the church does NOT have a body

I’ve been reflecting further on what I said about Christianity’s opposition to tribalism last week. And I want to offer a corrective for my provocative suggestion that genuine Christian community is incoherent (because it finds its origin and continuity outside itself).

So let me try to recast it. Now I’m thinking that it’s better to say:

The church does NOT have a body.

There. That clears any confusion right up. Doesn’t it?

Well … probably not. At this point something along the following lines may be running through your head: “Dude! What are you smoking? Of course the church has a body — it’s the body of Christ!”

But that’s exactly my point.

The church does not have a body. It is a body. The body of Christ. He’s it’s head. That’s the way the New Testament presents it.

Considered apart from Jesus, we’re a headless cadaver.

Gruesome, right?

Well, the prospect of losing touch with Christ our head is gruesome.

Christ is our life. He gives the church not only its existence but its integrity and direction. We owe him any distinctiveness and power we have.

Surely that’s why we don’t proclaim ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord!

Lest you think I’m getting all hot and bothered over a technicality, let me point out at least one implication of taking this seriously.

The worship debate has flared up again recently (as you can see HERE and HERE). A number of influential Christian leaders are suggesting we shouldn’t refer to the church gathering — or any aspects of what goes on when we’re gathered (e.g., singing) — with ‘worship’ language.

I’ve followed the argument closely (I used to be a strong proponent of it). And I can hardly fault the claim that misapplying worship language and terminology can erode the gospel — leaving us with an impoverished message of connecting with God through particularly intense experiences facilitated by the ‘worship team’.

But I wonder if one of the ways worship language could function when we get together is to focus us on Jesus, the one we adore and from whom our life and fellowship derives.

If ‘worship’ isn’t the right language for this (and it may not be), we badly need to find something that is…


  1. Yes, Tony’s suggestion is perhaps less ironic than he thinks. Which is better? The possibility of misunderstanding, or the complete loss of a (corporate) sense of priesthood before God.
    Which is worse? The possible elevation of a ‘worship leader’, or the loss of worship?
    All these debates from Tony are just a mask. Why not just come out and say the real issue?. “Pentecostals, I hate you”, and “Catholics, I hate you too”. At least then the rest of the church wouldn’t be conned into thinking the word ‘worship’ or ‘priest’ is the issue.
    I stopped reading the Briefing, precisely because the theology is driven by focussing on the errors of others, rather than on the living God. I found if I kept reading it, I slipped into the same pattern

    1. Hi Mike. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to travel with you on your reading of where Tony Payne and the Briefing is coming from.

      I know Tony, and am more inclined (a) to take him at face value when he speaks about trying to be faithful to the Bible’s teaching (even if I’ve sometimes got questions about his arguments), and (b) to think that when he has a problem with either Pentecostal or Roman Catholic teaching and practice, he’ll just come out and say it!

    2. Really? Because we speak of people ‘serving’ at church too, but no one ever kicks up a stink about the cultic implications of this word in the Bible. (along with a host of other ways that we use words slightly differently to the Bible, ‘discipleship’ or ‘gospel’ for example).
      It is perhaps an unfair conclusion, but after years of ‘couldn’t help noticings’, it seems like the real problem is ‘that is what the pentecostals say’.
      On a more material level, I think the turn towards ethics, that claims the ‘all of life’ position, is a good one, except when it starts saying that hearing, prayer, gathering, eating, contemplation, attention and praise aren’t fundamentally ethical acts. Especially gathering.

    3. Hi Mike. I agree that we need to find ways to recapture the ethical significance, goodness and spiritual reality of our church habits of hearing, prayer, gathering, eating, contemplation, attention and praise — and a richer language to do it with. (I loved the way you did this with your youth group, and may just borrow it to talk with our kids!) Hence, my reservations about ditching ‘worship’ talk altogether.

    1. Thanks Andrew! So if I’m following you, it’s as we praise God with our words in our church get-togethers that we’re taught to look away from ourselves and to him (as our head)?

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