A reflection on XR and the nascent church in Corinth 

Judith Russenberger reflects on XR and the early church:
Recently I have been studying 1 Corinthians writing notes and questions for a local discussion group. I have been struck by the similarities between XR and the early church that was forming in Corinth.

The people who joined the faith in Corinth were a mixed bunch. Some were Jews – maybe with a Hellenistic background, or maybe with a  more traditional background – who had come to see Christ Jesus as the full-filler of their faith. Others were Gentiles, maybe Gentiles who were already attracted to the Jewish approach to religion, whilst for others entry into a monotheistic religion that didn’t have temples, sacrifices and officiants, may have been completely new. Some were Romans by birth or citizenship. Some were free, some slaves, most were probably involved in some trade or craft industry. Some may have been rich, some poor. Some were men, some women. Some were single, some married, some had joined the church as a household, others had come independently, without household or family backing. And the faith they were joining was also new – less than 30 years. In some ways it was a variation of the Jewish faith but in other ways it was completely, indeed radically, new. Those who joined did not have to become Jews.

There was a need therefore to create new symbols and structures, means of identity and modes of worship, rules and practices that would create and shape this new religious community. It was unknown territory. Paul the apostle clearly had a major role in this but he was only in Corinth for eighteen months. He was followed by other teachers and leaders who tried to develop and nurture the church on the right lines but we can tell from Paul’s subsequent letters that he didn’t feel they were entirely successful!

Above all Paul considered that unity was the most important thing for the new church. Not a homogeneous unity, but a unity of diversity. We know for example that Paul said that whilst for  some Christians their best way of following Christ would be by being celibate, for others their best course of action would be to marry. There were some who feel entirely comfortable eating meat that came from a pagan sacrifice whilst for others only a meat free diet could keep their conscience clear. For some covering their head when praying was crucial whilst for others it was  a hindrance. Within the church community there were those who were rich and those who were poor; those who were free and those who were slaves. Nowhere do we find Paul suggested income redistribution and in relation to those free born and slave, he actually says they should remain in the circumstances in which they came to faith. Yet within the church every one of this diverse and mixed bunch of people had to be included  and welcomed. None were to be made to  feel inferior and none made superior. And Paul kept warning about the risk of division, the risk that disagreements might split the community, that unaddressed complaints and issues might fester and rot the whole enterprise. He told them that they had to live and work together with all that diversity in order to be what they were – the living Temple, filled with and purposefully worshipping, God.  He gave the Corinthians the wonderful image of the body which includes eyes and feet, hands and genitals, and told them they needed all those parts! What would bind everything together, everything converse and opposing, glamorous and humdrum, was love.

It seems to me that XR in its growth and ongoing development is so similar to the fledgling church in Corinth. We have the same need to actively incorporate and cherish every member in all their diversities, to work together with love, rallying around our mission of saving the world from mass extinction. In reading the letter to the Corinthians, I think Paul recommends three ways in which the new Christians can remain strong in their faith.

Firstly that they adhere to a basic moral code – steering clear of adultery, idolatry, greed, theft and slander. For XR there are the ten principles and values.

Second, that individuals adopt personal rules or disciplines that relate to their own situation and personal weaknesses – not eating meat if they had a conscience about pagan sacrifices; marrying if they had strong sexual passions. For XR this might be adopting a personal rules or habits about reducing our individual carbon footprint.

Thirdly, that everyone gained if they supported one another as a community. And it was through  this community that the Corinthians shared their various gifts to best effect. XR affinity groups are small communities where people are both supported and give support. Additionally there are the wellbeing tents, the arrestee support people etc who ensure care for all rebels during times of special crisis. And it is through the community that is XR that our various gifts are best used.

‘Therefore my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of climate justice, because you know your Labour is not in vain.’ Adapted from 1 Corinthians 15:58

Judith Russenberger October 2019

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