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Servanthood in a narcissistic age

27 April 2022 By Bruce Clemenger

Columnist Bruce Clemenger reflects on living counterculturally as the Body of Christ.

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We live in a society that values individual choice. The emphasis is on individual autonomy, embraced as a sacred right. Our culture challenges any barrier to choice including tradition, custom, revelation, conscience and even biology.

Scripture teaches the human journey to maturity, to find our true and full identity, is an internal transformative discovery through the willing posture of prayer, repentance and the experience of God’s mercy and grace.

But in our culture this journey now travels in the opposite direction to narcissistic self-creation and self-definition. Our culture aims for individual freedom animated by selfishness and power, a "me first" autonomy that expects others to comply, adapt and follow.

In the narratives of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) and the temptations of Christ (Matthew 4, John 6), the same serpentine, narcissistic-gaslighting message prevails. Go ahead and doubt, and question God’s goodness and teachings. Then abandon them in favour of something else.

Our diversity is superseded in a unity which is greater than its individual parts.

In our society, affirming the lordship of Christ and embracing being part of the Body of Christ is not only countercultural, but an affront to the principalities and powers at work pressing us to self-made images and empires. Christ’s lordship over every area of our life is viewed as bondage and not liberation, as conformity and not freedom.

But Christians are people who willingly become slaves (doulos) and servants (diakonia) of Christ. The former describes our status, the latter our function.

As T.F. Torrance wrote, "The doulos [slave] lives under the total claim of God and is completely subordinate to Jesus Christ to whom he belongs body and soul."

Under the lordship of Christ, our function is to serve Him and His Kingdom. Our model is Jesus and His ministry – who "went around doing good" (Acts 10:38).

We do this in community. In this fellowship, this partnership (koinonia), we find value, significance, belonging and cohesion in our common life where we together uphold mutual dignity, accountability and transparency.

We do not construct our individual or communal identity. Rather we are adopted into God’s family. We become citizens of God’s Kingdom. This supersedes our earthly and biological heritage.

It’s not that our ethnicity, profession or country of origin are irrelevant, but that our diversity is superseded in a unity which is greater than its individual parts and we become "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9).

The Church is so much more than a voluntary association. In several of his letters, the Apostle Paul uses the organic metaphor of a body to describe our union with Christ, a whole made up of various integrated and interdependent parts with Christ as the head.

Our purpose is radically different than the individual autonomy our culture presses on us.

Paul writes, "For we were all baptized by one spirit so as to form one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13). Our self-understanding as members must be wrapped up in how we contribute to the Body of Christ.

Though we are parts in one unified Body, one organic whole, we are not identical. Paul emphasizes our differing parts do not mean any of us have lesser value or do not fully belong. He stresses that each of us, not despite our differences, but because of our differences, are vital to the functioning of the Body. No one is indispensable, and each is to have "equal concern" for the others (1 Corinthians 12:25).

Servanthood is expressed through the exercise of the giftings of members of the Body of Christ. Those giftings were given to us "to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" to attain the "fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12–13).

Our purpose – to serve in order to build up others to attain the fullness of Christ – is radically different than the individual autonomy our culture presses on us. Freedom in Christ is not the freedom to create someone’s identity, but to be released to be servants, contributing to others in our service as we enjoy the goodness and contributions of others.

We are not our own. We are adopted and therefore given an inheritance, each functioning in the Body of Christ. This is the witness of the Church. In a society drenched in individual autonomy, servanthood is our communal witness.

bruce j. clemenger
Bruce J. Clemenger is President of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Please pray for our work and support us at or toll-free 1-866-302-3362.

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