WEEK 9: The Body of Christ
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
As both a youth pastor and as part of the INcontext team, it has been a joy to experience the reality of the Body of Christ on different levels: within our own team, within a network of complementary ministries, within a single church community, within a multi-denominational and multi-cultural South African Church, and within the global Church around the world. In some churches that I have visited, I immediately felt ‘at home’; in others, it took me a while to feel comfortable.
In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis suggests that the central Christian faith is like a hallway with doors to different ‘rooms’ (denominations). The idea is that all the rooms off the hallway have shared commonalities or ‘furnishings’ (e.g. a fireplace, a carpet, chairs and tables, artwork) – these furnishings, however, differ in style and design from room to room. In other words, different denominations have certain core elements in common but the ‘style’ and ‘feel’ may vary, and different people will be drawn to the ‘room’ in which they feel most comfortable and at home.
Lewis does caution that our focus should not just be which ‘paint and panelling’ is the most pleasing (whether we like a certain kind of service), but on some key questions first: “Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste…?” But the idea that the same doctrines, holiness and truth can be expressed in a variety of ways is evident around the world.
It has been a huge privilege to worship with fellow believers in a Coptic church in Egypt, a house church in China, and an outdoor church in Lesotho – all of which were vastly different to my own church upbringing, but reflected the Kingdom of God in different ways. One of my favourite memories is of sitting in a refugee camp in North Africa one evening, with brothers and sisters with whom we could not communicate but with whom there was an inexplicably joyous sense of family and fellowship. These kinds of experiences – recognition of a family connection despite vast differences – confirm again and again that the Kingdom of God is truly for all.
With difference, there is always a tendency to judge before listening and to push away before seeking to understand. When it comes to the different denominations and expressions of the Body of Christ, the advice of CS Lewis is key: “When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors…”