Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Redemption - Private or Communal?

One of the sad consequences of our modern individualistic society is that there are many Christians who think of Redemption in an exclusive way. I’m not here referring to the mentality amongst some who believe that only those who belong to their particular denomination are going to be saved (although that is no less a serious problem). I am referring to the mentality that tends to think of salvation and redemption as exclusively private matters.
The trend in evangelism nowadays is to talk about how God loves YOU and that Jesus died on the Cross for YOUR sins. The emphasis is on a “private” salvation, which in turn I think can lead dangerously towards a self-centred “Christianity”. Of course, personal salvation is true and necessary – but to emphasise it almost exclusively is to miss the whole picture. There is a very big piece of the picture that is missed – and that is the Church.
The tendency with those who think in this exclusively personal way is that “going to church” is seen as a private preference. The Church is not central in their thinking – and it is not necessarily essential for their ongoing growth in Christ much less for their salvation. They believe that all they need to build their relationship with Jesus is their Bible. And this shouldn’t be surprising – it is simply the logical conclusion of a Sola Scriptura tradition that has been handed down in some Christian circles since the time of the schismatic Martin Luther.
Rather than an exclusively individualistic redemption, what we find throughout the Scriptures is that, more often than not, redemption is presented in communal (or corporate) terms. For example, in Eph 5:25, St. Paul tells us that Jesus Christ specifically died for the Church (that’s communal not individualistic language). Of course, personal salvation plays a part in this because the Church is the communal gathering of each of the individual members. But it is vitally important to note that it is the corporate aspect that is emphasised, and not the private aspect.
What is interesting about the individualistic tendency with some Christians is that they are usually OK with accepting that sin is not necessarily a private matter. For example, these same Christians would agree that the sin of an individual can affect the many. The primary example of this would be the doctrine of Original Sin, whereby we know that because of the sin of an individual (Adam), the whole human race is marked by his original sin.
But the issue with these individualists is that they are not consistent in that they don’t apply this same principle to the redemption achieved by Jesus Christ, the Last Adam (see 1 Cor 15). [In its own way, this may point to a more fundamental issue that perhaps they see God primarily as a judge who punishes sinners who refuse to accept His gracious offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. Thus the image they make of God is that of a dictator, rather than accepting the way He has revealed Himself as a God who IS love.]
So what is the true Christian approach to Redemption? If the whole human race is imputed in the original sin of the First Adam, surely we can expect that the redemption achieved by Jesus Christ, as the Last Adam, would abound to an infinitely greater degree – especially given that He was not just a sinless man. He is so much more than that. He is the very Creator of the entire Universe – He is the God who took on human flesh so that He could redeem the human race that He created. And this is why the central message of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ offered Himself up as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD (1 Jn 2:2).  
What is so beautiful about this is that because redemption is corporate, our Lord invites those who are of members of the community of the redeemed (i.e. the Church) to partake in the application of His redemption. Just as our sins are not private but affect others; so too our deeds of righteousness are also able to be applied on the behalf of others.
In the Old Testament, Job understood this when he offered sacrifices in reparation for the sins of his children (Job 1:5). During the time of Christ’s ministry, the faith of a man’s friends was imputed him so that Jesus could heal him (Matt 9:2). During the time of the ministry of the Apostles, St. Paul tells us that He offered up his own sufferings to help complete what was lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of the Church (Col 1:24).
But how is all this possible? It is possible because whatever we offer is offered in union with the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. If He is the Head and we are the Body, then it makes sense that what we do is united to what He has already done on the Cross. That is why for the Christian, nothing that we ever do is meaningless – and this includes our suffering.
So when we as Christians suffer some trial, small or great, it can be offered up as salvific – in other words, united to the Cross of Jesus Christ, all our prayers, works, joys, and sufferings are effective for the salvation of others.
In actual fact, as we look deeper into this issue what we see is that when we reduce salvation to a purely private matter, it actually denigrates the value of the individual. But when we understand salvation in the communal way that God intended, it actually serves to highlight the significance of each individual Christian.
So, I would like to suggest that one way to start thinking more communally is by offering up this little prayer (or a something similar) every morning:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You my prayers, works, joys and sufferings, all that this day may bring, be they good or bad: for the love of God, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for all the sins committed against the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. AMEN

In this prayer you will notice that we make recourse through the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This is because she knows better than anyone else what it means to offer oneself up completely to God for the sake of others. She did so at the beginning of Christ’s life in the Annunciation; and also at the end when as His Mother she silently and trustingly watching Him suffer for the sins of the world – and as she did so, her heart was truly pierced together with His (Lk 2:35; cp Jn 19:34).
May Our Lady help up us to see that everything we do and experience is significant. May she help us to humbly offer up and unite to Jesus Christ all that we are and do for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls.

Ad Jesum per Mariam


  1. Gwendolyn PetersJuly 19, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    A deep, intense understanding of the communion of saints brings to life so many of the glories of Catholic teaching. Significant aspects of Catholic theology fall into place - redemptive suffering, the intercession of the saints, Mary as co-redemptrix.... If we live for Christ, suffer for Christ and die for Christ, it follows that we live for His body, suffer for His body, and die for His body. We will love His body all of our lives, and will demonstrate that love by praying for every member of it throughout our lives and throughout eternity. Each of us will submit ourselves as an instrument in God's divine plan, and will be instrumental in the salvation of others. The fact that Protestant theologies also hold to at least a shallow form of belief in the body of Christ should be an encouragement to us - if we can help them to understand the profound implications of this doctrine, so many challenging Catholic beliefs will seem less foreign to them....

    I was going to encourage you to post more often, Justin, but I can see how carefully you craft each piece, and it's worth the wait! Thanks!

  2. I couldn't have said it better Gwendolyn - very well put!

    Thanks also for the very encouraging words. I am just happy to be able use the charism that God has gives me for His glory and for the good of His Holy Catholic Church.

    God bless