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It Takes All Kinds of People to Make a Church

by Alex Wilson

When I was a small boy, I read a story about a little girl named Nancy, who didn’t like to brush her teeth. She neglected them so much that one night they decided to run away. When she woke up the next morning, she was shocked to discover she was totally toothless.

She soon found them swimming and washing themselves in the sink. “Oh, pleethe, little teef,” Nancy lisped, “come back where you belong.” But they refused because she never cared for them properly. So she begged and coaxed and promised and cried until finally they felt so sorry for her they decided to go “home,” but only on the condition that she would brush them twice every day without fail.

This story impressed me with the importance of coordination in the body. Real trouble occurs if any part of our body decides to go on strike! But long before Nancy, the apostle Paul made the same point.

Christ is like a single body with its many limbs and organs, which, many as they are, together make up one body. . . . Suppose the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it does belong to the body nonetheless. Suppose the ear were to say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it does still belong to the body. If the body were all eye, how could it hear? If the body were all ear, how could it smell? If the whole were one single organ, there would not be a body at all; in fact, however, there are many different organs, but one body. (1 Cor. 12:12 ff. NEB; emphasis added)

Paul stresses two points here: unity and diversity. He wants us to remember that our diversity springs from unity and that our unity expresses itself in diversity.

Unity

Repeatedly the New Testament proclaims the unity that exists among Christians. We have the same Father, so we are one family. We have the same Savior, so we are one redeemed people with one common salvation. We have the same indwelling Holy Spirit, so we share one new birth and new life. We have the same Bible to follow, the same holiness of conduct to seek, the same enemy to fight, and the same destiny to hope for.

Remember all this. Apply it. Live it out. As the song says, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord . . . and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

Diversity

In spite of our unity, we come from different races, nations, and cultures. We have various temperaments and varying degrees of wealth and education. We have distinct interests and abilities. We come from differing backgrounds and have been taught some-times-conflicting interpretations of Scripture.

Thus we have various strengths and weaknesses. Your eye is good for looking at things but useless for holding a spoon. Your ear is suited for hearing but not for chewing or digesting (If you don’t believe that, try putting your rice into your ear the next time you eat.)

Unity in Diversity: The Apostles

The New Testament gives several striking examples of the rich diversity among Jesus’ earliest followers. Consider the brothers Peter and Andrew. The former was a natural leader, noisy and impulsive, always the center of attention. But Andrew was a follower, quiet and often unnoticed.

Two other apostles show even greater contrast. Matthew had been a tax collector, an agent of the IRS. Tax collectors were hated by the Jews as traitors, because they were willing to milk their countrymen in order to help the Roman Imperialists. When Mark and Luke listed the twelve apostles in their gospels, they omitted any mention of Matthew’s former occupation. Probably they felt, “Why remind our readers of that embarrassing fact? Why stigma-tize our brother?” But Matthew himself mentioned it in the gospel he wrote! He never ceased to be amazed that a social outcast like himself was selected by King Jesus to be not only saved but to be an apostle.

On the other hand, another apostle was Simon the Zealot (or “the Patriot” or “the Nationalist,” as some modern translations put it). The Zealots were the party of Jews who favored armed rebellion against Rome. They opposed paying taxes to the foreign, pagan emperor because that was treason against the Lord, Israel’s true king. A man named Judas had founded the Zealots about twenty-five years before Jesus’ public ministry. The revolution he led was squashed and he himself was killed by the Romans. Yet the movement lived on until A.D.73, when it ended with mass suicides at the Masada fortress.

The zealots were zealous. Today we would call them activists. Their most fanatical members carried daggers hidden under their robes. If a good chance arose to assassinate a Roman soldier or Jewish traitor (such as a tax collector), they might put their daggers to work. These men were the first century’s terrorists!

