Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27
The other image Paul uses is the Church as the body of Christ. The phrase has lost some of its significance due to its familiarity. But Paul was very intentional about using this phrase. The body of Paul is a very real body, present in this world. When the body of Paul dies it is no more. To speak of the body of Paul being manifested through another person or a group of people is not something that we think of. The body of Christ was also a very real presence in the world. As 1 John states, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard. (1:1-3)” When Christ died, we should normally think that his body is no more. Though he was raised, he then ascended and so we think he is not physically present. Not according to Paul and the writers of the New Testament! For them, we are that body, a very real and physical manifestation of Jesus in the world, no less real than the actual physical body of Christ Himself.
In this way, the Church is the incarnation of Christ, God who becomes flesh. God became flesh through the physical body of Christ. Now God becomes flesh through the people who are followers of Christ. We are God dwelling among us! This in itself is an amazing demonstration of the grace of God.
This reality is important to the Church’s manifestation of the incarnation, its participation in the incarnation. We cannot negate this reality. We are indeed his body. He is miraculously manifesting Himself to the world through us, the Church. I don’t think we can speak of one ministry as being incarnational and another not. The Church can’t be more incarnational, because the reality of the Church’s existence is because it is incarnational. Saying a Church is not incarnational is probably like saying I do not have skin. I could not exist without skin and I would not be without skin. There is no manifestation of Paul in the world without skin. In the same way, there is no Church without the present incarnation of God. This is a manifestation of the grace of God that we can be the physical BODY of Christ.
I am not sure that it is correct to think of the incarnation as a practice of ministry. I think it may be a misunderstanding of the reality of our existence at all. The Church exists because of the present incarnation of God. We cannot practice incarnation because we are incarnation.
The community of Good Works is this body of Christ, this temple of the Holy Spirit, this incarnation of God made flesh. By His grace this is the reality of who we are. Our very presence in the surrounding community is a manifestation of God. It sounds and feels arrogant to say this, but to say otherwise is to deny the reality. Each of the initiatives of Good Works is a manifestation of God in this community.
But the Church has a part in this. God’s part is the reality of His incarnational presence in the world through these people called the Church. As followers of Christ we also have a part to play to manifest the incarnation clearly. We can obscure the incarnation, putting a veil over the incarnational presence of God and so hide it from the world.
The most significant thing Jesus did to manifest the incarnational presence of God was to form relationships with the people he came in contact with. This is at the heart of what it means to manifest the incarnational presence of God in its present form – the Church. We must evaluate all that we do through the quality and character of the relationships being formed between the Church and the world in which the church has its existence.
— Paul Ricahrd