Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Being the Essence of Christ: The Call to Service in the Writings of Pilgram Marpeck

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

Being the Essence of Christ: The Call to Service in the Writings of Pilgram Marpeck

Article excerpt

"In Him we live and move and have our being ..." (1)

Abstract: Throughout his life. Pilgram Marpeck--a sixteenth-century Anabaptist missionary, pastor and lay theologian--wrote eloquently about Christology and the importance of the sacraments. Even though these topics were at the forefront of Marpeck's writings, the theme of service in the life of the church was the unifying motif in Marpeck's words. This essay focuses on the rhetorical dimension of Marpeck's theology and writing, especially his use of "service" to unify practices and concepts that were too easily separated for his audience. In this framing of the sacraments, Marpeck both rejected the coercive force of imperial Christendom and challenged the Spiritualists by insisting that the body of Christ is most effective when it was made visible through service.


In Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell retells the history of the Old Testament as a story of God searching for a body that would demonstrate to the world what God looks like. Yet, throughout the Old Testament are numerous examples of problems that occurred when the Israelites acted in ways that looked nothing like God's body. (2) Thus Jesus came in order to usher in the new humanity, one that would allow Christ to be more visible within a new body--the church. The humanity of Christ allowed the newly-constituted church to become the Body of Christ, or the Eucharist.

The word eucharist comes from the Greek verb for "thankful" (eucharizomai). In the Greek, eu means "well" or "good," while the word charizomai means "to grant or give." Thus, the term eucharist means "good gift." Jesus was God's good gift to the world just as Christ is the church's good gift to the world today. In the same way that Jesus' body was broken and his blood poured out for the world, so too the church partakes in the action of the Eucharist to truly be a part of Christ's body--to be broken and poured out for the world. When the church embraces its brokenness as well as its active role in the world as the body of Christ, the Eucharist--or any sacrament--becomes more than just a ritual performance at church; rather, it becomes the people who recognize and engage the brokenness of the world. At its best, the Eucharist helps the church realize its own death and the need to identify with the suffering of others in order to participate fully in Christ's new humanity. (3)

Similarly, in his book Body Politics, John Howard Yoder also stressed the importance of the church as Eucharist. (4) The sacraments in which we participate are not separate from our everyday lives. Yoder described sacraments as certain human activities mandated by Christ--practices like mutual aid, shared leadership, discernment of gifts, racial reconciliation, or granting and receiving forgiveness--in which God simultaneously acts "in, with, and under" that activity. Yoder believed that when the human and the divine interact in this particular fashion, the action becomes a sacrament. Sacraments celebrate a new humanity and a new type of unity between God, the church and the world. For Yoder, the sacraments are more than just a symbol. Their meaning moves beyond the limited confines of symbolism in order to reflect the actual inner and outer realities of the church. When the church insists that the sacraments are only symbolic, rather than social, in nature it fails in its mission to bear witness to that which the world is ultimately called to be. Viewing the sacraments as socially embodied actions not only calls forth a new humanity; it also demands that the members of the church be in true reconciliation with each other, and it liberates other people to join this "serving" movement. The sacraments celebrate the church being "in Christ," while simultaneously calling the church to be in service to the world. (5)

Both Bell and Yoder are calling for an understanding of the Eucharist, or any sacrament, as a practice, rather than a means to an end. …

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