Can you imagine how it would be if one day your leg was to decide to walk in a different direction than the one you were going? I'm not talking about slipping on the ice, although that may be as close as this happens in real life. I'm talking about a willful decision by your leg to go its own way. Of course, such does not happen with the human body. But it does sometimes happen with the body of Christ.
Paul likens a congregation to a human body in I Corinthians 12. There are many different parts to a body, and they all have different functions. But those different functions working together allow the body to do things that otherwise would be impossible. An outfielder in baseball can see a ball coming, run over to where it is coming down, catch it, and throw it back to the infield, all in a few seconds. This would not be possible without coordination. In the same way, a congregation can have a meaningful worship service, an evangelistic outreach into the community, a benevolence program to help the poor, and a hospital visitation program to visit the sick all at the same time. Many people can do together what would be impossible for one person.
But a problem happens when individuals within the body start to do their own thing without consideration for others in the body. Because a congregation is composed of many different individuals, each with a separate will, it is possible to have people wanting to go in different directions. Sometimes this happens in the human body; we just stand still trying to decide which way to go. But with the human body, once the decision is made, the whole body goes together.
If a church is to function as a body, and all work together in a coordinated way, each individual must consider the desires of the others as well as his or her own. Sometimes people must give in and not get their way. Sometimes there must be compromise about what to do. But when people start saying, "If I don't get my way, I'm going to leave this congregation," that church is bound for disaster.
Individuals may differ about many subjects. Some will like the new songs; others will like the old. Some will like to sing the songs in the songbooks; others will prefer to view them using an overhead projector or just sing them from memory. Some will like the way one preacher delivers his sermons; others will prefer someone else's messages. Some will prefer meeting in a large assembly; others will prefer small groups. None of these things have to do with the core message of Jesus Christ. All have to do with our preferences. The problems happen when we forget about other people's desires and demand that ours alone be met.
We must consider the good of the whole body when coming to a decision. In the minor things listed above, there is usually room for compromise; sometimes the church will do one thing and sometimes another. But the church must work in concert. When a few people go off to do their own thing without consulting the others, trouble is sure to happen. On a few things, the body cannot go both ways. On these occasions, someone will have to yield.
Yet, this is not without precedence in scripture. We must treat others like we would want to be treated ourselves (Matt. 7:12). We must put up with one another and forgive one another when things do not go our way (Col. 3:13). And always we must do the thing that is best for the whole body. As Paul wrote in Romans 14:19, "Let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."
Copyright © 1993, Bruce Terry. All rights reserved. This article may be freely reprinted in bulletins and newsletters so long as no charge is made to the reader and this copyright notice is included.