Today, there is a trend of believers, young and old, male and female questioning and even leaving the church. “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” They are sold on Jesus but hurt by the people who proclaim His name every Sunday. I know because I was one of them. I didn’t necessarily remove myself from the church physically, but emotionally and spiritually I was checked out for some time. Members seemed to be doing more harm than good. Believers seemed more prioritized with the decorations on the altar, recognition for Biblically-mandated service, and fighting for their opinions above needs of the community they were involved in.
God has established the church as the unified body of Christ, to proclaim the life-giving truth of the Jesus. The church has been entrusted with this gospel. The members of the body have been filled with the Spirit. They have been justified through their faith, receiving new hearts to walk in a new way of life. We are united with Christ and united with one another. Yet for some, there is more animosity than unity. For some, the church is a community of supremacy rather than a family of humble servants. There is a trend among lovers of Jesus leaving the local church. The “body of Christ” has seemingly become the antithesis of its Head. Local churches are often magnified more for their disunity than their unity.
The bad new: this isn’t what God entrusted the Church to do.
The good news: God has entrusted the Church with a specific task, and redeemed His people for His purposes.
The Church is redeemable because its members have been redeemed.
Issues in the church aren’t new. By any means. Years after Christ was resurrected and ascended to the right hand of the Father, Paul was writing to churches struggling to live in unity. In his letter to the Corinthians, he address a problem of pride and supremacy among the Spirit-filled people of God. Paul writes:
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
1 Corinthians 12
Paul is preparing to address an issue of members emphasizing certain gifts over others. Members of the church in the next ascribed chapters (1 Corinthians 12-14) we see the issue intensifies with believers glorifying the ability to speak in tongues over prophecy. Today, these ideas are almost immediately misunderstood. Whether speaking in tongues still applies is not the subject matter here, though I think its a spiritual reality now (more on that later). To cover a large, very important topic quickly, to speak in tongues is to speak in an intelligible language unknown to the speaker, as with the disciples in Acts 2. Prophecy is not future-telling, as with the OT prophets, but setting forth what God had said. The one who could speak in tongues was seen as “super-spiritual” and was built up. This was not the idea intended in the gifts of the Spirit. It was self-glorifying. Paul told the believers to seek after prophecy because being able to speak forth the word of God was not only beneficial to the speaker, but the hearer, also.
The church had identified themselves as more important. They had identified certain abilities more “kingdom important” than others. They ignored the fact that the same Spirit imparted every gift (12:11). No gift was more important because each was gifted with purpose. The members weren’t recognizing the gifts as beneficial for the community but as a means of favoritism, pride, and primacy.
The church forgot love. The whole idea of 1 Corinthians 13 is the idea of love. To use any gift without love is *quote-unquote* obnoxious noise (13:1), powerless faith (13:2), , and worthless sacrifice (13:4). Gifts ends but love never does. The gifts were imparted for “the common good” (12:7). Each member has a different function. The body does not consist of one member but many (12:14). The foot is just as important as the hand (12:15). The eye is no better than the ear (12:16). If the whole body were the tongue, there would be no seeing, hearing, or listening. Paul even says the parts we deem as less honorable, those parts are bestowed the greatest honor! The parts the seem weaker are “indispensable!” (12:22)
Practically, churches today are to be unified in Spirit and service. No gift is above another. No position is above another. What good is a teacher without a student? What good is a committee chair without a committee? Our gifts and abilities do not override one another. We feed off of each other. Our gifts and abilities magnify the name of the Father and further the mission of the church: to reach the nations with the name of Jesus, who transforms lives. God has composed the body so that each part has necessary function “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (12:25).
If one member suffers, all suffer. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Because we are one.
The church is unified through the unifying work of the Godhead (12:4-6).
The church looks more like a disfigured carcass than a whole body. We often glorify the efforts the fingers and give no due to the hand. The members of the church are unified through the Spirit. We are united to Christ and to each other. Our greatest responsibility in our abilities is love.
Our goal as a church is to be on mission outside the walls of the place we are often blessed to meet. Yet, far too often, we are building walls within the walls. For its members it begins to look like a never-ending maze. There is no unity, grace, humility, or love. Yet Jesus has come to tear down walls of all kinds. Spiritual, emotional, relational, political, and physical. The church is the body of Christ. We are the manifestation of His power. We have been gifted and entrusted with the keys to the Kingdom.
Local churches are necessary. Its members are important. Each member of the church has a specific function that is no more important than another.
May the sickness within the body be renewed by the Spirit. May the members live renewed lives, striving towards God together, arm in arm, burden on burden, praise on praise. May the body repent and move forward in the power of the Almighty God, creator of the universe and the giver of life. May we move forward proclaiming the name of Jesus, who lived, died, and was raised to life again for our salvation, together. We are the redeemed body of the Redeemer.
To you who have been hurt by the church: I hurt with you. I am all too familiar with this feeling. But [my favorite word in Ephesians 2:4] the faithfulness of our Lord is greater than the failure of people. May a body of believers surround you in the true fashion of Christ. To give up on the church is to give up on Christ. You are gifted, entrusted, and redeemed, constantly being refined. Join alongside believers who are gifted, entrusted, and redeemed, constantly being refined.
Photo from: Daniel X. O’Neil, Flckr