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Why the Disparity between the Contemporary Church and the Early Church?

Peter Marshall has described 20th century Christians in the following words. "They are like deep sea divers, encased in suits for many fathoms deep, marching bravely forth to pull plugs out of bathtubs."

Howard Hendricks translates that by saying, "when we read the pages of the New Testament and try to relate what we hear to the contemporary church, we are compelled to conclude that the relationship is sometimes more one of contrast, rather than of comparison." In other words, today's church is not living up to its potential.

 

Why? Why the tremendous disparity between the early church and the contemporary church?

  • We are related to the same Person.
  • We have the same power available.
  • We are called to the same purpose.

Why then are we inconsistent and under-utilized in our present day expression of Christianity? One of the main reasons is we have forgotten the church is the body of Christ. Many of us treat the church like an institution, or an organization, when in fact it is a living organism with a head, skin and bones, fingers and toes, sinews, joints, internal organs—all the parts of one body. Even when we acknowledge the church is Christ's body, we often don't understand the implications or our potential. As Christ's body, we can be strong, serve, love, care; or we can be wounded, lazy, selfish and even war within ourselves. We can become a disturbing element in society; a revolutionary force of people who will turn the world upside down, or we can be a pious, harmless group of religious people.

To operate as we should in the local church, we must have a mindset where each person in the church takes seriously the fact that they are a member of the body of Christ and each one has a critical function to fulfill within the body. It's only then, in cooperation with other members of the body and empowered by the Holy Spirit, that we can continue to participate in the vital ministry of Christ today.

That brings us to the question, "How do we know how we are to function in the church, Christ's body?" The answer is, "Use your gifts and you'll find out." Each person has received gifts from Christ that help them determine how to operate in the body, i.e., what part they are to play. Thus, as each person uses his/her gifts, we begin to see how we all fit together as a living organism. The church also becomes stronger and begins to more effectively serve, love and care.

It's difficult for some to grasp, as many of our gifts and our part in the body are not visible. It's hard to see that by simply doing our part we actually do affect the whole church. One way to enlighten us about our value to the church is to buy one of the computer compact disks like "A.D.A.M. The Inside Story." As we use this software program, we are taken on a simulated journey to the inner parts of the body. There in a very graphic way, we view how intricately the human body is put together and how each function affects the whole. It becomes very obvious that a vessel, a joint, a ligament, an internal organ are all necessary, and without each part functioning the whole body is affected. The body gets sick, its capacity is diminished, it's disabled, it may even shut down other parts when one part is not working.

Sadly in some cases, one nonfunctional part can start a chain reaction that will stop the body from working at all. One little part can contribute to the body's continued strength and growth, or it can undermine the whole.

Are we important to the whole of the body of Christ? Absolutely! Oh sure, we can be surgically isolated or bypassed, but that procedure causes a lot of pain and the end result may still diminish the capacity of the body, or put it into a season of rehabilitation or recovery (Matthew 18:15-20). Can you imagine what Jesus could do through us if we gave Him a healthy body where every part willingly did its work, i.e., where each of us, by His Spirit and grace, did what we were called to do? Hillcrest Chapel would have a grand opportunity to show the world what Jesus is like. We would enable the world to see that Jesus is alive and has loving and wise solutions to life and eternity. We would have the chance to be a revolutionary force to show the watching world how to get rid of their guilt and find meaning and purpose in Jesus. It's our choice!

In summary and with apologies for using mixed metaphors, the question is: will we be deep sea divers, encased in suits for many fathoms deep, marching bravely forth to pull plugs out of bathtubs? Or will we walk forward as a living, loving, fully functioning expression of Christ's body?