Joe loves football. He doesn’t let anything interfere with watching the games every Sunday. Mary loves gospel music. She attends every concert within driving distance. The Smiths love drama. They have season tickets to Broadway. Richard and Alice love church. They attend every time the doors are open.
Oh, how we like to watch! Then we enjoy critiquing the action. The quarterback should have known better than pass it again. The preacher had some good things to say, but it was too long. Or maybe we are not there to critique. Rather, we are there to cheer on our favorite pitcher or singer. In either case: spectators.
Does any of this describe your connection with your church? Are you a very active attender, observer, spectator? Is your church a place to attend, or is it a place to get involved?
“Don’t Go to Church… Be the Church”
What’s the difference between going to church and going to a sports event or a concert? In both cases, you are one of many persons observing a performance. Is there any difference? Is your church like many? When the last “amen” is said, everyone heads to the exits just like when a movie or a ball game is over.
Yes, there is a valid sense in which we “go to church,” or “attend church.” From the first to the twenty-first century, an important part of Jesus’ church is gathering for corporate worship. Those who minimize “going to church” lack understanding.
“Don’t go to church… Be the church” is a catchy phrase. It can cause one to think. However, it is fundamentally flawed. One word can fix it. “Just.” “Don’t just go to church… Be the church.” The word “church” that we see in our Bibles today means “assembly” in the original Greek. By definition, therefore, assembly is an important – essential – part of “being the church.” However, church is more than assembly, more than an event to attend.
Paul told the Corinthian brethren, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Cor. 12:27). A body! Your body members don’t just get together occasionally. All the parts of the body are connected. On the most basic level, the concept of a body portrays a living organism, a connectedness, a need for one another, a working together, a dependency upon one another.
Three chapters in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians are devoted to this theme, most explicitly chapter 12. In these three chapters, Paul is dealing with a first-century “worship war.” In that infant church, without a written New Testament, the Holy Spirit granted various supernatural gifts to many of the Christians. But the brethren were abusing those gifts because of pride and selfishness. It is in the midst of Paul’s dealing with this assembly mess that he introduces the concept that the Corinthian brethren are the body of Christ – and that they need to act like a body.
“There should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it. Or when one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:25-26).
How beautiful. “Care for one another.” “When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” If my toe hurts, it doesn’t suffer by itself. I may limp, take pain medicine, and in general be distracted. My body doesn’t say: “That’s the toe’s problem; who cares about an insignificant toe?” Your imagination can multiply examples.
“Therefore exhort one another” (1 Thess. 5:11). A chapter earlier, Paul says, “Therefore comfort one another” (4:18). Those two simple verses bring to our attention “one another.” Not just the preacher or teacher that we come to listen to. No. “One another.” Each member of the body interacting with other members.
It’s easy after the service (if we even stay around) to talk about the weather, the news, our health, a new recipe, and how we’re fixing up the house. That’s not bad in and of itself, but there needs to be more depth. It takes some effort, some thought, and some care to figure out how to exhort, comfort, and build each other up.
The text we usually use to tell people they need to attend church is also a “one another” text – twice. “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another” (Heb. 10:24-25). Just assembling is not enough. “I went to church, so I am fine.” No! It even says to “provoke one another.” Read it again to see what kind of provoking. That’s part of being a member of the body of Christ. It takes time, thought, and care for others. It means going deeper than the mundane things that are so easy to talk about – even after a stirring sermon.
Do we build up or tear down? Do we talk to a brother or sister about something we see in their lives that seems not be be right? Or do we gossip about it? As body parts, each part needs to help the other parts. “Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, if any man has a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so you also do” (Col. 3:13). Forgiving one another is both difficult and beautiful in its results.
Different from One Another
An essential part of the body concept is that the members of the body are different from each other. That’s a major point that Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 12-14. “For the body is not one member, but many… foot… hand… ear… eye… If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now they are many members, but one body” (12:14-24).
Paul tells the Roman brethren the same thing: “For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members don’t have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts differing…” (Romans 12:4-6).
A major temptation within the body is to think that what I do well, others should also do well. If I am good at comforting the sick, everybody should be good at it. If I am good in making new contacts, everybody should be good at it. If I am good at memorizing Scripture, everybody should be good at it. If I am good at contacting those who missed church, everybody should be good at it. If I am good at taking meals to sick members, everybody should be good at it. If I am good at picking up messes around the church building, everybody should be good at it.
No, no, no! What I am saying, Paul says in this figurative way: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the smelling be?”(1 Cor. 12:17-18). To the Romans, he got specific: “Having gifts differing according to the grace that was given to us, if prophecy… or service… or he who teaches… or he who exhorts… he who gives… he who rules… he who shows mercy” (12:4-8). In any church there is a diversity of abilities, of insights, of contacts, of opportunities.
What Part of the Body Are You?
To slightly alter a famous quotation: “Ask not what your church can do for you – ask what you can do for your church.”
The rubber meets the road when you ask yourself: “What do I contribute to the cause of Christ? Or am I just a pew warmer?” And don’t limit this evaluation to the church building or even to what we might call “church activities.” What are you doing as a member of Christ’s body? How are you making a difference for Christ in your family, in your church, in your neighborhood?