Getting along with my body....
As our staff is presently working through the book of Acts, I'm struck once again by the tremendous flexibility of the gospel and the church. It's supple enough to move out from Jerusalem and its original confines within Judaism to embrace Gentiles, morphing ethically on issues such as eating unclean meat, circumcision, and eating meat sacrificed to idols. In other, for the Gentiles, the gospel was able to become Gentile, loosed from the legal codes of Judaism.
Paul had a remarkable capacity to flex with the gospel, moving freely between predominantly Jewish and predominantly Gentile communities, effectively communicating with both because he'd learned to contextual the message.
"Contextualization" though, is two-edged sword. On the one hand, it's marvelous that the gospel is accommodating, allowing for all kinds of cultural expressions. As one reads through the history of the church, however, one finds that the gospel's flexibility means that the status quo of the church's 'leaders' is continually being challenged. When the leaders are challenged to change, or move on their position regarding something (for example, the issue of circumcision, or the issue of women in ministry, or the issue of what style of music constitutes worship, or sexual ethics, or financial ethics, or whether a church member who smokes and has several tatoos can serve on the church board), their response, whether willing or unwilling to embrace the change, will probably be met with some measure of resistance.
When the gatekeepers flow with the voices calling for change, allowing the new ways to take root, some will accuse them of abandoning the one true faith. On the other hand if they resist change, they'll be labeled as stiff necked, proud, self-righteous, legalistic, or some other similarly pejorative title. And the thing is, both the change averse, and the change addicted, have verses to accuse their opposer.
To change or not to change, that is the question. Well, not really. The real question is - will some particular change enable Christ to be seen more clearly in this particular cultural context or not? If I make an absence of tatoos, for example, a criteria for a person's capacity to be a channel of Christ's life, I place a burden on people that God doesn't place on them. Sure, you can find some obscure Levitical text that's allegedly about tatoos, but big deal. Unless you're going to insist on applying the whole Levitical law today (and if you are, get ready to kill your children the next time they talk back to you), your insistence on clear skin is based on your cultural comfort zone more than it's drawn from the Bible.
On the other hand, when a church begins to affirm promiscuity as a lifestyle, it's pretty easy to turn to Jesus' teachings about marriage, one flesh, and the avoidance of fornication, and realize that promiscuity, casual hook-ups, and one night stands have no place among God's people.
But those are the easy ones. What about those instances where good people can make a case for either side of an issue, and do so from the Bible? Well, that's where we need grace, continued dialog, ongoing prayer, and a commitment to the unity of the body. After all, we're trying to make the invisible God visible in our families and churches, and doing this requires, before, after, and in the midst of all else, demonstrable love for one another. Sometimes the arguments about who's right and who's wrong become so loud that all our friends outside the church see when they look at at us is a body at war with itself, which is one of the reasons this book cites for the large departure of 19-35 year olds from the church. While there's much I don't know about what it means to be the church, of this I'm sure: a body at war with itself can never be anything but a gross misrepresentation of Jesus.