For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
As I did my Bible reading one morning before coming to the States, some passages from the first epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians drew my attention, especially verses 12-13 of chapter 12. I asked myself, what shall I learn from these verses at this particular moment? For these verses are familiar to us all.
In his letter, Paul elaborates on the relationships between various spiritual gifts from God. When he says "body", it is obvious that he has in mind the church as the body of Christ.
Verse 12 is about the unity and diversity within the body. Verse 13 tells us that the unifying factor is the baptism of the one Spirit, regardless of race, social status, or any other background. Even though there were at that time Jews. Greeks, slaves and free men and women in the church, they were all at the receiving end of the outpouring of the Spirit-"all made to drink of one Spirit."
What comes next is the most beautiful picture of the oneness and interrelatedness of the Church: "Indeed the body does not consist of one member but of many. ... If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ' I have no need of you,' nor again the head to the feet, ' I have no need of you.' On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior members, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it." And St. Paul goes on, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."
I'm sure this picture so wonderfully painted by the apostle must include the church in China and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., together with churches all over the world.
In obedience to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Paul responded to the call of Macedon, and could then envision the result of spreading the gospel to the gentile world. What he said about the relationship of the various parts of the body is still applicable to that of various churches around the world. If two Christians here today, one from the church in China and one from the PCUSA, are inspired by the same Spirit that inspired Paul and can see our two churches as the apostle Paul would see them, the two will naturally be partners in a common calling.
In the original Greek, the word "partner" has to do with koinonia. In some places in the Scripture, the word translated as "partner' is the Greek word koinonos, which implies commonality. What partners in mission primarily have in common is that they are all parts of the body of Christ, a relationship derived from this commonality.
According to Paul's teachings here, we know that partners in mission are required to respect one another. Paul has convincingly spelled out the kind of equality that exists among all parts of the body. In his mission practice, there was no intention to have the final say to the newly established indigenous churches. Instead, he and Barnabas, after appointing elders in each church, "with prayer and fasting, they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe," as it is told in Acts 14: 23. The apostles were well aware that respect shown to the new church is really a manifest of faith and respect for God who sends the Holy Spirit to be with the church. Paul went about planting churches in the Roman world, a great evangelist and church planter indeed, yet he said, " I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth" (1 Cor. 3: 7).
On the basis of mutual respect, true partnership also means:
l. Listening to one another in genuine dialogue aimed at overcoming misunderstandings, and understanding one another's context and distinctiveness;
2. Encouraging, strengthening and complementing one another in an ecumenical spirit, including prior consultation as to the possibilities of cooperation and common witness;
3. Willingness to learn from one another's spirituality, theological insights, enthusiasm and civic involvement;
4. Avoiding the creation of unnecessary obstacles or hurdles in the course of being in partnership in Christian work; and
5. Resisting the temptation to be superior-the superiority complex of the rich or giving member-and overcoming the inferiority complex of the poor or receiving member in the course of mutual sharing of resources.
Let me share a story with you. Once a kind king constructed a road and invited his people to travel the road as they wished. Some walked, walking quite fast. Others ran. Still others jumped along. Finally, all of them reached the end of the road, and came, one by one, one after another, to where the king stood receiving them with a smile. Then everyone began to complain, every one of them making the same complaint. They complained of a pile of stones in the road that inconvenienced them as they traveled along the road. Just then, along came a man-or perhaps it was a woman-carrying a large sack. "Your highness," this person said, "as I was traveling along the road, I came upon a large pile of stones in my path. When I moved them so they would not inconvenience others who might come after me. I found this large sack under the stones. It is a sack of gold. Please return it to its owner," The king smiled his broad smile and said, "You are the owner. The sack of gold is yours, because you cleared the way for others to follow."
I believe this consultation has done the same thing in the same spirit; that is, to clear the way, to show how to be in true partnership to coming generations of leadership to follow. And so I am grateful to the PCUSA for holding this consultation. It has been a session of mutual sharing, mutual learning and mutual enrichment. I was deeply touched listening to our long time friend Tommy Brown [G. Thompson Brown, as he summarized the essence of past PCUSA statement on relations between the Christian communities in China and the United States approved by the General Assembly in 1983.
Tommy said, "it was seventeen years ago. What did we say then?" Tommy's summary is worth remembering. To make such a statement seventeen years ago was not an easy thing. It is a brave and bold statement, a prophetic statement, a statement with justice. As a young and weak church, we were greatly encouraged by it. I believe it is also an encouragement to the coming generation of the leadership of our church. I am grateful to Tommy, also, for mentioning Newton Thurber's role in preparing this statement. We remember Newton with deep respect.
I am also grateful to the new leadership of the PCUSA for not only continuing the guiding principles laid down in the 1983 statement, but also for developing and implementing a new concept of missiology.
Today, as we gather together in a spirit of true partnership, pon dering God's loving kindness for our two churches, we from the church in China are grateful for being clothed with honor and treated with respect by our Lord and our partner. In partnership, we find a greater Christ than we might have thought to find when we were without it, and in partnership, we can all be anchored solidly to our rock in the midst of the swirling sea.
The church in China, having weathered every wreck, is sailing into the waters of promise. Being partnered with one another, we Chinese Christians and Christians here in the U.S. become partakers of that promise. I sincerely hope our two churches can enter a new chapter of partnership in this new century.
May glory be to God. Amen.
Sermon delivered at the closing worship of a Consultation on Partnership between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the China Christian Council in Louisville, KY. 19-22 March 2000. English text.
Dr. Wenzao Han is President of the China Christian Council and General Secretary of The Amity Foundation.