One of the reasons that we in the Christian Church are so challenged today is that each denomination, each individual church is an entity unto itself. Each one’s interpretation of the Gospel message is the best. Each one’s congregation is doing the right thing in the right way. Each congregation feels that they have the truth. With 1,500 denominations in the United States[http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/a/denominations.htm 2/6/15]and 41,000 worldwide [http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm 2/6/15] we are a fragmented religion, not unlike Islam and other religions with each sect clinging to their version of the truth as the only right one.
And yet, to be the one body of Christ’s church was certainly Paul’s call to the early churches. In 1 Corinthians 12 he outlines his thinking for how we should be together. Starting in verse 4 he details the different kind of gifts members are gifted with by the Spirit of God, “for the common good.” [v. 7] There are many gifts, but each is to serve God, he implies. To be gifted with prophecy is not to put someone ahead of all others, or to speak in tongues is not to single someone out above everyone else. Each one of us has our gifts sealed in our creation; all our gifts need to be expressed for the good of the whole church, for the coming of the kingdom on this earth.
And he goes on with the metaphor of a body and all its parts standing for the church: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with the church of Christ. 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.“[v.12-13] Each functioning part of the body(i.e. church) is necessary to the functioning of the whole. He’s really speaking for God in this metaphor: God sees all of us as essential to forming his kingdom here on Earth, that it is only as we function in concert, as each person’s individual act within the context of a church is multiplied by that denomination and then thousands of others that we really have an impact on the world, that we are able to highlight the workings of the kingdom in this seemingly-kingdom-less world. To God the variations in beliefs each have a function in the whole; they are like the various organs of the body, different for different purposes, but functioning in concert with each other.
But if we are at odds with other denominations, competitive for members, dismissive of their interpretations, we are not living in the kingdom at all. We are maintaining the very human agendas that perpetrate all the harm in the world. If we have not love for the whole church of Christ, (and how could we not if we honor the Trinity?) then we are not living the Gospel, certainly not living what Jesus preached. We’re not even close to promoting God’s kingdom on Earth.
So with all the great numbers of Christians, some 32% of the world’s population identifies as such[http://www.washingtontimes.com/blog/watercooler/2012/dec/23/84-percent-world-population-has-faith-third-are-ch], how are we to express that essential sense of belonging to the one church, to the body of Christ? First, we have to dismantle the competition among us. Competing for membership and for the best interpretations only scatters the church. And, secondly, how about within an individual church? I’ve always thought that if you could love all the members of your church with God’s kind of indiscriminant love, you are there.
And that’s really what it takes—no more gossip about the people within our churches, really being present to the other members, with them no matter what their challenges, listening to their stories, telling of your own struggles and doubts, letting them into your life. It takes forming a real community. It starts with the smallest act of kindness and goodness, gentleness and self-control, faithfulness to Jesus’ teachings and love, joy, peace and patience expressed to the other—the fruit of the Spirit made real in a number of people.[Galatians 5:22-3] It takes a deep relationship with God to be gifted with the fruit of the Spirit.
If we bring the fruit of the Spirit to our own churches, that is if we have the depth of relationship with God in which we are given the fruit of the Spirit, then we can do it in the world, no matter the person before us. We can bring the fruit of the Spirit to this person and to that one, no matter who they are or what they are doing, no matter their social standing or religion even. When we do this with other Christians and others of other religions or of no religion at all, we are really being Jesus’ hands and feet in this world. We set up no dividing lines—no them and us. For we, each one of us human beings, are all created in God’s image and essential to his creation.
Each person who is able to give love, to love with the fruit of the Spirit in their heart, is living proof that God exists and that his church is good, that all people belong to God, that God embraces everyone equally. There is no hypocrisy in the person, no talking one way and acting in another. There is inclusion, where everyone belongs. There is each person being essential to the whole, no hierarchies. There are a variety of opinions coming from a knowledge of the Bible and the relationship with the Divine, but each is able to work his beliefs in his own way and be accepted. This is love, God’s kind of love. It is the meat, the core, the end-all and be-all of the church and of God. If we express unconditional love to every single person in our own churches and in the whole world, we don’t have to worry about anything else. We are the kingdom here on earth.
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Questions to ponder over the week: Am I a member of the whole church, the one body of Christ? Or am I limited to my own church, my own denomination? Are only “my” people acceptable? What stands in the way of my embracing the whole church?
Blessing for the week: May we be the whole church of Christ. May we seek to bring in the kingdom here on earth. May we embrace all of God’s creation, all of God’s children. In faith and love, Pat
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