One of the best things that could happen to the rank-and-file churchgoing Christian is to get a better sense of the bigness of the Body of Christ. The Church is bigger than your church. The kingdom is bigger than your denomination. God’s people are all over the world, united by a shared love for Jesus and confession of his lordship.
Encountering the Body of Christ
Encountering the bigness of the Body is something I saw happen to my parents as I was growing up. I started out in an independent fundamentalist church and Christian school. I learned a lot of Bible there. I heard a lot of fiery preaching. The people loved Jesus, and they loved me. I’m grateful for them.
Still, the impression you’d get from the preaching and teaching in that church was that the Body of Christ is small. Nearly everyone else was compromised in some way, including the Baptists of a different variety down the street. Compromised because of contemporary worship. Compromised because of the Bible translations they might use. Compromised because of their views of the end times. Compromised because of their dress code.
When I was in elementary school, my dad got involved in local politics, and he encountered Christians from across the city who worshiped in different churches, yet he found them to be enthralled with Jesus Christ. We visited different types of churches during that time, getting a taste for the variety in our city, from the charismatics who all prayed at the same time to the historic black church downtown to the orderly beauty of the more liturgical traditions. When my parents began visiting a Southern Baptist church plant (which we eventually joined), they’d already realized something: the Body is bigger than we thought.
Fast forward a few years, and my father and I went on a mission trip to Romania, where we worshiped with believers who had just come out of the grip of Communist dictatorship. Even across the language barrier, the different worship style, and the cultural norms in cities and villages, we recognized the Body is bigger than we thought.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting multiple countries, benefiting from the wisdom of believers in Canada, the U.K., Eastern Europe. A few years ago, my wife and I traveled to South Korea to help launch The Gospel Project there. In just a few days, I’ll be headed to Oxford and Yorkshire. In teaching courses on ministry and mission over the years, I’m often searching for insight from books and leaders from the Global South. I’m constantly wowed by the bigness of the Body of Christ.
Why We Need the Global Church
Why do we need to recover a sense of the bigness of the Body? Three reasons.
First, so we won’t fall prey to thinking all the issues and controversies facing a sliver of churches in one country or region are definitive for all the world. It’s easy to castigate believers who differ on various issues if you’re consumed by whatever gets the most attention in one slice of time and place. A sense of the bigness of the Body helps you put squabbles in perspective.
Second, recognizing the bigness of the Body helps us understand where the essential boundaries are, and it ties us to a creedal core. Often in the West, people assume bucking the Church’s teaching on a fundamental doctrine makes us “broader” or “bigger” than the Church. The truth is the reverse. When you move away from scriptural teaching on a particular topic, it is you who’s resisting the bigness and broadness of the Church’s global witness. To reject a key Christian doctrine in the name of “broadness” is to confine yourself to the narrowness of schism. Those who move away from what churches all over the globe have always and everywhere confessed don’t grow bigger; they shrink into slivers and splinters.
Third, recognizing the bigness of the Body keeps us from thinking we alone are faithful. There’s an ironic kind of pride that forms when we convince ourselves we’re the last ones. The bigness of the Body reminds us we’re not alone. Not when we look at the church through the ages. Not when we look at the church around the world. No matter what may happen to the church in one era or one country, there’s an indissoluble bond between faithful Christians of all ages and places. The global church helps us guard against the idea that “we alone are left.”
Common Confession of Christ
In The Thrill of Orthodoxy, I put it this way: “The beating heart of orthodoxy is not a personal adventure of self-discovery, a patching together of our preferred versions of the Christian faith. It’s the connection to saints in various cultures and climates, with different languages and traditions, all united by a common confession in Jesus Christ, the king.”
Yes, Christians have divided into various traditions and denominations, but despite the outward differences, every true believer in Christ is connected by “mystic sweet communion” to all the Christians who have gone before and to all true Christians around the world today. The beating heart of orthodoxy joins us to confessors across space and time. We say, “I believe,” and we know we share a commonality with millions of people who have found the same treasure, who recite the same words, who believe the same concepts and trust the same Savior. The Body is big.
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