From an email to a friend …
This week, in my regular Scripture readings, I read Ephesians chapter 4, which is pretty much the heart of Paul’s theology of regeneration in Christ. It is the great and profound mystery that we don’t hear a whisper of from the pulpit – at least I haven’t in any single Mass I’ve been to in the last 17 years. But it is at the center of what the Faith is.
We are remade in Christ. As Christians, who we are is different from what we were. We experience a change in our being: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
I have never heard that mentioned at any Church I’ve been to, beyond the readings. It may be read by the lector, but it’s never preached by the priest or deacon. And it is as unbelievable as the Resurrection. “If Christ be not raised, then is our faith in vain, and we are the most miserable of men, and we are still in our sins.” If the Resurrection is false, then we are all fools and we should burn down the churches and stay in bed on Sundays.
And – crazy as the Resurrection sounds – even crazier is the belief that our natures are being remade. “You have been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him in faith.”
And even more difficult for modern Christians: we are all supposed to be growing into Christ.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Growing up as Christians, becoming “mature”, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”, no longer “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
We are not only to mature in Christ as individuals, but as a Body, conforming ourselves to Him who is our head, Jesus. When we mature in Christ, the Church matures in Christ, and we grow into the fullness of Him as a Body.
The “fullness of Christ” to which we are to strive is (in this passage from Ephesians 4) derived from the Greek work πλήρωμα (pleroma), meaning fullness and completion and final perfection. In Colossians, Paul uses this word to extol the divinity of Jesus: “For in Him dwells all the fullness (πλήρωμα) of God in His body”.
Pleroma is a mature completeness, and in Christ it is the fullness and completeness of a man who is God.
But this is lacking in our whole vision of our faith.
Today a friend told me about an atheist she knows who now wants to pray and be Christian. My friend kept giggling and talking about the “miracle” of this atheist’s conversion, but there was no hint of the reality of it. It’s as if the game is won. The story is over. He’s Christian, no longer atheist. End of story. Ta da!
But what of the reality of who this man is? What of the struggles and disappointments he’s bound to face? What of the next step, maturity in Christ? Who can lead him from infancy in the gospel to maturity, “attaining to the fullness (πλήρωμα)”, so that he is not “swept by every wind of doctrine blown by the cunning and craftiness of others”? Somehow my friend sees this as a game, as a switch you flip, as a yes that drowns out the no, as a complete victory, rather than a wobbly and tentative first step toward the light that is still far away.