Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, lupus, MS, and Type 1 diabetes are horrible illnesses that wreak havoc on their sufferers.
The definition of an autoimmune disease is basically a disease where the body turns on and starts attacking it’s own tissue, leading to it’s own deterioration or even destruction. It usually involves a great deal of inflammation and pain, and is a frustrating, even agonizing, state of being. It is when the body gets confused over who the real enemy is, and what it’s supposed to be fighting against (real diseases or toxins, etc.) and instead, starts fighting with its own self. The conventional methods to dealing with this phenomena usually involve treating only the symptoms…trying to best deal with the resulting pain rather than digging deeper to try to get at what might be more root causes. Sometimes these “fixes” also end up causing more damage to the body. What is often needed is a time consuming process of learning to be sensitive, in tune, exploratory and open to new ideas to see if the disease can be dealt with at a more foundational level. This approach requires a lot of commitment to the process, trial and error, patience and a firm belief that the body is worth it. That healing can ultimately come if the real root issues are able to be addressed.
However, this post is not actually one about physical illness. I have no medical background whatsoever. But as I have spent some time reading about these ailments, I was struck by something of a more spiritual nature that seems to parallel the physical.
Sadly, I think the Church may have an autoimmune disease.
It seems to me that the Church may be losing sight of who it really is, what it’s purpose is, and rather than working together to fight an Enemy that the Bible tells us is, in fact, real…we instead have turned on each other and are fighting ourselves, causing deterioration and destruction within our own Body. Just like an autoimmune disease.
First let me present the picture of health that the Church is meant to be. The Bible says that the Church is people…people that have committed themselves to living out the life and representation of Jesus and his ministry on the earth, through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The Bible also gives us a beautiful picture of diversity, working together in unity, by giving us the analogy of the Church as a body. It says in 1 Corinthians 12 that the body is one unit, made up of many differing parts that all are in desperate need of one another; none is able to say of itself that it is greater than any other.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. ~ 1 Cor. 12:11
Somehow, we have moved from an understanding of this, to a mindset that thinks we are allowed to look at one another and scoff, demean and criticize. We think that as a leg, which is a big part of the body, a strong part of the body, a very visible part of the body…we can turn and start mocking the foot which can be a bit gnarled looking, is usually hidden away and can stink from time to time. But as a leg…go ahead and try standing without that foot. Even the less-than-glamorous parts play a vital role.
In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. ~1 Cor. 12:22-24
We take aim and fire shots…small churches “call out” the perceived “showiness” of mega-churches, and the community-sized churches write off the house churches as not legit. Some churches focus heavily on study, while others seem to emphasize service…and each finds the other in error. All, of course, claim their own rootedness in being The Way the church should “Biblically” be. But who is right?
I think it is imperative to recognize our disease, and begin to address it at the root in order to bring healing to the whole body. We must stop attacking ourselves, causing pain and destruction. We must remember that there is an outside force of evil that wants to come against us, and when we are healthy and functional, we are equipped and able to defeat it…but not when we are in a weakened state of turning our energies on ourselves.
Churches will be as varied and diverse as the peoples that comprise them. There will be churches full of intellectual thinkers and churches full of passionate artists. There will be churches who find reassurance of Truth in the words of liturgy, and others who find freedom of Truth in the mysterious ways of the Holy Spirit.
There will be small churches, whose people learn to be disciples in discussion around a coffee table. Congregations made up families who are intimately in each others lives; whose ‘outreach’ looks like neighborhood backyard barbecues and bringing meals for the new mom; whose mission is serving at a local soup kitchen. They might reach people who feel like they just don’t “fit” in a traditional church setting, or who feel lost in a crowd of people.
There will be large churches whose members learn in big group settings, with recognized speakers who have powerful testimonies of their own faith journeys. They will be able to equip people with a variety of resources and forms of media. They can hold outreach events which can be a blessing on a large scale to an entire community or send missions to foreign lands where physical needs are great. They will have the ability to welcome someone who wants to be able to “test the waters” of church without having to feel like they stand out as “the new guy” in an already tight-knit community, or who is still too hurt or guarded from past experiences to be ready to vulnerable in new relationships just yet.
People are as varied as the sands of the shore. We have innumerable differences, needs, preferences, strengths, weaknesses and circumstances. Wouldn’t it only stand to reason that a God who so passionately wants to connect and have relationship with us would provide as many types and styles of churches as it takes for everyone to be able to find a place within His Body? There isn’t a right one or a wrong one. But there is one. There is a place available for every person within the Body of Christ. It might take some trial and error. It will take working together. It will take acknowledging that each part holds some value, some function….even if it is an entirely different one than our own. It will even take being able to so value another part of the Body that we defer to them, prefer them, maybe even promote them above ourselves. It could mean helping someone find their best fit in a church other than our own.
It means ruthless intolerance of turning on and fighting against our own Body, and instead joining together against an outside force that would wish to see humanity’s destruction. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us the devil is like a lion, seeking to destroy. He is the outside sickness, the toxin that wants to come against the Body, and we need to be in full health to stand against that.
My hope is that we are able to once again remember what Jesus’ prayer was as His time on earth came to an end, and he looked toward handing things over to those who would remain…us, the Church. He asked his Father for something thing that would stand as such a powerful witness that a watching world would know the Truth. He asked that his followers would walk in unity; a unity as strong as what they shared as Father and Son.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” ~John 17:22-23
We can divide up into our little camps and come up with all the outreach and ministry strategies we want. But plain and simple, here’s the one that Jesus himself came up with and prayed for his Church.
Unity. Let a watching world see unity.
Let’s pray and work and make the necessary changes to see a Body that is no longer fighting against itself, but rather standing as a picture of health, demonstrating love and oneness within a vast array of beautiful diversity.