Paul defines the church of Jesus Christ as one body, the one church of Jesus Christ, and like the body the church is made up of different organs and parts which function in interdependence on, and with, each other.[1 Cor. 12:12-27, Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 3:6, Colossians 1:18, 24] Interestingly, Paul’s metaphor for the church is now being born out in research about the heart: “The heart is, in fact, a highly complex information-processing center with its own functional brain, commonly called the heart brain, that communicates with and influences the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system and other pathways. These influences affect brain function and most of the body’s major organs and play an important role in mental and emotional experience and the quality of our lives.”[ www.heartmath.org/research/science-of-the-heart/]
It is the brain in conjunction with the heart which is the center of the body, the “head,” if you will. Carrying the metaphor a little further, the body functions best with the heart and the brain working together, processing the information from all the various organs and hormones and then directing the activities of the body as one entity.
So it is with the church. If Christ if the head and the heart of the church, He is the One who stands above all the rest, the One who leads, directs, inspires, unites the church. One part actually can’t get along without the other, without Christ as the unifying factor. As each organ has different functions in our bodies, for example the heart can’t breathe, only the lungs can do that. The lungs can only process air-borne impurities, but we need the liver and kidneys to remove the consumed waste.
We could equate different denominations with different organs in the body, each needing the other to operate as a whole. For example, we might see the Evangelical churches as effectively communicating God’s Word throughout the world. And the mainline protestants as being Christ’s hands or action in the world, serving the poor and others in their neighborhoods or cities. The Catholics as preserving the tradition of devotion to Christ and the eucharist, to the mystery of God. Some of the liberal protestants creating a safe place of love and mercy for the LGBT community. The Pentacostal and charismatic churches as being exemplars of the Holy Spirit in action in the world. The Black churches as a historical haven for an oppressed people and a dynamic worshipful life. We could look at the diversity in the church as needed to complement each other’s functioning. Because none of the churches or denominations express the whole message of Jesus.
We could even learn from the very different interpretations and beliefs each of these entities profess–which all come from the same Bible! We could see these different takes on the same passages as expressive of the variety in God’s creation. We could ask: how does this interpretation which is so different from mine enhance my understanding of who God is? What can I learn about God, about interpretations of the Bible from other denominations?
Has anyone thought that Christ might be calling us to certain denominations to express these different aspects/interpretations of the Bible? Some called to be missionaries, some to highlight the Holy Spirit, some to care for the homeless and so on?
It’s pretty clear to me that Paul is saying that the diversity in the church with Christ at the head is not just a positive, but essential. It may be that he was referring to the differences between how Jew and gentiles, for example, viewed the teachings. Or how the Corinthians and Ephesians and Colossians interpreted them. Or even how different individuals interpreted the teachings out of their own experience.
In the microcosm of the body of Christ, in an individual church, we are to love one another, to help each other become all we can be and to live in the mind of Christ. So each individual church’s charge is to raise up the members through love, so that we can all be part of the one great body of the church.
There is a dichotomy in the one church of Jesus Christ between those who know the Word of God really well and those who express it in the world through Spirit-inspired works. These are not two separate functions of the body of Christ, but rather the natural rhythm than results when one is steeped in the Word, has a deep relationship with Christ and expresses the love of God and His forgiveness and mercy in the world. And like Jesus said in Matthew 25 and other places, the ones we are to help are the poor, the disenfranchised, the blind and lame, the lepers, the outcasts. And we are to call out the powers that be for whatever they are not doing for the least of these and where they fall short of the Spirit of the Law. [Matthew 23]
When will we start acting like the one body of Christ? Like the organs of our bodies which have different functions and a different makeup, we could still work together instead of arguing over doctrine and dissing one another and feeling superior because WE have the right beliefs and YOU don’t. When will we respect the others’ beliefs even if we don’t always agree, because we see the devotion to Christ in them, the One that we are all devoted to. Can you think of other ways that we might work together and respect each other and be grateful that others are doing what we can’t or aren’t called to do? If we want to reestablish the place of the church in our country, we need to start with the church itself and bring it into line with its one head, with Christ.
Questions to ponder over the week: Is my church, am I functioning like we’re members of the one body of Christ? Or do we preach the superiority of our beliefs and look down on others with a different point of view about the Bible? Do we, do I, express the fruit of the Spirit—peace, joy, love, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in all that we do?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who look to Christ to lead us in everything. May we express the fruit of the Spirit in all that we do—peace, joy, love, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. May we rest in the arms of God, fully sustained by God.
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