The Church in my City

Chapter 4 Interaction in his Body

Having settled that Jesus the Messiah is the CEO of the one church in this city, we wonder how it is organized? The traditional answer was that it is a hierarchy. Among Roman Catholics the Pope still appoints Bishops. Bishops ordain priests, and priests make Christians by baptism, confession and absolution, and admitting them to communion. Instead of submitting to the Pope as Supreme Pontiff, Anglicans have the Archbishop of Canterbury preside over the Lambeth Conference of Bishops from all over the world. But Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and even Baptists, still tend to think that orders should come from some head office in their country.

But the New Testament gives no suggestion of the church as a hierarchy. Paul pictures the church as a body with many members each performing different functions. (1 Corinthians 12:4-26) . When I grasped this I wrote The Church: An Organic Picture (1968, web 1996), and when I came to Kingston I decided to use this model in my new parish. I encouraged each person to look to the Holy Spirit to discern what gifts he or she might have to contribute to the St. James congregation. That was helpful up to a point, but it missed the organic interconnections of the church all over the city.

But now having seen that our CEO works with one church in this city, the picture of the body changed radically. In the business world the word corporate (of the body) refers to a corporation (a functioning body). This is how Paul put it: "He is the head of the body (corporation), the church" (Colossians 1:18). If the church in this city is a single body, rather than a group of denominational congregations, then it is the organic interaction of all members of that body that permeates and enriches our city.

The image of the church as a body gives us some helpful analogies. A body needs food, and congregations of many different denominations in this city use the same Bible to feed us with the Word of God. Last Sunday Mollie and I attended a Roman Catholic service with our daughter in law in Vancouver and they had exactly the same lectionary readings as our Anglican congregation here in Kingston. We were surprised to see that they also used Vineyard and other charismatic music from very different denominations.

It is also obvious that members of the church in my city also nourish themselves from books by John Bunyan (Independent), C.S.Lewis (Anglican), Henri Nouwen (Roman Catholic), preaching by Billy Graham (Baptist), teaching by Robert Schuller (Presbyterian), and by Christian education material from other sources.

We delight in the richness of each others' music, tapes, videos, conferences, and life experiences. "The gifts that he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of the Messiah: (Ephesians 4:11-12).

In a human body the heart keeps pumping blood to provide the oxygen needed for every part to do its work. Describing the inner life of the church, Paul wrote "In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13). That means each city church is to be a church of the Spirit. And it is easy to see that if a congregation cuts itself off from the work of the Spirit it begin to go gangrenous and die. The opposite of life in the Spirit is the attempt to rely on merely human resources.

We are also meant to be the eyes and ears of our city. By the Spirit we should see what is going wrong, listen to the heart cry of individuals, and then seek to meet the need. But our actions are not hasty bright ideas on the spur of the moment. They must be preceded by prayer to discern what is needed.

But prayer is also the inner life of the church in my city. It corresponds to the vast nervous system that connects every part of the human body. When a finger touches a hot stove the signal immediately causes the muscles of the arm to pull the hand away to safety. Every part of the body seems to feel the pain of the burn. And within a minute all that is needed for healing is brought to the damaged finger to repair it.

What the world cannot see is the huge amount of prayer communication that connects Christians with one another across denominational lines all over the city. When there is a crisis hundreds of Christians are immediately joined in prayer to comfort and heal that situation. As in a human body, a trauma to one part seems to be felt by every cell in the body.

As I observe what is going on in my city, it is obvious that Christians from various congregations are continually working together in all sorts of ways. Bible Study groups, prayer meetings, healing services, jail visitors, volunteers in hospitals and nursing homes are not organized by denominational commitment. And more and more Christian families are intertwined with members of the family in other denominations.

The French use the term esprit de corps (spirit of the body) to describe the sense of pride, mutual dependence, and commitment in an army regiment. We need to foster the sense that the church in our city is not a battlefield of competing units, but one body of fellow soldiers in the service of our King. We may have very different functions to perform, but we can take pride in the work of the very varied congregations in our city.

Chapter 5