On Becoming a Member – by Rev. Paul Corman
On Becoming and Being a Member of the Christian Community
We are talking about becoming a member of a religion. Traditionally, there are several ways that can occur:
- By birth, through the blood line of the family, tribe or folk. For example, according to Jewish law, one is a Jew who is born of a Jewish mother, even if the father is not Jewish, even if one doesn’t practice the Jewish faith. Or in many tribal religions, all who are born into the tribe share a common religion. Many Christian groups tend to follow the same path. One is Catholic or Methodist, or Baptist and so on, because one is born into a family that practices a particular sort of Christianity. A ceremony, such as a baptism may be required to make it “official”, but the principle is still the same: membership in the religion of the parents is passed on “automatically” to the children. This is actually a pre-Christ (Old Testament and perhaps even before) practice. Christ seems to have come to change the blood-line passing-on religion automatically from one generation to the next but Christianity, in its majority, has not yet seemed to grasp that impulse of His.
- Through certain rites. Even though a child is born of a Jewish mother, a boy will have to pass through a ritual circumcision in order to fulfill the requirements of being a Jewish man. Later, the same male child will have to go through the rite of Bar Mitzvah at about the age of 13, in order to be considered a full-fledged adult, a son of the law, within the Jewish community. A girl has a different path to becoming an adult member of the community, but may also include today a more modern rite called Bat Mitzvah, daughter of the law. Most Christian churches require a baptism to be considered a member of the specific church or stream of Christianity.
- By conversion which can be what I would call “half-conscious” decision.
Half-conscious conversion might be considered one of convenience. Perhaps it is required as a formality in order to marry someone of another faith, or because of social pressure or, in some cases, because of perceived advantages from taking on a certain religion. There have also been examples in the past of “forced” conversions like Spain in the middle ages, when many Jews were given the “choice” of converting to Christianity or losing at least their livelihood, if not their lives. In these cases, there will be some sort of ceremony or rite required: a baptism, for example, in the case of Christianity. To convert to Judaism, however, is such a difficult process that it could hardly be considered “half-conscious”. One must study the law and history, go before a rabbinical tribunal, answer questions and show a sincere desire to convert. One will probably be refused one or more times until finally (if enough will and consciousness are expressed of what the conversions means), the conversion becomes official. For a man it can happen only after circumcision as well, and in the case of a woman, most likely by means of a mikva, a ritual bath.
- Through a conscious and completely free decision by an adult, out of personal conviction, without regard to the will of others or any outside pressure. And here there are two possibilities for making this decision real. There may also be some sort of rite, like a baptism or a conversion to Judaism, or simply through the open expression of a decision to become a member of a particular religious group.
I would say that membership within the Christian Community belongs to this last possibility–the verbal expression to a priest of the Community that one wants to become a member. Depending on the particular congregation, there may be some conversations with the priest about how the decision was reached. One might want to receive the Sacrament of Consultation to fortify the decision and choose a particular Act of Consecration of Man to mark the beginning of the path within the Community, but there is no “official” rite to accompany the process and no baptism is required. One will probably sign his or her name in the book of members and will probably receive some sort of card showing the date and quite possibly the “creed” of the Christian Community, which isn’t really a creed in the strict sense of the word and which we will discuss later on, and the Our Father prayer, both meditative tools for a member to use. The new member will probably be presented to the other members at the next member’s meeting, perhaps sharing a bit of his or her biography and some of the threads that are woven into the decision to become a member. All in all, it is a quiet and subtle process, and thus all the more so a profound event of lasting consequence for the individual and for the Community, resting on personal conviction and a completely free decision.
It will also be useful to look for a moment at what the word “member” means and how it is used differently to describe this status in different situations. There are two basic ways to understand “member”:
- Like in a club. One must meet certain membership requirements, promise to follow the rules of the club, maybe one will have to be accepted by the other members with a vote or a recommendation of one or more persons who are already members, pay the admission fee and probably a monthly fee and you are a member with certain perks, rights and advantages, but also with certain responsibilities, duties, and obligations that the club puts on its members.
- Like part of a living body. An arm, the hand, a leg, feet or even the head can be considered along with other organs members of the human body. We even call them members. Interestingly enough that is the way the apostle Paul speaks of Christians in communities (churches), as members of the body of Christ. Just as with the human body, members of a community are, according then to Paul, thought of as a living body; they share the same life substance flowing through them, i.e. the substance of the living Christ that connects all members into one organic living body in which each member has his or her own individual and unique function for the whole. And when one member is ill or weak or fails to do its part, then the other members and the body as a whole suffers along with that member. Paul also alludes to the fact that the eye cannot suddenly decide it won’t be an eye anymore, but would rather be an arm for a while. He underlines the importance of the contribution that each member can make to the whole body.
There is also a difference in being a conscious or semi-conscious member. This would certainly have to do with the way one became a member, by blood or convenience or by conscious choice and decision, but also to do with how one considered what being a member means, being in a club or being part of a living organism. Many Christian groups treat being a member of the Church much like being a member of a club. One must meet certain requirements, agree to abide by the Church’s rules, be “accepted” as approved by the elders and pay the “price” of admission, not a money price, but a rite-of- passage-price. In many churches, there is also a monthly quota to reach established by the church itself. A member of the Community in Lima once told me this story. She invited a friend to attend the Act of Consecration of Man and the friend asked her “What do I get in return? What does your church offer?” The member in Lima, somewhat confused, asked for her friend to please explain what she meant. “Yes”, she said, “what does your church offer if I attend? At such and such a church, if I go to the service on Sunday, I get a bottle of cooking oil and a kilo of flour. At this other church, they offer me eternal salvation. What does the Christian Community offer its members in return?” The member in Lima thought for a few moments and said, I assume with a very straight face, “Well, if you were to join the Christian Community, I can guarantee that you will have crisis in your life.”
