John Barclay on the social practice of the Christ-community in Galatians

The following quotes are from the concluding remarks of an article written by John Barclay, “Grace and the Countercultural Reckoning of Worth,” in Galatians and Christian Theology, edited by Mark W. Elliott, Scott J. Hafemann, N. T. Wright, and John Frederick (Grand Rapids: baker, 2014), 306–17. It is about the social practice of the Christ-community according to Galatians.

The gift of God in Christ is articulated as an unconditioned gift in the creation of a community that neither mirrors nor endorses the regnant systems of value . . . By its strategic indifference to preconstituted evaluations of worth—ethnic, social, sexual, or other—the community declares and enacts its freedom. By its “crucifixion of the flesh” (5:24)—it demonstrates an alternative allegiance derived from an alternative source of “life.” In resisting the tendencies to intracommunal rivalry, it affirms its special identity as a community beholden to “the law of Christ” (6:2). (Page 316; emphasis added)

In theological terms, the new creation presses toward the formation and flourishing of a community in which the truth of God’s self-giving in Christ is expressed in love, strongly resistant to the normal contest for honor . . . it is the Christ-event that gives meaning and shape to communal practice, while it is in social practice that the nature of the Christ-event is realized, or is not realized. (Page 317; emphasis added)

Here is the best part, I think.

The truth of Paul’s gospel must be both recognized and enacted—in fact, recognized in its enactment. It is only as communities are remolded in exclusive allegiance to “the law of Christ” that they may be said to affirm the baptismal confession “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10:9). Social practice is not, for Paul, and addition to belief, a sequel to a status realizable in other terms: It is the expression of belief in Christ, the enactment of a “life” that otherwise can make no claim to be “alive.” (Page 317; emphasis added)

Sarah Whittle on Paul’s view of the church and the purpose of power

I just came across an article written by Sarah Whittle regarding Paul’s view of the church and the purpose of power. It’s really well written, and there are plenty of insights. Here are a number of good points mentioned.

Ehrensperger highlights the need for trust. And, although trust “does not render a relationship symmetrical and does not presuppose that those committed to each other are equals or the same, it presupposes mutual respect on the basis of their shared trust in God through Christ.” This trust is crucial for Ehrensperger’s transformative relationships, which must never exert force, domination or control. She describes power emerging “in communicative action.” “[W]here power-over is exercised in a non-dominating, non- paternalistic but transformative way, where people act together in solidarity, trust is the indispensable core dimension.” It is important that such a transformative power remain in view, and the goal as the transcendence of asymmetrical power. Losing sight of the goal of a transformative power relationship—that is, its own eventual transcendence—and falling back to maintaining the relationship as an end in itself—can only result in a dominating rather than empowering relationship.

 (The above paragraph cites/refers to Kathy Ehrensperger, Paul and the Dynamics of Power, Communication and Interaction in the Early Christ Movement (LNTS 325; London: T&T Clark, 2007), 29, 183.)

 So Paul’s master story of Christ’s incarnation and self-emptying, the downward movement of servanthood and humility shape his own ministry profoundly. It also shapes Paul’s expectation of his communities. Consequently, they are not to model themselves on the power structures of their social world—those based on hierarchies, asymmetrical relationships of reciprocity such as patron-client relationships, maleness, ethnicity, privileges of birth, and access to resources. Rather, just as Christ has welcomed them, so they are to welcome one another. The strong are obligated to the weak. They are not to perpetuate worldly social structures but to exercise Christ like transformative power with the goal of the transcendence of unequal power relations. Furthermore, members of Paul’s communities, “each of us,” are urged to “please our neighbour, for the good purpose of building up the neighbour” (Rom 15:2). Again, the rationale is Christ, who “did not please himself” (15:3)— another allusion to Paul’s “master story.” Here Paul shares the responsibility equally: those without the kind of power required to get ahead in the social world of Rome are still expected to contribute fully to the life of the in-Christ community, without exception.

 Our global church has much to learn from Paul’s challenge to the prevailing social order and the kinds of leadership structures which it generates and perpetuates. Clearly those who are under-resourced, lacking in connectivity, unable to access education, and lacking global influence will continue to struggle at the periphery of the global church.

Source: 18th September 2014

 Dr Whittle then talks about the role of women, which is very insightful. Take a look at the article (via the web link above).


An alternative view of the Christian life and the church

In the following I want to explore the biblical view of the Christian life and the church. I am still working through the issues, and here is my first attempt to present my thoughts.

My experience in Australia is that believers often think of the Christian life in a way that is similar to the diagram below.

