Week 9, Day 1: The Church
I am assuming that we are all committed to the church. We are not only Christian people; we are also church people.We are not only committed to Christ, we are also committed to the body of Christ. At least I hope so. … For the church lies at the very centre of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history. On the contrary, the church is God’s new community.
- John Stott
Individualism is something that is characteristic of western culture — and it’s particularly prevalent in the United States. Think about the language we use, like “my personal relationship with Jesus,” or the way we tend to think in terms of “what is best for me.” Discerning and growing into who you are as an individual is important; and your relationship with Jesus is not only key but largely your responsibility! But we do not only exist as individuals who are disconnected from others. As the poet John Donne wrote, “No man [or woman] is an island.”
The apostle Paul points out something profound: when we become followers of Jesus, we are also grafted into the body of Christ, a larger community of faith. He writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). We learned in Week 6 that one of the factors in transformation is “participating in community.” When we desire to be transformed in the likeness of Christ, that community is Christian community — what we call the church. As Father Ronald Rolheiser writes, “community is a constitutive element within the Christian quest. My task is not to walk to God as an individual but to be within a community that is worshiping God.” There are two key analogies that are used in the New Testament to illustrate what the church is: a family and a body.
The Family of God
1 John 3:1 says, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are!” When we choose to follow Christ, we are spiritually reborn into a new family — God’s family. In fact, even more astoundingly, God adopts us as his own (Galatians 4:5; Romans 8:15, 23; Ephesians 1:5).
Throughout the New Testament, language of family is used — God as “Father”, Jesus as the firstborn of the family, fellow Christians as brothers and sisters. The church is described as “God’s household”; in fact the letter is written so that the hearers “you’ll know how you should behave in God’s household. It is the church of the living God and the backbone and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Of course, we may be inclined to apply our understandings and experiences of family to this analogy, especially negative experiences; but simply put, members of the family are to love and care for one another, no matter how different they may be. Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, husband, wife, brothers, sisters, parents, or children because of God’s kingdom will receive many times more in this age and eternal life in the coming age” (Luke 18:29-30; emphasis added). The church as family is the new social unit, even as it too is flawed and imperfect this side of Christ’s return.
The Body of Christ
In 1 Corinthians 12:27 (The Message), the apostle Paul wrote:
You are Christ’s body — that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.
Often when we talk about being members of a church, we think about it like being members of a club; but what if it’s more like being members of a body — not easily detached, reliant on other parts, interdependent, and most effective when working together?
For this reason, Paul emphasized that we have all been given different spiritual gifts, which are necessary for the good of the whole community (1 Corinthians 12:7-11) — the spiritual gifts are given to each of us individually for the benefit of the others. Consumer Christianity is not Christlike.
Paul’s analogy also means that we are the visible representation of Jesus to the world. Just as we are individually image-bearers of God — showing the world what God is like — so also are we communally and corporately the body of Christ—showing the world what Jesus and the God he embodies are like. Our calling is confirmed both in our living as individuals and in community — the two are inseparable. Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice write, “This is the very nature and essence of the church: to exist as the sign of a reality beyond itself.”
Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.
- Teresa of Ávila
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: How do the analogies of being (1) part of God’s family and (2) part of Christ’s body help you better understand your place in community?
Heart: What is challenging about being the visible representation of Jesus to the world — together as a church?
Hands: Take the spiritual gifts test here (http://www.spiritualgiftstest.com/test/adult), and bring your results to the group next week. What would it look like to use your gifts for the good of the whole (church)?
Ask God to help you see how you fit into the body of Christ and what he might have you do.
When we become followers of Jesus, we are also grafted into a larger community of faith.