CLARIFICATION: This will absolutely, positively not be another Christian post on food, organic or otherwise! So if you were hoping for that, I'm sorry to disappoint. But if you love to learn about the Bible and theology, read on!
In recent sermons Pastor Mike described our relationship with Christ as an “organic union.” We are, as he said, "organically connected to Christ." Was he simply using relevant language to appeal to hipsters and farmers? Actually, no. By describing our relationship to Christ with such terms we are trying to recapture rich, historical, and biblical language.
Long before "organic" became a trend in food or ministry or even clothing, it was a word that theologians used to described our relationship with Christ. Therefore, I would like to spend of few blogs exploring this doctrine. Today, I'd simply like to let other theologians speak.
First, what do we mean when we say, "union with Christ?" Up until a couple of years ago I had only heard that phrase in passing. But in the past few years it seems like a whole library of books, ranging from scholarly to popular, have been written on the topic. Even entire conferences have been built around the theme. But what is it? Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung gave a simple summary of the doctrine of Union with Christ.:
Union with Christ may be the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of. As Christians, we know we’ve been saved by Christ, we should look like Christ, and we can have a relationship with Christ. But we almost never consider how all this depends on our union with Christ. The whole of our salvation can be summed up with reference to this reality. Union with Christ is not a single specific blessing we receive in our salvation. Rather it is the best phrase to describe all the blessings of salvation, whether in eternity past (election), in history (redemption), in the present (effectual calling, justification, and sanctification), or in the future (glorification) (Kevin DeYoung, The Hole in Our Holiness, p. 94)
So is this just new language applied to old theology? Again, no. When I simply surveyed many of my theology books (from Chafer to Berkhof) I found entire chapters on the topic. For example, a hundred years ago theologian A. H. Strong (1836-1921) talked about our "organic" union. He wrote (it's long but good):
“Here union with Christ is illustrated by the indissoluble bond that connects husband and wife, and makes them legally and organically one... a) It is an organic union. Christ and the believers form one body. The organic character of this union is clearly taught in such passages as John 15:5; I Cor. 6:15-19; Eph. 1:22,23; 4:15,16; 5:29,30. In this organic union Christ ministers to the believers, and the believers minister to Christ. Every part of the body serves and is served by every other part, and together they are subservient to the whole in a union that is indissoluble.... (b) A vital union,–in which Christ's life becomes the dominating principle within us. This union is a vital one, in distinction from any union of mere Juxtaposition or external influence. Christ does not work upon us from without, as one separated from us, but from within, as the very heart from which the life–blood of our spirits flows. See Gal. 2:20 –– "it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me;" Col. 3:3, 4 –– "For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with Him be manifested in glory." Christ’s life is not corrupted by the corruption of his members, any more than the ray of light is deified by the filth with which it comes in contact, We may be unconscious of this union with Christ, as we often are of the circulation of the blood, yet it may be the very source and condition of our life (Systematic Theology, p. 795-6).
Here's a more recent example. Theologian Michael Horton also used "organic" language in his Pilgrim Theology:
Yet this union is also organic. On the basis of legal security of the union, husbands and wives grow more and more into each other; so too do those who are united to Christ. Being in Christ is a fact that can never be improved, diminished, or withdrawn; nevertheless, we grow experientially in this union as we come to know, communicate with, and respond to each other. This aspect of our union is typically highlighted in Scripture by metaphors of vines and branches, trees and fruit, head and members, first fruits and full harvest, cornerston and stones in a building, and so forth. In union with Adam, we inherit not only guilt and condemnation, but corruption. In Christ, we inherit not only justification, but sanctification and finally glorification. Decisively cut off from the cursed vine and grafted onto the Living Vine, we begin to produce the fruit of righteousness (p. 272-3).
I've tried to show than we describe our relationship with Christ as an "organic union" we are neither being new or novel with our words. I'm sure some still have a couple of questions: "Where is it in the Bible?" and "What does it mean for me today?" We'll talk about that next time.
This is part 2 in a series on our relationship to Christ. You can read Pastor Mike's first blog post here.