ImageThe above diagram says that the Christian life starts with a decision to become a Christian. The Christian then does a list of things that Christians would normally do, until the day he/she goes to heaven. This probably doesn’t represent everyone’s view. But in some ways it does describe the thinking of many people.

Of course, in reality we know that the Christian life cannot be described in such a simplistic manner. Many would say, for example, that they can’t identify a particular point in time when they made a decision to believe in Jesus. Therefore, some Christians suggest that we should see salvation in terms of a “process.” My purpose here, however, is not to talk about a “theology of conversion or salvation.” Instead, I would like to take a fresh look at what the Bible says about the Christian life.

In addition, my purpose here is not to say that the above view of the Christian life is incorrect. There are aspects of it that can find support in the Bible.

Having said that, I would like to suggest that the New Testament points to a more dynamic and organic view of the Christian life. It can be represented in the diagram below.


Of course, this second diagram above does not represent everything that the New Testament portrays. One missing element is the fulfilment of God’s covenantal faithfulness to Abraham and his descendants, which is absolutely important in the New Testament. But I hope that the diagram goes some way towards cover the Bible’s vision of what we call “the church.”

While the first diagram above shows a rather individualistic view of salvation and the Christian life, the second diagram emphasises the communal aspects.

In the first diagram, the church provides vision and services for the individuals. But in the second diagram, the church is the community. People join the community through different avenues and events. The mission of the community is God’s restorative and transforming purposes for the world.

What I try to convey in the second diagram is that the New Testament speaks of God’s purpose of creating a new humanity—that is, a Christ-community—through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Through Christ’s teaching of God’s kingdom and his way of life, we are called to participate in the life of the crucified Christ and risen Lord. The New Testament, I think, is about God’s purpose to transform humanity and his creation through Christ and his empowering Spirit. I hope the diagram somehow represents that purpose.

Walk in love to fulfil our calling in Christ (Ephesians 4:1–6)

I have been reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians lately, and it has been an enriching experience. Today I came across Ephesians 4:1–6, which is quite obviously about life in the “body of Christ.” In verses 1 and 3 Paul, as a prisoner for the Lord, emphatically says that a communal life filled with humility, gentleness, patience and love is an important part of our calling as followers of Jesus.

When I was younger I used to think that our calling was only about preaching the gospel. But for years I have come to believe that our calling is to participate in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, which includes not only proclaiming the gospel but also participating in the community of Christ.

I think it is worth spending some time to reflect on this in prayer. In the following I will cite several versions of Ephesians 4:1–6 (highlighting several things in blue), which should help us in our reflection.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (NRSV)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV)

Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all. (CEB)

我 為 主 被 囚 的 勸 你 們 : 既 然 蒙 召 , 行 事 為 人 就 當 與 蒙 召 的 恩 相 稱 。凡 事 謙 虛 、 溫 柔 、 忍 耐 , 用 愛 心 互 相 寬 容用 和 平 彼 此 聯 絡 , 竭 力 保 守 聖 靈 所 賜 合 而 為 一 的 心 。身 體 只 有 一 個 , 聖 靈 只 有 一 個 , 正 如 你 們 蒙 召 同 有 一 個 指 望 。一 主 , 一 信 , 一 洗 ,一 神 , 就 是 眾 人 的 父 , 超 乎 眾 人 之 上 , 貫 乎 眾 人 之 中 , 也 住 在 眾 人 之 內 。(Chinese Union Version)

Παρακαλῶ οὖν ὑμᾶς ἐγὼ ὁ δέσμιος ἐν κυρίῳ ἀξίως περιπατῆσαι τῆς κλήσεως ἧς ἐκλήθητε, 4:2 μετὰ πάσης ταπεινοφροσύνης καὶ πραΰτητος, μετὰ μακροθυμίας, ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων ἐν ἀγάπῃ, 4:3 σπουδάζοντες τηρεῖν τὴν ἑνότητα τοῦ πνεύματος ἐν τῷ συνδέσμῳ τῆς εἰρήνης· 4:4 ῞Εν σῶμα καὶ ἓν πνεῦμα, καθὼς |καὶ| ἐκλήθητε ἐν μιᾷ ἐλπίδι τῆς κλήσεως ὑμῶν· 4:5 εἷς κύριος, μία πίστις, ἓν βάπτισμα, 4:6 εἷς θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ πάντων, ὁ ἐπὶ πάντων καὶ διὰ πάντων καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν. (New Testament Greek; Downloaded from