Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Steeplechase & the Lone Ranger (part 1)

Church attendance & membership is a biblical given for all believers until Christ returns. Though some would like to contend otherwise, they have no Scriptural basis for such a claim. The whole of the New Testament record of the universal Christian body points towards the Apostles’ primary work of propagating & prospering the individual church bodies. Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, etc. were not individuals, but church bodies that Paul addressed. Moreover, the Lord Jesus Himself targeted His words in Revelation 2 & 3 not to individual Christians, but Christian assemblies.

There is no support to the idea of an insular Christian being accommodated by the apostles, while in contrast, there is much substantiation for the idea of all believers belonging & submitting to a local fellowship. Possibly nowhere else is this more addressed than by Paul’s first letter to that most dysfunctional of churches- the Corinthian. After a brief initial greeting, he immediately launches into a stiff censure of their “divisions” & “quarreling”, which was causing them to fail in the goal of being “united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Everybody was doing their own thing, as they each thought best, never instead acquiescing to the greater good of Christ & His earthly body. Yes, Paul addressed them as one body, but in reading chapter after chapter of their predilection towards self-centeredness, one can only conclude this manner of address to be purely nominal in nature. They selfishly only considered themselves- in regards to following various shepherds (ch. 1-4), sin & righteousness (ch. 5-8), the communion (ch. 10-11), & their spiritual gifting (ch. 12-14). It is here, as Paul begins to call out the irony of God’s gifts being used to feed man’s arrogance, that the apostle gives a most poignant presentation of the need for a humble & submissive fellowship of Christians:

1 Corinthians 12:4-30 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. (12) For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (13) For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (14) For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (15) If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. (16) And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. (17) If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? (18) But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (19) If all were a single member, where would the body be? (20) As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (21) The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." (22) On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, (23) and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, (24) which our more presentable parts do not require.

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, (25) that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (26) If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (27) Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (28) And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (29) Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? (30) Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

From here, of course, Paul enters in to chapter 13, closing there with the inference that the “greatest” gift is the one that ends in the display of love for another. Indeed, as Ignatius of Antioch (2nd century) states on his road to martyrdom:

“Wherefore none of the devices of the devil shall be hidden from you, if, like Paul, ye perfectly possess that faith and love towards Christ which are the beginning and the end of life. The beginning of life is faith, and the end is love. And these two being inseparably connected together, do perfect the man of God; while all other things which are requisite to a holy life follow after them.”

What brother can the insular Christian reach with this “greatest” gift if he remains an island unto himself? If the end goal of God’s working within us is love for another (instead of the heretofore Corinthian model of self-love), then should it not be concluded that the Christian can never be brought to maturity insofar as he continues his rejection of Christ’s earthly body? For it is only in His body that God refines us into the likeness of Christ. That is one way that God brings honor to Christ’s only current tangible presence on earth. Witness Jesus’ call to minister as a community in His absence to the same degree as one would minister unto Him in His presence:

Matthew 25:31-40 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. (32) Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. (33) And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. (34) Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (35) For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, (36) I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' (37) Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? (38) And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? (39) And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' (40) And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

To disparage Christ’s body on earth, however flawed & weak it may be, is to disparage Christ Himself. To slander the former is to slander the later, for biblically, they are inexorably linked:

Ephesians 5:29-32 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, (30) because we are members of his body. (31) “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." (32) This mystery is profound (megas), and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

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