Throughout the New Testament, several metaphors are used to describe the Church (those who have been grafted into the family God by the grace of God through faith in the Person and atoning work of Jesus Christ for salvation). We are referred to as a flock, being led by Jesus as the Good Shepherd; we are a temple, built on the immovable foundation of Christ Himself; we are the household of God, built together as His dwelling place; we are a vineyard, kept and cultivated by the Father; we are a priesthood, offering acceptable sacrifices of worship to God.
The list goes on, but one image that has resonated most deeply in my own journey of faith is the Church as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). Paul points to the physical makeup of the human body to explain God’s intended function for His people:
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but it’s many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form on body - whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made of one part but of many.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
He goes on to illustrate the necessary interdependence of our body parts in order for the whole to function as God intended. Paul uses this analogy to encourage unity among believers, and the message is simple: The Body of Christ is multifaceted in every possible way; it is manifold in gifting, personality, experience, culture, and expression, all reflecting the image of Christ Himself. And it is in our working together for the Gospel that Christ is most glorified, we are most edified, and the world is most exposed to the Kingdom and its King.
But Scripture makes it clear that we can’t make unity happen — it is the Spirit of God who grafts us into one Body and makes us members of one another. All we are called to do is “maintain the unity of the saints.” So why is it that even the simple task of maintaining unity can feel almost impossible?
There is plenty to be said about doctrinal essentials vs. non-essentials and the effect of denominational distinctives on our capacity to fellowship with those who believe differently than we do. But I will let you find those articles somewhere else. What I’d like to share are a few simple lessons that I have learned in seeking to engage with Christ’s Church in a way that steps over dividing lines.
If we are honest with ourselves, many of the things we allow to keep us out of fellowship with brothers and sisters who confess Christ aren’t going to matter much in the end. When Jesus comes again to claim His bride as His own, He will be drawn to us by the fragrance of our faith and not the presentation of our religious obligations.
We often allow socio-economic status, culture, politics, worship style preferences, etc. to be the filters through which we determine who is “in” and who is “out.” But the fact of the matter is that there are really only a few essentials that determine that: genuine faith in the Gospel, submission to the Lordship of Jesus, a belief in and upholding of the Bible as the inerrant and inspired Word of God, and an adherence to core tenets of the Christian faith.
Oftentimes we get so tangled in the web of secondary matters that we miss out on the refining that comes with lovingly leaning into the tensions we find in the middle. But we have to acknowledge our own prejudices and make sure that the first things remain the first things, where Christ-like fellowship is concerned.
One of the greatest gifts of co-writing with worship leaders and songwriters across the broad spectrum of the Church has been experiencing Jesus through the lens of those I may have previously stereotyped. In time spent together, they have taught me SO much about the beauty and worthiness of Jesus. But it took laying down my preconceived notions about certain types of Christians in certain types of cultures to get me into the room long enough to realize the absurdity of my assumptions.
I have been in rooms packed with representation of almost every major Christian denomination, and I’ve tasted and seen a bit of heaven in that diversity. Now don’t get me wrong — I have had several opportunities to lean into awkward conversations around the interpretation of Scripture, among other things, but the fruit of those tension-filled moments has always been beautiful. I have been (hopefully) used by the Lord to lovingly challenge and I have been on the other side of growing in Christ-likeness by being challenged!
We often bring an ego and an idolatrous grip on comfort into our walk of faith, but it takes true humility to fully embrace the gift of being sharpened by those who may view things even just a little differently than us. I’m not saying that we don’t have standards to which we are all held, but I would challenge the idea that everything that we consider to be the standard is actually so.
I have had the joy and privilege of being deeply formed by almost every pocket of the Church, from the hyper-charismatic to the hyper-traditional to the hyper-reformed. As I have leaned in and wrestled with all of the tensions, with the Word and Spirit of God as my guide, I have become better for it. I love Jesus more fiercely, I love people more compassionately, I worship more freely, and I more frequently experience the incomparable joy that accompanies being a member of Christ’s multifaceted Body.