Imagine you woke up this morning and your left leg didn’t work. Don’t you think you’d notice something was wrong? It’s a simple analogy, really, but it’s the kind of thing that comes across so forcefully in Paul’s consideration of the church as the “Body” of Christ (as, for instance, in 1 Corinthians 12).
Notice Paul doesn’t say the church is “like” a body, but that the church is the Body of Christ. This is no mere metaphor. To Paul, this is a working reality, both in the daily life and the gathering together of the disciples of Jesus.
Alas, however, today this usually isn’t the case, is it? Most Christians participate in a kind of church life where the majority of ministry is carried out by a few rather than by all the members together. A great deal of the Body’s function is (or at least can be) invalidated and rendered inoperative by this unhealthy clergy-laity distinction which prevails so completely throughout modern Christianity.
Proof of that statement is easy enough to gauge. Most of the gatherings you’ll ever walk into would be entirely unaffected should you continue to show up week after week and never participate in the meetings or community life. Ironically, though it is designed for you (and for the other people present) the show would go on with or without you just the same. It is not dependent on a robust spiritual life operating in all its members resulting in a healthy, moment-by-moment functioning of the Body as a whole. Rather, it is carried on mostly by a select number of staff members aided by the volunteer labor of a few eager laymen.
I’m not trying to be harsh or negative here, I’m just stating what I’ve observed so far in my eleven years as a Christian. In most places the body can wake up and never even notice that its left leg isn’t working, so to speak, simply because there is no “Body” basis at all in operation-there is only a congregation being maintained through the diligent labor of a few faithful ministers. And there is a vast difference between a church, biblically speaking, and a congregation. One is a Body alive and functioning (for better or for worse I might add) while the other, for the most part, is a thing of rote and ritual.
Anyway, maybe I’ve gone too far in saying all that, but one of the things I learned in the past three years of informal gatherings with other brothers and sisters on this “Body” basis is just how necessary it becomes for there to be an active pursuit and discovery of Christ taking place. What do I mean by that? I’m not entirely sure, myself. I just know that it’s easier said than done.
For one, when the gathering is small it’s natural that it will be more obvious when brother so-and-so isn’t present, or that sister so-and-so seems to be discouraged and is not sharing like usual. But even more than the size of the gathering, what matters is that the community is established upon this basis of Body life and ministry as opposed to clergy-led church life. This is not to say there shouldn’t be leaders, teachers, pastors, or anything else of the like. That’s not what I mean to say at all. Just that there is a difference, a very marked and definite difference between the two. If you know what I’m talking about then you know. If you don’t, well, I might be tempted to say that I envy you. Because it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do to give birth to, help sustain, or just be a part of a living, moving expression of the church which relies on the actual spiritual life of its members for its own maintanance and upbuilding.
In the kind of church life envisioned in the New Testament, when one member suffers the others suffer with it. When the eye isn’t working right, the rest of the Body has a hard time seeing. And when you wake up in the morning and your left leg isn’t functioning properly, you take notice. 🙂
God speed the day when there are communities of believers all across our land who look only to the Lord when they come together, gathering truly and fully as His church! For in the words of Anthony Norris Groves, “This I doubt not is the mind of God concerning us-we should come together in all simplicity as disciples, not waiting on any pulpit or ministry, but trusting that the Lord would edify us together by ministering as He pleased and saw good from the midst of ourselves.”