Before becoming a follower of Jesus, Matthew probably had some choice names for men like Simon: “Dirty rebel! Left-wing extremist! Radical destroyer of peace and order! And who knows–maybe he’s an arsonist or assassin!” And before knowing Jesus, Simon had probably spat with contempt whenever he thought about guys like Matthew: “Double-crosser! Filthy capitalist pig! Stick-in-the-mud reactionary!”

But now, since each of them had been captivated by Jesus and had joined his band of followers, that new loyalty to him replaced and transformed their former loyalties. Imagine the impact this pair would have on an audience in an open-air evangelistic meeting. Some of the hearers might jeer and boo as Matthew gave his testimony, but then listen with astonishment to Simon. Others might react just the opposite, and be turned off by Simon but deeply impressed by Matthew’s witness. But all would sit up and take notice at the sight of an ex-Zealot and an ex-tax collector living together in love.

Antioch’s Team of leaders

The church leaders in Antioch provide another example of unity amid diversity (Acts 13:1). Manaen had grown up in court as a boyhood friend of Herod Antipas. He had been invited to the high society parties given by the Rockefellers and Kennedys of that era. Simeon, “called the Black” (Good News Bible), was almost certainly a black man from Africa (Acts 11:19, 20). Lucius too was from the North African city of Cyrene, hundreds of miles west of Egypt. Barnabas was originally from the island of Cyprus. And Saul had come from Tarsus, north of Antioch, but had gotten his seminary training in Jerusalem under the famous Professor Gamaliel.

What differences! Geographically, they sprang from far-distant regions. Simeon was a black man, creating racial differences. Being an aristocrat, Manaen was distinct socially and economically. Academically, Saul outranked them with a Ph.D. and/or Th.D. Manaen’s political background was with the Herodian-party. Theologically, Saul had been a Pharisee.

Yet despite all their differences, they harmonized in serving Christ and leading his church. What a model for us to follow. We should be seeing the same sort of thing today: modern-day Simons and Matthews, Sauls and Simeons and Manaens, all in coordination under the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Insights from the Fourth Century

A fascinating analogy is found in the writings of Cyril of Jerusalem, a Christian leader during the 300s. He raised the question, “Why did Christ use water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit” (in John 7:37-39, for example)?
Then he answers. First, because water is so important. “Plants and animals need water for their life,” just as we need God’s Spirit. Second, because like the Holy Spirit, “water comes down from heaven, as rain.” And third, because water “comes down in one form [rain], but then works in many different ways.

“One and the same rain falls on the whole world. But then it becomes white in the lily, red in the rose, yellow in the hyacinth. It takes one form in the palm tree, quite another in the vine. In each it is different, although in itself it is always the same. So it is also with the Holy Spirit, who is one and undivided but yet gives himself to each as He will. Although the Holy Spirit is of one kind, He nevertheless produces every variety of virtue. He helps one to speak, gives to another the power to drive out demons, enlightens another to prophesy, bestows on another the gift of interpreting divine Scripture. In one He works in this way, in another in that way, although He Himself remains the same.”

Well said, brother Cyril. As the Holy Spirit is one but delights in variety, so the church is both one and diverse. Because of our oneness, we need each other. An individual Christian neglecting fellowship with other believers is about like an amputated arm–useless. Because of our diversity we need each other. You can do for me what I cannot do for myself, and I can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And this is the way our Father means for it to be. Let’s bloom together as one garden of the Holy Spirit. Let’s work together as one body of Jesus Christ.

Excuse the repetition, but sometimes it helps us remember and apply important lessons. May the Lord impress these truths deeply on our hearts:

Because of our Oneness, we need each other. An individual Christian neglecting fellowship with other believers is about like an amputated arm–useless.

Because of our Diversity we need each other. You can do for me some things I cannot do for myself, and I can do for you some things you cannot do for yourself.




One Response to “It Takes All Kinds of People to Make a Church”

  1. Ray Downen says:

    Jesus wants us to love one another! When we don’t love one another, we are denying that Jesus is really OUR Lord. Alex Wilson says so kindly and correctly.



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Romans 14:8