The Body of Christ: Finding Our Purpose
Growing up, I would often take trips to a used book store that was near our church in Winston-Salem called Edward McKay’s. My brother and I both loved to read, and we would often find great deals on books that we could actually afford here. However, the store also had video games, CDs, and DVDs. I would often spend just as much time browsing the DVDs as I would the books, and I picked up quite a few movies that even now in my adulthood, remain guilty pleasures for me. One of those films was the 2004 sci-fi action I, Robot, very loosely based off of the series of short stories by Isaac Asimov.
In the movie, a robot named Sonny has become self-aware and been accused of the murder of his creator. Throughout the film, a large conspiracy unfolds that centers around robots taking over the world (of course, this makes for some great action sequences). However, perhaps the most compelling part of the film comes in the form of Sonny grappling with his own existence. Sonny is trying to find his purpose—something that is surprisingly difficult when you were not organically born and your creator is out of the picture. Sonny knows that he must have a purpose, but he simply can’t figure out what that purpose is. In his first appearance, he asks the protagonist’s “What am I?”
In our day in time, the church’s purpose can feel difficult to get a grasp on. The church sometimes feels aimless; its likely that we have all at some point felt the potential of it’s transcendence, but have also felt how it sometimes feels like nothing more than “a place we go” or a “thing we do”, or, perhaps worse, just another social club.
The unfortunate truth is that the more ingrained the church becomes in a culture, the more it loses its potential transcendence over that culture. In many ways, it becomes subservient to that culture: to that culture’s rules, values, politics, and expressions. We face two difficulties when finding our purpose as the church, and both are, in some ways, centered in noble goals: we conform to aspects of the culture in an attempt to reach the culture. We view ourselves as following in the footsteps of Paul, who became all things to all people in order to win others to Christ, but too often we get lost in the talking points of that culture. And on the other side, there is the temptation to be purely counter-cultural. Whatever fad, trend, or belief is popular in the culture should be opposed, regardless of its actual merits. In this way, we see ourselves living into the reality of the early Christians who existed in a mostly hostile culture. But this approach causes us to lose ourselves in being purely “anti”— we will often fail to see the good in the world if we are only searching for what we oppose in it. This makes us angry, reclusive, and close-minded. And that’s certainly no way to make friends.
The church isn’t supposed to be purely cultural or purely counter-cultural—sometimes, by happenstance, it presents itself in that way. The church is supposed to be transcendent of culture; it is not locked into or out of any one culture, no matter how often we act as though it is. And when we realize that, it is much easier to begin to understand the church’s purpose. Like Sonny, we can feel aimless about what we are supposed to do. In these times when there are so many different expressions of Christianity, where the church is losing its once strongly held societal place, we ask that same question “What am I?” And the answer we hear in our Scripture is that we are the body of Christ. And for the next few weeks, we are going to explore just what that means.