A few weeks ago a thoughtful friend told me about a revelation he had. It seems that he had translated certain cultural instincts from his childhood into the church, unwittingly. He was getting some wit about that. (Gimme a church wit’ wit). Whenever there was a person who was doing something “wrong,” his first instinct was to “shun” them. He avoided them. He certainly did not talk to them about what they were doing wrong. He kept them on the outside of his life. They became somewhat invisible.
This did not work for much good, of course, since he still felt bad/mad/sad about the problem and the person he shunned did not get whatever benefit he might bring to their struggle. It was something about God getting right into the middle of the human mess as Jesus and dying for people while they were still sinners that finally dawned on him. “So this passive-aggressive thing we do where we never say anything directly and surround offending people (essentially everyone) with unspoken (constant) disapproval is not particularly Christian?” No, it isn’t.
The way the body of Christ works is exactly the opposite of shunning, at least as a first response. The body of Christ works like a human body. When there is an infection the white corpuscles in the blood stream multiply and rush to the area of disease or wound. They don’t shun it. You can see their spent residue in the white ooze that surrounds the boo boo on your finger. In the church, people who become aware of some sin, or disaster of judgment, or lack of reconciliation, or of anything that might weaken or, if left unattended, kill the body, turn toward the person and the infection and surround it with love, truth and attention until it gets better. Shunning the infectious person would only make them more powerfully infectious and might be as good as telling them to go to hell. The church is in the healing business.
In the physical blood stream there are a lot more red blood cells than white corpuscles. The life delivered by the red cells far outweighs the need for infection control by the white. The life of the body of Christ is the best antidote to the death that threatens it. But we do have some built-in defense systems. Like white corpuscles in the blood, the infection fighters in the body of Christ increase in the day of trouble. On a normal day, there are relatively fewer people with the awareness of what could kill us moving through our body. If they are wise, they only worry us with their worries when it is necessary. Most of the time, they trust the life of Christ to overcome its opponents. Pray for them. They are an important minority. Watch for them to instinctively go about their business. When you see them caring, join them. They lead us to turn toward the trouble.
I’ve been watching this life-giving process happen in healthy bodies over the years and watching it not happen in dying bodies. It isn’t that easy to kill a church, but it can be done. When a simple cut is left to gangrene poison can take over the whole group. That is rare, though. More often, like a physical body, the church will work to naturally cleanse itself. I have warned people from time to time that they should stop being infectious, since the body will eventually, without even thinking about it too much, treat them like a sliver until they pop out. As a pastor, I feel responsible to be among the white corpuscles. But my goal is rarely just to pop someone out. Jesus redeems “slivers” all the time. I usually feel even more responsible to those who are unwittingly in danger of losing the connections they cherish or missing the experience of growth they long for because they have become an infection. It often pains me to bring it up, since I have some avoidance mechanisms that encourage me to shun people…but then I remember Jesus turning toward me.