Each part indispensable
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Corinthians 12:12–26
We seek to be a faithful, local, simple church that confesses, is equipped, and goes out into the world.
Our aim at All Nations Baptist Church
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard and read about radical individualism a lot. Perhaps you, like me, have been eyeing Carl Trueman’s new book, ‘The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution.’ I hope I will get to it this year. Needless to say, we in America are hyper-individualists. We can easily react to institutional thinking. A book on administration I’ve just started reading mentions how allergic we are to institutions. He says that we cannot imagine how an institution can be a community (we prefer things to be organic), and instead institutions are viewed as a necessary evil. Unfortunately, if there are no institutions, we are individuals and alone.
As we think about institutions, we can consider the church. We wax and wane in our relationship to any individual church as Christians. We just had a baby, and our minds were mostly in outer space, but we still participated in the gatherings, and given that our baby was born on a Monday, we were glad not to miss out on the gathering the following Sunday. Every individual church is an individual expression of the broader body of Christ. It is an institution that has been set up by God himself. We must not be so queasy about this institution as we might be about our secular workplace, the government of our city, or any other institution. In fact, it is the greatest privilege to be a part of the church. God has called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light, and, despite our sin and weakness and personality conflicts, the local church is the outward expression of our participation in Christ and of the light that we walk in. We are one body. We care for one another, suffer together, rejoice together.
I can tend to feel a little pessimistic at times though about the institution. Whether because of an issue I have been addressing as pastor or when I hear of very sad trials in other churches, it is easy to be hopeless. ‘Is it any use?’ we could ask. The answer is a resounding yes. It is of use because God established it at Pentecost, and he has been building his church ever since, and the gates of hell shall not overcome it. Like I mentioned last week, we have a history problem. Here again, we are tempted to view things too narrowly: my feelings often determine what I think of the church, when in reality we must turn the corner and live with hope: if Christ is building his church, and he has saved me into this community, then I don’t have to feel dour as if we aren’t going anywhere. In fact, he is at work through our weakness to bring his own to himself and to proclaim his glory around the world.
This is partly where our church’s aim comes in. It reminds us that in our simplicity as a small church, we are not doing it wrong. Every church is an expression of the body of Christ in a time and place. So we seek to faithfully fulfill our role within the body. Each of us are called to participate in the body, and at a minimum this means (unless you are homebound or otherwise restricted) joining the gathering physically. It is a serious business to neglect the gathering, ‘as is the habit of some.’ Ever since people could get their hands on sermons of one kind or another (whether a printed in the 1700’s, as a cassette tape in the 1900’s, or now in the 2000’s streaming), we have more easily neglected the gathering. But the church is not the sermon, even though we affirm the centrality of the proclaimed word to the church. The church is literally the physical gathering of its people. As we exit this Covid-19 haunted year, we must recommit to our church gathering. Neglect of the gathering has often been a problem. I remember hearing in seminary that church attendance has waned simply because normal church attendance was now when people go once a month instead of 3 times a week. In reacting to perhaps too many gatherings, we now neglect it entirely.
But why is gathering so important? Of course it is important because we are equipped with the word. We sing songs to God and one another corporately. These are foundational things. But God has established the church as a gathering of physical people to edify one another. I use my gifts and you use your gifts in the body as we gather. Your presence is benefiting the church, and when you neglect the gathering, we are missing that benefit, we are all poorer because of it. Staying at home and listening to sermons online forgets the existence of such a body. At ANBC, we have been missing the benefit of the 30 minutes between our service and Sunday school sorely. We have been missing the benefit of our fellowship meal. The fellowship meal and those 30 minutes are so important both so that there is more of an opportunity to welcome others and, more than that, have a relationship where we do build each other up.
One of the goals for this year is that we ‘get out of Covid-19 alive.’ Of course this is euphemistic, but the point is, we are going to have to exercise some old muscles and habits that we have forgotten. And perhaps we should start some new habits. Our youth need discipling, perhaps you’d be willing to host monthly youth gatherings (from age 10 through high school graduates). I’m going to continue to teach the catechism class. Get your kids to it. Invest in relationships across small groups. Invest in new (and old), mature (and immature) Christians. Consider how to serve the older among us. Devote yourself to pray for the church regularly. Don’t miss the gathering, instead choose to seek benefit from it. Leave your Sunday free after church to appreciate God’s word and worship, to have others over in your home, and to experience a day for rest. Use your gifts in the body of Christ. Consider how you can act in concert with the whole body instead exercising your expressive individualism. God is at work, and we have confidence that he will accomplish what he has begun. Praise his holy name.