I grew up in church after becoming a follower of Christ at a young age. Ever since I have embraced supreme confidence in the gospel. I know that Jesus Himself established the church—His body—and gave it the task of spreading the message the world desperately needs to hear.
I thought surely it would only be a matter of time until people understood this. Yet, it hasn’t seemed to work out the way I expected. Ever since my youthful decision, I believe the church has steadily diminished in influence. This has taken place even as Christians as a whole have grown more vocal, affluent, organized, and polished.
Beneath the surface, I believe the church has a biological problem. Over the years, the more I learned as a practicing physician, the more I came to view the body of Christ as a living body. In my opinion, the reason for our shortcomings lies in a faulty view of who we really are. The way we see ourselves holds far-reaching implications for our relationships with each other.
The body of Christ is not intended to function as a business or fraternal organization. God did not create the “business of Christ.” He created the “body of Christ.” He describes us in the Bible with terms associated with biology, not with business or organizational language.
The modern church is often enthralled with charismatic personalities. But if the body of Christ is a living body, it does not become alive and effective through the dazzling abilities or supernatural insights of individual leaders. This only happens through relationships between its members.
As I studied this matter further, I saw two foundational errors we often make.
* The first is to think of “the body of Christ” as just another name for the organized church. The organized church can do many good things, but it is not the body of Christ. Of course, there is overlap between the two, but organized religion is designed to operate as an organization, not as a living body. Understanding this distinction helps explain much of the seeming feebleness of the modern-day church.
* The second error is operating the church like a business. We have tried to make the church more effective by relying on entrepreneurial expertise. Just look at the influential (and often wealthy) people asked to sit on many church boards.
Generally speaking, the church has become good at raising money. We have implemented the best practices of the business world, creating well-crafted budgets and developing and executing finely-tuned marketing campaigns. But how much have we relied on the Holy Spirit?
Sure, we sometimes acknowledge our dependence on Jesus. But too often this means paying lip service to Christ as we decorate our plans with spiritual lingo. In truth, we are consumed by worldliness. We are trying to outdo the world in using the ways of the world.
In place of that, I suggest we learn to function as a body, one driven by mutual concern, love, and affection for each other. With a different outlook and philosophy, we can be the change the world is dying to see.
Art connoisseurs can establish which artist produced a certain piece of art, even without an identifying signature or label. They do this simply by discerning the painting’s style and physical attributes.
The same is true of music aficionados, who can determine who composed a musical piece by scrutinizing the thread of characteristics running throughout the arrangement.
In my new book “Fingerprint of God” I label these threads the “fingerprint” of an artist on his or her work.
God is also a creator of masterpieces. He alone created all living things. So it comes as no surprise we can find characteristics shared by all living bodies. In other words, we can discover God’s “fingerprint” on His creation.
In addition to the plants and animals we see living around us, God created the Church to be a living body too. In 1 Corinthians 12:27 Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” And in Romans 12:5 he proclaims, “so in Christ we, though many, form one body and each member belongs to all the others.”
So, can we find a thread of characteristics the Church shares with the living bodies of plants and animals? Indeed we can! And by examining God’s fingerprint on living things around us we can discover a lot about the true nature of the Church. If I am created to be a member of a living body, then my role as a believer becomes clearer as I compare the church with other living things.
The Bible records simple stories, or parables, that Jesus told in order to teach spiritual lessons. The illustrations often involve physical objects we experience in everyday life. The parables are clear and effective because the Creator’s fingerprint is on the things He creates, whether seen or unseen. We can visualize and better understand unseen spiritual things if we study the characteristics shared with physical objects familiar to us. By examining the attributes of life found in living things, we can see how these same features are woven into God’s plan for relationships in the body of Christ. Scientifically speaking, things that have these traits are alive; things that do not are non-living.
God intends for the body of Christ to be a living spiritual organism and have the attributes of life. Only when we live our lives as members of this body will we fulfill our purpose. If we run the church as a business rather than a living body we will not reflect the nature of the Creator and will not bring glory to Him.
