I have spent a lot of time talking about Paul’s Collection for the Poor in Jerusalem and the meaning it had for the concept of the “Body of Christ’. Paul is asking for gifts to give to people that the donors probably have never met and if they did probably wouldn’t like much. He is asking Jewish Christians to take a gift from people that looked different and did pretty strange things in their former life. They were pagans and probably were tattooed and pierced and ate food sacrificed to idols etc. Yet the giving and the receiving of the gift of money is a sign of “life together” in the body of Christ. There is a grace to the giving and a grace to the receiving because they are all ‘one in Christ’ and there should be equality, (“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:13.
A shock to some who visit a majority world partner church is that they actually believe this ‘body of Christ” stuff. They really believe that we are in this thing together. Once again there is a purposeful reliance upon doctrine. Now we have all sorts of Pastors and teachers and congregations out there that say they believe in the ‘body of Christ’ and yet, and yet……
We have small churches served by the same Pastor that are less than 10 miles apart but they will never sell one of the properties and join in one church because the church is not the body of Christ, it is the building. I know of a church in a majority world country that saved their meager offerings to build a church building to keep out of the sun and after they had the funds they decided to give their money to brothers and sisters on the other side of the mountain because they had to worship in the rain.
One of our District Presidents wrote this – “Individual churches see the bigger church not by what we gladly and boldly confess together but by the common products offered and received. These churches then act with a silo mentality, operating as retail outlets with a loose and lifeless connection to a corporation. Competition is bred among the franchises for the greatest production. Corporate headquarters laud those who are successful according to certain standards of production. Each is out for its own needs, and those needs take precedence over the needs of the church down the street”.
Pretty insightful and sad. Majority world churches can develop that mentality as well, but they are very mindful of issues that concern the ‘body’. That is why I said that they take relationship issues very seriously.
F. Lionel Young III in his article “A New Breed of MIssionaries” quotes Isaac M. T. Mwase as saying, “What world Christianity has to figure out is how to have interdependent relationships that are healthy and mutually rewarding.” One of the reasons that we established the Mary Okeyo fund and are sending folks over to Kenya is to learn from them. We need their utter exuberance in caring for the needy and sharing Christ with the pagan. We need their ability to organize communities of faith to address problems and find solutions. They need help with finances.
It is hard to connect with some groups over here to see these needs if they are operating in a silo and believe that they are competing with the Kenyans for scarce resources over here.
The ‘body of Christ’ issues won’t go away. Personal memories create amazing effects. When my wife was undergoing open heart surgery she was taken to the operating room about 5:30 in the morning our time. I received an email from my friends in Kenya saying that they had just finished lunch at a conference of deaconesses and that they had offered up a prayer for my wife’s recovery and health. The prayers of God’s people never stop – when we sleep Christians around the world are praying. Prayer is a part of these interdependant relationships. Luther believed that prayer upheld the world. When I get down in the dumps I think about the members of the body of Christ half way round the world that are praying for me and it makes all the difference.
The picture above was an incident I had forgotten but I dreamt about it last night. This young lady was cleaning up after a group meal and chanting some song quietly to herself when I walked up and took the picture. I asked what she was singing and the response from the Pastor as I think I understood it was something like – “she prays thanks that there was a meal she could clean up after; she prays that there be food for the evening meal as well; and she prays that others all over the world will have plates with food that can be cleaned up as well; she prays that the food eaten will strengthen to serve God”.