The Living Church
“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:27)
The Church is the spiritual body of Christ. As such it is a living, vital organism. The Church is “not a bouquet of believers – a collection of individuals brought together by mutual agreement. Just a body is not made by collecting a hand here, and an arm there and a foot somewhere else and then putting them together, so the Church is not made up of a group of isolated individuals who decide to unite for their common religious welfare.” The Church said Paul “is the body of Christ, composed of those who are baptized by one spirit into one body.” The Church is not an organization, it is a living organism.
Let me pause here and ask you a very personal question. It is a question which you alone must answer. Not even the one nearest and dearest to you can answer it for you. Are you a member of the Church? Notice I did not ask, “Are you of a Church, such as the First Presbyterian Church,” but I asked, “Are you a member of the Church – the body of Christ?” It is well to face oneself with this question. Paul said, “Let a man examine himself, whether he be in the faith. Prove your own selves.” One becomes a member of the Church when he owns Christ as Savior and Lord. When in sorrow for sin that has separated you from God, and with a child-like faith you can own Jesus as Savior and resolve to serve Him as Lord, a mysterious miracle takes place: your sins, whether they be many a or few, large or small are forgiven, your life is cleansed, you are reconciled to God, and you are grafted into the Body of Christ, His Church.
Let me ask you, have you made this decision? Have you committed your life to Jesus Christ? Confronted by such a question many without hesitation answer, “Yes, I am my Lord’s and He is mine. His Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am a child of God, a member of the Body of Christ.” There are others who answer, “No I’ve never made such a decision. Now don’t misunderstand me. I seek to live an honest, respectable life but I’ve never truly owned Christ as my Savior and Lord.” “Why halt you between to opinion? If the Lord be God, why not serve Him?” “Harden not your heart. This is the day of salvation … I beseech you in Christ’s stead be you reconciled to God.” Through a decision for Christ be grafted even now into the living organism, the Church.
It is a privilege to be a member of Christ’s Church. But privilege always carries responsibility. As members of the Body of Christ we are corporately and individually to bear witness to Christ. As members of the Body we are to bring the light of God into the darkness of this world, confidant that the darkness cannot overcome the light; we are to witness concerning the truth of God as revealed by Christ, confidant that this word of truth will not return unto Him void.
Let us remember that this living organism we are each equally important to the wellbeing and proper functioning of the body. On one occasion we are told that the Duke of Wellington, having returned from the battle, went to worship as was his custom in the Episcopal Church in the small town in which he lived. At the conclusion of the service he made his way down the center aisle that he might receive Holy Communion. As he knelt to receive the Sacrament, a man very shabbily dressed and very evidently of a lower social and economic position knelt beside him. One of the officers of the Church touched this man upon the shoulder and said, “Rise and wait until the Duke has been served.” The Duke in overhearing this rebuke, placed his arm around the man’s shoulders and looking at the officer of the Church said, “We are all equal here.”
No one has a preferred standing before God, no one has a preferred standing in the Church. Now it is true that from a human point of view we are prone to believe that there are preferred positions in the Church. But from God’s point of view such is not true. Paul emphasizes this as he points out that the ear is as important as the eye, and the hand is as important as the foot in the proper functioning of the human body. So also is the spiritual body, the Church. The work of the minister who faithfully serves God in a congregation numbering one hundred is just as important as the work of the minister who faithfully serves his Lord in a congregation of 3,000. The tithe of a thousand dollar income presented unto God is just as important as the tithe of a ten thousand dollar income. The prayers of the Church offered by an aged, infirm shut-in is just as important as the service rendered by a teacher in the Church school. If you are serving where and in the manner God would have you serve, your service is as important as the service of anyone else.
If the Church, the living organism is to efficiently serve her Lord, then each member of the body must faithfully use the gift or talent granted by God. Paul wrote, “Men have different gifts … there are different ways of serving God.”
In their wilderness wanderings the children of Israel came to Rephidim. There was no water. The people grumbled. Moses prayed to God. God replied by commanding Moses to strike a rock with his rod. In obedience and faith Moses did so and abundant water gushed from the rock. When the desert tribe of Amalek heard of this new source of water, they made war against Israel. Moses gathered the warriors of Israel together, sent them forth against Amalek and he ascended a high promontory. So long as he held his arms aloft Israel prevailed. When they grew tired and he lowered his arms, Israel was beaten back. Thus, Arron and Hur, climbed the hill and stood on either side of Moses and supported his arms. Thus, Israel won a victory, the secret of victory was found in the fact that Moses, Arron, Hur, the fighting men on the battle front, and the praying women and children back in the camp of Israel each and all faithfully performed the task committed unto them.
One of the great tragedies in the Church today is that we waste the time, talent, treasure which God has entrusted unto us. We are prone to give unto Him the leftovers of our powers, possessions and personalities. Someone has said that the Church is a sleeping giant. We need to arise and use the gifts of God faithfully in His service.
Let us never be guilty of saying I have so little to give. Moses had only a rod, David had only a sling shot, the little lad had only five loaves and two fish, the widow had only a cruse of oil. But these things used faithfully for God accomplished a great deal. “Little is much when used in God’s service. It isn’t what we do with a hundred dollars but what we do with one dollar, it isn’t what we do with the hours that God has given us but what we do with ten minutes; it isn’t what we do with ten talents but what we do with the one talent that counts. What has God given you to do? Are you faithfully performing that service? To the degree that the individual members of the body fail to perform God-given tasks, to that degree the Church fails in her mission.
If the Church is to effectually meet the challenge of this day, then our gifts must be used for the glory of Christ. He is the head of the Church. In all things He must have the preeminence. We do not worship and serve that we might be well spoken of, or that a local Church might be praised, or that a denomination might be honored but that Christ might be glorified. That which we do is done not for reward, nor for the praise of men, but for the Lord – the Lord of the Church. “Whether, therefore, ye eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of Christ.”
What a privilege to have been chosen by Christ to be a member of His Body, the Church. You are members of many organizations. But there is no other membership quite so important as membership in the living organism, the Body of Christ. May this membership, with all that it signifies, have priority in our lives.
Rise up, O men of God, Rise up O Church of God
Have done with lesser things,
Give heart and mind, and soul and strength, to serve the King of kings.
Dr. Robert W Kirkpatrick
First Presbyterian Church, Charleston W VA, October 9, 1960