“We are family” I recall that song from the 70s. Sometimes the phrase “family” is used in church circles to communicate a sense of closeness. Some use “community.” Someone recently spoke to me about the days of old, where our church was more like a “family.” I use it as well; I am not trying to disparage its use. But I want to challenge our use of the word and consider recovering “body.” “Body” is the word the Apostles use.
This pandemic has been a burdensome time for all people in different areas of their lives. The pandemic impacted all in their employment, social life, and religiously. We, as a church body, have seen our strengths and our weaknesses. I recall my prayer as we entered this pandemic very clearly. I knew some would fall away, and I prayed the hit on our church would be minimal. On the one hand, I witnessed new families come to the church during this pandemic, which was encouraging, primarily because we didn’t necessarily promote our services other than to our congregation on social media. However, on the other end, I witnessed families either join other churches or stop being at any church altogether.
My heart breaks for those that left the church altogether. They simply decided the faith was no longer something they desired. There are few more challenging conversations than trying to convince someone not to abandon the faith altogether. I have not stopped remembering them or praying for them.
Those that decided to join other churches puzzle me. Some who would affirm that they desired “community” or saw the church as their “family” determined (for various reasons) they needed to be elsewhere. They needed to be present with another congregation altogether. These moves puzzle me because it exposes their perspective of the term community or family. The church is not a community but a social club where they don’t give offerings; they pay “dues.” It’s not a family with ups and downs sharing life, it’s a service, and when the service is subpar, I take my business elsewhere. The church life changes from a believer growing in Christ together to a consumer always needing to be satisfied for repeat business.
Recently, a member visited me. It was a welcomed meeting after a long time of not seeing each other. In this meeting, he kindly but honestly expressed his disagreement with me. He said, and I paraphrase, “Look, I think it’s wrong and even foolish. But I’m part of the ship, and if it’s going down, I’m going down with it.” We laughed together because of the way he said it, even though he was serious. I found his maturity encouraging. He recognized two things. First, he disagreed with a decision, but more importantly, he was part of this church body.
When the Apostle Paul talks about our relationship to each other in the church, he uses the word “body.” We, as believers, are part of a body. In our Christian conversion, the Holy Spirit gives each with their gifts. We share these gifts.
So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom. 12.5–8)
We are many but one. We are one body in Christ and also individually members of one another. (Rom 12:5) There is an indissoluble bond that exists so that if we have to remove a member, it is extreme. It is like losing a limb. We feel it. It seems graphic but shouldn’t it impact us? Shouldn’t we experience a sense of loss when someone leaves or if we leave?
When the Gentiles became members of the covenant community, it was a mystery. The Jews didn’t know how to respond or receive all the Gentile converts. The Jews were used to the distinction from the Gentile community. Now they were to see each other as members of the same body. Paul tells the Ephesian church to endure with humility and reminds them, “they are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.”
I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4.1–3)
Life always has periods of growth and weaknesses. There are moments of victory and failure. Take the body metaphor to illustrate the point. Our bodies will be healthy in some seasons and unhealthy in others. It will have moments of strength and weakness. But the members of our bodies grow together. The same applies to the local congregation. We all experience life together. And sometimes we get it right, and other times we see how we need to get better.
Perhaps this is just part of Christian maturity. Part of Christian maturity is to have a more biblical perspective on our relationship to the other Christians in the visible church. Rather than having a consumeristic mindset, we need to have a long-suffering one.
Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb. 12.3)
Yes, there will be times when it is merely better to part ways in love without bitterness. (Acts 15:39) But where is growth if the commitment is lacking? How can we have a brother or sister that will endure with us if we know they will leave when it gets tough. If we abandon each other, how have we helped each other? If we isolate, we do a disservice to ourselves and others. This pandemic burden is too much for one person to bear alone. (Gal 6:2) Christ has given himself to us as a body. So that he can strengthen us as our head. Thomas Watson says
Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ’s strengthening me.” Samson’s strength lay in his hair. Ours lies in our head, ChristThomas Watson, The Duty of Self-Denial