The church is a body created by the Spirit of God to be a living organism. The Church is fitly framed (Eph. 2:21) together. It is dependent upon both its creator and its several members. It is both dependent and interdependent.
The Church (the body of Christ) is complex. When we examine manmade devices or mechanical contraptions we may say they are complicated but not complex; they don’t have interdependencies. For example, your car does not need to start in order for my car to start. If I hit the light switch, I may expect a predictable response without having to worry about electrical grids in India. In simple jargon, mechanical things are not intrinsically interdependent. But living organisms are intensely complex in that they are highly interdependent. Take ecology for example: when societies decide, say, to eliminate a certain animal or species, they risk interrupting the food chain, thus causing severe consequences. They risk interfering with vital and often unknown interdependencies. (comment inspired by “Antifragile” by Nicholas Taleb)
If I may be blunt, I’m concerned that the church we all deeply cherish will be put at risk by our failure to subscribe to the notion of our complex interdependencies. We may lay out agendas and ideas without wisely considering all the interacting parts, such as: Where does the anointing come from? Or where are the true sources of wisdom and how are they accessed? What role do our elders play? Have their true thoughts been explored on any given subject? What is the resiliency of the superstructure within our system of beliefs such as convictions and commitment? How strong is our passion, or we might say our spiritual bones?
In Indianapolis back in the early sixties, I heard the beloved Bishop Karl F. Smith of Columbus, Ohio speak at a gathering. His subject was “Cause and Effect.” I was deeply impacted by his remarks on the consequences of our interaction with the body of Christ, as were hundreds of others. Many literally knelt on the floor or fell prostrate as he spoke. He prophesied that if the Church ever forgets were we came from, how we were formed, how we are sustained, how we are ‘put together’ (fitly framed), how we need each other, how dependent we are on the blood of Christ and so forth… then we will die a sad death. He preached the conference to its knees. I shall never forget the moment and I will never forget the prophecy.
Here I am writing this article as I tearfully recall the sermon that pierced my heart 52 years ago. Can anyone explain how the inspiration of the spoken word works? How is it that the seed of a thought still lives in me decades beyond the speaker’s death? What role did he play in the process and development of my thoughts and ideas, my life? When the preacher hit on the issues of interdependence and interconnectedness and interaction and inter-responsibility and inter-accountability… how did it get in me so deep and how does it live still? By what sustaining power does it continue to play a part in my life? What if I had missed that service? Or what if that precious sermon had been belittled by my friends and jerked from me, how different would I be? Would I still be in the church? Who can know these things?
Perhaps we should use caution in tampering with our convictions, and with our propensity to use manipulation to achieve our ambitions. We do not know precisely how to prepare for the future. Jesus’ advice was to “take no thought.” ( Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11, Luke 12:22) The Bible, if nothing else, is a treatise on expecting the unexpected, depending on the supernatural, trusting in the unexplainable. The church is a complex organism, so much so that no one of us can design its God-ordained mission. Nor can human wisdom provide the integral needs of the church for the present or for the future.
It’s impossible to chart exactly where our victories come from or every factor of revival. We would first need to ask: Who planted the seed? Whose travailing has prevailed? This is complex indeed. What role does an old Bishop’s hand, laid upon a child at a small camp meeting in North Dakota, play in the future of that child’s life?
Let mothers in Zion arise and instruct. Let the fathers and the bishops stay strong and speak boldly with conviction until the day they die. Let the children sing. What fire might be kindled through a child’s rendition of “Jesus Loves Me?”
Keep generations together. Avoid super-planning. Stop writing formulas for everything. The future is unknown and uncertain. We simply must concede to complexity and interdependence. This is one reason why we need to keep the young and old together, to sing both new songs and old songs, why we need broad participation and simple paths to inclusion of the whole church in ministry. Further, we need sermons that embrace our wholeness and acknowledge our interdependencies. Let us go forward in humility that acknowledges our trust in the non-rational, unfathomable and inexplicable. Little is much, if God is in it.
We are complex… “past finding out”… fitly framed together.