Fr. Dale Matson
“…that He may dwell in us and we in Him.” (From Great Thanksgiving, BCP, Rite I, page 336)
It has been said that good theology is God centered and I would add that it is reactive also. I have a spiritual kinship with the Apostle Paul. We both have a background in religious training but are at heart, blue collar Christians as tradesmen (like our Lord). We both have experienced visions and I would say that at heart, we are both mystics. For me, Paul was not just a converted Pharisee who reinterpreted the Law in the light of Christ’s teachings, yet that is how some theologians have portrayed him. They have made doctrine out of situation-specific advice he gave to the churches. It became an early version of “What would Jesus do?” Reformation theologians understood Paul as a lawyer using legal language to convey his Gospel but Paul was chiefly speaking as a man with a converted heart who considered himself to be crucified, dead to the world and a new man “in Christ”.
Years ago, the phrase “In Christ” in St. Paul’s writings gave me pause every time I encountered it. What did Paul mean by this phrase? Adolph Deissmann noted that the phrase “in Christ” (or a similar form) occurred 164 times in Paul’s writings, while it did not occur at all in the synoptic Gospels. Paul uses “In Christ” 27 times in Ephesians alone. Does this phrase point to the heart of Paul’s Gospel in some way?
Many evangelical protestants believe that justification by faith is the heart of Paul’s Gospel and the church, particularly the Protestant church, has viewed it this way. By doing this they have diminished the church. It is my contention that justification by faith while important was not the heart of Paul’s Gospel. Paul, ever the reactive Christian stated, “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” (Gal. 1:15-16) The heart of Paul’s Gospel is the mystical union of Christ and the believer and the mystical union of Christ with His body the church. How closely is Christ identified with His church? “And he [Paul] fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) This mystical union of Christ with the believer is also illustrated in John’s Gospel in the parable of the true vine in Chapter 15. Some writers believe that John incorporated some of Paul’s ideas (James S. Stewart and Aldolph Deissmann among them). One of the reasons this is so important is that it means that Christ is not just an impossible standard and exterior “role model” but empowers and acts through us. It is really the difference between living in Romans 7 and life in Romans 8. It is this Christ in me/me in Christ understanding of Paul which is the heart of Paul’s understanding of his Gospel. It is this me in Christ that helps us understand the church as the mystical body of Christ and explains the church as such a leveling force in the world. It is the believers in Christ that make up the mystical body of Christ, the church. It is this mystical body of Christ that is the Kingdom of God. Paul’s Gospel is directed to the non-Jew and intended to rescue sinners and bring them into God’s Kingdom through baptism and faith “in Christ”.
“Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood, that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen. (From Prayer of Humble Access, BCP, Rite I, Page 337).
“…and we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people” (From concluding prayer, BCP, Rite I, page 339).