Church in the Image of the Cross

Ascending by GilbertCantu

Ascending by GilbertCantu

Because Jesus is fully human, the church is called to affirm humanity, reaching out in attentive, vulnerable love to the whole human family, but especially to those who are poor and hurting. In Christ’s identification with suffering humanity – with a humanity ground under the wheels of the powers and principalities – the church receives its own orientation as those who are called to be with and for the victims of this present age. Bonhoeffer writes, “Christians can and ought to act like Christ: they ought to bear the burdens and sufferings of the neighbor… It must come to the point that the weaknesses, needs, and sins of my neighbor afflict me as if they were my own, in the same way as Christ was afflicted by our sin.” That this bearing of burdens is not simply “religious talk” but refers to concrete action is made clear when Bonhoeffer notes: “The hungry person needs bread, the homeless person needs shelter, the one deprived of rights needs justice, the lonely person needs community, the undisciplined one needs order, and the slave needs freedom. It would be blasphemy against God and our neighbor to leave the hungry unfed while saying that God is closest to those in deepest need.” The bearing of the sins and burdens of others to which Jesus calls the church is nothing less than a concrete imitation of Jesus’s own life, a cruciform life, one that was fundamentally disruptive and that cannot be contained in the categories of religion.

…The church’s identification with those who suffer unveils the fact that the current age, in which the few are on top while the many suffer below, has met its end in Jesus Christ… Christians solidarity with the suffering is a search for Jesus who is hidden in their midst.

…Bonhoeffer is not merely interested in the church being in solidarity with the suffering, but calls the church to actively seek to eliminate the suffering of the poor through an ethics of responsibility with two practices of prophetic ministry: unceasing prayer and action for justice.

…The practices of relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution are constitutive of [John] Perkins’s vision of the church. The church is that community marked by witness to the gospel, the whole gospel. The church’s most appropriate social location then is among the poor in the abandoned places of empire, a location that places the body of Christ in the ideal situation to witness to the whole gospel, which meets the whole needs of the whole person. The prophetic church, as Perkins’s envisions it, is a space in which all people, black and white, poor and rich, can gather and grow from an economy of grace.

Peter Goodwin Heltzel and Christian T. Collins Winn, “Religionless Ecclesiology and the Missional Church,” in Mobilizing for the Common Good: The Lived Theology of John M. Perkins, 108-122.


2 comments on “Church in the Image of the Cross

  1. Paul d Potter says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying, however how does one reconcile thus with the principle of “not doing for others what they should do for themselves”.

    • joe d says:

      Hi Paul,
      Thanks for reading and commenting! I think you ask a very important question. The quote in this post was from a book dedicated to the life and ministry of John Perkins, who is the founder of the Christian Community Development Association (and so much more). The rest of the chapter after this quote goes on to talk about Perkins’ ecclesiology in light of Bonhoeffer’s. Anyways, Perkins would be asking the same question you did: how can we live among the poor and give our lives in service in a way that empowers them and respects their dignity as human beings created in God’s image? Perkins has been an ardent critic of government welfare programs throughout his life because he thinks they just create dependence and ultimately disrespect the poor. I think the kind of church he calls us to is one where we ask the question you’re asking but where we are also always aware of the immense power the poor are up against – the “powers and principalities” that we are to struggle against. For a white middle-class male like myself, asking what others (assuming they are poor and possibly not white) can do for themselves may not be the first question I ask because I realize that I have a lot of hidden privilege that comes from my race and my class. So, I think the first question for me is what’s reflected in this quote I posted: how can I live in solidarity with the poor? What do I need to sacrifice for the good of others? Ultimately, the goal is interdependent community among black and white, rich and poor, male and female; but interdependence implies independence so you’re question remains valid.

      Anyways, thanks for your thoughts!

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