We are looking at different metaphors to help us understand what the Church is. Last month we looked at the Church as an embassy. Why are we talking so much about the Church? It’s because Christ loves the Church. In Acts 9:1 Peter writes that Paul is “breathing out murderous threats” against the Lord’s disciples. A few verses later, when Jesus appears before Paul, he says, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus so identifies with his Church that when his people are hurt, he is hurt. Jesus loves the Church; if we love Jesus, we must also love the Church.
This month let’s look at the Church as one body. Paul uses this language in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with 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. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Part of the difficulty in talking about the Church is the different ways the word “church” is used. Jesus says he will build his Church (singular) in Matt 16:18. Here, he seems to have in mind what we call the universal Church, which is all those across time and space who believe in him. But elsewhere, the Bible mentions the churches (plural) in particular regions (Rom 16:4, 1 Cor 16:1; Gal 1:2, etc.). The same Greek word for “church” is used both ways.
So when Paul describes the Church as a body in 1 Corinthians 12, in what way is he using that word? Is a particular church in one location a body? Or is the universal Church one body? If we look at the context it becomes clear. In verse twelve, Paul says the body of Christ is one, but made of up various parts. In verse thirteen, he says all kinds of different people--Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free--are baptized into one Spirit to form one body. This means that there isn’t a Presbyterian baptism, or a Baptist baptism, or a Lutheran baptism. No, there is simply Christian baptism. When we baptize here we don’t say, “I baptize you in the name of the Presbyterian Church.” No. We say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Every Christian is baptized into the one body of Christ. This means there is one true Church; however, the lines of that true Church include all those churches and denominations that adhere to the basics of the faith. Jesus doesn't split his
time acting as head of the Catholic Church on Mondays and the Methodist Church on Tuesdays. No, Jesus is head of his one Church, and all Christian churches from around the globe are part of that.
What then is the purpose of various denominations or associations? Ideally they act like good fences to make good neighbors. In less important things Christians differ, yet we are all still Christian; denominations allow us to participate in a particular church that matches our convictions about these lesser matters.
The problem is that sometimes our fences turn into walls. We disconnect from other churches around us. Go back to the body image. If you wrap a rubber band tightly around your finger it starts to turn purple, and if you leave it there for too long it will cause damage. When we cut ourselves off from other churches it hurts us; we must be connected to the one body of Christ. A connected church is a healthy church.
What this means for us
Different churches have different roles to play
It’s easy to get into the business of comparing churches, or being jealous of what another church has or is doing. But remember, all these local churches are part of the same body. A body has different parts. Some parts of the body are prominent, and they get lots of use. Other parts of a body are less known, are hidden, or are rarely thought of. Jesus doesn’t want every local church to try to act like a strong hand or keen eye. No, Paul says each part plays its role and should do the best it can in line with how God made it. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:15-20,
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop beng part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
This means we need to be faithful to what God is calling us to be, not what he is calling another church to be. How do we know what God is calling us to be? Well, we should find out where the needs of our location overlap with our particular gifts and resources. We serve the body of Christ best when we pay attention to where God has placed us and what he has given us. In fact, if we try to be something we are not, we will hurt the body by neglecting the role that contributes to the whole.
Often people think that the size of a particular church indicates its level of success. Certainly, if we looked at things from the world’s perspective, this would be true. But we should look at things from the viewpoint of the one body of Christ. From that perspective, size has little to do with success. Is a hand more successful than a toe because it gets more attention? No, a small church can be just as pleasing to God as a large church. What matters is whether or not they are using all the resources God has given them for his glory. But conversely, both a small and big church could be squandering what God has given them by trying to be something they are not supposed to be. We need to be the best at what God has called us to be.
We celebrate success and mourn loss
When your big toe hurts, it affects everything. No part of the body is isolated from another. It’s the same with the church. Remember when Paul was persecuting the disciples, but Jesus said he was persecuting Jesus himself? When churches are hurting, it should affect us. We need to pray for those who face much greater persecution than we do. We need to care about the churches in our community. It also works the other way. When another church sees great success, we should rejoice. That can be hard, but if a revival happens at the church down the street we should celebrate as much as if it were happening in our church. We are all part of the same body.
We need to speak and learn from one another.
In marriage, God says the man and woman become one flesh. Notice the similarity to the church as a body? Consider being married, but never talking to your spouse, having separate bank accounts, and sleeping in separate bedrooms. You would essentially have separate lives even though you were legally married. It may technically be a marriage, but it wouldn't be a good one. It certainly wouldn’t be a biblical one.
It’s the same in the church. If the various parts of the church never talk to one another, if they set up walls to keep each other at a distance, if there is never any fellowship, how can individual churches help each other grow like we are supposed to? We are one body. This means we need to be learning from other Christians; we need to fellowship with them and study Scripture with them. It’s through speaking the truth in love to one another that we grow into the fullness of Christ.
I’m particularly excited for our missions conference this year. We have in invited Pastor Samuel Oluoch as our guest. He is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Kisumu, Kenya. We invited him because the leadership of the church was talking about how we show our unity with other believers. How do we show that the Church is one? We thought inviting a Pastor from another culture and denomination would be a great way to show that we are all part of one body. He will be with us for ten days, and during that time he will be learning about our church and the culture here. But we will also be learning from him. He will speak for Sunday school on November 6th and be our missions speaker over missions weekend on November 12th & 13th. I believe we will all be blessed as he opens God’s word for us.