Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Two Atrocities: A Head with Multiple Bodies; or, A Body with Multiple Heads

Maybe “atrocity” is too strong a word. But “anomaly” is too weak. And “curiosity” is just sick. And we aren’t talking about something that you might have seen in the old, circus “freak” shows. No, we are talking about seems to happen often in the evangelical church.

A Head with Multiple Bodies

Christ only has one body. We just seem a little confused about who it is. So there are many (and by many, I mean a whole lot) who claim to be that body, and who are pretty sure of all the ones who are not. I’m pretty sure that Christ knows who makes up His body. But in the meantime, in our separations and isolations, we are left either to envision a Head with only our little remnant, which would be a really small, puny body; or to envision an atrocity: Christ with many bodies.

Ephesians 2:14 says “He is our peace.” Verse 15 says that He has made “the both one.” There are not two peoples of God. There is one. There are not two ways to God. It is Jesus. And if we take this theme and run with it, we can safely say that Christ our Head does not have multiple bodies.

If He did, can you imagine what would happen? Several would claim to have direction from their Head, even though each body is clearly not going in the same direction. And it seems, then, as though the Head would almost be forced to favor one body over the others. “Will the real body please stand up?” And the others are left, what, just to dangle?

If Christ our Head had many bodies, then language such as “beloved” (for instance, in Psalm 127:2; Ephesians 5:1) becomes trite. It would be like the young chaser buying Valentine cards for all his girls that say, “I love you will all of my heart.” A shepherd with multiple flocks must necessarily be absent at times. A Good Shepherd may have many, many sheep. But He has only one flock.

A Body with Multiple Heads

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24 NAS95S). In other words, it’s just not going to work. The masters are going to fight. The servant is going to take sides.

But the Body on earth tends to conduct itself as though the Head in heaven is far away (see Ephesians 1:20-23 for the concept of the “Head in heaven”). Therefore, it must adopt other direction for its practical and daily existence. Maybe it is worldly wisdom. Maybe it is church tradition. But the church in the world often replaces heavenly direction with earthly direction, and, in essence, seeks to operate with multiple heads.

But our Head is not far away. Heaven has invaded earth in the coming of the Son, and He has conquered the distance and the divide so that we can have constant fellowship and direction from Him, through His Spirit and Word. So when we opt for substitute headship, we operate according to the flesh, not according to faith. And that produces an atrocity.

We need less meetings and more prayer. We need less talking and more paying attention. We need to be a little less like the adolescent, who, when spoken to, cannot possibly hear, because he is entombed in headphones and distraction. He is, for all practical purposes, dead to the Head.

A local body of believers (see Ephesians 4:15-16 for the Head in relation to individuals in local community) has many heads when they are all going a dozen directions, fed with many varieties of spiritual diet. Let’s say one group is more passionate about the election (or, non-election) of some politician than they have ever been about King Jesus. And let’s say another group is really, really focused on the family. And let’s say another group is all about feeding the hungry. And another comes to church out of loyalty, but they feel much more fed when they listen to Joel Osteen. Wouldn’t this be a body with multiple heads?

Paul one more time uses the “Head” theme in Ephesians 5, when he applies the beauty of the new creation and spiritual living to husbands and wives. They are to live in love and submission with/to one another, even as the local body is to practice love and submission in relation to one another, under the banner of the Love of Christ for His church and submission to Christ has her Lord.

Every time I substitute willfullness and selfishness for submission and love, I am guilty of sin: of separating from Christ, my Head, to follow the impulse of some other Authority. This should never be considered normal. It is an atrocity.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

In the Presence of My Enemies

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;” (Psalms 23:5 NAS95S)

This just doesn’t happen. When you are surrounded by enemies, you do not spread the tablecloth, unfold the napkin, and take a sip of wine. You don’t take a deep breath, clear your mind, and share a joke with your friends.

No, when you are surrounded by enemies, you are on the run. If you eat at all, it’s some hunk of old, half-a-biscuit, that, as you run, are careful not to leave crumbs behind, lest the enemy be able to track you down. There are no refinements; no pleasantries. It’s wilderness and caves and sweat and fear.

The New Testament theology that informs the Old Testament text is this: Christ has defeated the enemy by his resurrection from the dead, and is thus able to provide for his followers safe refuge. He is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14) who has given his life for the sheep, and whose work ensures that “no man is able to pluck them from my Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

The theology is sound and assuring. Our practical application is often flawed.

Because God-in-Christ provides us with such security and pleasure, we often begin to draw the conclusion that we really have no surrounding enemies. If the table is so rich, and the fellowship so fine, then we forget the larger context that we live in this world as pilgrims and strangers, even aliens, and that our many enemies, sometimes categorized under the rubric of “the world, the flesh, and the devil,” are still present, and potent, and prowling about.

Of course, we can err in more than one direction. If we have the tendency to explore the ditch on one side of the path, then surely we are capable of excavating the ditch on the other side as well. And so, not only can we forget “the presence of our enemies” and live as though they do not exist, but we can also, in the rush and tumble of life, forget the table, its fare, and its fellowship. Whether it is our nose to the grindstone, or our feet to the fire, we are hurried and pressed, and we forego the restful intimacies that our Savior requests, even commands.

As sheep, we just take what is given to us. If a meal is provided, we eat. And if the shepherd presides over us for our protection, we accept it. But as intelligent people, we forget and neglect. And so, intelligent men and women, consider this prayer for today: “Lord, let me be a lamb today.”