The Layers Of the Church

No, egg producers, I do not mean those kind of layers. No, builders, I don’t mean the carpet installers. No, hard workers, I do not mean lay-abouts. Here’s what I am referring to:

I recently read an interview that supported my “operating theory”* that there is a core truth called the Gospel that Jesus lived, fulfilled and proclaimed. He calls all to believe and live that gospel and follow him in it. But every culture adds ‘layers’ to that core truth that it confuses with it. That is the kind of layers I mean in my title “The Layers Of The Church.”

When I was but a wee one (before the electronic age) my parents were sold a set of encyclopedias. Any young folks reading this, websearch the word or go to a book museum to see one. It will baffle you to try imagine someone learning from such a primitive technology. Well, in those encyclopedias – bought at great expense and in the interest of not raising ignorant children – there was featured a new technological advancement for the day. There were a few special segments in the books that were made of transparent plastic with colour graphics on them! (no chuckling please, this was as big as a new app is today). Some of these transparent pages were of machines, like cars, where you could lift off the layer of the outer shell, and could see what was under/behind it, and then another to see the engine components. A few dealt with other things in sciences like biology (showing layers of plants), or archeology (cutaways of ancient buildings like pyramids, for instance). But I don’t recall those very clearly. The one that fascinated me as a young boy, for both healthy learning reasons and for healthy-but-stealthy-curiosity-about-the-human-body reasons was the one that had a male and female human body that you could look both at and into, so to speak. The front page was naked people, with their private or sexual parts somewhat obscured, since it was the 50’s. Through the transparent skin page you could see the outlines of things underneath, like veins and muscles and organs, and you could lift that page and see what was directly under the skin, which was veins and arteries, under which you could see a lot of muscle and sinew and ligaments. Next, you could lift the muscle page, and see all the essential organs. And so on until you had just a skeleton.

So the book had a layered human being. Now, I am aware that my comparison between the church and the layered depiction of the human body breaks down. It is not directly comparable to the layers of the church, because with the human body you cannot say “the skeleton, i.e. the starting page, is the “essence” of the human being. In fact you cannot say that about any one of the layered pages and be right, because just the skin, or the circulation system, or the organs, are not the human. Only when all the layers are viewed at once do you have the biological human (which is still not the complete human). The Apostle Paul talks about how the church needs all the body parts active to function well “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” See 1 Cor 12:12-31 for an example of that.

But here’s how I make the question of layers work. The human in the book was 1950’s naked. It had no clothing. If it had clothing, we would be able to recognize what decade the clothing was from, as we would it’s hairstyle and socks and shoes. The church does the same thing. It takes the main thing we are called to be as believers: The body of Christ, and it puts layers on top of that. The layer might mean “unadorned clothing” or even robes, or three piece suits, or shorts and tees. It might mean “hats of a certain style are ok but baseball caps are not” or “long hair for women” or “facial hair as a must (or not) for the men.” It puts musical tastes on that body. We cause the body to “wear” slow contemplative music, or fast vitalizing music, or stringed instrument music, or pipe music. What I want you to see and recognize is how over time the body is completely forgotten, and the cultural pattern of layers that we put on the body becomes everything. EVERYTHING! And issues of music or of our clothing cause us to forget we are the naked body of Christ first and foremost.

So, one of the things I like to do, and will be doing among you, is examining the layers of who we are as church, and trying to see and help you see which layers are traps from a bygone age that have ‘gone out of fashion’ and are no longer useful, like a horse-drawn plow.

That’s my thought for today. I’ll end with a link to the article that got me thinking in this direction, but I need to tell you that the article may be challenging and stretching for you. It is about a Muslim who becomes a follower of Jesus and cannot feel culturally comfortable in the Christian church (because of it’s layers, I believe) and he forms a church of people who operate within the cultural layers of Islam and still follow Jesus as the Messiah, the fulfillment of Islam even. So it may not suit everyone. If you feel really challenged by it, that may be a sign you are trapped in ‘layer’ thinking and have lost track of the body.


* Operating Theory: I live by these theories on many aspects of life, and I stick with one until events and evidence show me it doesn’t fit anymore.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Layers | Pastor Pete's Blog as STM @ Nobleford
    May 06, 2013 @ 19:55:38

  2. Sharon Bolink
    May 29, 2013 @ 21:15:54

    Thank you for posting the Christianity Today article “Insider Movement Islam – Where is Jesus?” I found it very insightful. It reinforces what I learned many years ago before going on the mission field. I plan on passing it along to friends who are working as missionaries in Islamic areas. It is also helpful to me in my multi-cultural environment.


    • pastorpete
      Jun 18, 2013 @ 14:54:14

      You are welcome Sharon.


  3. Faith begins by letting go. | Pastor Pete's Blog as STM @ Nobleford
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 11:05:22

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