I love seeing New Testament dedication services. When a New Testament (or full Bible) translation is completed, we celebrate with the people for a full day, rejoicing, singing, feasting, and praying – marking the Word of God coming to their language group for the first time. I love to see how people begin to apply God’s Word to their lives. They sometimes apply the Bible to issues that I had never thought of before.
How do you defend against the evil eye?
How do you plant your crops now that you are a believer? (They used to pray to the rice gods for favor.)
How do you treat people from the rival tribe?
These aren’t questions I have ever asked before, but the Bible certainly has answers for them.
It’s easy to feel like as missionaries that we are providing all of the answers to people who have lots of questions, but that’s not the full story. We also have a lot to learn from them, and I have learned a great deal from my brothers and sisters from other cultures.
Miro was a young pastor in the waning years of communism in Eastern Europe. He told me the story about how his church had to meet in order to avoid being discovered by the KGB. They couldn’t meet in the same place every week or they would be easily found out. It was obvious that they had to meet in an entirely different location every single week. They thought about simply spreading the news by word of mouth. The problem was that the information could easily be overheard by electronic listening devices that were everywhere. Worse than that, a “member” of the church might actually betray them to the police. So, they found a solution. The pastor would select a place to meet and tell no one. Each member of the church would pray and ask God to show them where to meet. Their services averaged around 200 weekly.
I have grown up believing in the power of God, but my Eastern European brothers and sisters had a different level of commitment and faith. I have a lot to learn from my fellow believers in other countries. They weren’t perfect people just because they encountered persecution or the power of God. All of us still need to be conformed more to the image of Christ, but I have something to learn from them just as surely as they have something to learn from me.
Believers in other countries have a commitment to hospitality that we in America do not often understand or practice. I have met believers who will give their last scrap of food to feed a guest regardless of the cost to themselves.
There is also an understanding in many places in the world that our faith is not to be lived out in isolation. We deeply need to live out our faith in relationship with others. This is something that is often lost in our individualist American culture. We have a “personal relationship” with Jesus. We should, and this is critical. But look at the Lord’s prayer:
Lead us not…
Notice it’s not “My father” or “give me” or “lead me not.” In the New Testament, Jesus always sent the disciples out in pairs or in groups, never alone. But how do we live our Christian lives? We struggle alone, celebrate alone, come to our own personal theological conclusions. Hebrews 3:13 says, “encourage one another daily… so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.” Those are pretty high stakes if we neglect this, and those are pretty amazing benefits if we pay attention to it.
The truth is that we don’t really live out our spiritual lives in connection to our brothers and sisters. Why don’t we? We’re taught to be self-sufficient. We are afraid of what people might think if they knew what we really struggle with. It often never occurs to us that we are missing something incredibly valuable, but we are. Our walks with God can only go so far without real, authentic input from fellow believers. You and I need to be mentored, and we need to mentor others. We need each other. I learned this from my brothers and sisters around the world.
We have much to learn from our fellow believers in the global church. May God grant us the humility to learn from brothers and sisters around the world. We have much to offer them. They have much to offer us.
Timothy Hatcher, PhD, is a Scripture Engagement Specialist at Wycliffe Bible Translators
The Bible uses a number of different metaphors to describe sin: a burden, a stain, a debt, bondage, etc. Each description gives a different picture of both sin’s destructive power and its remedy. But few pictures the Bible uses are more powerful than that of leprosy. Two entire chapters in the book of Leviticus are devoted to the subject of “skin disease,” giving what is perhaps the best introduction to the doctrine of sin in the entire Bible. The passage is full of technical instructions for a priest to follow when an Israelite comes to him for counsel concerning a rash on his skin, a spot on his clothing, or a fungus growing in his house. “Is this something I should be worried about?” he wants to know. Getting the diagnosis right is of life and death importance! Leviticus 13–14 shows us at least seven ways that leprosy helps us to better understand sin.
1. Like leprosy, sin, in its early stages, is difficult to detect.
Distinguishing between eczema, psoriasis, mildew, mold, fungus, and leprosy
is harder than you think! This is why Moses tells the people to visit a priest if they have a skin problem, moldy clothing, or fungus growing in their house. The priest has been trained
to discern the difference between what is clean and what is unclean. Sin is like that. In its early stages, it is very difficult to detect: just a little indiscretion, some edgy entertainment, a white lie. It’s nothing. Right? Sometimes it takes the wisdom of an older saint to help us discern the truth about our spiritual condition.
