If tv is to be believed, it seems there is a pecking order in the Royal Family. My wife and I have been watching the series The Crown and we are up to the point Lady Diana stumbles in on the family and makes a royal mess of it, not knowing whom to curtsy to, in what order, and how to address each. In our home there is only one who goes by “Your Majesty” and that title belongs to a wee dog named “Ruby.” Or so she thinks.
Is there a pecking order in the family we call church? Are some people superior and others inferior? Our answer based on what is ideal may not line up with what people really experience.
Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Corinth, a community in which some people felt superior to the rest based on their expression of spiritual gifts leaving others, of course, to feel inferior.
So what did Paul say?
To the ones feeling inferior he said this:
Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?1 Corinthians 12:14-17 (NLT)
In other words, no matter how inferior you may feel, you belong. Not one of us is inferior. All of us are necessary. In fact it is as ludicrous to think of the Church functioning without you as it is thinking of a body made up of only an eye or ear.
To those feeling superior Paul said this:
Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”1 Corinthians 12:20-24 (NLT)
In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.
In other words, if you belong, so do the others, even those you think are inferior to you in some way. Each person is a unique part of the whole body. So a “pecking order culture” where some may be perceived to be more necessary than others must give way to a culture of mutuality.
This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NLT)
All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.
Do we see a similar propensity for superiority and inferiority today as happened in Corinth in Paul’s day?
Unfortunately we can fall into the same pecking order based on gifts, both those perceived as being spiritual gifts and those perceived to be natural.
Despite Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, some Christians still feel superior, and some still feel inferior based on whether they pray or speak in spiritual tongues. Whether you speak in tongues or not, you belong, you are important.
Some people may be lifted up as superior, perhaps not even by their own choice, by having the “gift of the gab.” Those who are not naturally outgoing and on the quieter side can feel inferior. Whether we are more outgoing, or more reserved, we belong, we are important.
Some people seem to be especially gifted at prayer. Their prayers are so articulate, plus they seem to know exactly what to pray for. Some us think we must sound kinda stupid when we pray. Whether we are articulate or not in our prayers, we belong, we are important, and God hears us.
Some people have the gift of answered prayers. Some of us wonder if God is listening at all. If our prayers seem to go unnoticed, we may feel inferior. Whether our prayers are answered according to our desires or not, we belong, we are important. Prayer is too mysterious to be a sign of the worth of any human being.
Some of us have the gift of not having anything about ourselves that would raise eyebrows. I recently came across the following in a Christian statement of faith: “we oppose any form of gender confusion.” Language is important, and stating it that way can make someone who is confused about their gender feel like they are inferior. Some people experience that confusion for a season, some for a lifetime. Some people have the gift of clarity. Whether we are confused or have clarity, we belong, we are important.
We could go on to many other examples, but in this series I’m calling “What Kind of Church,” let us again turn to a cultural statement of Open Table Communities:
A Culture of MutualityOpen Table Communities
We nurture a culture where everyone is encouraged towards becoming their best selves and offering themselves in service of others. We seek to empower one-another and the communities we participate in, through using our gifts to bless and serve.
A culture of mutuality is very different from a pecking order kind of culture. We each have gifts, not to lift us up higher than others, but to lift others up. We each have gifts, not to serve ourselves, but to use in the service of others.
It is an honour to serve His Majesty, King Jesus, to be in the body, to have gifts to serve and serve alongside so many other gifted people.