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Inessential Organs to the Body of Christ

June 4, 2012

First, I congratulate Sam MB on being the first blogger to use the medical term “hepatization” on a religious blog ever. His topic is a familiar one — the role of diverse elements to make up the Body of Christ (and particular, the Mormon Body of Christ — notwithstanding whatever potential ecumenical  or interfaith implications the discussion could have.) His key point is simple:

I would like to extend slightly Paul’s metaphor. Specifically, I would like to propose that conservators of orthodox belief may function in some respects as the liver of the body of Christ. The liver is absolutely essential. Removal of the entire liver leads to certain death within a matter of hours, as physicians know all too well. The liver detoxifies blood, filters nutrition and bacterial debris from the bowel, produces the proteins our bodies need to form blood clots. Without the liver, the body dies. But the liver on its own is a blob of blood and soft tissue and bile. A liver alone is good for little beyond terrifying children with the threat of eating it fried, on a bed of onions. A body made entirely of liver would be no body at all.

The difficulty, and here the physiological analogy breaks down, is that at times the liver can seem to drive out the other organs from the body. The body may begin to see itself as mainly or exclusively that liver. It has been my impression over the years that certain types of members have left the church body more than others, and some element of those departures is the difficulty they have in seeing a body that could welcome a toe or a lymph node or a coronary artery, when the body has seemed to present itself primarily as a liver.

When a friend leaves the body of the church, I feel (with a mournful tip of the hat to John Donne) a lessening of the “Continent” of humanity, not because the friend is dying or because church membership statistics are of any particular interest to me, but because the church body becomes less with the departure of that member.

This is a nice sentiment, and it works well with other scriptural ideas, such as the idea that different people are given different spiritual gifts and each gift is helpful for the building of the community. One problem, as with a metaphors, is that it breaks down (as Sam admits). Another problem, though, is that it can be used to reach opposite conclusions.

So, let’s recognize that a body made only of liver would be no body at all. Still, there are definitely key lines to draw about who really contributes.

It’s great to be a toe. It’s great for the body to have toes. But you can live without toes. Toes are nice to have, but in no way are they of equal value to livers. And in fact, when the body is threatened, it will (and perhaps rightly so) divert limited resources from non-essential extremities like fingers and toes and divert them to organs like the heart, brain, and liver. If you get frostbitten, you might amputate a foot, but never the liver.

So, that’s just one place to go with that. That’s personally the way I feel when people start talking about spiritual gifts. So, suppose you don’t have the gift to know OR the gift to believe on the word of others…well, there are plenty of other gifts, you might say…but they are all pretty sucky without one or the other of the two beliefs I just mentioned.

Additionally, while Sam describes one particular phenomenon of tissues going wrong, there’s another obvious example disease: cancer. Even once good cells can go apostate. Err, I mean, fail to go apoptotic.

The question then just becomes where to draw the line.

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