Tag Archives: love one another

Body life: What it means to be a member

Membership is a hotly debated topic in the Christian realm these days.

From the dwindling numbers being posted by all denominations to the lack of apparent commitment being demonstrated by “church members” to their local congregations, it seems everyone is seeking a remedy to the central question of “How do we fix it?”

While these are certainly issues worth exploring, I would like us to step back and examine what it really means to be a member of something. Whether it be our family, the church, or a state/nation, we can’t escape the reality that we live and function as members of entities that are larger than ourselves with others we often don’t see eye-to-eye with which inevitably produces friction, hurt feelings, and strife.

Having strong opinions and a penchant for debating and arguing1 and because of that I am often presented with passages such as Titus 3:9-11 and 1 Peter 3:8 by those who want to make the case that I am being divisive and harming the unity of the body of Christ. However I don’t think that these differences in points of view that naturally arise since we are each finite, mortal, broken creatures is the real heart of the problem.

While it is a common stance to view argument and debate, indeed anything that upsets the applecart of an organization such as a local institutional church, I think the greater problem lies not with the division that may be caused by arguments and debate but by our attitudes and assumptions about what it really means to be a member of the body of Christ.

First our assumptions

When we think of “church membership” what immediately comes to mind? For most, what immediate comes to mind is the vague and often ill-defined “membership” they hold in a local organization that often contains “Church” somewhere in it’s name. Unfortunately, this often leads to an us to the erroneous conclusion that the preservation of the organization/institution is the highest good and that, by extension, unity ought to be preserved at all costs.

I’ve heard many pastors preach on unity and how the lack of unity is an indication of a lack of love and/or the presence of God in a congregation. Demonizing anyone who disagrees with anything the leadership decides.

Sadly, there are many congregations (both secular and Christian) that are wholly unified and loving but who lack one fundamental characteristic: Truth.

Truth is worth fighting for

If we stop and ask ourselves which is more desirable, truth without unity or unity without truth, most of us would come to the obvious conclusion that unity devoid of truth is not real unity but rather a sham. It is this reason that moral relativism is not very attractive once the covers are pulled off. It is also why many congregations are unified, but doomed to perpetual infancy in their faith.

Proverbs 18:24 tells us that there is a friend who is closer than a brother. If brothers fight, then I imagine the friend who is closer is willing to fight even harder to make sure we don’t stray from the truth. Remember, it’s the man who has many companions (who don’t value the truth enough to confront their friend) who goes to ruin.

The truth is worth fighting for because it is the only means to a unity that’s worth anything.

Love is messy

If a body is to survive, let alone grow and thrive, it has to account for the differences between it’s members without sacrificing a fundamental commitment to truth. This is far more easily said than done. The reality is that there will be fights, disagreements, and hard feelings.

We are foolish if we think we can avoid such pitfalls of intimacy. However without such risks we have no hope of surviving, much less growing. Our love each other is shown in how we put up with each other, how much we forgive and move on. We judge a biological family to be dysfunctional if it’s members can’t resolve their issues and manage to love each other, at times, in spite of one another. Why would we apply different metrics to any other body?

Love requires truth and truth requires communication. Some times, this communication involves arguments, debates, etc. Instead of fearing them, a healthy body embraces them and manages to work through them.

Healthy bodies don’t run from conflict, they embrace it.

Healthy bodies are stronger for it too.

  1. While I realize that this word often has negative connotations, I don’t believe that the mere act of arguing is inherently wrong but rather the manner in which one goes about arguing and what information (or lack thereof) one uses when arguing. The fact is, arguments are really the only way ideas are communicated. However if this word still disturbs you, I invite you to mentally substitute ‘persuade’ wherever you see argue. []
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Kissing campaign for peace

The kissing lips“Greet each other with a Holy kiss” is a phrase used at least 4 times in the New Testament.1 Each time it is used, it is issued as an imperative, urging the readers to greet their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with a Holy Kiss. But what is this “Holy kiss” and why don’t we practice it any more?

When I was younger man I used to laugh along with my friends at this sentiment, imagining it to be some sort of first century dating scheme or pick-up line. While this notion of what a holy kiss is is still enough to produce giggles even from mature adults, I wonder how many people realize how important these commands are and why it is imperative that we  at least learn what a “holy kiss” meant in the first century and how, if properly practiced, such a sentiment could lead to much needed healing within the Christian community.

To begin with, the concept of kissing someone on the cheek by way of greeting is not particularly new or uncommon in many cultures. Many of us may think about the popular Hollywood, European, and middle eastern greetings which often involve a kiss on both cheeks. Some of us have even haven even seen (or have at least heard of culturally awkward stories which include) greetings involving a kiss on the lips. While these modern-day greetings come close, they don’t quite capture what Paul and Peter were trying to convey in their letters.

To get a good understanding of how we are to treat each other we need to take a closer look at James, specifically James chapter 2 where James discusses the equality of everyone who is a member of the body of Christ and how partiality and preferential treatment are out of place among a people who have all been graciously adopted into the family of God.

Next we need to understand that there exists strong evidence that the type of greeting advocated by Paul and Peter was normally reserved for close family and friends. In fact, a strong case can be made that many modern day greetings which utilize a kiss are really pale replicas of the genuine and heart-felt greetings performed in the first century.

A good example of how the greeting kiss can be (and was) perverted into a false display of kinship is seen in how Jesus himself was betrayed by Judas in the garden of Gethsemane2. What made it worse is that by many accounts the kind of kiss given by Judas was one which was sloppy and on the lips, two major social violations and displays of ingratitude

In fact, Jesus pointed out the failure of his hosts to greet him properly and points to a woman who not only poured out expensive perfume on Jesus but kissed his feet while drying them with her hair as an example they ought to follow.3

The best example, however, of a proper kiss in the right can be seen in the greeting the father gives his son in the story of the prodigal son.4 Hoping to merely be treated as a servant (an improvement from the situation in which he found himself) the son is surprised to be greeted as a son and given a ring displaying his restored status.

With this in mind let’s turn back to Paul and Peter’s admonitions to greet each other with a holy kiss and ask ourselves the simple question; “Do we really see our brothers and sisters in Christ as our family?” We certainly like to proclaim that we do, but as James also points out in his book, our actions speak far louder than our words.

What would we look like, as the body and bride of Christ, if we learned to truly embrace, love, and care for each other? How would it transform our discussions, debates, arguments, and our general attitude towards each other?

I can only dare to dream what such a change in heart would produce and look like, but I dare to say it would mean we would look a lot more like the church we read about in Acts which “had all things in common”5.

Such an authentic community might even be the answer to Jesus’s prayer in the garden right before he died for our sins.6

  1. 1 Cor 16:20, 1 Cor 13:12, 1 Thes 5:25, 1 Pet 5:14 []
  2. Mark 14:45 []
  3. One of the few stories told in all four gospels: Mat 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50, John 12:1-8 []
  4. Like 15:20 []
  5. Acts 2:44 []
  6. John 17:1-26 []
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