"...so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others..." Romans 12:5
After eleven chapters of dropping theological bombshells the after shocks of which the church is still trying to understand, Paul begins chapter 12 of his letter to the Romans by urging each believer to present his or her body as a "living sacrifice." This imperative to present one's body is followed up by an appeal not to "conform to the world," but to be transformed (think "metamorphosis") by a renewal of the mind (the nous). The result is mind and body sacrificially dedicated to God.
Then verse 3 shifts us into our discussion of the body of Christ. First off: Don't think more highly of yourself than you ought to. And then we move into the metaphor of a body. One body with many "members" or "parts." We all have various functions: The body has a purpose and each part of the body has a different function. And yet we are all somehow working together. This is something of a task-oriented Christianity. No surprise that Paul would begin commenting on the fact that the body is here to do something; that we all work together. Paul was the first major missionary. He was a "go getter" as we say here in rural Indiana. Paul fearlessly plowed forward into new territory to spread the Gospel and establish new converts and new churches. The same energy that he had put into squelching the faith and persecuting members of the Jesus movement known in some circles as "The Way" was now redirected toward the spread of the "good news" of reconciliation to God through faith and through Jesus.
Generally speaking, I think that most American churches resonate with the idea of function. Each church has an all-you-can-eat buffet of ministries and programs to get involved with, often listed in helpful summary format within your weekly bulletin.
Rick Warren writes a book entitled The Purpose Driven Church and the danged things get bought off the shelf like Spock-ears at a Star Trek convention.
Back to the passage.
The task-oriented Paul now makes an interesting move: He follows function with belonging. We who are many form one body. Oh, and by the way, "each member belongs to all the others." This is the translation from the NIV, which focuses on "belonging." Function is critical for Paul, but it is rooted in our belonging one to another. What does this "belonging" entail, I wonder?
Commentator J.D.G. Dunn finds this belonging (or "one another") terminology to be "a slightly odd variation of the body metaphor." However, it serves very effectively to bring out the degree of interdependence which Paul regards as the most important point to draw from the body imagery (here as in 1 Cor 12; also Eph 4—note v 25; “each member belongs to all the others”—NIV), thus underlining the fact that the body language is primarily for Paul an ecclesiological rather than Christological concept (hence again the variation in terminology as between 1 Cor 12:12-13 and Rom 12:4-5). The consequence for ecclesiology also needs to be borne in mind: as Käsemann notes, “No ecclesiastical hierarchy can be deduced as constitutive from the motif of Christ’s body.” (WBC p. 724)
I find it interesting that Dunn calls this idea of interdependence and belonging to be the "most important point to draw from the body imagery." Why is this the most important point? I would venture to suggest that without interdependence that a sense of real "belonging" that is its foundation, the body of Christ merely becomes a task-oriented church that may get things done. At this point we lose a true sense of belonging amongst our members. "Church" takes on something of the corporate model where we clock in, do our job, then clock out and go about living our own lives and going about our own personal business. Without feeling a true sense of belonging a member of the body of Christ finds that a wedge is driven between "church life" and "personal life." We have a working relationship with the other members. But we don't really belong.
Dunn also comments that the "body" is more than a mere metaphor, but is rooted in the real-life context of the community of the early church: "the body imagery is actually an expression of the consciousness of community and oneness experienced by the first Christians as they met 'in Christ.'" (WBC p. 724)
Interesting comment by Mr. Dunn. Though the early church had a sense of purpose and function, they lived in a very closely connected community. We recall Acts chapter 2:
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Therefore, when Paul speaks of "belonging," he is not necessarily issuing an imperative, but is expressing something that already had occurred and was currently being experienced in the early church - the communities understood belonging because they lived it out. This may also shed light on the imperatives in the book of Hebrews. Perhaps the encouragement to "not give up meeting together" in 10:25 refers to the exhortation to "encourage one another daily" back in 3:13. Do these references provide another instance of the early church living out community and developing a true sense of belonging? By living in such close proximity as to be able to actually encourage each other daily? Lane indicates that this may be the case: "The admonition 'encourage one another every day' may actually presuppose a daily gathering of the house church, which would provide the occasion for mutual encouragement (cf. Windisch, 31; Michel, 106)." (WBC, p. 87)
So, where does that leave us as churches here in America? I would argue that most churches are "busy." Some more busy than others. Some more active than others. Some more purposeful than others and some who get much more done. We have tasks that accomplish things and make a real difference in the world, while there are others of us that are just kind of busy without any true impact. Essentially though, I think we all have tasks that we are trying to do. Ministries, programs. More ministries, more programs. But all without true belonging.
Do you truly experience belonging in your local fellowship?
