The Body of Christ
I wonder what first comes to mind when you hear the word, ‘church’?
For many people, it’s a building; when they say, ‘our church’, they’re referring to the building in which they meet for worship. Those buildings are often full of hallowed memories for people, especially if they’ve lived in the same place and gone to the same church all their lives. For them, the presence of God is somehow especially associated with these familiar places of worship.
For other people, it’s an institution. There used to be a saying, at least in England, that when a young man (it was always a young man in those days) decided to become a priest he was ‘going into the Church’. Never mind that, from a Christian point of view, it was faith and baptism that made you a member of the Church; these folks saw the Church as a great national organisation, comparable to the army or the civil service. If you decided to become a soldier you were joining the army; if you decided to become a priest you were joining the Church.
There’s a variation on this today when people say, ‘the Church should be getting involved in the community more’ or ‘the Church should be doing something about housing issues’, or ‘the Church should be feeding the hungry’. What many people mean by this is that ministers should be visibly involved in this. Never mind that three quarters of the members of the board of a particular charity might be members of Christian churches; never mind that ministers are trained in biblical exegesis and not housing policy – unless there’s someone with a clerical collar on the committee, some people will say that ‘the Church doesn’t care about these kinds of issues’ – by which they mean, the Church as an institution, as represented by its paid professional ministers.
So there’s the church as a building (preferably old and beautiful), and the church as an institution. A third common use of the term is the church as a community. This is usually a local thing; people talk about ‘my church’, meaning the particular congregation of which they’re a part. It’s especially important for it to be a welcoming community, a friendly community, a community that has lots of activities and programs to support people through the stresses and strains of their lives. At St. Margaret’s we try to give a lot of attention to this aspect of the church; we think it’s important for members of a church community to know each other and care for each other, and there’s no way we can do that without being willing to spend time together. We also try to make sure new people feel welcome and can easily find their way into this community of faith.
Well, there’s probably some truth in all three of these common ways of thinking of the church – the church as a building, as an institution, and as a community – but they all fall short of the image that Paul uses in our epistle for today when he talks about the church as a body. And not just as any body, either – as the body of Christ. What’s he trying to get at here?
Read the rest here.