(Sorry for the world’s longest title–I couldn’t think of anything catchier.)
Several years ago Ed Stetzer wrote a fabulous article entitled You Can’t Love Jesus and Hate His Wife. If you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. In the article he examines the tendency of Christians to proclaim their allegiance to Christ while simultaneously denouncing the Christian church and abandoning involvement in a local body. The article has enduring relevance as many Christians continue to draw a stark distinction between Christ and Christianity. And in response to this on-going trend, Stetzer reminds us that Christ and the church are a packaged deal. You can’t have one and hate the other anymore than you can maintain a friendship with a married individual, all the while insulting their beloved spouse.
I love that analogy, which is why I want to revisit it today. I’ve been reflecting on what it means to love the church, and I believe it’s a question that Christians need to ponder further–particularly those who agree with Stetzer. While many of us affirm the importance of engagement in the local church, we are deceived if we equate that love with a love for the larger Body of Christ.
For many of us, we love the church in a way that more closely resembles high school cliques than it does a complete vision of the Kingdom. We love local communities full of people who look like we do and hold the same beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we love the Body of Christ. To draw on Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 12, we love the hand or the ear with tremendous passion, but the rest of the Body is either irrelevant to us, or even perceived as being less the Body than we are.
When we talk about belonging to the Body of Christ, it’s important to take seriously Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 12. He says that there are “many” parts with “different” gifts, but it’s easy to underestimate just how different we are. These differences extend beyond gifts, and even skin color. The members of the Body vary in nationality, culture, socioeconomic bracket, historical era, and even theology–all of which shape the way people live as disciples and contribute to the church. Unfortunately, we don’t talk about these distinctions according to Paul’s language–we instead gravitate towards language of “rightness.” If someone is different from us, they are thought to represent a perspective that is “less true” and therefore unneeded.
Even if you don’t hold that view explicitly, most of us adhere to it on a practical level. Again, just look at Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 12:22: “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” Paul reminds us that the diversity of the Body is not merely circumstantial–it is written into the Body’s very design. We NEED other members of the Body in order to function as a whole. Without these other parts, we are handicapped in our service to the Kingdom. Bearing that in mind, any mindset that treats alternate members as irrelevant or marginal runs in direct conflict with this verse. It fails to recognize our profound dependence on one another.
What does all of this mean on a practical level? It means that we need to do a better job of listening to Christians who are different from us and actively learning from them. Rather than write people off because they’re “too liberal” or “too conservative” or too whatever, we need to be asking questions like, “What can I learn from them?” or “What short-comings or theological gaps in my life do they reveal?” Even if you aren’t in complete agreement with someone, their gifts, passions, experiences and theological leanings are likely to complement yours in a way that you will ultimately strengthen you.
I suspect that Paul new this would be a struggle for Christians when he wrote those words 2,000 years ago. Historically speaking, humans don’t like people that are different from them. This teaching pushes us in a way that makes us uncomfortable. But if you take the time to talk with that women who have a totally different life experience and background from you, and really get to know them, you are more likely to be a Christian of great depth, as well as a more effective evangelist to an extremely complex and diverse world.
So even if you loved Stetzer’s article and find yourself in complete agreement with it, I urge you to reconsider his thesis once more: Do you truly love the entire Bride of Christ, or does your affection extend no further than the tip of her hand?