Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Body of Christ

So, brothers and sisters, because of God's mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don't be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God's will is - what is good and pleasing and mature. Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you:  don't think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. We have many parts in one body, but the parts don't all have the same function. In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God's grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful. - Romans 12:1-8 (Common English Bible)

I lived in Germany from 2000-2010. I had a wonderful time there, but there was one aspect of German life that I was not allowed to participate in:  Politics. I was not a citizen of Germany, even though I was a permanent resident. I did consider obtaining German citizenship so that it would make it easier for me to stay there, but in the end I was recalled by The Salvation Army to the United States in 2010.

Germany has a parliamentarian system. Whichever party (or coalition of parties) controls the legislative branch, that party also controls the executive branch. Traditionally in the past there were 2 main parties in Germany:  the CDU/CSU (Christian Democrats/Christian Socialists), which is the politically conservative party and the SPD (Social Democrats), which is the politically liberal party. There are also several other smaller parties, including the Green Party, the FDP (similar to Libertarians), and several more smaller ones. In the past, the SPD would form a coalition with the Greens and the CDU would form a coalition with the FDP. Whichever parties won the most votes would form a coalition government. The coalition parties had to have enough seats to form a majority. That coalition government would then elect the chancellor.

Something strange happened in 2005. There were not enough votes for any of the major parties to form a clear majority. No one could form a coalition government on the basis of their ideology. It was a stalemate. So something very unusual happened:  Both major parties (the CDU and the SPD) got together and decided to form a Grand Coalition. Angela Merkel from the CDU was elected the first woman chancellor and Franz Münterfering of the SPD was her Vice Chancellor. Both parties were forced to work together to make a successful government.

And it worked! It was quite astounding. It wasn't without its problems. Gerhard Schröder, who had been the last chancellor, refused to work with the new government and resigned. It also had an unusual side effect. When the next elections came along, neither party could accuse the other party of doing a bad job with the government since both of them worked together. As a foreigner observing from the outside, it was quite amusing for me.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul was encouraging his readers to work together. First, he reminded them that their whole body should be a living sacrifice for God. This terminology might seem strange to us. Paul wasn't saying that there should be human sacrifices. For the ancients, when something was sacrificed, it was dedicated to the gods (or in this case, to God). It was set apart only for God and to be used by God. This is what Paul was suggesting. Our lives should be dedicated to God, belonging to him.

However, this shouldn't make our head big.

One of my biggest concerns lately is the division I have been seeing within the Church and especially my own denomination, The Salvation Army. There are those of us in our denomination who are quite conservative, both theologically as well as politically. This tends to be the norm in the United States, but is not so in other countries.

You might be aware that I was recently terminated as an officer in The Salvation Army. One of the reasons given for my termination (and a reason why I may never be an officer in The Salvation Army again) was that our Officer Review Board felt that my personal theology was no longer compatible with Salvation Army doctrine. I was not told this prior to their deliberations or that this was even a factor in discussing my termination. Nor was I told how my theology differed from Salvation Army doctrine (which it doesn't, at least in my own personal estimation).

One of my biggest concerns as a Salvation Army officer was that I was not permitted the latitude to discuss new theologies or to even question strongly held beliefs. Since I did question them (and there was no forum to do so in any other way), I was terminated. My worst fears had come true.

It was as if the Body of Christ were saying to itself, "I don't need this part of my body anymore. I'm going to cut it off." (Don't worry. I'm not going to insert a graphic of that type of image!)

We tend to do that all too readily in the Church. When we disagree, we'd rather part ways than try to live with each other as siblings in Christ. We have not learned the discipline of living together in the Body of Christ. When we see the differences in the way we worship, the way we talk, the way we act, we tend to throw accusations at each other. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that when we do see these differences, we don't see the other person as part of the Body of Christ. We see others in the Body of Christ as cancer that needs to be surgically removed before it metastasizes.

I realize that I am just as guilty as my more conservative friends in wishing to part ways. It is more difficult to stay and work out the differences. I am willing to step up to that challenge. I was pleasantly surprised by many conservative friends who took it upon themselves to show me love when I was hurting. That not only comforted me; it also challenged my preconceived notions. I loved that.

One day I do envision a Salvation Army that is opening and welcome to all. I see a Salvation Army that doesn't categorize different theologies as disloyalty. I envision a Salvation Army that allows for differences of opinion, which realizes that we are all a part of the Body of Christ, needing each other to serve God as we serve humanity.

I found this beautiful statement from Saint Teresa of Avila:

May it be so with us.

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