The Body of Christ Revisited
Think with me for a few minutes regarding the nature of the church. That is most certainly something we have done countless times before. But there is always value in thinking openly about who we are to be as Christ followers. There are many metaphors that seek to identify the reality of who we are as Christ followers both in Scripture and in the concepts we have embraced in light of the Gospel message. Some are true to the Gospel message, some are not. Some focus on aspects of our life as the people of God, yet miss the totality of the New Testament picture of who we are as the people of God.
From all the Scriptural pictures we have been given the concept of “Body of Christ” most vividly captures for me who we are to be as the people of God. It is the phrase that for me best exemplifies the New Testament picture of who we are to be and what we are to do. But even then we need some explanation, don’t we! So, to take this “other look” at the nature of the church, picture with me for a few minutes a picture of life—our lives individually or the life of the local congregation—as a car. This metaphor allows me to think in new ways about who we are and what life is all about. In this metaphor, I can envision a car that is reflective of the life to which we are called as Christ followers; a perspective supported solidly by Scripture, and a pretty accurate picture of what it means to be the Body of Christ.
This car has a drive train. The drive train is composed of the engine, transmission, wheels and accompanying parts. It is what “makes the car go.”In our metaphor of life, the drive train is love. There is a strong Gospel foundation for love being the motivating force of our life. Just check out Matthew 22:34-40 and John chapters 13-17. Jesus entrusted us with not just a message of love but with being love to our world; to believers and unbelievers; to the lovely and the unlovely; to insiders and outsiders; to our friends and to our enemies. Love is the power and driving force of life. Love provides us identity and purpose and direction for all of life. It is time for the church to discover and embrace a love that is rooted in the holiness of God and not in the fickleness of humanity.
If love is the engine, then the body of the car—exterior and interior—is witness: our responsibility to exhibit love wherever we go; the act of “being the body of Christ fulfilling the mission of Christ in the world.” “Mission,” “missions,” and “missional” are words we use to describe what we do. Witness is who we are. In Acts 1: 8 Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” WE ARE WITNESSES TO JESUS! Where? Anywhere and everywhere! When? All the time! Fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is a matter of witnessing to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in all of life. The Great Commission is not an add-on to life; it is the lifestyle of Christ-followers. We enter into relationships with every other person in our world, no matter how intimate or fleeting, with the intent of being a channel of love and with the thought that this moment should provide an open door for introducing that person to Jesus. We are witnesses, and just as in Scripture, the critical question is, are we false witnesses or true witnesses to the life transforming power of Jesus.
So the entire car, the heart and soul of life—love and witness—is highly relational, and truly essential if my car is to fulfill its intended purpose. I once had a friend who was rebuilding a car. It was a sleek late 60’s model Dodge Charger. It was painted a metallic purple and was one sharp looking car. But I laughed out loud when I raised the hood and found that the car had no engine. No matter how good it looked, it wasn’t going anywhere. I have seen other cars that have working engines, but are sitting on blocks in the front yards of houses. Likewise, those cars are going nowhere. In both cases, the cars are not fulfilling their intended purpose. And so in the life of the church, if we aren’t deeply engaged in the Great Commission and living life in compliance with the Great Commandments, we are not fulfilling our divinely-intended purpose; no matter how we look, how busy be are or how successful we are by the non-biblical standards we have embraced.
There is another aspect of the life of the car. It is intended to have passengers. The names of the passengers in our metaphor are “Worship”, “Discipleship”, and Stewardship”. Please don’t think programmatically about those names because this life to which we are called is undeniably one of intimate relationships. For too long we have made our life together programmatic rather than relational. And that perspective has kept us from fulfilling our intended purpose as the people of God.
