One of the things that I’ve found myself in wonder at in recent months is the degree to which the New Testament stresses the union of Christ and His Church. A central metaphor in the Scriptures that points us in this direction is that of the Church as the Body of Christ. As a result, therefore, Christianity is never a solitary endeavour. Once Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey explains in The Gospel and the Catholic Church:
“It is never true to say that separate persons are united to Christ, and then combine to form the Church; for to believe in Christ is to believe in One whose Body is a part of Himself and whose people are His own humanity, and to be joined to Christ is to be joined to Christ-in-His-Body; for “so is Christ” and Christ is not otherwise. S. Paul shows us that the Christian is confronted by the one Body at their conversion, in their experience of justification by faith, and at every stage in their growing knowledge of Christ. (a) Saul himself was converted by no solitary Jesus. The voice on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” declares that the disciples are His own risen humanity in whom He suffers. The moment therefore that Saul turns to Christ he turns to the fact of the Body of Christ. (b) Similarly, justification by faith is never a solitary relationship with a solitary Christ. The one who is justified is an individual, but the Christ who justifies is one with His people as His Body; and the act of faith, in releasing a person from self, brings them into dependence upon their neighbours in Christ. Faith and justification are inseparable from initiation into the one Body (1). (c) Similarly also the Christian’s growth in Christ is a part of the growth of the one Body and all its members. Their knowledge of Christ grows, as the one Body grows by the due working of all its parts, and as Christ is made complete in all His saints (2). From the Church therefore the Christian never escapes; it is a part of his/her own existence since it is a part of the Christ Himself. And without the Church the Christian does not grow, since the Christ is fulfilled in the totality of all His members,” (36-38).
Wait! Is this to say that individual Christians loose their particularity in their unity with Christ and His Body? No, it is not. Ramsey continues on to say that Christianity means the extinction of “individualism”,
“Yet through the death of “individualism” the individual finds themselves; and through membership in the Body the single Christian is discovered in new ways and becomes aware that God loves them, in all their singleness, as if God had no one else to love…In the Body the self is found, and within the “individual experience” the Body is present. Thus the losing and the finding are equally real,” (38)
(1) Gal 3:26-28; 1 Cor 12:18.
(2) Eph 4:13-16.