What do you hope to accomplish with Being the Body?
If it does nothing else than break Christians free of their dreadful individualism and lets them realize that you cannot be a Christian without being deeply committed to a part of the church, then it will have served a good purpose.
You say that the most profound picture of the church being the body is not in a successful megachurch, but in a gathering of society's losers, namely prisoners. Why is a group of believers behind bars closer to God's vision for Christ's body than a suburban megachurch is?
Because they concentrate on what life is all about. They cannot be taken in by the trivial and the banal, because they have to fight for their faith. It is a matter of life and death inside the prisons, where Christians are often abused and discriminated against. They recognize that they can't survive individually. They can only survive as a community.
We haven't figured that out in the church on the outside. I love to be in prisons because there isn't a person there who is not hungering for truth. The Christian church is the community against which the gates of hell can't prevail, and the people in prison are up against the gates of hell.
You're fervent about the church and yet you've devoted much of the past 30 years to working with parachurch organizations. What is the promise and what is the peril of the vast evangelical network of parachurch organizations?
What we mean by parachurch is that we come alongside the church—the confessing church, the church where the marks of the church are evident in the preaching of the gospel, the sacraments or ordinances, and discipline.
In Prison Fellowship, we've been as scrupulous as we could be in respecting the church. Our job is to equip the church—the local confessing community, the church particular—in its ministry to prisoners, ex-prisoners, and their families. When you think you're doing it on your own, apart from the church, you're being disobedient to Christ's command and to the structure that he has ordained. I think there's a grave danger.
Organizations like World Vision, Prison Fellowship, and Samaritan's Purse are on a mission from the local church. Local church people support it, because we can feed the poor more efficiently through something like World Vision. It is an aid to the principal thrust, which has to belong to the local church.
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