Thursday, June 10, 2010

Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 10

Michael J. Gorman is the professor of Sacred Scripture and Dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore, Maryland. He has spent much of his career studying, writing about and teaching Paul. He has a unique 'perspective' on Paul and as you read him you will find that he is neither 'old' or 'new' perspective but takes from the best of both worlds. So far I have found his small introduction to Paul to be a very edifying read and here I will offer brief summaries and reflections of his book 'Reading Paul' published by Cascade. Today we are looking at chapter 10.

Called to be Saints

In this chapter Gorman tackles the topic of the church. Paul often refers to the various communities he writes to as 'saints' or 'holy ones'. "What Paul has in mind is a group of diverse people who have been apprehended by the resurrection crucified Messiah - justified, crucified, occupied - and who live together as a distinctive, even counter-cultural, community in him" (p. 132). He then discusses the background to Paul's understanding of the church (ekklesia): "The first is the assembly...of Israel...The second the assembly...of the Greco-Roman city...On the one hand, it designates the assembly of believers who affirm Jesus as Lord and constitute the renewed 'Israel of God' (Gal 6:16). On the other hand, this assembly exists as an alternative [church] and even an alternative [city]..." (p. 133). The church is God's holy people who reflect his character through the Son.

Gorman then discusses some of the images that are used of the church: body of Christ, temple, and the family of God. These various images give an idea of the purpose of the church in meeting together: "First of all, the assembly meets to worship God...Secondly, the assembly also meets to speak to one another" (p. 138). What is the content of this worship and speech? "Both in speech from and speech to God, and in speech to one another, the assembly especially recites its foundational stories and considers how they can best embody those stories in their life together in the world" (p. 138). These stories focus on the incarnated, crucified and exalted Messiah and were also enacted in events like baptism, the Lord's Supper and cruciform justice within the assembly and the wider world.

The church is marked by holiness which is a fruit of the Spirit. "All Christian existence is charismatic existence" (p. 140). The Spirit bring life and holiness to God's people and makes it possible to live in covenant with God. "The Spirit is thus the personal, animating power and presence of God - the One who guides and molds the the power of the resurrection...[which] manifests itself in the shape of the cross of Jesus the Lord" (p. 141). The Spirit creates unity among God's people by equipping them with diverse gifts. This unification also takes place alongside sanctification. If there are people in the assembly "who persist in practices that violate the gospel" they must be "dismissed from the assembly for the good of the community as well as the individual..." (p. 142). "Nonetheless, the church must learn to deal with controversial issues" (p. 143).

"Walking in the Spirit, then, is another way of saying that we participate already, between the first and second coming, in the new creation God has begun in Christ" (p. 143).

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