The Body of Christ Under the Knife

The surgeon walks into the operating room bustling with activity and in full preparation for another surgery. He double checks to make sure all is in order and prepared, and there before him on the operating table under the bright lights lies a living body; unconscious, but with a beating heart, breathing lungs and an alert immune system. Nutrients are being carried to every cell, and waste products are being collected from each cell to be removed by the kidneys. But the harmonious workings of the body have to some extent been disrupted by a problem. Whether disease has begun to work in a particular organ or some injury or other condition is present, the future life of the whole body faces increasing pain, suffering, reduced functioning, or earlier death unless the threat is removed.
The surgeon takes a final look at the monitors and pictures, makes a few marks on the skin as a guide, picks up his scalpel, and begins the cut. The blade severs with ease the skin cells, and the opened capillaries and veins begin to spill the life blood. Soon the blade begins to sever muscle and other tissues and the body functions are thrown into emergency mode in an attempt to prevent infection and preserve life. The surgeon’s blade has soon opened the body and so disrupted normal functions that the body on its own would quickly succumb, but the surgeon and his team have made provision to take care of breathing, loss of blood and fluid, and the body’s own immune reaction. Every cut and every hour on anesthetic brings further damage and disruption to the body, but also brings the surgeon closer to removing the initial threat.
The church is also a body that is subject to constant attack and threats to its life. Cancerous growths of false doctrine, broken bones of malice and anger toward fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, torn ligaments, malfunctioning organs of dead orthodoxy and ungodly living all disrupt the harmony of the body and at times can develop to the point where the only solution is a sharp blade to divide the flesh and remove the threat. God has such a blade which is never set aside. He may make little cuts each day within the body, but at times it is used for major surgery.
The body of Christ is under the knife every time it gathers for worship and hears the preaching of God’s word. It is true: God’s word is a lamp unto our feet, and it is food for our souls, but it is also “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). The life of the body of Christ is under constant attack as Satan encourages human pride and the growth of false doctrine, anger and bitterness, and the idolatry of putting our hope and trust in the things of this world. The preaching of God’s word cuts into the body to expose sin for what it is, “piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The cutting may temporarily divide and cause pain, but the end result is restored harmony and peace.
The church as the body of Christ experiences the knife of God’s word not only as a local congregation, but also as it is manifest in denominations and federations of churches. There are times when the exposure of a particular sin can cut open an entire congregation or denomination and leave it, as it were, in intensive care for a time and bring years of painful healing. Large sections of the body may even be removed. The world may mock when it sees the church cut up, divided, and bleeding, but God uses his word as a sharp blade to expose sin and error and restore life and fellowship to his bride. The church at last will be brought into heaven battered, bruised, and scarred, but through it all, the wonderful love of God and his healing mercies are made known for all to see.
A surgeon’s work is a relatively short process. In a matter of minutes or a few hours the surgeon has done his work and is stitching and stapling together what he had to cut apart in order to expose the problem and correct it. The body, however, will require months of time to recover from the trauma. For a time, the body may even require help with breathing, and days under the intensive care of nurses and doctors with machines and medicines of support as the massive disruption to life stabilizes to the point where the body can function on its own. The body throws all the resources that it has into healing and is left weak and helpless. The hours of surgery require weeks and months of slow, painful recovery of strength to function as it did before.
When sin and lies are exposed and rooted out with the word of God, the process of mending disrupted relationships requires a great deal of energy and work in the days following. We experience this in our own personal lives, our relationships with family members, and our relationships with fellow members of the body of Christ. As a church denomination, we experienced this when the last tenacious roots of arminianism were exposed in the theology of a conditional covenant, and we have endured a long painful recovery since the surgery of the early 1950s. Some may think the division, pain, and suffering was unnecessary and pointless, but we who enjoy a deeper knowledge of our covenant God know that God sovereignly uses such experiences to bring us closer to him.
It is our nature to avoid problems in the church because we know that the correction and healing can be so painful. But little problems will only grow into bigger problems. We think we know better than to go humbly to God’s word in prayer. We easily deceive ourselves and listen to the lies of Satan so that we imagine all is well. The body may appear to be functioning well, but if it is limping and harboring a condition that will prove deadly with time, what is broken must be mended, and what is diseased must be removed, or the body will die. Only the sharp blade of God’s word will expose it.
God is always ready with the sharp blade of his word, but he also gives us the prescription for general church health. The church established in Corinth lived in a spiritually filthy environment and was very vulnerable to the diseases of division, strife and pride. Yet God was pleased to establish a beautiful church there. When Paul saw the signs of serious trouble in this church, God used him to exercise the blade of God’s word, and also administer the prescription for robust health and prevention of disease: a strong dose of love (I Corinthians 13). He gave a final reminder at the end of this first letter, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity” 16:13-14); and then checked with them again to see to it that this regiment was being followed in his second letter. “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with an holy kiss. All the saints salute you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Corinthians13:11-14).
We know how to maintain healthy spiritual church life, but our sin and folly often bring us to the operating table. Yet, even here God in his wisdom uses the blade of his word to lead us through deep dark valleys of suffering to the higher plateau of richer covenant life and fellowship. An earthly surgeon can only expose and remove corrupt flesh, but God with his word cuts into the soul and spirit to discern even “the thoughts and intents of the heart.” In doing so, he also reveals to us the thoughts and intents of his heart toward us. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11). That end is a relationship of covenant fellowship we only begin to experience on this earth. (I Corinthians 2:9, cf. Isaiah 64:4). Let us willingly and humbly submit to God’s word.