Discerning the Body of Christ
Some call it “church”, others call it “fellowship”, “assembly”, or “gathering” – but they are all synonyms for the “body of Christ”. In 1 Cor. where Paul is addressing the Corinthians who were partaking of the “Lord’s supper” he says: 29 “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”
What’s Paul talking about? Does this verse mean that what you eat determines what shape your body will be in? Being a healthy-eating advocate, this could be a good support verse for my health food arguments. However, that is not the context of the Scripture passage in which that verse appears. Sigh.
The early church had “church suppers” – actually love feasts, where followers of Christ, the “body of Christ”, came together for a shared meal. As part of that gathering they partook of the Lord’s table – the bread and wine – in memory of Jesus and his death on the cross for their sins. Apparently the wealthier Corinthians were doing the shared meal and “Lord’s table” in a way that excluded or diminished others in the church family who were less fortunate.
In that context, what does this mean, “discerning the body”? I believe it means, realizing that we are “a part of the whole”, and that we function best in relationship to the rest of the body. I believe that many Christians today do not “discern the body” of Christ.
We are living in a day of non-commitment and spiritual isolation. The concepts of accountability, patience, forgiveness, forbearance, body life, speaking the truth in love, and building up the body, all seem to be antiquated ideas. Few people in today’s church appear to have the slightest idea of what is meant by being a part of the “body of Christ”. Yet, God did not call us to the life of a “Lone Ranger” – it’s not just “me and God”.
According to the book of Ephesians, we are “members of God’s household” and “individual parts” of His body (an organism with interdependent parts); and in 1 Corinthians we are fitted together into “a building”.
Many reject the idea of commitment to a local church body in whatever form it takes; when they become disenchanted or feel they are no longer being “served” and “serviced”, it’s on to the next church or “spiritual” event. In our fast-food, pick-and-choose culture, many do not remain in a church long enough to become a contributing part.
Snack here, snack there on “spirit snacks”- great!, but to actually belong to a body, a family of believers – to learn to work through problems, to accept people who don’t fit the preferred mold, to find their own acceptance from people who are trying to learn the way of love – many won’t stay long enough for that.
The elbows, or ears, or lungs surgically remove themselves from one local body and loosely join themselves to another. They are free-floating “parts” that don’t function within any stationary group. In times of personal need, these people may reach out to a local body for prayer or other help, but they never become an attached part – never really become a functioning part of any group they affiliate with.
Being “in the body of Christ” is not a loose attachment. God puts us into a body for our spiritual protection. We need others to cover our backs. There are some who need deliverance from the forces of evil and healing from emotional and spiritual wounds, but who isolate themselves from “body-life healing”. Outside the camp is a very dangerous place to be.
God’s gifts are given to the body to foster relationship. The Godhead – Father, Son and Spirit – denotes relationship. “Members of God’s household” (Eph. 2:19) is a position of relationship with other believers. Body parts (I Cor. 12:14-27) are a picture of functional biological relationship. “Being built together into a building in which God dwells in His Spirit” (Eph. 2:20-22) means structural relationship. “Body”, “family” and “building” convey unity and wholeness.
Some people want to “belong”, but want no intrusion into their personal lives. They see no need to be built up by anyone else, move on at the first “ouch” and want benefits without commitment. They will drop in for a meal, but prefer to come and go as the “spirit” moves them.
None of us is truly whole if we disregard our position as a functioning member in the body of Christ. David and I were in itinerant ministry for quite a few years. We had opportunity and felt free to cross denominational boundaries. We experienced the broader body of Christ, but were loosely attached at home, due to travel schedules.
We began pastoring about 18 years ago – and discovered the “body of Christ” on a whole different level. We’re learning what loving devotion is all about – really belonging to a local group. Small, but intimate. This is “the body” at it’s best.
How about you? Are you allowing yourself to be in real relationship with the body of Christ – learning to love and be loved by others just as you are? Are you laying aside the fear of being known and possibly rejected? Are you willing to become an attached body part?
©2011, Marcy Alves