Think about worship. When we mention that word, most people think about what happens at a particular location at a particular time. For many congregations, the Sunday morning worship is the most important program on its schedule and most of the church’s efforts go into those several hours we gather for classes and a worship experience. That is not what worship is really all about! Worship is all about our relationship of love for and submission to God. While gathering for corporate worship is encouraged in Scripture and valuable for us, genuine worship has far more to do with how we live outside the sanctuary than we often admit. Yet the truth is many who enter the sanctuary of a local congregation often miss the joy of bringing honor, glory and praise to God. And when we acknowledge that God is much more concerned with our relationship outside that one or two hours per week we spend in corporate worship/study experiences, we must admit we have missed the heart of worship in more ways than one. To truly worship is to seek to honor and glorify God in all of life’s activities; wherever we are, whomever we are with. That kind of intimate relationship cannot be compartmentalized or relegated to a couple hours one day a week. For the true Christ-follower every moment is a sacred moment of God-honoring living. This intimate relationship with God impacts every moment of life. To worship is to make even secular settings holy and God-honoring as the Lord lives and works in us and through us.
Stewardship. Again, we have programmatically reduced stewardship to acts of giving or service, when in reality is has far deeper implications for us. At its heart, stewardship has to do with the proper use of my life in totality. It is about how I am using this life that God has entrusted to me. God is the owner; I am the caretaker. God is the master; I am the servant. Stewardship is about how I expend my life in every way: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and relationally. If we were to engage the call to stewardship holistically it would lead us to the kind of transformation of which Paul speaks in Romans 12: 1-2. But many of us settle for changing things outwardly rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us inwardly. As I have stated many times, most congregational conflicts come about, not as the result of broken programs but because of broken relationships. And many broken relationships are the result of persons not exercising a proper stewardship of their own life in the power of the Holy Spirit. My relationship with self must be as sanctified as my relationship with God.
Then there is the passenger we call discipleship. Discipleship covers every other relationship we have in life. Yet, again, we seldom understand it that way. Discipleship has become a course that we take on Thursday evening or Monday morning where we read some books, fill in some blanks, and receive a certificate that proclaims triumphantly that we have completed the course. Somehow, I don’t think that is what Jesus had in mind when he issued the proclamation (see Matthew 28:18-20). Discipleship is about a wholehearted commitment to Jesus that permeates every aspect of life and leads us to help impart that same passion and commitment to those within our sphere of influence. And our role in the life of discipleship cannot be compartmentalized. We must stop thinking about evangelism and discipleship as two separate tasks: just as human life is one continuous experience from conception to birth to death, so discipleship is the experience that begins with the first nudge of the Holy Spirit to the new birth to our call to our eternal home—discipleship. The proclamation of the good news of Jesus is simply part of the discipleship journey.
A disciple of Jesus is one who shares Jesus in whatever way possible: sometimes it is in planting a Gospel seed and an awakening to the need of a personal relationship with Jesus. Other times it is nurturing and watering a seed that has been previously planted. Sometimes we are privileged to help another confess faith in Jesus Christ. Always we should be on a journey with other Christ-followers who are maturing into the fullness of Christ. Every relationship we have—with Christ followers or non-Christ followers—should be approached with the attitude that we are Christ’s ambassadors and every relationship is an opportunity to represent Him accurately, even if it only be through a smile or word or act of kindness.
Love, Witness, Worship, Discipleship, Stewardship: these are five words that, embraced holistically, encompass the Gospel of Jesus Christ and provide us with the content of the life that brings honor and glory to the Lord in all things. It is an understanding of our life in Christ that emphasizes properly the relational foundation of life and understands that the living out of our faith should never abandon that foundation in any way. Nothing that happens to us in life gives us the right to be ungodly: to abandon love or misrepresent Christ: in relationship to God, self and all others.
Our car: one vehicle powered and moved by love and witness; one passenger compartment filled with the vitality of love-motivated, witness-laden relationships with God, self, and everyone else in my life. WOW! That is a vision that stretches me way beyond most of my experience in the life of local congregations.
It is a Biblical perspective.
It is a Gospel perspective.
It is a holistic perspective that does not leave out any aspect of our calling as Christ followers.
We cannot neglect the holistic picture of life in Christ that the New Testament provides us. If we were to measure our life personally or congregationally by these five relationally-rooted experiences, would God find us faithful?