That question may seem very simple, so please don’t move on to the next blog because you assume you know what I am going to say.
It’s a very simple question. Do we understand the Body of Christ? More specifically, do we understand what Paul is talking about in I Corinthians 12:12-31? Please take a moment to go read that passage.
Now that you’ve read it (and if you haven’t yet, please go read it), what did you think about as you read it? Or better yet, WHO did you think about as you read it? I have heard sermon after sermon that uses this passage to talk specifically about the local congregation. Is that a proper application of that passage? Absolutely. Every member of a congregation of the Lord’s Church is to be cherished and play a part, no matter what the individual’s talents may be.
However, if we place this passage in such a small box, we lose a massive application, one that I feel Paul was really trying to get across to the Christians living in Corinth. Take a look again in verses 12-13:
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether salve or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”
Did you notice in that passage who Paul was talking about? Look again at verse 13. Did he say “For by one Spirit you were all baptized”? No. He said, “we were all baptized”. That means that Paul was including himself in that body along with the saints in Corinth. In other words, Paul was not restricting the makeup of the one body to being only the members at a single congregation. Even though he was addressing that congregation’s issue with diversity over spiritual gifts, it appears he was meaning this from a much more universal sense. All Christians, no matter where they live, no matter what time zone they are in, no matter what language they speak, are all part of this one body.
The first question you may have is, “But I thought the congregations of the Lord’s Church were to be autonomous.” That is absolutely true. For those of you who may not be as familiar with the word autonomous, it simply means that each individual congregation is self-governing. “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you…” [I Peter 5:2]. Unlike many denominations or other religions, the Lord structured his congregations so that they do not answer to a regional director or a governing body. The only higher authority that the elders of a local congregation answer to is Christ.
Even though the expediency decisions for the local congregation are made only within that congregation, it seems at times like we think we are separate from the Christians down the road. I read something someone wrote recently (and I couldn’t find it again, so I apologize that I can’t give it the proper credit), but they shared that the Lord’s Church will never grow and reach its full potential until we understand that the congregation of the Lord’s Church that is across town from us is not our enemy! We are not in competition. We are unified. The congregations themselves make decisions on an autonomous level, but as individual Christians, we are all part of the same body that Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 12. Our brother Wes McAdams said it best recently in a tweet when he said “The New Testament emphasizes the connection – rather than the disconnection – between autonomous congregations.” (@wesmcadams).
Now, go back and re-read I Corinthians 12:12-31. Seriously. I’ll wait.
In times like the past couple weeks, I’ve seen this play out more than ever, and it tends to happen more when disaster strikes. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” [ v.26] How wonderful it has been to see congregations in prayer for those affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Christians have opened up their homes for the evacuees. Some have traveled to ground zero to have physical boots on the ground to help work. Congregations and individuals have pooled their money to send to saints and congregations who have met disaster. This is a perfect reflection of the fact that we are all one body. We are Christ’s. We are all a family…God’s family. We act like it when times get hard and disaster strikes.
The real test will be whether or not we continue to act like it after life gets back to what we call normal.
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” [Galatians 3:28-29]