by: Rev. John Gullett
The Apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Corinth: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). It’s important to remember that Paul is not creating a new doctrine for the church when he says these things. The Bible tells us over and over again that a central part of what God is doing in the world, a central part of the gospel proclamation, is that Jesus is redeeming a people, a community, a body.
In this passage, Paul uses the image of a body to encourage believers that each of them is individually significant, and yet they are one in Christ. Paul wrote to a church made up of different kinds of people (Jew and Gentile, Slave and Free) and challenged them to live out their faith together as a community. We need to hear the same message and wrestle with its implications. What does it mean for us to be a community formed and shaped by the gospel?
To start with, I want to suggest that we need to embrace the reality that we are a unified, diverse community. Paul uses the image of the body in 1 Corinthians 12 to teach us that though we are different, yet we are one. He says that in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). I don’t think most Christians think about this very often, but baptism with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is God’s gracious mark of our unity in Christ. Some grew up in the faith and cannot remember not trusting in Jesus, and others of us were radically converted as adolescents or adults. We are from different backgrounds and different families. We are different in so many ways (culturally, politically, etc.), yet we were all baptized into one body.
Regardless of how we came to faith, and the ways we are individually different, we are all now forgiven and accepted equally, because our forgiveness and our acceptance with God is dependant on Jesus, who came for us and did for us what we could never do for ourselves.
We also need to embrace the reality that we are a community that needs one another. Before coming to New Life Dresher, I was the church planting pastor for Christ Community Church of Johnson City, Tennessee. In the early days of our church plant, a young woman frequently reminded us of the importance of community. She put it this way: “You need to know who you would call if your house floods in the middle of the night.” This young woman had come from another city where she had learned a lot about community from her small church there. A family in that church had indeed awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of water running through their house. A water main had broken, and the house was quickly being flooded. They immediately called friends from their church family to come and help, and by daybreak, most of the church was gathered at their home helping to comfort this family and salvage their things.
So, what about you? Do you know who you would call if your house was flooding in the middle of the night? Would it be friends from your church family? If you are a part of our church, do others in the church know that they could call you? And as much as you need to know who you would call if your house flooded, you need to know who to call when you are struggling with sin, when your faith seems weak, and when you need to hear the good news of the gospel again.
One of the primary ways our church encourages one another to live as a community outside of corporate worship is through our home groups. In the life of Jesus, the apostles, and the early church we see gatherings of large groups and of small groups. Richard Lovelace, in his book Dynamics of Spiritual Life says this about small groups: “Without such mechanisms for the interchange of grace and the movement of known truth into action, the weekly pattern of Sunday church attendance can become a stagnant routine consisting of passive intake of truth which is never turned into prayer and work for the kingdom” (p. 226).
We need to be together and we need to know one another, and the structure and organization of the church should enable and foster such love and care for one another, which is why we put such a priority on our home groups.
Committing yourself to the community of a local church is often difficult and uncomfortable. We must remember that the foundation a church community is that we are one – in Christ. We must remember that on the cross Jesus lost the community of the Father and the Spirit that he had enjoyed for eternity past, so that we could be brought in and enjoy community with him, the Father, the Spirit, and one another for eternity future. So, as those who believe that God accepts us because of Jesus, I would encourage you to follow Jesus in loving and sacrificing for this messy, ragamuffin community we call the church.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way: “The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves…Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship” (Life Together, p. 26-29).