Do you remember the old children’s song about the skeleton bones?
The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone.
The leg bone’s connected to the knee bone.
The knee bone’s connected to the leg bone.
The neck bone’s connected to the head bone.
(And something about dancing skeletons.)
Well, what happens if the leg bone gets disconnected from the knee bone? (You’ll have to excuse the poor anatomy. I know the knee is a joint, not a bone, but just go with it.) That would be bad for the leg bone. But it would also be bad for the rest of the body, especially the foot bone, because the foot is only connected to the body through the rest of the leg. The different parts of the body need each other. If a particular body part gets disconnected, it will die. And not only that, it will have a negative effect on the rest of the body. A skeleton probably won’t win any dance-offs if it’s missing a leg bone. The different parts of the body need each other.
The same thing is true for the body of Christ—that is, the congregation. We need each other. The first Christian congregation in Jerusalem understood this. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The first and most important thing they devoted themselves to was “the apostles’ teaching.” This teaching is where they found the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of their sins. But they also understood that their life as Christians didn’t end there. Through Baptism they were connected to Christ (Acts 2:41). And if they were connected to Christ, they were also connected to one another.
The analogy of the body is a biblical illustration (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-31), but there is at least one place where the analogy breaks down. In the human body, members are connected to the head through other members of the body. A foot connected directly to the head would look kind of funny. But in the body of Christ, each member is directly connected to Christ (the head) through the Word and the Sacraments. Instead of being connected to Christ through the other members of the body, we are connected to the other members of the body through Christ. (Do you notice the difference?) But there are some instances where one member being cut off practically results in another member being cut off. For example, if parents are cut off from the rest of the body, their children probably will be as well. This is not good.
The common rebuttal is, But you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. Being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. That’s true … sort of. If you choose to sleep in, you don’t cease to be a Christian. And the scientist at the South Pole doesn’t cease to be a Christian just because he doesn’t have a church to go to. But the Word and the Sacraments are the means God uses to create and strengthen faith, and the primary place we get them is at church. When we cut ourselves off from God’s means of grace and the people he has connected us to, we put our souls in danger, and we cause harm to our fellow members. That’s the negative way of stating it.
The positive way is this: God has gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation for you through the Word and Sacraments. The primary place you receive these is in the congregation, where God has also given other members to you as a gift, and you to them. If we had a choice of who we wanted to be connected to (like a fantasy football draft), we might have picked other people. But God, in his wisdom, has assembled his body. If you try to find faults with other members, you will succeed. But if you devote yourself to fellowship with other members, you will find blessings you did not expect.
The peace of Christ be with you all,
Note: This is part two in a four-part series on congregational life. You can find the first part (“The Apostles’ Teaching”) by clicking the red button down there.