Are there other believers who know the real you? Your hopes and dreams, your deepest fears? Are there people who understand your weak points? People who know what gets you excited in life (no matter how quirky or strange!)? Are there people who have your back? Who care about your soul? People who know your soul?
But then we could flip it around? Do you have souls for which you care for? Can you say that there are other believers who belong to you?
Belonging simply isn't a priority. And why should it be? The early church faced serious persecution in some cases. In other cases, they were religiously ostracized from fellow Jews or viewed with suspicion by local Gentile governments. You really need community when community is all you've got.
We don't have persecution in America. (And no, the existence of the Democrat Party and the release of the Al Gore movie does not, it turns out, qualify as persecution.) We've got cable channels we never watch and huge vehicles that can drive us places that we will never go. We don't really need belonging, do we???
Also, in the early church there was a lot to work out in regard to this new Christian faith and way of life. Who was Christ? God or man? What do we do about food that has been sacrificed to idols? What about the Law of Moses? Circumcision? There was a lot to talk about, and then there was the whole aspect of understanding what the new birth meant and how salvation worked out in the living of this new life of servanthood and discipleship to Christ.
Thankfully we have this all worked out these days. Have a doctrinal question? Go ask your pastor - he went to seminary. We have weekly sermons that tell us how we are to live and surely that has to be good enough.
But perhaps all is not well in paradise. Sin issues seem prevalent in churches. For example, those that are "good conservative" churches (see Ted Haggard) are not immune from issues of marital infidelity. Marriages crumble at such a fast rate that even "the world" has a tough time keeping up. And it ain't because people don't know better, either. I have a hard time believing that "good Bible preachin'" is the answer to all of the marriage woes - as if people didn't already know that a broken marriage is not a good thing. And although I have zero experiences in the area of marriage (and by God's good graces I never will!) it strikes me as a bit silly to think that using "biblical counseling" as a catch all is going to have a real impact on layers upon layers of distrust and anger that builds up between two people.
Oh, and of course there are the addictive and compulsive behaviors that we don't really talk about because....uh...because those things are kind of uncomfortable to talk about....and, well, yea.....better to just deal with stuff like pornography, compulsive eating, anxiety, and that "indiscretion" with the co-worker.
But seriously, though. Where would you go if you really wanted to deal with your stuff? Yea, I mean that kind of stuff. The stuff that you are too ashamed or embarrassed to admit to anyone except....well, except to people with whom you experience authentic belonging. Do you really belong to a group of believers who know you as well or better than you know yourself?
The fact is that for all of the money we pour into our churches we have little to show for it in terms of belonging. Where are the forums and opportunities to truly guard against the "deceitfulness" of sin, as Hebrews 3 talks about? This deception is most often self-deception. But where are the caretakers of our souls? To whom do we "belong"? Again, more Bible isn't always the answer. Many of our conservative Christian churches use "Bible" as a band-aid for a flesh wound. What we really need is a chance to understand how the Bible works out in my life and the lives of those who belong to me. I think the complexity of the current age demand it. Preprepared answers don't cut it, anymore. No matter how Biblical they are. Each age and culture faces issues that require the Scriptures to be examined anew. Not to study simply to find out "what it meant back then," but to explore the implications of faith for the now.
The American church today is a social gathering alongside a desire to get some things done. But what does this mean for a pomo generation? Issues of isolation and compulsive/addictive behavior are common place. It's all amplified. But how do we deal with these things within institutions where we don't belong to anyone and they don't belong to us.
The fault of the weakness of the church in the postmodern age has nothing to do with so-called "godless" postmodern philosophers like Nietzsche, Derrida, or Baudrillard. I no longer take any conservative Christian leader seriously who believes that abstract philosophy can stand up to the church and create the current moral impotence that plagues us. Our failure is not a failure of abstract ethical theorizing or a need to take a stand for the "correspondence theory of truth." This is just silly. I say the following with no apology or reservation:
If the gates of hell cannot stand up against the church, then no postmodern theorist can either
But Postmodern theory is not the problem. The threat is not external, the issue is internal. It is a pride in institution that supersedes authentic relationship.
American Christianity has no belonging. Consequently the body has weakened and atrophied. We are attempting our tasks and striving to fulfill our function in an anemic state. How unfortunate. The body of Christ was meant to represent Christ. Yet, for all practical purposes Christ's body is still wheezing in the grave, too weak to emerge and make a difference in the world.
The most fundamental aspect of the body of Christ is true belonging. It is only when we truly belong that we can begin to make a real difference in the lives of the 21st century believer and demonstrate to the world that the body of Christ is, in fact, alive and no longer lying, weakened and cold, in the grave. But this cannot occur until each member belongs to all the others.
A LOVE SUPREME
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Sunday, October 21, 2007
"...so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others..." Romans 12:5