Read 1 Corinthians 12
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
It was October 31, 1517 a German Augustinian monk marched toward the door of All Saints’ church in Wittenberg, Germany. In his hand he held a finely crafted document, inked in Latin, that outlined grievances he had with a certain practice with the church. It was on the eve of All Saint’s Day, and on the door of All Saints’ Church that this monk nailed that document to the door with the hope that it would spark a debate among church leaders within the Roman Catholic Church, and with the ultimate hope that it would spark the church to be more responsible in it’s practices and more faithful to the Scripture on which those practices are based.
Yet, instead of a debate, Martin Luther inadvertantly started a war, for the “95 Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulences” was not just challenging of theology, but also of Ecclesiastical and Papal power. While Luther was simply trying to look after the Spiritual well-fare of the church and its flock, Pope Leo X was trying to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and took Luther’s challenge as a threat to both his authority and his legacy in building such a magnificient structure to house the body of the Apostle Peter. Leo was not going to allow an upstart, German monk stand between him and that legacy and thus, according to some accounts, Pope Leo X told his officials that “Luther is a drunken German. He will feel different when he is sober.” In two sentences, the Pope had ordered Luther to be tried and, if he did not recant, be excommunicated and executed as a heretic.
I would like to say that from that point on the Protestant church went on to model what it means to put Scripture over ecclesiastical hierarchy and structure; however, that is not the case either. While Luther tried to responsibly interpret and live by Scripture, and while he tried to provide a Scriptural model for the church, it still became about hierarchy, doctrine, power and structure. Others, beside Luther, rose up to found church communities and their authority over them. King Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church only to turn around and make himself the “Supreme Head of the Church.” John Calvin founded his reformed church in Geneva, Switzerland and went on to rule that church with an iron fist, even to the point of having those who were viewed as threats executed (e.g. Michael Servetus).
How did Christianity end up so far removed from its founder? How did the church (Greek: ἐκκλησία or ekklēsia) go from community of mutual love and sharing to an institution of power, authority and corruption? Many today, when they hear the word “church”, think of the organization, of the institution, and of a place of worship. Many are disillusioned by the tainted, complex and often hypocritical history of the church and many have turned away because of it.
I would love to say that I don’t have that view of the church, but even I find myself sitting under the shadow of the steeple. Even I find myself within the hierarchical structure of the institution and/or organization. Also, to be quite honest, even the earliest church had some structure and some hierarchy. Those things are not inherently bad and are needed in order for people to feel a sense of belonging, purpose, and place. There will always be the people who are called to lead and those who follow their leadership.
The truth be told, we are all both followers and leaders in our own right. That was the initial understanding of the church and it is the understanding we need to revert back to, if at all possible. Let us not be a people who seek the organization, but a people who are vital organs within a living organism. Ekklesia is not an organization; rather, it is the very living, resurrected body of Christ. Christ died for all and gives grace to all who receive it. Those who receive it are called to do the same in mutual love and mutual care. Organizations breed competition for power and authority; on the other hand, organisms thrive on unity and working in unison, with no one more important than the next regardless of their role. This is what it means to be the church.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one…” – Jesus of Nazareth (John 17:20-21a)
Lord, I am a part of the living, resurrected body of Christ. Use me in a way that promotes unity, grace, love, and acceptance. Amen.