2. Like leprosy, sin spreads from one part of the body to another.
The problem with leprosy is that it never stays in the same place. It starts as an itch on my scalp but then next week there is a rash on my thigh. Next month, I discover numbness in my left foot. In a similar manner, sin never stays contained. Like cancer, it keeps metastasizing. One drink soon becomes three. Betting $10 on a football game soon becomes gambling $100 at the casino. Watching R-rated movies soon turns into a regular diet of pornography. Like leprosy, sin’s destructive influence just keeps expanding from one area of life to another.
3. Like leprosy, sin is contagious.
Not only does leprosy spread within the body but also it spreads to other people! That is why Moses insists that lepers be put outside the camp—not because they are hated but because they are dangerous to the community. One leper is a threat to everyone else! Unconfessed sin is like that. Left untreated, it has the potential to spread from one person to another. To keep company with people who profess to be Christian while living in willful and continual sin is similar to inviting someone with the Ebola virus to your house for dinner! Hebrews 12:15 states the danger clearly: “See to it… that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”
4. Like leprosy, sin is a much deeper problem than you think.
At first, that spot on your arm appears to be nothing more than a little rash. You apply some cream and think all will be well. But if the problem is leprosy, you have only treated the symptom, not the cause. In the Bible, leprosy is not just something you have. It is who you are. It defines you! You are a leper. So it is with sin. You are not a sinner because you sin. Rather, you sin because you are a sinner! Sin is not just what you do, it defines who you are. Modifying behavior only treats the symptoms. What is needed is a remedy that goes deep, to the source.
5. Like leprosy, sin destroys your pain sensors.
A leper may break his arm, put his hand in the fire, or get a grain of sand in his eye, and never even know it! You may think it would be wonderful not to feel any pain, right? Think again. Someone who doesn’t feel pain has no warning system to alert him when his body tries to tell him that something is wrong. The ability to feel bodily pain is a gift! In a similar manner, sin destroys our spiritual pain sensors. Engaging in sinful behaviors and attitudes has the capacity to deaden our conscience. This is not good. The pain of a guilty conscience is the very motivation we need to cause us to run to Jesus for salvation before it is too late. Like the light on your car’s dashboard, when it comes on—go see a mechanic!
6. Like leprosy, sin, in its advanced stages, is hideous and repulsive.
After years of leprosy, the body becomes a deformed mass of oozing sores and foul odors. So it is with sin. At first, sin appears innocent, fun, and attractive. But don’t be fooled. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). It’s interesting how the advertising industry portrays the lives of those who drink alcohol: young, happy, slender, prosperous, and surrounded by lots of friends. Those who market alcohol never show us what someone looks like after decades of guzzling their product.
7. Like leprosy, sin will kill you!
Romans 6:23 says it best: “The wages of sin is death.” The mortality rate is 100 percent.
So far, we have seen the bad news about the leprosy of sin. Does the good news of salvation have anything to say about our sinful condition? I’m so glad you asked! The coming of Jesus changed everything.
And a leper came to Jesus, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus said to him… “Go show yourself to the priest….” (Mark 1:40–45)
Few passages in the Bible are more dramatic than this. When Jesus touches the leper, he is breaking the law that he helped to write! Everyone knew what would happen next: Jesus would become impure, he would contract leprosy. Right? Not this time! For the first time in history, the law of nature was reversed. Rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the leper becomes clean. The contagion of holiness is stronger than the contagion of sin!
Your sin problem is worse than you think but the cleansing power of Jesus is greater than you ever dreamed! An old gospel song written by Adger McDavid Page says it well:
Conscious of the deep pollution,
Sinners wander in the night,
Tho’ they hear the Shepherd calling,
They still fear to face the light.
This the blessed consolation,
That can melt the heart of stone,
That sweet Balm of Gilead reaches
Deeper than the stain has gone!
By Stan Key