Part 1: The Bracelet or the Body
“Besides,” informed one woman to the others, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” The others all agreed and the conversation moved on to other sagacious topics.
How many of us have heard, participated in, or even initiated a conversation like this? It’s an interesting topic because it always seems to be presented with such authority that everyone listening readily agrees. Perhaps it would be a good thing to take a closer look at the issue and decide for ourselves whether we, or anyone for that matter, need this thing called the church. Is it merely an outdated social convention whose glory was Enlightenment Europe and whose demise would help solve religious extremism?
As Jesus was preparing His motley group of followers for his imminent departure, He gave really one instruction upon which His church would be built. He didn’t actually mention sanctuary size, service times, or whether an offering plate should be passed around prior to or following the sermon.
He said, “Love each other.”
Jesus knew he would be crucified within hours and He was distilling His intention for His followers into an easy to remember (though not always easy to practice) vision statement for the Church.
But the thing about vision statements is that they are intentionally succinct. They are intended to describe something much bigger than the statement itself. Website topnonprofits.com defines vision statements as “describing the clear and inspirational long-term desired change resulting from an organization or program’s work.”
So what was Jesus planning for this beginning, burgeoning body of followers on the eve of His departure? What long-term desired change was He envisioning? Rather than leaving orders to execute the erection of a multilevel corporation where KPIs and CFOs ruled the day, Jesus was communicating something much more organic; His Church would be a living body of believers of which He would be the Head, and His Spirit would be the Soul. Every member of this body would be an integral part, necessary for the health and productivity of every other part.
Later followers, like the Apostle Paul, would describe it something like this: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (I Corinthians 12). He also says, “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body”; and “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’”
It’s an interesting description. Parts of the body can neither discount their own importance nor that of any other part of the body because they have something much deeper in common than their individual anatomy and physiology. They share a common Life. They share a common heart that pumps a common blood to every cell in that common body.
Now, if a bracelet were worn on a wrist, that bracelet, quite rightly could say, “I don’t have to stay on this wrist. I can be a bracelet whether I decorate this wrist or not.” The bracelet, of course, does not share in the Life of the body. It is something distinct, and no one could argue that it would not have to stay on the wrist to continue to be a bracelet. But by that same token, it could not claim to be part of the body, could it?
So if we are content to be a bracelet on a wrist, a sock on a foot, or even a pair of glasses perched on a nose, then, no, we are not bound to that body. But if we are part of the body, perhaps it’s time we began to feel more comfortable in that skin; perhaps we ought to be using our eyesight to keep the feet from stumbling, or our ability to sense pain to bring special care to the parts of the body that are aching. The opportunities to “love each other” as Jesus commanded are endless.