Paul, Epigenetics, and the Body of Christ

These are thoughts and reflections from a recent sermon by Pastor Kerry Bender on 1Corinthians 12:12-31a, preached at Faith Baptist Church, 4350 Russell Ave N, Minneapolis, MN.  To listen to the sermon please visit www.faithmpls.org.  This post originally appeared on Pastor Bendor’s blog here.

Paul’s imagery of the Church being the body of Christ is beautiful.  To an individual from the first century, the body must have been a mysterious collaboration of different parts all working in unison.  Even today with our understanding of science and medicine, the body remains a beautiful mystery; we may have words to describe the process by which our bodies decide which cells will become feet and which will become hands, but that does not make the “miracle” of the body any less mysterious or beautiful.

In 1Corinthians 12:12-31a, Paul is pleading with the church in Corinth to maintain a healthy “body.”  The health of the Body of Christ, according to Paul is maintained by recognizing the necessary balance between unity and diversity.  Like in the human body, there are many parts; each part has a unique and necessary role to play.  So to in the Church, each person has been given gifts to be used to carry out the work of the Church — glorifying God and spreading the Good News.  If all of us were one part, it would be grotesque like a giant eye.  While we are all diverse with unique roles, we are still part of a single body.  If one is dissatisfied or if there is dissension in the Church and one decides to leave the Body of Christ, it is grotesque like a severed limb lying on the street, separated from its body, separated from the mysterious unity, separated from the beauty of the body.  For Paul, therefore, the health and beauty of the church resides in the balance between unity and diversity.  An important lesson for the church.

As I prepared for this sermon, and as I thought about the mystery and the beauty of the body and Paul’s use of it to describe the Church, a message that a colleague and friend, John Van Sloten in Calgary, gave kept coming to mind.  John’s main text for his message was the science of epigenetics, and while I disagree with John concerning the use of any other “text” than scripture as the main text for a Christian sermon, his insights concerning epigenetics are invaluable.  (To read my post explaining my concerns about using other “texts” — like epigenetics or creation — as a primary text for a sermon you can click here).

So what is epigenetics?  Briefly, my understanding is that portions of our DNA code are bundled together and remain unread until such a time as they are needed (In his sermon, John has a researcher from the University of Calgary, Dr. Carlo, explain this in much more detail and this alone makes it well worth listening to the message).  Not only does some of our DNA code lay dormant (the underlying code does not change but simply sits there until needed), this bundling of certain portions of our DNA is passed on to our children.  Dr. Carlo states, “It’s as if our parents gave us the book of life (our genes), but also highlighted the important passages and put a shade over the chapters that they didn’t need (assuming we won’t need them either).”  In other words, our environment and the choices we make in engaging that environment can have an affect on how our DNA is read and even how it is passed on to our children.  Scary, beautiful, and mysterious all at the same time!

Often one hears experts talking about the DNA of organizations — even churches.  This is the reason I kept thinking about John’s message as I prepared for mine.  The choices that we make as the Body of Christ can and will have lasting affects on the progeny of our church.  Our bickering, our dissension, our grand-standing will effect the DNA of our church for years to come.  The health or the unhealth that we live and promote will be highlighted in the DNA that we pass on to the Church we give to our children and our children’s children.  This truth seen in scripture (Exodus 20:4-6) is echoed and illustrated in the science of epigenetics.  It is a word of warning to each of us in the Church.  What kind of encoding are we highlighting and shadowing in the DNA of our church by the choices we make?

As we seek to build the Body of Christ, as we seek church health through recognizing the necessity of diversity with unity, it is not only for our benefit but for the benefit of generations to come.  The reality of this should change how we live, how we interact with our environment and those around us, and in so doing pass on a healthier and stronger Body for generations to come.

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 Articles

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