Saturday, March 26, 2011

One Body, Many Members

"If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

I think I may have been missing something on a familiar passage of scripture for years. Not that I've been getting it wrong, but I think my understanding of it has been far too limited, and only recently have I started to reconsider.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins a dissertation on spiritual gifts, their proper use, the perspective to keep regarding them, etc. In this chapter he exhorts the Corinthian church to understand their gifts in relation to each other - they are gifts assigned by God (11) for mutual edification (7). They are not given in isolation, but each member has something to contribute to the whole, and is in turn dependent upon the whole (12ff). He makes his point by comparing the church to a body, where every part contributes to the others and needs the others. A body without hands or eyes would not be functioning properly, nor would a pancreas on its own be very useful. Similarly, the church is functioning sub-optimally if genuine gifts are suppressed or withheld, and those who isolate themselves from the church are about as useful as a chunk of liver doing its own thing. Those of us in the church both contribute to each other and need each other, and are united as members of one body, with Christ as our head. When one part suffers, we all do; when one rejoices, we all do as well.

Nothing too controversial there, I think. Anyway, here's where I think I had been missing the boat. I've always read this as concerning individuals within a single local congregation. And it certainly does mean that! In fact, just take a moment to consider all the implications of this truth for your local church - an end of jealousy and factions, sacrificial love for each other, total devotion to each other and commitment to work for the good of the whole. When this truth takes hold, it is a beautiful thing to see.

But what I believe I was missing was the universal application of this passage. That is, we are not just part of the body consisting of our local congregations. We are part of the body of Christ, joined together with all other believers in all the world, now, in all history, and forever. While I am joined in Christ to the fellow members of my church, I am also united to those in the church a few blocks away, and that other church across the city, and one in Kansas, and Mexico, and France, India, and the furthest reaches of the earth. If we are in Christ we are united, regardless of where we live or which congregation we attend. So here are a few implications:

1) I have a closer bond to fellow Christians I've never met than I do to unbelieving friends and even family. If you are in Christ, the same is true for you as well.

2) When one part is honored, all rejoice with it. There is no room for jealousy or rivalry among true churches. When legitimate good news comes regarding another church, we should rejoice. No jealous "why them and not us?" No sniping or backbiting. Just rejoicing for the way God has blessed our brothers.

3) If one part suffers, we all suffer. This was the attitude of the Macedonian church which, when they heard about the extreme suffering of the church in Jerusalem, gave extremely generously despite their own poverty. It 's an attitude that is once again being put at the forefront today, as a devastating tragedy hit Japan. The churches there, the people we are closer to than a brother, who we are united together with us in Christ, are suffering greatly. And we, their brothers, have a chance to help them out. This is what Churches Helping Churches was created for - to help the brethren in time of need. If you don't give through them, please consider another charity or way to help our hurting fellow believers, in Japan and elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Seeking to Undermine

A while ago, I started tagging any post that mentions Brian McLaren with the 'atheists' tag. I don't know if anyone noticed. Anyway, the reason I started doing that is that I had this thought - if you didn't know anything about the author, and read one of McLaren's books, which of these would you think is more likely?

A) It was written by a Christian seeking to strengthen the church, or
B) It was written by an atheist seeking to develop a counterfeit religion to undermine the true faith and weaken the church.

I don't think there's any doubt that someone truly versed in the Biblical gospel would conclude B. His stuff is wrapped in Christianesque language, but every aspect is designed to be just close enough to fool people and lead them astray from the true faith. So since his 'theology' is so close to what a devious atheist would develop, might as well treat him as such.

It seems I'm in good company with this observation. Ray Ortlund, a pastor significantly my better in so many ways, has made the same point with regards to the heretic du'jour, Rob Bell. And he's exactly right.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Just One Eyewitness

Here in Illinois, we're getting ready to start what seems like an annual tradition. No, not welcoming an influx of crybaby legislators from neighboring states when their governors want to govern like actual adults - that's not quite a tradition yet. What I'm talking about is the upcoming trial, or re-trial, of one of our criminal former governors.

For those who've lost track of which Illinois politician is on trial when, this time it's Rod Blagojevich, back on trial for a couple dozen corruption charges. Honestly, I sort of miss having him as governor. His replacement is just as incompetent and ideologically absurd, but he's just plain boring. Blago had sort of a Jerry Springer appeal, where you were bound to pay attention to see what insanity would happen next. If you're going to be a lousy governor, at least be interesting, right?

Anyway, at the last trial, Blago was convicted on only one of twenty-some charges. What was the big problem with the prosecution's case that allowed him to avoid conviction on so many charges? Many observers pointed to the lack of a compelling eyewitness. There was plenty of evidence, but it was piecemeal and largely circumstantial, and in the end it failed to convince at least one holdout juror. There was no smoking gun, no single person who could explain "this is what they did and how they did it" from planning to consummation. It's fairly safe to say the prosecutors would have traded hundreds of hours of phone tap recordings for just one credible eyewitness who knew everything and could report what was done.

I can't help but think of how different attitudes are towards eyewitness testimony when it comes to the creation of the world.

Suppose you would like to know about the how the universe came to be. Wouldn't it be nice if there had been someone there to observe it - more than that, to actually do it - who was willing to share his completely trustworthy firsthand account? Oh, there is? Huh. Doesn't it seem odd, then, that so many despise his account of the event, particularly those who claim to be devoted to him? I'd like to make a crazy suggestion - since we have the clear testimony of the only possible witness, one who cannot lie, we might want to believe him.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Inside the Statistics

This article made the rounds of the ol' blogosphere the last few weeks, looking at the widely-quoted statistics about divorce rates among Christians. Essentially, someone sometime threw out a stat that Christians divorce at the same rate as unbelievers, so apparently we're a bunch of hypocrites with no moral authority to talk about mawwiage, and blah blah blah. It became a nearly universally-accepted claim even among Christian - some would say, especially among Christians - that apparently nobody bothered to check to see if it's even remotely true.

Turns out, not so much.

So of course the many people who linked to it drew attention to the conclusion - those who are actually legitimately serious about their faith live like it, and therefore have significantly lower divorce rates. Yep. Should be pretty obvious.

But I don't know that I saw anyone draw attention to another line in the article, one that seems almost like a throwaway. Consider this: "Nominally attending conservative Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans." Whaaaa??? Not just that the 'nominal' folk are identical to unbelievers - they're actually worse? Huh.

Based on this, I would like to propose the following about 'nominal Christians', where 'nominal Christians' is another way of saying 'unbelievers pretending to be Christians':

Pretending to be a Christian is worse than being open and honest about unbelief.

Too bold of a statement based on a single data point? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Discuss.