Guest Post by Dr. Michael Brothers
As Paul most interestingly puts “We are the Body of Christ”. The question is just like in any biological system, does this actually make sense? Do we observe in our own biological systems anything that resembles this?
Yes we do and we have to look no further than in the mirror. For a healthy individual, it is amazing to observe the similarities between ourselves and the body of Christ.
Let’s focus on the fundamental building block of life, the cell. In the body of Christ, that same building block is a person. The origin of cells is the stem cell, that based off of location, hormones, and the environment matures into a differentiated cell that can perform a singular purpose. That stem cell can become a neuron, directing the activities of others; it can become a muscular cell doing much of the work; it can become a neutrophil and thus act as enforcement agencies to detain and destroy any deviant cells (police) or can clean up the aftermath (custodial staff); it can become part of the dermis and thus protect the Body of Christ from invaders and attackers (military) or can supply nutrients or other essential minerals (cardiovascular or epithelial tissue, gastrointestinal tract, etc.) just like farmers and manufacturers produce our sustenance, while others simply provide the supports and structures that we need to exist as a society (construction). Within these cells exist a variety of organelles that allow the cell to function. Just like in each one of us, we are given kidneys, lungs, etc. to allow our own physiological function.
But we are all given gifts in the beginning of life are we not? Yes! And stem cells in a mature organism are pluripotent, not omnipotent, meaning that certain cells can only evolve to be a selected few number of specialized cells…some cells are destined to become bone, others skin, and yet others cardiac tissue. Not every cell is destined to become a neuron, but a sub-set are, just as not every person is called to the ministry or has the requisite skills, but we are given skills that allow us to perform our duty within the body of Christ. Some are meant to go to the central nervous system and are meant to control the overall function but have no direct contact with the people (i.e. the cells they act upon) while others are receiving orders from above, but are directly influencing the cells that they control (motor neurons, the local priest). The overall consciousness that arises belongs to God, which voluntarily controls the firing of specific sequences to do work. Thus neurons, or church leaders, are but conduit passing along and translating God’s word to the masses of cells that will be performing many of the deeds and using their specialized talents. These must work in harmony…a neuron that is not attached directly to a muscle cannot stimulate contraction just like the world’s best preacher is lost without a congregation to preach to and motivate by preaching the word of God sent from the neural center. The larger the muscle it connects to, the more force it can exert and the more work it can do.
What controls us as our own little cells, as individual blocks in body of Christ? We cannot comprehend the vastness of Christ nor fully comprehend the exact purpose or the exact plan. We just know the information that is encoded within ourselves and the bible (or in a cell’s case the DNA). While the cell itself has a certain degree of consciousness, it can only understand what is going on right around it without being cognizant of the larger picture and react to the stimuli provided by the environment, which it relies upon for survival. Sometimes these stimuli cause patterns of reaction that are not ideal in the grander scheme because of learned behaviors that might have lent themselves to survival previously, but under the wrong circumstance can harm the host, and thus these behaviors must be unlearned to fully function within the Body of Christ. Even those chosen to be neurons in the brain of Christ but form critical synapses, and only the Body of Christ has a true consciousness, just as even as we lose brain cells and remove connections, we do not lose track of who we are or where we have come from…our consciousness is a summation of our body, just as the body of Christ functions as an entity of higher consciousness when we work together. In that way, how Christ can be omnipotent and the knowledge can be much more readily translated. We are but seeing the microscopic details as opposed to the larger picture.
Just as the human body has symbiotic relationships with lesser creatures (bacteria), we have symbiotic relationships and are supported by our pets and livestock, which provide sustenance and nutrients that we could otherwise not obtain. Just like we cannot continue to take antibiotics and destroy our microbial environment and expect to be healthy as we will suffer without the nutrients that they provide, we must shepherd and take care of the animals that have been entrusted to us to help provide us the essential amino acids, soluble iron, and nutrition that our bodies require to function optimally so we can continue to work at our highest level.
Just like the body can occasionally be invaded by viruses or bacteria, the Body of Christ must continue to fend off and ward off attacks from the brokenness that defines our existence on this plane. Areas where disease often times leads to destruction of the neurons and separation from God. When cells are isolated from God, they become dysfunctional, weak, and potentially necrotic as they dye. Cell signaling mechanisms usually cause an entire group of cells to die through an apoptotic cascade when one cell dies; one person deciding to leave the church often cascades and affects all those in the surrounding region. A vibrant cell that survives but is surrounded by death becomes deprived of the sustenance provided from the Body of Christ, causing the cell to reach final equilibrium as it lacks the nutrition to continue to function and produce the necessary fruits. By definition a cell at equilibrium is dead, just as we are when we are choked from the sustenance that is God. Just as cells rely on a continual influx of nutrients, the Body of Christ requires the constant presence of God to continue to function properly and to receive the proper messages and to truly be alive.
What happens though in the case where the cell goes rogue, whether its because it is receiving the wrong signals from the environment (think our brokenness), the environment has irreparably damaged the DNA that encodes us just as ultra-violet rays (the seven deadly sins), or the cell begins to act on its own, growing and dividing on its own time table and no longer taking commands with consideration for others (selfishness)…Cells are constantly bombarded with mutagens that would easily cause deviance from their instructed code without a multitude of repair mechanisms in place, which we can think of as a church community, family, societal norms, and a strong connection with God. When these mechanisms are overwhelmed and fail to counter the mutation of our core being, by definition the cell has mutated from a normal healthy cell into a cancerous cell. Some cancers divide a few times before becoming senescent while others threaten to take over the entire body and must be excised. In a similar fashion, the Body of Christ must be ever watchful to ensure that these cancerous growths are controlled and maintained before they ruin the beauty that is the church.
It is in this way that the Body of Christ goes beyond just a simple name and can be expressed as a beautiful metaphor that gives clues as to how science and church can be integrated in order to highlight the beauty of both, as it can be argued that science is simply looking into the beautiful patterns that God has put on this earth.