The Body of Christ
The Advantage of Cities to Enable Community
The advantage that cities and traditional neighborhoods have over sprawling suburbs with respect to interdependence is that they allow people of a greater variety of ages to participate meaningfully in the culture. Young people, by being able to walk places and conduct transactions, are learning the rules and values of the adults in the community with whom they interact on their way. And elderly persons can be more visible and present (even if mostly sedentary) to pass on their wisdom and perspective to the younger generations. Consider architect Christopher Alexander’s advice on recognizing interdependence in community life:
Persons at each stage of life have something irreplaceable to give and to take from the community, and it is just these transactions which help a person to solve the problems that beset each stage….Patterns of mutual regulation occur between the very old and the very young; between adolescents and young adults, children and infants and these patterns must be made viable by prevailing social institutions and those parts of the environment which help to maintain them—the schools, nurseries, homes, caffe, bedrooms, sports fields, workshops, studios, gardens, graveyards.
If the church wants to be the “body of Christ” by including every member in its life, shouldn’t the church advocate a communal life that can fully include all members of the society as well?
A Balancing Act
I remember playing a game as a child in which we would bend one knee and grab our foot behind us and then try to race—limping, stumbling and falling over as we struggled across the grass toward a finish line. That’s what happens when we have only one leg to stand on, or assume that somehow two left feet suffice for one of each. This balancing act is repeated throughout most of nature. Two eyes to give perspective. Two arms and two hands to provide dexterity. Two sides of our brain that tandem. All these things come in pairs because there are many things in the physical world that work best when they have balance and complementarity.
The Body at Work in Two Women with A Disability
When I was in Germany speaking at a church, a blind woman named Elizabeth served as my interpreter. You can imagine the two of us on stage—me with my wheelchair and Elizabeth with her white cane. During a break, someone placed an English language magazine on my lap. It looked like a good read, but with my quadriplegia, I couldn’t hold the periodical or turn its pages. “Elizabeth,” I said, “how ’bout if you hold the magazine and turn the pages, and I will read out loud. That way we can both enjoy it.”
And that’s just what we did. I needed her; she needed me; and together we accomplished something that blessed both of us. That is how the body of Christ should work! Our combined weaknesses become delightful strengths. First Corinthians 12 describes how we all need each other, just as a physical body needs feet, hands, ears, and eyes to move forward. If we isolate from other Christians, we impoverish them—and ourselves.
Healing A Wound in the Body
In a letter of Justin Martyr, written in the second century, there is a remarkable passage. He writes to a friend and explains to him how essential it is that this man, who had sinned, should come back to the community, should be reintegrated into the fellowship both of God and of the Body of Christ, because, he says, by your sin you have wounded the Body of Christ with a wound which no one can heal except you; and if you do not come back, this Body remains wounded.
There was an acute sense of the oneness and the wholeness of the total Body, including God, including Christ, the Word of God incarnate. It was an act, therefore, not only of personal salvation, but with regard to God and to every other person, to come back and to be reintegrated, and also to give back integrity to the wounded Body. It was something that was an act of faith and an act of devotion, of loyalty, of fidelity to God and to others, and not only an act by which a person who had found himself in a wrong situation placed himself in the right one.
Overproduction and Poor Distribution
Rebecca Manley Pippert shares a story that provides a helpful, somewhat humorous analogy to the often lopsided nature of the church:
The story is told of a man who served in George Washington’s cabinet. He was totally bald. The top of his head would have been the envy of a shiny billiard ball. But in contrast to that barren scalp, he had a long, flowing bushy beard. Washington pointed to him, with a touch of humor, as someone particularly reflective of the problem of “overproduction and poor distribution.”
Whenever the Church is overly focused on one area, to the detriment of others, it is too has the problem of “overproduction and poor distribution.” The Western Church’s focus on education above service or evangelism, for example, would be a great example of such a phenomenon.
Working on Our Muscle Memory
Editor’s Note: The following illustration came from one of my own sermons, as I was trying to help a congregation see itself not as a building, but the body of Christ. It has been adapted for TPW.
Now, one of things I’ve realized, even in my own perspective on the church, is that we all have a default way of thinking about “church.” That is, for the majority of us in North America and Europe, when we hear “church” we often think of a building with a cross on top.
We know from studying biblical passages about the church we should picture a human body or a gathering of Jesus followers instead, right? But it’s kind of like muscle memory. You all know what muscle memory is right? It’s the idea that we have certain ways of doing things, say swinging a golf club and when we try to say, change that swing, we struggle, because we already have muscles that expect to move a certain way right? So for instance, recently I had a golf lesson. And the instructor, who knows a lot more about golf than I do, said, “I think I’d like to change your swing.”
Now, this wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear, “Oh, you are just doing this little thing wrong. Fix it, and you’ll have a zero handicap.” Okay, let’s be honest, that was never going to happen.
So, let me demonstrate how I used to swing. (Show the congregation.) It wasn’t terrible, but it also had its problems. So the instructor made a couple tweaks, and I’ll be honest, at first, felt very awkward, even flat out wrong. I thought to myself, “I’m pretty sure I’ll never hit the ball well with this swing.”
But strangely enough, with a little practice, not only did I start to hit the ball straighter than I was before, but I was also hitting the ball further. So why do I bring this up? It’s because we all have quite a lot of “muscle memory” related to the church. We all see and expect the church to look and act a certain way. The problem is, sometimes, in order for the church to grow, we need to look back at scripture and ask, “What if our muscle memory is off?” What if we are doing things, not because they have to be done that way, but because they used to work well this way, but they don’t really work anymore? Remember, we’re not talking about changing the gospel or the essence of the Church. We are talking about fixing some of our mechanics in order to more faithfully proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, in our place and time.
Stuart Strachan Jr., Sermon, Luke 15: Locating the Lost, Oct.10, 2017.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on the Body of Christ. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!