Talking of being in Christ as the gateway to radical new inclusivity

‘In Christ’ is one of the most beautiful of all New Testament phrases. All Christians should delight at being ‘in Christ.’

John Stott, in his 1983  address at the Leadership Lunch following the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C. said that  the expressions “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” and “in him” occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone.’  ‘In Christ’ is a vitally important and deeply sacred theological concept, yet it is one that is often used indiscriminately and with pastoral insensitivity. Sadly, it is sometimes used to knockdown and exclude rather than to build up and affirm.

For St. Paul being in Christ clearly trumped all other temporal identity markers, but that is a very long way from suggesting that he believed that being ‘in Christ’ rendered all other identity markers superfluous or irrelevant.

And yet, in today’s church, in Christ’ is frequently deployed theo-politically. It is often used to suggest that all our other human characteristics and relationships are worth nothing because the only really important thing is that we are ‘in Christ.’  

When ‘in Christ’ is deployed in this way it is often done from a position of significant privilege and moral certainty.  Of course the irony is that sometimes those who use ‘in Christ’ in this way are frequently keen to highlight the nature of their own temporal identity markers and relationships.

The term ‘in Christ’ is, I think, so special, so sacred, that we all need to exercise extreme care when using it. It should never be used to suggest that past hurts and pains don’t matter, or even worse in some ways, weren’t real. It should also never be used to rank, diminish or establish hierarchies of (human) being; ‘in Christ’ is the great equalizer. ‘In Christ’ always seeks to include, not exclude.

‘In Christ’ is an expression of divine hospitality. ‘In Christ’ includes and raises up the hitherto excluded, marginalized and ostracized whilst asking the privileged to acknowledge their status. ‘In Christ’ is the gift to the many rather than the prerogative of a self-elected few.

‘In Christ’ is a doorway, or Gate, to the acceptance of greater diversity and ‘radical new Christian inclusivity in the life of the Church.’ ‘In Christ’ is the chalice that holds all who commit to love God and neighbour irrespective of difference. ‘In Christ’ is the sacred word animating the sacramental action of a radically inclusive God.

‘In Christ’ celebrates God’s creativity and the infinite and glorious diversity inherent in creation. In Christ doesn’t mean nothing else matters. It means that everything else matters.

The most famous ‘In Christ’  verse is probably Galatians 3, 28: in which we read that there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ 

To borrow a phrase from the Three Musketeers surely this means that the spirit of ‘in Christ’ is ‘all for one and one for all?’ Commitment, as John Stott suggested, to God, and to each other, is the glue that ultimately binds us together ‘in Christ.’

In Christ doesn’t diminish our differences, temporal identities, and experiences but instead receives them, blesses them, and distributes them in, through, and beyond the Church.









4 thoughts on “Talking of being in Christ as the gateway to radical new inclusivity

  1. I think John Stott, because he always tried to teach the Bible clearly and faithfully, would also stress that being in Christ has ethical implications in the area of sexual relationships. Being in Christ in Galatians means, along with displaying the fruit of the Holy Spirit, putting to death the acts of the sinful nature such as sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery. (Galatians 5) Being in Christ in Colossians (Colossians 3) means, along with clothing yourselves in love and compassion, also putting ‘to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, etc. I could go on with many other examples. It is quite extraordinary how selective you are in your use of Scripture. And also how selective you are in your use of John Stott. And also how you overlook the harmony of scripture. Something the great John Stott never did!

    • Thank you for responding. The figure from John Stott was used purely to demonstrate the frequency with which the phrase ‘In Christ’ and its derivatives are used by St. Paul. Of the 164 occasions very few refer to sexual ethics (as you show!) and where they do they do they, as you say, are concerned with lust, idolatry etc. So referring to just a few verses (out of 164) and interpreting them in a fairly narrow fashion also looks highly selective. I like the phrase harmony of Scripture; thank you.

  2. Bless you, Andrew. It is good to see that even that great Evangelical preacher John Stott, was able to celebrate the inclusivity of the term “en Christo” – even though some very conservative admirers of John Stott would, today, seek to exclude certain members of the Church whose gender/sexuality status is ‘different’ from the majority. I have included your excellent article on my blog: ‘kiwianglo’. Keep up the good work.

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