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A Living Organism

By Michael Roop

This blog is part two in a four-part series on the local church. Read part one here.

Often, when I get questions around why Christians need to be active members in a local church, those questions stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the church is. Some see the church as a gas station, a place for their spiritual tanks to be filled. Others see it as a movie theater, a place to be entertained and distracted from the struggles of life. Still others think church to be a hospital, a place to get fixed before a return to life. Lastly, some look at church as a big box store, a one stop shop to learn how to succeed at all aspects of life for a low price!

While there is some truth in each of these distortions, they lead us to engage only to the extent that we sense a personal need that the church can meet. In other words, each of these distortive metaphors make church all about me! Therefore, my engagement (even attendance!) rises and falls based on my appraisal of my own needs and my evaluation of the church’s ability to meet them. 

To counteract these distortions, we turn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, where we find three metaphors on the true identity of the church. In chapter 1, Paul says the church “is His (Jesus’) body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:23). So the first metaphor to consider as we pursue the true identity of the church is that of a body.

A body is a living organism. It breathes, thinks, feels, acts. This metaphor helps us understand how the church is Jesus’ succession plan. After His resurrection body ascended to heaven in order to be seated at the right hand of the Father, His church body lingered on earth to carry on the mission. This is why, colloquially, the church is referred to as the “hands and feet” of Jesus. 

So what does this metaphor have to say about individual Christians actively engaging in a local church? Well imagine you go on a walk this evening in your neighborhood, and on your way you encounter a human finger next to the curb. What a terrible sight! Not only is that finger dead (or very close to it), but there is a body somewhere missing a finger. Both the detached body part and the body itself suffer from the disconnection.

Paul makes this argument (more or less) in another letter, 1 Corinthians 12. Among the many issues plaguing the Corinthian church, one was the ranking of value based on certain spiritual gifts. This led some to say that they did not need certain members of the church (“I have no need [of a hand]”), and others to believe they themselves were unimportant to the life of the church (“Because I am a hand, I do not belong to the body”).

Paul offers the body metaphor as a correction. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Translation: we all need each other. If we are going to carry on the mission of Jesus faithfully, we need to follow His design for His body. We need to be active members, connected to the one body of Jesus, trusting His design and walking according to His calling. 

Think you have nothing significant to offer the church? Think you don’t need the church to flourish as a Christian? Jesus’ blood begs to differ. You have been saved into a body, and that body needs all its members.
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