This is the first paragraph in the first chapter of Craig Hovey’s To Share in the Body: A Theology of Martyrdom for Today’s Church. I’ve re-read this five times now, and am struck by how well he explicates what exactly (I understand) that it means to member oneself to a particular and local portion of Christ’s body.
“To share in the body is to enact and declare membership with a martyr-church. It is to relate one’s identity to a determination that exists beyond oneself without excluding oneself. It is to entrust one’s future to God and to others who likewise entrust their future to God. It is to subject one’s loves and fears to an overriding mission in which both love and fear are transformed and redeemed. To share in the body is to reassess the primacy of the individual body in view of the new body God is creating through the salvation of the world in Christ. It is to proceed on the basis of trust in promises. It is not to assess risk and safety on the basis of reason but to hope for presence on the basis of faithfulness.”
I have found that one of the great tensions inherent in fully giving oneself to God, and thus to the church, is the fear of losing one’s self, one’s particular identity, within the whole. There is certainly cause for such fears, as churches have done a great job of forcing individual people to fit within a narrowly defined set of ideological parameters. And yet, if the basis of such a giving is trust in promises rather than calculated risk management, if Hovey is right, that as I entrust myself to God and others as they too are in turn entrusting themselves, then such fears can indeed be transformed and redeemed, as one’s identity is taken up and transfigured, not obliterated or merely subsumed as a cog within a machine.
Hovey here does not offer a “solution” to overcoming this fear, though. Rather, he states that what ought to motivate our movement into such membership is God’s promise. There will always be reason to fear. The church will always be filled with people, who even in their best moments, will let one another down, take one another for granted, or hurt one another. What sets the church apart from other social institutions is not the absence of such failures, but is the promise that God will transfigure, that God will redeem, and God, even now, is at work making all things new. It is for this reason that we dare to risk the cost of a life together, sharing in the body.
Therefore, perhaps we ought to be wary of our membership to church if it lacks real risk. Being bound to God and to others is very risky business, and there are not guarantees that we will get out alive (in fact, if anything, we are promised that we will lose our life). Thus, sharing in the body should feel inherently risky and must require that we do, indeed, place our trust in a promise that we cannot fully account for.