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The Church as the Body of Christ

In Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s book, How People Grow, the authors point out that “to be truly biblical, as well as truly effective, the growth process must include the Body of Christ.” For someone who has been a part of the church since I was in my mother’s womb, that statement seems rather obvious, but I’m discovering that for many people in the internet and social-media age, this is not always the case.

Too often, we take our cues from our culture rather than from the Scripture. We are taught to be independent, so we approach our faith with independence. We are taught privatization, so we approach our faith privately. We are taught that hard work leads to success, so we approach our faith with a “works mentality.” And we are taught to be consumers, so we approach our faith as consumers.

No wonder so many people question if they need the church. We can do our shopping online. We watch movies online. We chat with friends online. So why can’t we grow our faith online?

Yes, there are some wonderful online resources for spiritual growth, but these should never be a substitute for what the Bible calls “fellowship.” My Granddad used to say that koinonia—fellowship—is like three fires built next to each other. As the smoke rises from each fire, you can’t tell which smoke came from which fire. They are integrated. And so should be our fellowship. We are first and foremost integrated in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are completely dependent upon Him. Secondly, we are integrated in relationship with one another. We also depend upon each other, and if we fail to be so, we will be spiritually malformed.

God created us this way—to be in relationship with Him and one another. Jesus thought so highly of this value of relationship that He said the entire Law could be summarized with these two commands: Love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40).

But let’s be honest. Even if we agree with that theologically, how much do we live that out practically? Many Christians see the church as an organization providing services to meet their needs. We “go to” church as though we are going to the movies, and if we don’t like what was said or sung, we’ll find another church to “go to.” We also pay professionals to provide these services to meet our needs or wants. And if those professionals don’t meet our expectations or demands, we’ll find other professionals who will.

If we take our cues from the American culture, this modus operandi is completely rational and acceptable. But if we take our cues from the Bible, then we discover how theologically and practically this approach misses the mark. Do you know what the biblical definition of sin is? “Missing the mark.” Enough said.

Here are some biblical cues concerning what it means to be a church:

  • We are a community of people who are called into the fellowship (koinonia) of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:9).

  • Thus, we are united by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we should have no divisions among us (1 Corinthians 1:10).

  • We are individually members of the body of Christ, and although we are many, we are one body (1 Corinthians 12:12).

  • We suffer and rejoice with one another (1 Corinthians 12:26).

  • Everything we say and do is based on the biblical foundation of love (1 Corinthians 13).

  • We give and serve faithfully as one people united for the mission of making disciples of all nations (2 Corinthians 9:7; Romans 12:4-8; Matthew 28:18-20).

Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway, recently conducted a survey of inwardly focused churches that have not experienced growth but have experienced a great amount of infighting and division. In the survey, they found ten dominant behavior patterns of members in those churches. See if you recognize any: Worship wars, prolonged minutia meetings, facility focus, program driven, inwardly focused budget, inordinate demands for pastoral care, attitudes of entitlement, greater concern about change than the gospel, anger and hostility, and evangelistic apathy.

How different this list is from the biblical exhortation of what it means to be the Body of Christ. I invite you to read the following description from the Apostle Paul, and ask yourself this question: Do the following words describe me? “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:9-18).


When Tolerance Trumps Truth

One of today’s headlines in national news concerns a recent decision by Brandeis University, located nine miles west of Boston, to withdraw their offer to present Ayaan Hirsi Ali with an honorary doctorate. Ali is a staunch critic of Islam and its treatment of women, and after you hear her story, I think you will understand why.

Ali was raised in a strict Muslim family, but after surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage, she renounced the faith in her 30s. Since then, she served as a member of the Dutch parliament from 2003 to 2006. In 2007, Ali helped establish the AHA Foundation, which works to protect and defend the rights of women in the West from oppression justified by religion and culture, according to its website. The foundation also strives to protect basic rights and freedoms of women and girls.

So why would a prestigious university rescind their decision to offer Ali an honorary doctorate during their upcoming May 18 commencement? Because Ali made, what some have labeled, “Islamophobic” comments. That includes a 2007 interview with Reason Magazine in which she said of the religion: "Once it's defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It's very difficult to even talk about peace now. They're not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there's no middle ground in wars."

The problem with quotes like the above is that we have no context. We don’t know what question she was asked. We don’t know the rest of the dialogue. All we know is what some writer selected from some interview as it was recorded in some magazine. That being said, isn’t it interesting that when someone expresses a viewpoint on an ideology, religion, or worldview that goes against the politically correct position, it immediately gets labeled as “phobic”?

That is, unless it’s an attack against Christianity. Then, all of sudden, it’s justified, because, well, after all, it’s the “Christian” worldview that’s “phobic.” Right?

In the book The Search for God at Harvard, author Ari Goldman describes his experience at taking religion courses to enhance his job as a religion reporter for The New York Times. Goldman describes that in his classes in the Divinity School, the professors expressed lavish sensitivity to the customs and religious beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and African religions, just to name a few. Even if those customs and religious beliefs degraded women and devalued humanity, Goldman was taught that we were not to judge but accept those beliefs as part of the beautiful mosaic of faith expression in our new world. And then Goldman, who is not a Christian, took a course on Christianity. And the rules changed. Goldman was shocked to discover the intolerance towards the customs and religious beliefs traditionally held by Christians, even in the tolerant setting of Harvard Divinity School.

The school motto of Brandeis University is, “Truth, Even Unto Its Innermost Parts.” More accurately, I think the motto should read, “Truth, Even Unto Its Innermost Parts…As Long As We Agree with It.” I find it interesting how restrictive “liberal” universities are. If they disagree with someone’s position, all of a sudden that person’s position is now “phobic” and must not be tolerated.

Yes, a university has the right to offer honorary doctorates, and they have the right to change their mind. It’s the reason behind changing their minds that bothers me.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim who was mutilated and beaten and now spends her life wanting to protect women’s freedom, is called “Islamophobic,” because she disagrees with Islam. Is this seeking truth, even unto its innermost parts?

When Dietrich Bonhoeffer visited America in the 1930s and tried to understand the confusing state of the American scene, he was amazed that tolerance trumped truth. Here we are, eighty-some years later, and tolerance continues to be the trump card of the academic, political, and cultural elites, while truth, even unto its innermost parts, is long forgotten.

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