The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Holistic Christianity: one body, many parts

HeartPuzzleNorwich social worker and writer Ben Bell looks beyond our manmade church structures and contemplates what it means to stand in the gap and be one body with many parts.

It’s been on my mind a lot, the scripture in the New Testament about Christ’s body being one body with many parts.  
There is more to it than there being the church in the world, with its own body and its own parts, prophets, apostles, teachers etc.  I don’t believe that when God looks at the world, he looks at the church, and then the world, as separate entities.  No, he sees the whole lot. So when I think of one body, many parts, I think of Christians, philosophers, artists, mechanics, flower arrangers…
The Christian makes friends with the flower arranger and the two learn about each other; not that one is a Christian and one is a flower arranger, but that one is a philosopher in their spare time, and the other fixes cars. Because it’s not about converting people to your way of ‘doing God’, it’s about peeling back layers (our own as well as others) and getting closer and closer – but never there – to the origins, the ideals, the Holy of Holies, God, or whatever your individual, un-bullied, un-cloned, un-narrow, un-religious experience of God is.
In the caring professions within which I work, there is a catchword buzzing about of late: ‘holistic’ and it essentially means one body, many parts. This is the only way we can progress from the narrow image so many quite rightly and inevitably have of us as Christians.
The church as a manmade construct, an institution, cannot help but have within it some manmade traits; our fallenness. Hierarchy – sing in the choir, do some preaching, get ordinated. This is the same pattern as any institution - get promoted to a higher position, senior worker, manager... What’s wrong with it? Maybe nothing, it is simply how life goes in a capitalist/evolutionary society. The lust for power is always the hidden danger, the antithesis of equality.
But ultimately, communication is the issue – those at the top in danger of not hearing the voice of those at the bottom, or, from a radical (Christian) position, vice versa, i.e. we see the human behind the hierarchical position. The hierarchy becomes a series of barriers.  In the ideal church representing Christ, this doesn’t happen; there are no barriers, all are equal, the body. But churches of course aren’t ideal.
I feel we must acknowledge, at all levels and all stages of our growth in the Spirit, that we can easily fall into these traps, because we are human. Christ was made fully human, but he wasn’t a Christian. This is important – always be aware that your title does not define you. God’s people are the hidden ones. Right up in your head-heart, your chrysalis of becoming, the light in the cave, this is where He does the best work.  The cloud of unknowing, and suchlike.  Internal.  Expressed on the outside, like a shell of light, body armour.  Invisible.
The other thing on my mind: standing in the gap. Moses standing in the gap. The gap of our dissatisfaction, our separation from people we shouldn’t be separate from, the gap of our disappointment and not overcoming it. Always in the gap stand in. Between the preacher and their crowd. The crowd and the exit door. The exit door and the world. Chip away at the tensions, the barriers. Wipe them clean with your smile (or tears) that shines with hope above the world. Has to be. Moses did it, now it’s our turn.  And it’s all there is.
I personally think too many Christians can over-emotionalise and humanise God – I understand the Father connotation, but this is in danger of turning him into a narrow concept: religion, churchianity, which is the antithesis of seeing or thinking outside the box, or of being one body with many parts.

Ben Bell works as a social worker and writes fiction that covers themes of faith, conflict and personal journey.  He attends St Stephens Church, Norwich.  His latest book, ‘Bookcase’, by Ben Bell is available via online retailers.

The views carried here are those of the author, not of Network Norwich and Norfolk, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users. 
We welcome your thoughts and comments, posted below, upon the ideas expressed here. 

Click here to read our forum and comment posting guidelines

To submit a story or to publicise an event please email: web@networknorwich.co.uk