From The School of Charity
In his letter to the Romans, we find Saint Paul asking his converts if they realize what it means to be part of the church. It means, he says (and we can imagine their surprise when they heard it), being received into the death of Christ – the unconditional sacrifice of the cross – in order to walk in newness of life: transformed through self-loss into a bit of that body which is indwelt and ruled by the Spirit of Divine Charity. No easy application for membership, then, fulfills the demands of real Christianity. It is a crisis, a radical choice, a deep and costly change. When we judge our own lives by this standard we realize that full entrance into the church’s real life must for most of us be a matter of growth. There are layers of our minds, both personal and corporate, still untransformed; not indwelt by charity, resisting the action of God. There are many things the Spirit could do through us, for the healing and redeeming of the world, if it were not for our cowardice, slackness, fastidiousness, or self-centered concentration on our own jobs.
“Present yourselves to God as alive from the dead,” says Saint Paul; and your members – all you have, every bit of you – as instruments, tools of righteousness. That is his standard of churchmanship. That is the kind of life into which he conceives his converts are baptized; and there is something desperately vigorous and definite about it. What he seems to envisage in the church is a vast distributing system of the Divine Charity. As we were slaves of “sin” – that is, held tight in a life which is alien from the real purposes of God, off the track, and uses its great energies for its own ends – so, that taking a new direction which is involved in becoming a Christian, means the turning over of all that energy to God’s purposes; using it for him, cooperating with the Spirit working within life for the redemption and hallowing of the whole world. That is what the church is for; and the sacraments are there to help those who are prepared to pull their weight.