Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
-1 Corinthians 12:15-27 (NIV)
I’ve been playing around recently with a little genealogy research online. I’ve been mostly concentrating on the Odum side of the family so far, and I’ve made a discovery. It’s nothing a real genealogist would sign off on, I’m sure, but the links are there.
A guy they called “Mad Jack” Oldham is probably my 11th great-grandfather.
You know how some families trace their heritage back to the Mayflower, right? Mad Jack — John, to his mother (I imagine) — came to Plymouth Colony only three years later, on board a ship called the Anne, and apparently didn’t like those Mayflower guys. The way they ran Plymouth didn’t much agree with him. According to William Bradford, the leader of the colony, Mad Jack stirred up some dissension. He and some other troublemakers wrote some letters back to England disparaging the Pilgrims (some of which Bradford intercepted), and refused to stand watch when it was his turn. Things apparently came to a head when he pulled a knife on Miles Standish — yep, that Miles Standish — and called him a “beggarly rascal.” I guess that was a bridge too far, because shortly thereafter he was banished from Plymouth Colony.
He did better after that at the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and as a trader as far as Virginia and England. He was overseer of shot and powder at Massachusetts Bay (but not knives!), and was even appointed to the General Court of Massachusetts for a couple of years.
But then he started a war. I mean, it wasn’t totally his fault, but on a trading voyage to Block Island, Rhode Island, he got himself killed by a group of tribesmen, probably Narragansett. They claimed another tribe, the Pequot, were the culprits, which led to hostilities later called The Pequot War between the Pequot and several colonies.
I think my son said it well: “Wow, I’ll try my best to live up his example.”
There are Mad Jacks in every family, aren’t there — family members that sometimes don’t want to consider themselves part of the family, and that we’re tempted to banish? (If you can’t think of any in yours, well, you’re probably it…) What’s true in our own biological families is true of the church as well. Look at history, if you doubt that; it’s full of believers who chafed under the rule of the churches of their time, and full of those who tried to show them the door — and sometimes succeeded. Mad Jacks fill the rolls of church history, pulling metaphorical knives and sometimes driving some of the church’s most complete reforms. But those who opposed them often served the family of God as well, sometimes moderating those reforms and helping the church keep their hold on the ancient truths of the faith. Today we consider the Mad Jacks and the Miles Standishes of church history as part of the same family — even if they didn’t see it that way during their lives.
But you don’t need to look to ancient history to see this. Your church’s own history probably reflects the push and pull between the Mad Jacks and the Miles Standishes. Maybe your church came to exist because a group of Mad Jacks united in their opposition to an existing church decided to strike out on their own. Maybe your church has been marked by the departure of some Mad Jacks. God can and will use even some of those circumstances for good.
But maybe it’s time again for the church to reconsider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians about the church as the body of Christ. He speaks, first, to the Mad Jacks — to those who don’t see how they fit into the local church. They don’t feel appreciated, they don’t feel like their gifts are being used, they just don’t think they belong. They’re thinking about heading for the exits.
If that’s you at the moment, then Paul says to you that your feelings of not belonging don’t mean that you stop belonging. It isn’t always easy to be part of a family. It isn’t always comfortable. There isn’t always agreement. We’re not supposed to all be alike — Paul says God has made the church that way. It may hurt when we find it hard to discover our place in the church, but it doesn’t mean we walk away. It doesn’t mean we’re not an essential part of it.
Paul also speaks to those in the church who adopt a “my way or the highway” philosophy, the Standishes who would banish the Mad Jacks. That usually happens because the ones doing the banishing have a high need for control and a low tolerance for diversity. They want everyone to look, talk, act, pray, sing, and believe the same. They doubt that the church needs such diversity, and they want to cull those who at a particular moment are weaker, less honorable, less “presentable”.
But Paul says we need those “weaker” parts in the church. We need to give special honor to the less honorable and special care to the “unpresentable” parts. The sick, the broken, the divorced, the doctrinally “incorrect”, the powerless, the poor, the maladjusted, the exhausted, the aged, the uneducated — those who in a lot of circles might be considered an embarrassment — should be treated by the church as particularly important. Again, this is because God has put the church together just as he wants us, and he intends that the suffering of the weakest, most dishonorable, and most unpresentable should be the suffering of all of us, and they should be included in the celebration of all the others.
“You are the body of Christ,” he says, “and each of you is a part of it.” We don’t always feel that’s true. We don’t always even want it to be true. But true it is.
May we create in our churches places for the Mad Jacks and the Miles Standishes among us.