Think about how often you see this common abbreviation: “Inc.”
When we see those letters after the name of a proper noun, we know they stand for the word, “Incorporated.” The abbreviation tells us that the name right before it is the name of a business or company.
That word – incorporated – has an interesting root. In Latin, the word corpus means “body.” If you’ve ever heard the liturgy for Holy Communion in Latin, you’ve probably heard the words of institution spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper: “Hoc est corpus meum.”
Or, in English: “This is my body.”
So “to incorporate” means to put something together into a body. In the business world, to incorporate means to form a legal entity – a corporation.
Of course, “corporate” language has been around in Christianity a lot longer than it has in business. “Now you are the body of Christ,” the Apostle Paul tells the church, “and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
That corporate language is echoed elsewhere in the New Testament. Peter refers to the church by a whole collection of collective nouns: “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9). The point is the same. Christians are joined together into an inseparable body, all in the name of Jesus.
As John Wesley put it, “There is no holiness but social holiness.” An individual Christian is a contradiction in terms!
Jesus spent a considerable amount of time in the hours leading up to his crucifixion urging his followers to love one another. He tied his whole ministry with them to the calling for them to show that kind of love. “Love one another,” Jesus said. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34, NIV).
We can never possibly learn to love as Jesus loves unless we stick together.
The trouble with understanding our discipleship in this corporate way is with the individualism has taken such deep root in our culture. That same business world that’s made up of corporations wants to market products to you as an individual. Consumer capitalism’s goal is to offer you products that promise to meet your needs and make you happy.
But if God’s desire for us is to be together as a body, then that means the individualist approach to life can never finally make us happy. It might entertain for awhile, but it can’t give real fulfillment.
Here’s where Covenant Discipleship can play a BIG role in helping us understand Jesus’ intent for his church.
CD Groups don’t play into the current trend to market discipleship as an attractive product for sale. They’re not about flashy programs designed to present Christianity as a self-help approach to life. They overturn the idea that your faith can be lived out by sitting in your living room alone and watching a preacher on TV. And they definitely run counter to “seeker sensitive” approaches that denude discipleship of its content.
Covenant Discipleship Groups are about learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the church he has formed, where each member is responsible to the others and all commit to “watch over one another in love.” The Scripture way of salvation is corporate; it is a calling for men and women to grow in grace together as they travel the path of following Jesus.
We are ultimately all members of the body of Christ. And that means that Covenant Discipleship is really Covenant Discipleship, Inc.!
Questions for discussion and reflection:
- What implications does the corporate nature of the church have for leadership in the Wesleyan tradition?
- This portrayal of what it means to be Christian and to be church is counter to the individualism that dominates North American culture, in the world at large and in the church. How can leadership shift the culture of the church to embrace the corporate nature of discipleship and mission?
What does the historic question, “Are you going on to perfection?”, have to do with leadership?