Dismembering the Body of Christ (Daily Lenten Meditation)

Throughout Lent, I will be posting short meditations on the Daily Office readings every day. Please journey and pray with me through these readings. To read previous Lenten meditations click here.


Monday, February 27
I Corinthians 1:11-13

“For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided?”

I wonder what Paul would make of us today. Surely, he would be amazed by how well Christianity has done from itself, growing up from an outsider faith persecuted by the Roman Empire to a rich, powerful faith championed by empires past and present. Surely, he would be despondent with our ability to draw-and-quarter Christ on such fine, minute theological points that not much remains that even faintly resembles a true body. But, he certainly would have recognized it as a familiar sight.

Yes, we have Baptist, Episcopalians, Catholics and Methodists; Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Quakers and Anglicans. But I think a deeper fracture within the church is threatening to dismember the body of Christ, to separate the left hand from the right. No longer do churches tend to be identified by a certain stream of historic theology. Presbyterian was once code for Calvinist theology. Methodists were known to follow the theology of John Wesley. And Anabaptists followed the example of Menno Simmons.

Today, churches tend to be identified more with their political bent than their theology, as if Jesus sits on one side of the aisle. In a quest for egotistical influence, the church has hitched its wagon to nationalism, to the fate of a finite power destined to fall, eventually.

Politics are concerned only with the maintenance of power, only with ensuring another year, another term, another decade of dominance. Jesus cared about the Reign of God, which is already here, if only we have the eyes to see it, the ears to hear its drumbeat, the courage to enter it. Jesus cares about turning the powers that be on their head, of practicing redemption and reconciliation and of doing the nonsensical thing of standing with the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden.

In America, though, we have dug out our foxholes on the right and left. We assault each other hateful things, like “fundamentalist” or “false teacher,” hoping to push our brothers and sisters outside the bounds of our common faith family. Why I wonder do we think the Reign of God to be so narrow as to exclude one side or the other? Why, I wonder, to we think the eternal Love of God to be bound by the terms of the political issue of the day?

Yes, Paul would likely be shocked at the growth of Christianity, but he’d just as likely be less than surprised that this factional, Corinthian spirit still thrives. Later in I Corinthians, Paul reminds that each faction – whether belonging to Paul or Cephas or Apollos – is part of one unified whole. One plants, Paul says, another waters. One pulls weeds, and another fertilizes and waters. They all have a common purpose, but in the end, only God gives growth.

Perhaps we would all do well to remember that those crazy narrow-minded fundamentalists and those godless liberal false teachers all are part of the same process, and that no amount of vitriol can affect excommunication. My faith was planted in the ultra-conservative churches of Christ, watered by Baptists and Nazarenes and brought to maturity in the Episcopal Church. While I was in the churches of Christ, I could not conceive of a faith like I have today. I would have considered it apostasy. Similarly, for a long time, I found myself arrogantly thanking God for leading me out of the churches of Christ, the Nazarene congregations and Baptist schools, for guiding me from such a dark way of thinking and into the light.

But mostly, I think, in each case I was simply scared of losing the faith I was holding too tightly to. And such fear cannot grow love.

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O God, Teach us to love the world and teach us to love each other, not to categorize each other and so to push each other away, and so to dismember your body.

 

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.


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