2 : Unity and diversity in the body

 

The very process of working out the internal difficulties and obstacles that we presently face as we seek to begin functioning as a corporate Body holds great potential for future ministry.

Applying our collective gifts on the area of church unity and breaking down some of the barriers that presently divide us, for example, would in itself offer great benefit to the work of the Church in this region. We are presently divided by so many legitimate things: our ministry passions, for example – Some of us have been captivated by the specific calling of God on our lives, or by the ministry battles we have fought in the past. We are passionate about social justice issues, or about youth, or the culture wars. Some of us are consumed by the urgency of our ministerial perspectives – the academic dysfuntionality of our minority youth, the seemingly unstoppable impetus of the homosexual camp in Massachusetts, the indispensable nature of spiritual gifts, prayer and spiritual warfare. We therefore have little patience for those who perhaps do not share that same sense of specific urgency that drives us, who do not parse the ministerial reality through the same grammar that we employ. We are therefore tempted to lose enthusiasm for the collective endeavor even before we begin the journey. After all, nobody wants to waste time on fruitless deliberations and theoretical contemplation. We are all in this to effect significant change, to produce results, to change the spiritual climate of the Commonwealth.

I must confess that I share these very same reservations. Even as I voice the need for unified thinking and action, I waver between cautious optimism and skepticism regarding the prospect of achieving it. What keeps me engaged in this uncertain endeavor is the understanding that it has always been thus. The plurality and distinctiveness of our gifts and callings has always been an inherent feature of the Church. The tension that this generates in the Body of Christ is nothing new, as we can well see from I Corintihians 12.

Christ’s Body by definition is constituted by a diversity of organs and systems. Its very genius lies in the complimentarity of those interlocking parts. Just as it is not up to the parts to impart consistency and coherence to the entire system, but rather up to the governing brain, neither is the ultimate functionality of our individual passions and gifts dependent on each of us, but rather on Jesus Christ the Head, whose role it is to effect a fruitful synthesis. Our part is to incorporate ourselves by faith into that Body, to choose to remain yoked by lucid love and faith, to force ourselves to facilitate the functioning of the system with generous, continual measures of grace, patience, forgiveness, humility and dogged trust that “he who began the good work in [us] will be faithful to complete it.”

If we manage to overcome the inertia of disunity and mutual mistrust, which can only happen as we choose to engage by faith in active relationship and interaction, the desired results will begin to emerge almost by themselves. Our disciplined, sustained efforts will come to constitute a prop upon which the Holy Spirit will be able to drape His true intent. God’s desire is for His Church to be united, to function as a well-coordinated organism, “joined and held together by every supporting ligament,” as Paul so graphically states in Ephesians 4:16. In this text, I am impacted by the functional, dynamic nature of Paul’s concept of unity. Unity, in the apostle’s lucid theological conceptual universe, is not a warm, fuzzy feeling, relegated to the domain of occasional joint services where we perfunctorily acknowledge each other’s legitimacy, but rather an objective phenomenon, a solid platform which allows the Body to function effectively and efficiently, to operate upon and transform external reality. The giving of God’s pluralistic gifts is “to prepare God’s people for works of service,” (v.12) to allow us to ascend to a mature spirituality, to resist heresy, to confront falsehood in love, “as each part does its work.” (vv. 12-16) No images of a facile, flaccid spirituality here, but rather of a robust, deliberate outlook, a lucid frame of mind that has worked and prayed through the hard issues of effecting unity, and that has emerged with a dogged, loving determination to keep in view the mysterious endowment of God’s gifting even on those parts of the Body that seem most alien and removed from our own.

In his fascinating book, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, psychiatrist Oliver Sacks relates the strange case of Christina (no pun intended…), who through a rare neurological disease has lost her sense of proprioception, the ability of the body, so taken for granted, to coordinate smoothly the motions of its various limbs without the aid of conscious thought. Christina has lost that essential sense of organic unity that allows us unimpeded access to the remotest, most miniscule parts of our body, and that enables us to move spontaneously and gracefully. She is forced to learn to carry out these motions through the conscious use of her will, sight and mind, and to develop a new synthesis, by far not as gracious and fluid as the original one, but nevertheless functional and life-enabling: “Thus, at the time of her catastrophe, and for about a month afterwards, Christina remained as floppy as a rag doll, unable even to sit up. But three months later, I was startled to see her sitting very finely-- too finely, statuesquely, like a dancer in mid-pose. And soon I saw that her sitting was, indeed, a pose, consciously or automatically adopted and sustained, a sort of forced or willful or histrionic posture, to make up for the continuing lack of any genuine, natural posture. Nature having failed, she took to ‘artifice,’ but the artifice was suggested by nature, and soon became second nature.”

I suggest that the ecclesiastical Christina also has lost her ability (did she ever use it?) to coordinate her various limbs in an organic, Spirit-led manner. It is, of course, God’s intent that we recapture it. But if we are to ever arrive at even a semblance of that glorious functionality, we must first be willing to, like Oliver Sack’s Christina, undertake the humbling, awkward attempts of the neophyte. We must choose, through conscious recognition of a biblical truth, to covenant toward unity, and then begin to humbly engage in the first robotic movements that would mimic God’s intended fluidity. For true, corporate unity to emerge, for the Church in Massachusetts and, indeed, the world to rise to the fullness of its calling it must first find the way to abandon its schizophrenic outlook and learn to function in a coordinated manner. It must embrace a new ethos, explore the strange new terrain that will open up before it, be willing to fall and try again, adopt a long-term mentality, and exercise a ferocious faith that God will not allow us ultimately to fail in something that we have undertaken in obedience and for His glory.

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