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Discovering the Body: Part I PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jared Looney   
Tuesday, 21 August 2007
At the beginning of 2006, my family spent 5 weeks on a sabbatical in Costa Rica.  I spent significant time in meditation of Scripture beginning in Ephesians.  I was particularly interested in a study of the church (ecclesiology) and its nature.  As a personal journey, this is not new, but I wanted deeper insight into the functioning of Christ’s body.  I hoped to gain understanding that would be practical, especially for our faith communities in the Bronx.  I wanted to let go of my personal comforts and do my best to let Scripture tell the story.  At times I wrestled with the text.  I do realize that for some these won’t be new ideas, but if I had any doubts concerning the relational nature of the church, they faded during these weeks.  As a result, I grew in my desire to summarize this study for the faith communities that I serve.  This writing is a result of this study, and I hope that it serves as a resource for deeper understanding and community life. I also want to make a statement at the beginning.  This is not a disclaimer nor is it an apology.  However, it is an admission that this paper is an effort to capture a New Testament vision.  We do not know what lies ahead, and we must avoid any trace of arrogance.  Although I try to avoid doing so, at times I must critique some practices in Western Christianity.  It is intended to be a call to renewal, done in love for the whole church.  We live in a time of change that calls us to evaluate.  Numerous scholars and cultural analysts agree that we live in an era of unparalleled change in our society, and at the same time God appears to be leading believers all over the planet through unprecedented changes in the church & mission as we engage our world with the Gospel.

Recognizing the End Game

One simple thought that often challenges my assumptions is asking the question:  What’s the point?  It seems like a pretty basic question.  But asking such questions are important; it calls us to re-engage Scripture and seek God’s will in fresh ways.  For example, is the point of Bible teaching to enjoy a lofty, stimulating discussion?  Personally, I enjoy theological discussions, but intellectual stimulation alone is not the point.  Rather the point of such discussions is to be moved towards obedience to Jesus.  The church is the people of God bound together by their common bond in Christ. 

It is important to meet together as a local family of God, but the meeting is not the end in & of itself.    Though important, the meeting itself is not the end result but rather part of the journey.  The point is the life-changing reign of God expressed through the church.  As a follower of Jesus, I desire to see as many lives as possible transformed by the saving power of the Gospel.  Furthermore, I am a church planter.  I am not a meeting planter.  There is a difference.  If God was calling me to only gather people into religious meetings, I suppose I would share a very different set of values and pursue a very different strategy, and I would evaluate my “success” quite differently.  If we miss the point, we begin to organize our priorities based on our programs & religious rituals rather than be focused on people.  It’s an easy trap to fall into.  But as a servant of Christ, I am to call people to become followers of Jesus and allow His Spirit to transform their lives in the context of Christian community. 

I was convicted over these weeks by reading Colossians.  The church in Colossae was a group that Paul had not yet met, and when he writes to them, his emphasis is focused on the exclusivity of Jesus.  Perhaps Paul went on to reinforce the Ephesians’ identity as the church because He was already confident of their foundation in Christ Jesus.  In the end it is all about Jesus.  When we forget this, we forget who we are. 

Life Together

Hebrews 10:24-25 says: And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 

This passage has always been used to insist upon the importance of believers meeting together as a local church, and it is indeed very important for believers to meet together.  But there is more here for helping us to understand the relational nature of the church.  The writer of Hebrews is saying that a major purpose of the church’s meeting is to encourage one another, especially towards behavior that can be described as love and good deeds.  How does the church encourage one another?  The key phrase here is one another.  The writer is assuming that meetings involve mutual participation.  This is one of the many one another passages in the New Testament.  (One another passages are so numerous that they simply must not be ignored.).  I remember Tony Dale, from House2House, explaining that if we take this passage seriously, each member of a house church would take time out during their week thinking of ways that they can show love to the other members.  If this was the habit of each of us as believers, not only would our meetings be dynamic but it would be life-changing for everyone involved.   

I am increasingly convinced of the value of church functioning as a simple, relational community.  An additional “one another” passage reads: Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:15-16). 

In another passage in Hebrews 5, 6 the writer accuses his readers of immaturity.  He says that they should already be teachers but are slow to learn.  I can’t help but relate this passage to Colossians 3 (above).  The church should be able to grow by nourishing one another, but they are still dependent like a child that must be nursed by its mother.  Unfortunately, a type of spiritual or emotional dependency is common among many Christians today.  However, we are called to be interdependent as a community and dependent on God alone.  Without a doubt, there are certainly leaders within Christ’s body, but the manner in which these leaders function makes a difference.  These passages help us get a better grasp of the maturing process in the body of Christ.    

Reflecting upon the Colossians passage, we often assume that teaching represents a single speaker to an assembly, and at times this approach is really useful.  As a valuable resource, someone with the gift of teaching or with specialized knowledge may serve the church in this capacity whenever necessary.  However, the New Testament assumes that the various members of the body are to mutually teach one another.  When we consider the many one another passages in the New Testament, we recognize that teaching one another is the normal manner for growing in the body of Christ.  The real potential of the Spirit working is not in expert teachers.  Rather it is in all the members of Christ’s body teaching and encouraging one another – rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn (Romans 12). 

I’ve personally been deeply moved by learning to listen to those in my midst.  One Sunday in a church that meets in Malissa Endsely’s [a co-worker in the Bronx] apartment we were discussing the Bible.  During the discussion, Wendy [a group member]] said something fairly profound that has moved me closer to obedience to Christ in my interpersonal relationships.  Wendy was not the discussion facilitator; she was a participant just as I was that day.  Her life as a follower of Jesus is still fairly new.  Does she have more growing to do?  Sure she does, and because of my friendship with Wendy, I am confident that she doesn’t mind me saying so.  During that discussion, we were being the body of Christ.  Wendy shared a truth that had been revealed to her, and as a result, I was taught by one whom I had previously taught.  But I was only able to be taught because I was emptying myself of the pride that would shut out her voice.  I’m not especially known for my humility, but I was only able to go to new places in my thinking because I understood I have something to gain from every believer who shares the same Spirit as I do. 

House churches are one ideal setting where ‘one another’ ministry may take place, and even smaller covenant communities – such as Life Transformation Groups, coaching relationships, and/or prayer partnerships – are often a key strategy in the maturing and growth process of individuals and churches.   

Accountability & Discernment

Of course with mutual participation, it is certainly possible for a participant to say or do something that is contrary to the Gospel.  Each Christian is at a unique stage in his or her understanding of the Gospel, and unbelievers are always more than welcome to our meetings.  For discernment of someone’s testimony, teaching, or prophetic word, the community can compare their words with Scripture, and the group may discuss it more as a church.  (This is, of course, assuming that the members of the church are actively studying the Word themselves.)  There are always debatable issues, but if someone says something that is not aligned with the Gospel and clearly is not a debatable matter, the rest of the body can gently correct them in love.  If the church isn’t sure or cannot agree, they can study the Scriptures together, and if they still are not sure or cannot agree, they can invite a network leader – a gifted teacher, minister, or other knowledgeable person -- to come and help them with the issue.  As I contemplate this, I can’t help but be reminded of the circumstances of the church of the New Testament.

Continue >> Read Part II of Discovering the Body

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 August 2007 )
 
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