I'm wary of the Bible. When you've been clobbered with something for most of your life, it's only natural to mistrust it. I've been able to revisit the Bible, in part, by focusing on the major themes of love, justice, and the Kingdom of God. For example, I was always taught that Ephesians 6:12 was a verse about spiritual warfare.
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
One could perhaps interpret the last part of the verse as battling against spiritual forces, but what about the majority of the
verse? The more obvious interpretation is that those who follow Jesus are battling against the kingdoms of this world. These kingdoms are the systems that
exalt one group of people over another: patriarchy, racism, homophobia, etc. We don't battle against flesh and blood; we call out oppressive systems because
in the end, these systems oppress us all, even the ones that benefit from the hierarchy.
There is talk that the church is dying; perhaps the reason it is dying is because the church is concerned with inconsequential minutia instead of the
business of kingdom building (and oppression-smashing).
The author of Ephesians implores the chruch to put on the “full armor of God” in order to be able to wage this battle successfully. Besides the armor of God,
there are three other helpful Biblical metaphors regarding Kingdom building: the body of Christ, the gifts of the Spirit, and the fruits of
When I think of the body of Christ, I think of the church doing the work of Christ here on earth. In order to do that, the church needs workers with a
variety of skills. And voilà, we are given these skills via Spirit gifts. But what gifts do we see being used? Here's what I've been seeing:
Speaking truth to power
Walking alongside those who are oppressed
Bringing awareness and knowledge, both generalized and highly-specific
Healing those who are oppressed; helping oppressors stop the cycle of oppression
Speaking and demonstrating unpopular truths both inside and outside the church
Bringing other people along who are stuck in the cycle of oppression
Some of these gifts overlap. Many people have more than just one gift. Also, although these gifts are not in opposition to each other, they can often feel
that way. For example, someone who is a bridge builder may see an activist as being too forceful or strident. The activist may see the bridge builder as
compromising. That's really OK. They don't have to be best friends. However, both are missing an opportunity for growth and connection if they despise the
other (iron sharpens iron).
How can we tell, then, if someone's actions are "of the Spirit"? I believe one way we can tell by using the fruits of the Spirit metaphor: love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Of course, the "fruits of the Spirit" concept has been used as severe behavior
modification by those in power and authority. For example, I always mistook kindness for niceness. Being kind doesn't always mean being nice.
I realize that my view of the body of Christ is probably more like a body part of Christ, like the elbow or the chin. My thinking of God and the body of
Christ tends to be too small. What other gifts do you see on display in the church? Also, how do you tell the difference between mere disagreement with a
fellow Jesus-follower and disagreement with a "false teacher" (see Matthew 7)?