Thinking Corporately

Not long ago a man of God had occasion to visit an African village. Striking up a conversation with a young boy he asked a simple question: "What is your name?" The boy replied by giving the name of the his tribe. Thinking he was misunderstood, the man shook his head, pointed to the boy and asked again, "I mean - what is yourname?" The boy thought for a moment and then answered by giving the name of his family. "No, no, no," said the man gently, "that's not what I mean."

Giving it one more try, he placed one hand on the boy's shoulder and the other on his chest, and asked a third time, "What is yourname?" Looking a bit puzzled, the boy was silent for a moment, then broke out in a smile and replied by stating his birth name - that is, the name his father had given him the day he was born.

Finding this a bit curious but not surprising, the man realized he'd just witnessed the difference between an Eastern and Western concept of personal identity. The former tends to think first in terms of one's community and secondarily as an individual member of it, versus that of the West where generations of individualism has left a mindset with the individual as the starting (and sometimes ending) point of personal identity, and concepts of community as mere flocks of like-minded individuals.

When Plural Becomes Singular

To be clear, this is not to say the Western church does not embrace a concept of community or corporate union. It most certainly does. But the case can be made that we have it upside-down compared to the Hebraic mindset out of which the New Testament church grew to become the community who upset the world (Acts 17:6). Like the boy in the story, theirs was grounded in an Eastern mentality where personal identity was drawn from the larger community of which they were a part as God's People.

If true, it follows then that to read and make application of scripture through a corporate lens is to appreciate that the early Church's collective identity was first and foremost that of a corporate union of individuals, with each member collectively living out their faith in response to who they were as a community. Here it was an identity more singular than plural - of a temple, not temples; a bride, not brides; a body, not bodies; a people, not peoples; a mature man, not men; a new self, not selves.

Some modern day theologians likeTom Holland(the man in the above story) point out it was not just the Church who thought and spoke thus, but that God the Father's dealings with mankind throughout the still-unfolding narrative that began in a garden have been foremost not with individuals, but with corporate communities - tribes, nations, states and people groups - albeit as both singular and plural, but with the emphasis on their collective singularity. As He said to Israel, "You [singular] shall have no other gods before Me" (Deut. 5:7).

Walking Out Faith Through a Corporate Lens

This is what you'll find here atHeartland- observations, ponderings, musings, questions and conversation about looking at faith through a corporate lens, and then walking out this collective identity where our first thought out of the box is not about I, me, mine; but about us, about we, about we in He and Him in us and us in one another, about the Church - the Body of Christ - the "fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:23).

We are, after all, one. But given this, to borrow from Dr. Schaeffer, how shall we then live? In contrast to our traditional Western individualistic mindset, what's different? Join the conversation on the blog Reflections on Body Lifeand let's explore.