A group of explorers on an alien planet discover what appears to be a giant human thumb resting on the opposite side of a canyon. Upon further inspection with their binoculars, they confirm it; the presence of a fingernail and the overall shape convinces them.
Is it part of a carving of a hand? Or is it part of a sleeping giant?
But not all of them are convinced that it belongs to a body, for the canyon is impassable. They have limited information. After some debate, most of the group entertains skepticism, and they doubt it’s a thumb at all.
Maybe it’s a rock that happens to be shaped like a thumb and we’re just projecting our experiences onto it.
The Church cannot be just a thumb. It’s natural to group together with likeminded members, but niches only serve their place within the context of the whole body. When our areas of comfort within the Church become the Church, then our niches diminish the potential of the whole as we become just a club with various cliques.
We need a ragtag Christianity, where everyone, no matter how quirky or annoying, have a place. The key is knowing how to unite.
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (1 Cor. 12:12).
“We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15).
What do Guardians of the Galaxy, The Sandlot, The Fellowship of the Ring, the Christian Church and every other story have in common? Unity in diversity. There’s a goal, and there’s a group of ragtag heroes trying to make it happen. Even lone-ranger characters, notorious in Westerns and action flicks, require the aid of others to reach their goal. Stories, like life, are boring alone.
I’m sure there are a lot of churchgoers wondering what their “place” is in the Christian community. It’s like most of us are too busy trying to find ourselves that we forget to unify as a group. Many of us are haunted by a big question mark: who am I and what am I doing here?
The church is a bunch of ragtag characters advancing his Kingdom. Unity in diversity; Jesus and the ragtags. Diversity makes it a corded rope, and when individual Christians know what their role is and apply it, the threads get tighter. When niches within the Body can work together, each using their proclivities, knowledge and experiences to reach the goals of the whole unit, the members are able to find fulfillment–when you or your clique find the role only you can fill, and when the Church gives you a platform to do it. Once we each have a role to play, we can focus on supporting each another because we no longer have a big question mark hovering over our heads.
“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that…I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27).
What is this “manner of life” that Paul refers to?
“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3; see also Matt. 22:39).
We’ve been called, like Frodo, to participate in a quest. But we need help, and so God doesn’t give us eight other Frodos; he gives us eight unique members because that’s how things get done: diversity unified.
The hard part is the unity.
So please, Paul, tell me you’re joking because those characteristics are hard to come by: humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, eager to maintain the unity…no church is that pure. No church is without its share of problems (Rom. 3:23).
Maybe that’s the point; maybe the “walking” (v. 1) is the important part. It’s the progress that counts as Paul says in Philippians, “striving side by side” (and note how the author of Hebrews words 10:14). The Church doesn’t need to be pure if it’s already pure in light of who Christ is (Rom. 6:11; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:4-6; Col. 3:1-3). The Church is already shining because of Christ, so what if we live as if this were true? We don’t need to keep that big question mark over our heads when Christ gave us a period. The bulb doesn’t need to be replaced every Sunday; the glass just needs persistent cleaning. If the Church were a lantern, Christ would be the bulb.The problem is the world, where the atmosphere is enough to cover the lantern’s glass with soot, so all we must do is keep wiping it clean so the light shines through clearly.
The glass isn’t the important part, but when it’s dirty, it’s noticeable. Like John the Baptist, we must decrease (clean the glass) so Christ may increase (shine through the clear glass; John 3:30). The glass has to forget itself.
How do we decrease? By being the Body; not by getting a 1+ on the next guy. We adopt Christ’s example: he let himself become nothing (Phil. 2:7) for the sake of a bunch of nobodies–the ragtags. We must consider ourselves soberly (Rom. 12:3), exercising humility by considering others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). Imagine a place where people actually care about you and what you’re doing instead of spending all their energy in search of their own validation. That’s the Church.
So humility and unity are inseparable: humility on everyone’s part enables our roles to be actualized because nobody is distracted by their own interests.
If someone needs a lantern, it better be working. So the Church better be working if the world needs God. It takes everyone to make it work, but it doesn’t take many to throw things askew (John 6:70-71; 1 Cor. 5:1-10; Gal. 5:9-10).
The Church works when it can learn to live with the diversity within itself. The problems any given Christian community faces are opportunities to strengthen unity, which must be worked through because the fruit is truly rewarding. Sadly, the truth is that too many abandon the community or are outright ostracized when trouble arises because differences are seen as more important than humility. They miss the body for the thumb.
A ragtag Christianity:
1. Strengthens its members to engage with different viewpoints (inside and outside the faith). This is vital for personal development, evangelism and apologetics.
2. Ensures relevance for non-churchgoers who find church rigid. The diversity in the church provides the opportunity to find commonality with those who don’t understand the Gospel.
3. Shines brighter because it uses its diversity to unify around a centralized purpose. Each member can exercise their strengths for the betterment of the body.
Church, then, is the intentional living of Christians trying to present the Gospel to those searching for it, or, perhaps more importantly, shine a spotlight for those who don’t know they’re needed.
It’s not a country club with pointing fingers, but a sympathetic search party. The more ragtag the group is, the tighter the cord, and the stronger it will be when help is required.
In addition to writing at A Clear Lens, Alex Aili (B.A. in Biblical Studies) writes short stories and offers his musings about God’s hand in the world at Covert God: Redemption in Shadows. He is a novelist-in-progress who lives in northern MN with his wife and two sons. He thrives on coffee, good pipe tobacco and longs walks in the woods. See what he’s up to on Twitter.