Polls consistently show that more than two-thirds of American workers are unhappy and unengaged with their jobs. I think this (at least partially) stems from so many holding the mindset they are parts in a non-living corporate “machine”. Machines, of course, are created by people, and exist solely for the purposes of their owners. 

One criticism of modern medical care is that caregivers too have become almost like mechanics. It is easy to fall into the trap of treating patients as if they are a physiological machine rather than a whole person—body, mind, and spirit.

Driven by modern profit motives and corporate-style management that values efficiency over human contact, medical science and the art of medicine often get reduced to a set of technical skills.

Not only does this turn doctors into something like cogs in a corporate medical machine, it dismisses the concerns of patients’ need for spiritual care and real-life relationships. I have found that patients want doctors who will treat them as a whole person instead of quickly checking their chart and dispensing advice with the efficiency of a computer-generated prescription.

A similar modern-day tragedy occurs when we have the mindset that the church is an organization. We must take care not to operate so rigidly we become machine-like in church activities.

Members of a living body are so inter-related that one lost part can never simply be exchanged. We’re not replaceable like a defective car muffler.

I can only imagine how new believers feel when a church treats them as a part of an organization rather than as a member of a living body. 

We must remember that God took a big risk by choosing to make the church a body rather than an organization. A living body is naturally unpredictable. It is not robotic.

If we are meant to be a living body it must mean God wants us to be something other than a slave-like machine. He wants true relationship with us, even though giving us a free will carries inherent risks.

As a living body, we have all the implications associated with that term. Being part of a body implies vulnerability and intimacy with the other parts. This goes against American inclinations toward self-sufficiency.

God must have a reason to use a term loaded with so much intimacy. We must appreciate the core characteristics of the body of Christ, starting with the fact that it is not an organization produced and managed by humans. We are a one-of-a-kind living creation of God.

Our strength does not arise from membership numbers or political know-how, but from our interactions with each other and with the Head of the body, Jesus Christ.

The most unhelpful thing for the body of Christ is disunity. When we slide back into the top-down divisive structure found in corporations, organizations, and government agencies, we lose our strongest witness to the world.

They already know the worldly system of leadership. What they are in dire need of seeing is the body of Christ exhibiting the qualities found in living organisms, not just imitating worldly organizations.

After all, we are the body of Christ.

God Creates Life

God Creates Life

I learned a lot about how the body of Christ works by studying the human body. It’s not that the human body reflects the body of Christ, or the body of Christ is a reflection of the human body. They possess similarities because both reveal the nature of the God who made them.

Growing up in church, I assumed that the Bible called believers a body as a way of describing them as a group. In the same way a lake is a “body of water” containing countless drops of liquid, I thought “body of Christ” represented a good way to mentally group Christians together.

However, as I learned more about the science of living bodies, the more I came to understand that God intended us to be more than a random collection of individuals. God created us to be a living entity. The church should exhibit characteristics of life similar to other living organisms we see around us.

Two words central to this issue are “organism” and “organization.” They differ in several respects. People cannot create living things, or organisms. They can fashion organizations (which are not living) as a means to reach goals.

I’m not opposed to organizations; when used to undertake noble activities, they can accomplish much. Still, organizations aren’t alive. We should not see the body of Christ as a man-made organization; it is a living organism created by God.

God alone creates life. He breathed life into Adam and placed him in the garden of Eden to be a steward and walk in relationship with Him. He created all living plants and animals. Likewise, He created the body of Christ and gave life to it. Christians are to exist as a living organism, not as a non-living organization.

Consider an artist. Connoisseurs of art can determine what artist created a particular piece, even without a signature or label identifying the creator. They simply observe the painting’s style and physical attributes.

The same is true of music aficionados. They can often discern the composer of a musical piece by finding characteristics running throughout the composer’s work. These threads can be considered that composer’s “fingerprint.” 

Likewise, the Creator designed the church to be a living body. Because the same God who created all other living things fashioned the body of Christ, we may look for a thread of similar characteristics in His work.

I like to think of these shared characteristics as God’s fingerprint on His creation. God reveals His nature to us as we study His fingerprint on all living things. The true nature and purpose of the church may be learned through comparison 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 can see in everyday life. These parables are clear and effective because the Creator’s fingerprint is on all things He creates, whether seen or unseen.

We can better understand unseen spiritual things if we study the characteristics they have in common with familiar, physical objects that we can see. By examining the characteristics of life found in all living things, we can see how these same characteristics are woven into God’s plan for relationships in the body of Christ.

Scientifically speaking, things that have these attributes are alive; things that aren’t alive do not. God intends for the body of Christ to function as a living organism and exhibit the characteristics of life.

The Most Important Thing

The Most Important Thing

I have come to the conclusion that—in spiritual terms—the body of Christ is the most important thing in the world.

It is the instrument God created to save mankind, wage war with the devil and his forces of evil, provide healing, and complete the good works of God on this earth.

I also believe many believers misunderstand, and under-appreciate, the body of Christ’s strategic importance. Although the term “body of Christ” appears many places in the Bible, we can easily pass it off as a sort of strange metaphor. When we do so, we lose insight as to who we are in Christ.

Americans in particular seem to want a Christianity that focuses on the individual. We are self-centered to a fault. We crave a gospel that brings us health, comfort, influence, and material prosperity.  

