The Church is Us
One morning in Sunday School, our teacher had us consider a simple yet loaded question…who is Immanuel Baptist Church? He challenged our conventional thought that Immanuel Baptist Church is synonymous with our (wonderful and dedicated) staff, or persons in lay leadership, or the deacons. We discussed the pitfalls of such thinking…silos inside the body, consumer mentalities and passive membership.
Things truly became personal when he asked us to grade various characteristics of our church. For example, how well does our church evangelize? What grade would we get on caring for the poor? How affective are we at making disciples? Everyone had to answer, no one was spared from the hot seat. But, we really started wiggling in our chairs when he went back through the class and had us grade ourselves individually on the exact same attributes. Our marks spanned the gamut, but more importantly the exercise drove home the concept that our church is not a group of chosen few making decisions behind closed doors. Paul shuts down any notion of “us” and “them” in 1 Corinthians chapter 12.
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body…Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body…If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
In half of one chapter Paul addresses favoritism, exclusivity, community, value, pride, elitists, purpose, providence and compassion. John Piper says, “Our native sinfulness as human beings tends to make light things heavy and heavy things light because it is by nature deceived and blind. We’re always turning things upside down and getting them backwards.” And anyone who’s been in church longer than 5 minutes can testify that we are not immune to such distortion.
We care too much about things that will pass away in a moment. We store up treasures on earth. We create hierarchies, real or imagined, to get honor or exert power. We fail to speak up and excuse ourselves from course correcting sinful patterns saying, “Because I’m not a hand, I wasn’t chosen to be part of the hand committee. I’m not as important as the hands. The hands have always run the show. That’s how it’s always been.”
The night before Jesus went to the cross His disciples sat at the Passover meal arguing about who among them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). The unfortunate timing and embarrassing display of petty insecurity is a good reminder of how prevalent and short-sided our sin is. Jesus rebuked them, saying that the Gentiles lord power over one another but, “You are not to be like that” (v. 26). Those seven words are piercingly compelling, yet beautifully empowering. What are their implications for us as parts of the body at Immanuel?
To those of us who are striving and scraping to be the greatest or to even matter within our church family, “You are not to be like that.” After all, manmade constructs or titles do not qualify us to be useful and any glory we find in them is fleeting. (1 Peter 1:24)
To those of us convinced we’re misfits, doubting there’s any place for us among the family, “You are not to be like that.” The Honor Giver overlooks no one. To withdraw yourself from service or shrink back affects the whole body. We need you because God made it so.
No matter how our sin tangles up the truth, every member at Immanuel Baptist Church is Immanuel Baptist Church. It is not the loudest nor the majority. It is not the richest nor the most powerful. Every member matters. Those the world deems weak, He makes indispensable. He who has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as He wants them to be, does not need us to be on a committee in order to perform our functions.
Immanuel Baptist Church is only as healthy as its members are healthy, because we are the church and the church is us.