Chapter 4 is written by Gerhard Lohfink who is a German Catholic priest and theologian. Lohfink was born in 1934. He has written numerous books in both German and English.
What does it mean to be the Body of Christ in the modern world? After all, unlike the past, religion is absent from most aspects of our daily lives unless we purposely put it there (p 18). Faith in Jesus is the only requirement for becoming a part of the Body of Christ. Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” (NIV). It feels like this message has gotten lost lately.
I once had a pastor say to me that the reason you join a denomination is so that you follow a doctrine that has stood the test of time. The reason you don’t practice faith solely by yourself is so that you check in to make sure that your personal spirituality hasn’t taken a detour and landed you somewhere where you don’t want to be. Spirituality without rules can lead you to follow a “cult of personality” instead of established Christian doctrine.
However, I feel that people are just fine with doing almost anything on their own today. People no longer defer to experts in the field. We saw this in great detail during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Do-it-yourself spirituality is all the rage! Who needs church?
When I first moved to my farm in Iowa in 2007, Wednesday night was “church night.” No school activities and very few sports activities took place on Wednesday night. Sunday morning was for church. No school or sports took place on Sunday. Fast forward just 10 years to 2017. Wednesday night is full of sports and so is Sunday morning. Church can’t compete with sports practices. I once had a conversation with a parent about this. She told me that the coach wouldn’t put their child in the game if they didn’t go to all the practices – including the one on Sunday morning.
So, where does this leave the Body of Christ? It leads me to wonder if these people had actual faith in the first place. Were they just going through the motions of faith (Lohfink 18)?
A recent article making the rounds on social media is entitled “Top Evangelical says churchgoers view Jesus quotes as ‘Liberal Talking Points,’ Warns Christianity is in Crisis.” (Victor Nava, August 9, 2023, various sources). In the article the Sermon on the Mount is preached on by various evangelical pastors only to have their members ask why they were preaching on these “liberal talking points.” When the pastors responded that they were preaching the literal words of Jesus, they were told that these words were “weak” and “didn’t work anymore.”
Russell Moore, the current editor of Christianity Today, who was interviewed for the article, thinks that Christianity is in crisis. He calls for a return to a “first-century understanding of what it means to be the church,” saying, “the very existence of the church is to mean a group of people who are reconciled to God and to each other and from the very beginning was standing apart from those sorts of factions. (Nava)”
Lohfink too calls for a return to the early church. He discusses the house churches from the book of Acts. Telling us that “Accepting faith already means desiring the community of believers. (Lohfink 19)” Our scattered, disjointed way of living today, where you may live alone or very far from your family, in no way resembles the house churches of Acts. Consider the house of Priscilla and Aquilla, who Paul stayed with for 18 months. Their household consisted of their family, servants, slaves, and those who worked with them in their business. Today we do not live in community in the same way. Today we must make a conscious effort to connect with others. We can do that by meeting together in small groups as suggested by Moore or online in groups.
These struggles are all about how we, as the Body of Christ, must grow and change. These changes are not always easy or straightforward. Lohfink tells us that even with all these things going on in the world, the purpose of community is to “make the divine plan visible and to be a place of reconciliation in the world (Lofink 21).” The community, the Body of Christ, is the basis of Christian life. What that community looks like, feels like, and lives like changes but the goal remains the same: to make Christ known to the world, and to be a place of welcome and reconciliation to world.