To me the church as a whole is losing membership in the United States because it is divided; it is apt to argue over different beliefs; it does not practice what it preaches. We Christians live a watered-down version of the Gospel of Jesus. We would rather fight with the different interpretations than live the Gospel truths. The church today is a far cry from Paul’s description of the church as the body of Christ. [1 Corinthians 12] What he paints as a metaphor of the church is a human body with many different organs which all have different functions, but they work together as a whole, each doing their appointed tasks, “for we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” [1 Corinthians 12:13-14]
Today’s divided “body of Christ” must die off and be replaced by Christians of all denominations joining together as one church. I don’t mean that we have to give up the denominational structures. Or that we have to give up our differing interpretations of the Bible. We just have to change our attitudes about differing beliefs and practices. That we hold different beliefs and give emphasis to different teachings is not a reason to separate ourselves out as better than all the rest. There are a great variety of people in this world and I think that the number of denominations is expressive of how differently we all think. What we need to drop is the defensiveness that promotes our church as the only true interpretation of the Bible, the anger that someone else’s church might grow bigger than ours, the fear of …I am not sure of what, but I think it is a lack of trust in God to take care of us on this earth.
Perhaps we could look at the other denominations and entertain their beliefs and how they differ from our own. We could read this book, The Streams of Living Water by Richard J. Foster. He writes of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the six main streams of Christianity—Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical and the Incarnational traditions. We could think about different passages of the New Testament and wonder how each “stream’ concluded a totally different idea from the same text. We might ask this question: what can I learn from how other denominations read this text? Is God trying to tell me something in another interpretation? Rather than reinforce any denominational pride, we might experience different ways of worship and of belief to see if they might rightly expand our notion of God. We might hear and see things differently, echoing Jesus’ admonition to “let those who have ears to hear, let him hear.” [Mark 4:9] Maybe we could drop our blindness and deafness to opinions other than our own and hear what Jesus is saying to us in all of it.
A fresh new wind is blowing through the church as memberships drop and the Holy Spirit does His work with the contemporary church on the obvious problems and some-not–so- obvious ones. What evidence of the Spirit’s work, you might ask? House churches, intentional communities of lay people, young people drawn to a giving life but not to the church, and more. What is clear to me is this: the church needs to bring itself up to date and to embrace all of Jesus’ teachings to survive. A retired pastor in our Sunday School class told me that the “formerly” mainline church has been eclipsed by much newer churches. In Charlotte one church, Elevation, has more members than all the Presbyterian Churches in the U.S.A here.
As part of this new wind blowing it is time to learn about the other denominations, to get together as the body of Christ, to inspire a new generation of Christians to live this hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love,” written by former Catholic priest, Peter Scholtes (who left the priesthood to become a business consultant and author).
In the body of Christ there is only one leader, Jesus Christ. There are many parts and many functions, all of which are equally needed to do their part within the whole for the functioning of the body. The body of Christ is an interdependent system, just like God’s creation here on Earth. May the church live up to this teaching of Paul’s and divest itself of all the trappings of human fellowship—competition, fear, anger, lack of compassion, envy and more. May we only use the fruit of the Spirit in our dealings with each other—peace, joy, love, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. May we all live the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. It is time for us to live as the one body of Christ.
Questions to ponder over the weekend: Am I am member of the whole body of Christ? How do I categorize those Christians who wouldn’t agree with my theology—as members of the body of Christ or outliers? How do I treat them? With love and acceptance and an openness to what they might have to teach me? Or with disdain and condemnation? Outside of your denomination’s sense about other theologies, how do you think Jesus would really feel about the nature of the body of Christ today?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who embrace the whole body of Christ, who are willing to hear from and learn from others. May we be first members of the body of Christ above all and then members of our own denomination and of our own church. May we be love in this world.
Link to my website for the full blog for this week and the archives of my blog going back to 2011 at bythewaters.net/blog.html.
My new book, Exodus: Our Story, too, is up on Amazon at www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=patricia+said+adams. Check it out. It is the story of how the Israelites and we go from slavery to the world to the kingdom of God. It’s $16.00 in paperback.