I have been thinking of this passage in Luke 17:21 since my minister surprised me with the assertion that the word “you” in the original Greek is plural, not singular. Jesus did not say that the kingdom is inside of me as I had heard the passage preached before. The pastor continued his sermon saying that the kingdom, the presence of the Holy Spirit, exists among two or more persons, not in myself. I’ve had to reconsider my understanding of the reign of God. I had thought that the most important thing in a relation with God was God and me. Other people were not needed for me to have a relationship with God. I was to be alone with God, and then gather with other believers.
Now, after a week of considering this new information, I can recognize the truth of what the minister said. The reign of God exists among the believers, not in an individual. My relationship with God is important, but the kingdom is experienced with other believers. I then remembered other passages that agreed with this concept: in Matthew 18:20, Jesus says “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” and in 1 Corinthians 12:12 Paul writes “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” Both readings propose the same position: that the kingdom is among us and that we need others in order to complete our relation with Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Interestingly, Jesus did not day that one person is sufficient, he wants two or three, or in some translations two or more, to gather in his name before he will appear. Christianity, thus, becomes a religion of groups, composed of like-minded people, who gather in his name, that, with Him, create the kingdom through their devotion and connections to Him. It is a relief to me that Jesus does not depend only on me to create the reign of God. But, if we find Jesus in groups, then must we be in agreement with them or even like them? Are all the denominations really Christian when I don’t agree with a lot of them? How can I be Christian when another more conservative or more liberal Christian is so different from me?
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians verse 13: “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” The body of Christ needs all its parts—hands, feet, heart, eyes, organs, etc. The head of the body, the church, of Christianity is Jesus Christ who wants all of us, according to Paul who in verse 20 says “ As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” The state of the church today does not reflect this truth from the New Testament: often churches do not respect the others. They fight about who has the right doctrine. Many churches think that only they have the truth about Jesus. “The foot” and “the hand” no longer talk to the other. “The heart” does not agree with “the shoulder.” Even within a denomination, for instance the Anglicans, the conservatives fight with the liberals over beliefs and now, as the denomination breaks up, over property.
How do we return to the time when “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it”?(1 Corinthians 12:26) Do we pray for all the denominations of the church of Jesus Christ? Do we consider the well-being of other churches, conservative or liberal, connected to our own wellbeing? Do we pray for the entire church and its healing and its holiness? If we don’t respect the others in the church and think that only we belong to the body of Christ, what are we saying about ourselves? Are we Christians if we have no love for other Christians? And who does Jesus say is to pass judgment on others?
I suggest that we are not good Christians if we cannot honor the other denominations. I have heard criticisms of churches that care about the issue of global warming, of those who welcome homosexuals, and also of those of conservative Christians who try to limit the definition of Christianity. We are blind if we think that only we have the truth. Paul was trying to heal the divisions in the church of his time. We must do the same for the sake of the church of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of our own souls. When our churches, our denominations, along with all Protestant and Catholic churches, come together, we become the body of Christ. It is in our connection with all the others that we experience the kingdom of God.