According to Adherents.com, Christianity is the largest world religion with two billion adherents (defined as “all members, including full members, their children and the estimated number of other regular participants who are not considered as communicant, confirmed or full members”). According to ReligiousTolerance.org, about 75% of American adults identify themselves under the title Christian.
It’s safe to say there is no shortage of “Christians” in our lives. In many towns and cities, to open the Yellow Pages and look under churches, you’ll find not just a small handful, but pages of listings. And yet, when things happen in our lives, where do we turn?
In most cases, we pull away from everyone. We try to figure things out, working with all our might to fight through some of the most difficult times in our lives. But is that the answer God prescribed for us?
Paul talked about the Church as being the Body of Christ:
A person’s body is only one thing, but it has many parts. Though there are many parts to a body, all those parts make only one body. Christ is like that also. Some of us are Jews, and some are Greeks. Some of us are slaves, and some are free. But we were all baptized into one body through one Spirit.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-13, NCV)
I’ve been thinking and learning a lot about the possibilities we have in the Body of Christ. In fact, it often distracts me from my current writing project. Why? Because the deficiencies in the Body as we know it today surround us, affecting our lives daily.
Every once in a while situations or conversations stir up thoughts and ponderings on this subject. Yesterday I met with another pastor in our town and our conversation strayed from its purpose and crossed here many times. I bought a book yesterday that I expect to stir up some thoughts for my own life and ministry. Relational issues and other conversations this week have brought it up as well.
Talking about Lonely Christianity seems like an appropriate follow-up to Mindless Christianity. It not only talks about a debilitating problem in the Church, but it is actually a result of living a relationship with God and each other that fails to learn, believe in and employ the promises and patterns God has given us in Scripture.
Let’s read a bit more of Paul’s description of the Church:
The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
(1 Corinthians 12:25-26, The Message)
Most of us prefer to keep the involvement of other people at a minimum in our lives. Sure, we like to have fun and play games. After all, church dinners and potlucks are usually our best attended events. But we only allow one another to get so far through our defenses.
Was this what God designed our relationship in the Body of Christ to operate like? Is that how your body works?
It’s summertime now in our part of the world, and the kids like to kick their shoes off in the grass outside. They also like to run around the driveway, which is covered in large and small chunks of rock and gravel, with the occasional slate mountainside peeking out as well. If one of my girls were to to fall and cut her knee or elbow or foot open, what would happen?
Or take yourself as an example. Let’s say you’re walking around barefoot, and you step on a piece of glass that cuts open the bottom of your foot. (One summer I stepped on a rusty nail with the same foot in two different backyards, with my shoes on.) What happens within your body?
Since you’re bleeding, your brain sends platelets through your blood to stop the flow and seal the wound. Because dirt and bacteria (and who knows what else) probably found its way inside your body, the brain sends antibodies to fight off harmful bacteria that could cause infection. If it’s serious enough, your brain says, “Hey, we need to get to a doctor.”
What if the nerves in your foot tried to say, “You know what brain, I just want your help. I need don’t need all those other things. You’re the big cheese, you can take care of it. If we just hang out for a while, everything will get better. A doctor? Man, I’m the foot expert. Who knows what I’m going through better than you and me?”
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But isn’t that we effectively do when we say we don’t need the other members of the Body of Christ to help us through our hurt, pain, or difficult circumstances?
Why is that when we face trying times, we shut out everyone out until everything is worked out? How do Christians who believe in healing stay home with they’re sick or facing something other kind of illness? “A pastor? An elder/deacon? God, I’m the one going through this. Who knows the situation better than You and me?”
One of the reasons the experts are telling us that Church as we know it is failing and will disappear in the next 20 to 30 years is because so very few of us understand what it means to be the Church. It’s more than the building, and the services, and the offerings, and the singing, and the preaching. . . . Of course it is. It is about being the Body of Christ.
Too many of us, though, are content to be one part flopping around by itself. As a result, there is a body limping around without a part that it vitally needs (because there is no appendix, there are no wisdom teeth in the Body of Christ). The body is missing something and is deficient and handicapped because of it. Likewise, the part is lacking the rest of the body, which it needs to survive, because no part separate from the body will survive for long, in the physical or the spiritual sense.
Can you still know God apart from being in a Church? Yes. Can you have relationship and faith and new life in Christ outside of being a part of a local body of believers? Sure. But neither will be as complete or fulfilling as it could be.