Freedom makes a huge difference in the becoming a member of a church, or any spiritually oriented group or initiative. It makes a difference in one’s own life and Karma, but also in the life of the community itself. Becoming a member in total freedom, through a conscious decision, carries a different weight in the spiritual world. And for the angel, the spirit being, that unites itself with a particular spiritual endeavor in community, whether it is a very small community like a marriage, or a larger one like a group of teachers working out of a common spiritual impulse, or an even larger community like a church congregation. The angel needs to know on whom it can count as it goes about its process of incarnation and uniting itself with the community.
In every true community, in order for it to form itself, grow in health and thrive, there has to be an element of sacrifice on the part of the members. It may not be the same for every member, and it must be a personal one, not decided on by anyone else but the member himself. This is also the very basis for a marriage and is expressly spoken of in the sacrament of marriage in the Christian Community: not just sacrifice, but one’s own sacrifice out of free will.
There are two ways that any spiritual community forms. One way is that the angel of the community works through the institution and then into the members. This would be the example of most church institutions. The church or institution stands in the foreground. The member takes his or her identity from the community. The other way is for the angel to work in the individuals who then seek to form community. This would be the ideal of a Waldorf school or of the Christian Community, in which the community is, of course important, but the individuals stand in the forefront.
Now a somewhat delicate topic that is within the Christian Community in the English speaking world, still a bone of contention: The name of the community. The original name in German is De Christengemeinschaft. In Spanish the name is La Comunidad de Cristianos. In most other languages, it is a similar translation of the German name, but in English the community was christened The Christian Community, which in German would most like be Die Christliche Gemeinschaft. It may seem like a small thing but there is a great difference even in English between The Christian Community and The Community of Christians. The first name, the one that we do go by, gives the impression that the Community is Christian and thus those belonging to it as members are also Christian. That is a very traditional way to look at a church or congregation in the sense that the community gives its “stamp of approval” to its members. They take their Christian being from belonging to a Christian community. The other name “The Community of Christians” seems more easily to imply that the individuals are Christians in and of themselves and by their joining together, they make the community a Christian one. Not that after so many years we should necessarily change the name, but it seems to me important, at least for the members or those individuals contemplating becoming members, to think about this most important difference. It goes to the essence of the Movement for Religious Renewal.
One other misnomer in our community, again it seems to me, is to use the word creed without knowing that in the Christian Community it isn’t a creed in the traditional sense. Creed comes from the Latin “Credo” which means “I believe”. In the creed of the Christian Community nowhere does it say “I believe” or “we believe”! There is no obligation to “believe” in the creed to be a member. One is free, actually encouraged, to develop one’s own “creed”. The words given to the members and the words used in the Act of Consecration of Man in the place of the creed are a resume of concise statements about the Christ being, the Father God, Spirit God and man’s relationship to them and through them to the Earth and its evolution. The “creed” in the Christian Community is a tool for contemplation by the members, if they so desire, to strengthen their faith, help them deepen their understanding of the workings of the spiritual world. It is a means of acquiring strength for dealing with daily life. The “creed” is NOT what makes members. It is NOT what unites them in Community. In most churches, one assumes (or even has the surety) that all the members within the congregation believe the same things, those that are expressed in its creed. What unites members into the Christian Community is the mutual respect and aid among all members for walking with and working with Christ, each, however, in his or her own way and to the best of his or her ability. Members in the Christian Community may believe very different things. Perhaps with one exception: the belief in the “health bringing power of the Christ”.
The Christian Community cannot exist without the support of its members and friends. It needs their support and contributions, but these are never fixed by the Community. They are decided upon by the individual member. They may be considered to occur in three different areas of life and will most likely change from time to time according to changes in the life situation of the member. These areas conform to Dr. Steiner’s presentation of the Three Fold Social Order.
- In the physical-material-economic sphere, the community must have a dwelling place. It will have to pay basic services and salaries. It will have to maintain its physical plant. All this requires money and so, in this sphere, members and friends make a contribution in the form of donations on a regular, perhaps monthly basis, but also sporadically as a response to having participated in a sacrament or having attended a lecture or other activity. In this sphere there may also be donations in the form of legacies from a will and the like.
- In the social, day-to-day living sphere, the community would want to have vestments ironed, perhaps flowers on the altar, have some sort of child care so that parents can attend the Act of Consecration of Man. There will be a need for youth work, maybe offering aid to dying persons or to their families. In this area, too, members and friends make contributions, but not so much in the form of money, but rather in the form of time and interest in the daily workings of the Community and in maintaining a healthy social fabric within the Community and surrounding it. Here the member may attend a lecture in which he or she is not so very interested, but wants to support the event with his or her presence. One may not know the family or the child being baptized on a particular day, but would make an effort to attend and support the celebrating of a sacrament within the Community.
- In both of the above areas, both members and friends can make contributions. They are needed and greatly appreciated. In the following area, only a member would make a contribution and if a friend contributes here, he or she has already made himself a member: the spiritual sphere, the sphere of the angels. Members in this area may dedicate a part of their contemplative or meditative life, part of their prayers to the angel of the Community; offer them up to that being. The angel lives from these sorts of thoughtful contributions, gains his strength and ability to work into the community through them.
The Christian Community is not a proselytizing church. It is open to all who seek what it has to offer: “to know Christ in freedom as a helping guide”. Its goal is not self-perpetuation. If all the members were to lose interest and withdraw their support for the Christian Community tomorrow, the Community would not be able to continue to exist. The single requirement to becoming a member is to become certain that one wants to help assure the existence in this world of the kind of Christianity that the Christian Community offers.