Welcome to Season 2 of the Your Church Matters podcast. In this episode (54), I unpacked a thought on which I have been pondering for several years – the Church as the Body of Christ. I have become convinced that one of the reasons churches try to do too many things is because they don’t understand that individual congregations cannot be the Body of Christ. The way God operates in the world through the church is a beautiful mystery of interdependence into which He invites each Christ-follower and each local congregation.
Powerful Biblical metaphors for the church
Probably the 3 most commonly used Biblical metaphors for the Church are: (1) The Bride of Christ, (2) The Family of God, (3) The Body of Christ. All of them are good and completely Biblical and emphasize a particular aspect of the Church’s role in the world. To leave any one of them out is to give an incomplete representation.
However, I do have a favorite: The Body of Christ.
Why I have a particular resonance for the Body metaphor
- It is less likely to be filtered through modern Western structures than the Bride and Family metaphors.
- It is easy to explain that the body is the visible representation of the real person, therefore the Body of Christ is the visible representation of Jesus in the world.
- I believe “being the Body” is a more compelling purpose than “doing church.”
- The older I get, the more I understand “when one part suffers, the whole body suffers.”(1 Corinthians 12:26)
Where the confusion comes in
- Sometimes we don’t differentiate well between “little c” church (individual and identifiable local congregations) and “Big C” Church (the people of God in the world). I have even heard some people suggest that we use the word “congregation” for local individual expressions and reserve the word “church” for the worldwide movement.
- The things that are true in Big C should be demonstrated in little c, but they can’t be fully realized in isolation.
- Just like one person can’t be all things to all people, neither can a local congregation meet every need in its community, let alone the world.
- We are not sure what to do with those with whom we disagree in theology or even in methodology. (“Tolerance isn’t about not having beliefs, it’s about how your beliefs lead you to treat people who disagree with you.” – Timothy Keller)
- God has prepared and equipped your church with specific resources that are unique to your context. (See Church Unique, by Will Mancini)
- You have a specific and unique “Where” (Mancini calls this “Local Predicament”)
- You have a specific and unique “Who” (Mancini calls this “Collective Potential”)
- You have a specific and unique “Why” (Mancini calls this “Apostolic Esprit”)
- God has not called you to competitive independence from other congregations so that everyone is doing their own thing. Jesus does not have multiple bodies (1 Corinthians 12:12 – “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”)
- God has called you to cooperative interdependence because your congregation can only partially represent what He is doing in the world. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 – “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”)
- Wisdom is knowing at what level and in what ministry methods you can cooperate.
- A fractured Body sends a confusing message to those who are outside the church.
Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
We (the many) are His workmanship (the singular masterpiece) that fully displays the work of God in Christ Jesus in the world.
Questions: What is your congregation trying to be or do that doesn’t connect with your unique context? What is your congregation trying to do or be that you are not equipped for? What is your congregation trying to do or be that doesn’t energize your members with passion for God’s vision? How can your congregation celebrate the work God is doing in another congregation without feeling the pressure to try to duplicate it?
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*Special thanks to Keith Cooper (Guitar Music)
*Special thanks to Nathan Woodward (Saxophone Music)