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We believe the following verses. We like them. They sound inclusive, and we want to be lovingly inclusive—at least theoretically.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:12–21).

This passage continues, teaching us that we should care for one another and suffer as well as rejoice with one another. However, unfortunately for the Western church, this teaching about how we are all part of one body of believers is followed by this, verse 28: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”

Oops. We like the “we’re all part of the same body” teaching here. We can make use of this passage to encourage people in church to help each other out and serve and make the hearers feel all warm and fuzzy about how we all have value and something to contribute. However, we would rather that they only step into a select few of the positions listed in these verses. Sure, we’d love to see the ministries of helps, teaching and administration functioning. They keep the organizational gears greased. Maybe healing, if we can stretch our theology that far. But prophets? Miracles? Tongues? Please.

We have one, great beating heart on the platforms behind the pulpits of Western churches, with fragile blood vessels extending to the attendees, verbal hemoglobin flowing out and strengthening them in some measure, to be sure. However, it is not the intention of the Lord or of Scripture for one person to be so burdened or so empowered. The biblical model is each believer being gifted and used by God to strengthen other members, by the manifestation of God’s Spirit. The pastor’s job is to facilitate this and participate in it as a guiding elder, not fill most of the gifted positions himself, while ignoring the rest, except for those gifts that help run the machine.

The way we do church in the West is a tragedy. We have mistakenly taken the model of open-air, evangelistic preaching exhibited in Scripture—Peter at Pentecost, at the healing of the lame man and at the house of Cornelius, Stephen before the Sanhedrin and Paul at Antioch and at Athens; that which was done in Paul’s apostolic journeys when he was visiting churches—and have used it as the modus operandi for standard church practice when believers gather, ignoring the biblical model of every person’s gifted participation. At large churches, the meetings are media-rich evangelistic crusades, presided over by a favored, though admittedly gifted, few. The majority of us are passive attendees. Although Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples, we go and instead make consumers with a tenuous attachment to Him and His Church who will pull up stakes and move elsewhere if their needs aren’t met. However, we have the divine enablement from Jesus Himself and His Spirit for those needs to be met. God wired us to find fulfillment in the gifts that He gives. He created us to move and function in His giftedness, as well as to receive from it.

Did I mention that God Himself gives these gifts?

We may have sizeable churches dotting the landscape, but we have failed to adhere to biblical principles. We have disobeyed Him and disregarded His Word. It is time—it is past time—to sit down with our loyal adherents and staffs and discuss and pray how we can do church the way the Bible clearly indicates it should be done.

 

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