Church as a Sacramental Community: Koinonia of Faith
The notion of koinonia has been the driving force for church unity in the ecumenical debates, especially in the long and cherished labour of the World Council of Churches (WCC) through its Faith & Order Commission. Some of us may remember that the 5th World Conference held in Santiago de Compestela, Spain deliberated on “Towards Koinonia in Faith, Life and Witness.” This conference encouraged the churches to stand firm on the existing unity and resist any division that might occur. Churches were time and again encouraged to identify and struggle together in finding issues that remained barriers and a challenge towards church unity. The hope was that the churches would be challenged and motivated to take initiatives towards koinonia in faith, life and witness by means of being instruments of God’s reconciling and transforming purpose to all humanity and creation.
The word koinonia has rightly become a central term and concept in our day-to-day thinking. As used in the Greek New Testament, koinonia its immediate family of terms do not lend themselves to precise definition. Sometimes their meanings are very ordinary, other times profound to the point of mystery. Together, however, these meanings take on force and depth in shaping our calling to be a community of faith.
The range of meanings extends from koinos (ordinary, profane as in Acts 10, 11) to koinonia as “sharing” and “partnership,” whether in labor or money (as in Philippians 2; 2 Corinthians 8&9 and Romans 15), and to “solidarity” with each other in times of need (Romans 12.13). Going far beyond our ability to comprehend, we are invited to participate in the koinonia of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (John 17; Philippians 2). The most material and spiritual dimensions are celebrated in “communion,” the Lord’s Supper (1Corinthians 10 & 11).
Koinonia is found in the nature of the koinonia God gives us, in the incarnation of the Son, and in the blowing of God’s Spirit. Yet the most profound dimensions of koinonia are to be found in the utterly ordinary exercise of it in our communion with God and in the body of Christ. Thus koinonia is an identity-giving, life-shaping, commitment-forging and action-provoking gift of God. We receive it with Christ standing among us and his Spirit enabling us to both receive and exercise this gift.
We need to understand the notion of koinonia as a gift and calling. It is a gift of God and a calling of the churches. God is the one who gathers the whole creation under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and indicates that all are brought into communion with God of all creation. The church is the foretaste of this communion with God and with one another and that the Holy Spirit enables the church to be a sign of God’s rule and a servant of reconciliation. The calling of the church is to proclaim reconciliation and provide healing.
“Sacrament” is defined as “A Visible Sign of the Invisible Grace of God.” The church’s calling is to be a visible sign of this gracious act of God that was amply demonstrated by our Lord “that they may all be one.” This unity is necessarily based on the unity of the Trinity, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, so that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
God’s koinonia is demonstrated in God’s making “space” within Godself to accommodate the creation. It was further demonstrated in God’s sending of God’s Son to be in total solidarity with humanity. This incarnation by way of kenosis is yet another way of manifestation of God’s koinonia. There is always a “koinonia-space” that is evident.
The call of the churches is to internalize this “koinonia-space,” a space where the walls are thin and the windows and doors are open so that the ‘spirit of accommodation’ triumphs. This “koinonia-space” makes us celebrate the richness of diversity and multiplicity God’s creation brings in. This is not something we invent or create. This is just the modeling of Godself. Hence granting of such “koinonia-space” to each other is the mandate given to the church.
Paul has rightly said in Romans 14. 1-6 and 15.7, “…therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.” The mutual respect and freedom that go with this space is the strength of koinonia. Paul labors hard to demonstrate this truth when he writes to people in Ephesus and Rome. He talks about the ‘space’ that makes for peace for mutual upbringing. Our differences do not hinder the actual koinonia. Rather, they enrich our whole being. The koinonia-space invites and embraces strangers (Romans 12.13), and even enemies (Matthew 5.43). The koinonia-space we see in the very first act of God, the creation, is something that continuously calls us to examine ourselves. We need to appreciate to the point of recognizing the ‘inter-connectedness’ and ‘diversity’ which are the salient features of God’s creation that we belong to each other by an act of God and that koinonia is a mix of listening, appreciating, exhorting, critiquing and dialoguing – all in the interest of growing closer to each other within the koinonia of God.
Paul rightly says in his letter to the Ephesians (1.10) that the body made up of “all things in heaven and on earth” is not designed to be one of uniformity, but of God-created diversity, a diversity that is not threatened by our individualism and self-sufficiency but a diversity that rejoices in our oneness in diversity and our unity in multiplicity. May we all, who are a part of this great legacy – the Church of South India, recognize in humility that which Nicodemus wouldn’t understand, the wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the koinonia of the Holy Spirit enable us to receive this gift, gift of koinonia, again and again. Amen.