In the 1981 comedy movie "Stripes" John Winger (Bill Murray) and Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) have enlisted in the Army. They and their fellow recruits have started boot camp and are together in the barracks getting to know each other the first evening, with their drill sergeant Sgt. Hulka facilitating the discussion. It’s an interesting group of people. One is clearly not too bright, one says he is there to lose weight, one is clearly mentally ill and proud of it, insisting that everyone call him “Psycho”. Finally it’s John Winger’s turn, and he ends with this:
“I'm gonna go out on a limb here. I'm gonna volunteer my leadership to this platoon. An army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe. And Sergeant Hulka isn't always gonna be there to be that big toe for us. I think that we owe a big round of applause to our newest, bestest buddy, and big toe... Sergeant Hulka.”
“An army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe.” Not the best simile ever (a simile being a comparison using “like” or “as”), but it makes a point—and bizarrely, connects up with the image of the church as a “body”.
There are several Scriptures that use this image. Romans 12:4-5 says “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” The body needs all of its parts that do different things to each work well, so that the body works well as a whole. It’s not accurate to say that one’s foot isn’t part of one’s body, and in the church it is the same way—it’s not accurate to say that someone who is part of the church ISN’T part of the church because that person isn’t the same as another person. We need each other in the church in order to do everything we need to do—everything Jesus calls us to do.
Because the church isn’t something WE created—nor is it ours independently. The passage from Ephesians says point blank that the church is Christ’s body. And the passage from 1 Corinthians 10 gives a sacramental dimension to this (as sacrament being where something “holy” happens, and the presence of Christ is affirmed and experienced) in the experience of Holy Communion: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” We share in the body of Christ, and in so sharing, we ARE the body of Christ. And we become the body of Christ for the world.
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
16 The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.