Reflections on the Birth of Corporate Personality in the Church

By Brother Kyle Berceau of Mepkin Abbey

HEad shot of Br. Kyle of Mepkin Abbey

In the history of the Hebrew people, corporate personality is an important concept. This is when the character of a single personality is applied to a group. An example is when Jacob has his name changed to Israel which then becomes applied to the whole of God’s people, the pilgrim people of God, now the Israelites.

We live in a time when individual personhood and identity is giving way to a deeper understanding of our mutual belonging and indwelling in one another, such that each of us cannot be defined as a wholly distinct person but rather essentially a community of persons, like God himself in the Trinity. This does not eliminate individual personality and identity, but we have deeper appreciation of how we do not exist circumscribed from others, but rather in union with them in dynamic, flowing, interactive relationship. Everything I do touches the hearts of all those I am in relationship with, some closer than others, but ultimately all people. The same thing is true with regards to others; how they act affects me. It is important then that I, and we, align our initiatives with the heart and head of our larger corporate personality, Jesus, so as to live together as a benefit to all.

(Notably, this can help us understand that those who promote a “they/them” understanding of personhood are verily hitting on something true and important; it’s just that such an understanding to not lead to confusion must at once be grounded in a healthy understanding of one’s unique individuality and our mutual belonging not just to one another but to Jesus, the Way the Truth and the Life.)

And so today when we read Scripture and seek to understand Jesus and his Word to us, we need to look at it from a new perspective, that of more than individual personality, but rather an understanding of corporate personality. Rather than Jesus my God speaking to me in some understanding of personal salvation, the personality of Jesus today really needs to encompass the full Church and we must seek to understand ourselves as one communal corporate body of Jesus receiving the Word of the Father for being Jesus communally for the corporate world. We ought to read the Gospel today less in the sense of my woundedness and Jesus’ salvation, as the world’s woundedness/need and the Church’s salvation — in this we will have moved from an individualistic paradigm to a corporate paradigm. And we will have owned the revelation of the Second Coming of Christ and the reconstruction of the New Temple corporately in us.

Whereas in the early days of Christianity there may have been more of a focus on personal salvation and how Jesus in the Gospels as an individual and the God-man dialogues with me and my life, today as the heart of Jesus has leavened in us and increasingly consumed our separate natures into one (“on that day you will know that I am in the Father and you are in me and I am in you”), we must begin to understand ourselves as a singular corporate being with a singular mission in looking out together towards the larger world. The Gospel message and signals we send each other as one body of the Church should increasingly merge into one, as from the head we receive the same understanding of the larger world and its need for our corporate body to attend to. Individuality is not done away with in this case, it just receives its proper order — it speaks to functional union; individuality as differentiation in function, versus indicating distinction in identity. Nay we all one in the Church in the corporate body of Jesus anointed to speak life and dignity into the larger world.

In our times then, when we hear the Gospel of the baptism of Jesus, let us begin to experience that Word as our own corporate baptism as the corporate person of Jesus. The Father today looks on the Church and declares, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We have received the gift of an open heavens for blessing the world. Let us recognize together with our one heart and mind of Christ the world’s corporate need and so move together as One to be “a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness” (Is. 42:6-7). What is this corporate confinement today but a collapsing environment, anxious and neglected young people (and old), lack of concern for systemic justice in terms of race and immigration, and poor education in human sexuality; all this and perhaps a poor cosmological vision, failing to open our hearts more to our belonging in and to the larger universe and the world of the stars and space with faith. If we can’t look with faith at life beyond our earth, then we are trapped in closed system of understanding void of hope for the future. It is our responsibility as the Church, the body of our Savior Jesus Christ carrying forth his light and Word into the world, to open our hearts in faith and be leaders in the world as it relates to the link between faith and science and so to speak life and bring order to all facets of human life and understanding. Let us indeed take up our rightful place as the Church abiding corporately as One in the heart of Jesus Christ for bringing life and dignity and salvation to the nations, just as Jesus did for each of us individually 2000 years ago in baptizing us into his Body through his death and resurrection, saving us from ourselves and our individual isolation, and dignifying us in our belonging to Him, his community, his corporate Body, his Church, his people.