But this attitude is a profound distortion of God’s will for us as His people. It also ignores the fate of the “heroes of the faith” mentioned in Hebrews. Namely, those who “were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. . . They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword” (Heb. 11:35-37).

We can fail to grasp the importance of Christ’s body, and our importance to each other, for persevering through the challenges of life in this world. When we do, we are ignoring God’s plan for us in light of eternity. That is why I feel so strongly we need a healthier understanding of what it means to be members of the body of Christ.

A wise man once said that the more he learned, the less he seemed to know. I often feel the same way as I study how the Bible uses “body of Christ” to describe us. There is a treasure of to be discovered as we better understand this term.

Yet, the more I learn, the more questions I find needing to be answered. I feel like I am straining to grasp the picture that Paul writes of in the famous “love” chapter in 1 Corinthians: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).

I feel so strongly about the body of Christ that I have written an entire book about it. Even if you never get around to reading my book, I suggest you consider taking a look at—and meditating on—the idea that we really are a living body. A body that represents God’s love and ministry in the world.

Grapes and Grain

Grapes and Grain

– By Rob Starner and Ron Bryce

On the last evening before He offered up His life as an atoning sacrifice for the sinners of the world, Jesus shared a final meal with His closest disciples. On this solemn occasion He revealed the ultimate reality that the Jewish feast of Passover for centuries had merely foreshadowed. Luke tells it this way:

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:19-20, NIV)

For hundreds of years, theologians have pondered what actually transpires during the communion sacrament. One widely held view, referred to as “transubstantiation,” holds that the bread and the wine actually . . . wait for it . . . become the body and blood of Jesus Christ, even though there is no outward change in the appearance of these elements. This view is unlikely for several reasons.

For one thing, it unnecessarily forces a literal meaning on Jesus’ words, when in fact a metaphorical meaning is far more likely. The prolific use of figures of speech was one of the trademarks of Jesus’ teaching. When He told his disciples that they were “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13), He did not mean that Christians had a laser beam emanating from their skulls.

For another thing, this literal understanding of Jesus’ words would hardly have occurred to The Twelve—they were sitting (well, actually reclining) right beside Jesus when He spoke the words. They could see with their own eyes that the bread remained bread, and the wine remained wine. And we should not overlook the fact that transubstantiation appears not to have occurred to anyone for the first eleven hundred years of the church’s existence. So it is far more likely that Jesus was speaking metaphorically when He referenced the “bread” and “wine” as His “body” and “blood.” Jesus wants His followers to remember that He gave His life as an atoning sacrifice for all. End of discussion. Case closed. . . . . . or is it?

To be sure, the contexts of all the Gospel accounts of the Lord’s Supper make clear that the elements “bread” and “wine” refer specifically to the “body” and “blood” of Jesus of Nazareth and so point to His sacrificial, atoning death on our behalf. This is the deepest and most important core of the Christian faith.

Yet we should also realize that the sacrament of “communion” has an important foundational basis: the solidarity between Christ and His body, the Church—AND, by extension, the solidarity of the members of the Church with one another. This is reflected both in the communal nature of the sacrament and in the solemn warnings about participating in the Lord’s Supper without proper regard for the other members of the Lord’s body (1 Corinthians 11:29).

We have seen that “bread” and “wine” speak to us about the identity and mission of Jesus. Is it possible that they also speak to us about the nature and mission of the Church? What if there is a certain sense in which there is a kind of “transubstantiation” underlying “bread” and “wine”?

Consider the wine. Where does it come from?  Ah! Grapes! Right. But wine isn’t the mere result of joining individual grapes together. Grapes are already joined together by stems that connect them NOT to each other, but to the vine from which they draw their life. If one grape is bludgeoned by a bird’s beak and devoured, the other grapes are not adversely affected. They don’t draw their life from other grapes. They draw their life from the vine. Not so with wine.

In the making of wine, the distinctiveness and character of individual grapes are entirely transformed in the process. The purpose, physical properties, and even chemical makeup of the grapes are all converted into something entirely new. Individual grapes are crushed and destroyed so that they are unrecognizable and “dead” to their old existence, but they are reborn and integrated, each within ALL the others, and together united for a common purpose. Any malicious microbe from without or malfunction from within will adversely affect the entire batch of wine. WOW!  What a model for the church!!

Now consider the bread. Where does it come from? Wheat. Right! But bread isn’t merely the result of joining together individual grains of wheat. They too are utterly crushed, ground up, and destroyed so that they lose their individual identities. The new creation, a loaf of bread, has completely different physical properties and purposes than the former grains of wheat.

Even more profoundly, grapes and grain are the procreative part of the plants. Before they were converted, they served a purpose, namely, to reproduce themselves according to their own image and likeness. After death to their old self, however, the grapes and grain are reborn into bread and wine, with a new purpose—not to independently perpetuate themselves, but to interdependently become something beyond themselves.

The multiple grains of wheat that make up bread and the multiple grapes that make up wine lose their identity and become one loaf and one cup.

In this we find an analogy of what happened to us sinners when we died to our previous sinful nature and became born again into the body of Christ. Our old (pseudo) identity was lost and we found our new (true) identity as one body. We have a new identity and purpose in Christ! Rather than our old nature and its self-promotion, we have a new nature in solidarity with Jesus and all the other members of His body. 

Comments?  What do you think?