrine of Christian corporate solidarity in Christ should serve as a model for Christians of all races and ethnic groups to exercise pure practical Christian solidarity and love, and to be forerunners of racial justice and unity in our churches and the greater American culture. We must be an alternative community to which we are called to be in Christ and with each other. We must embody the message, attitude, and ethic of the Gospel of Christ!