A Church without the Disabled Is a Disabled Church

One of my deepest concerns about the state of the church today is the absence of a truly authentic ecclesiology. In our love affair with Madison Avenue marketing and consumer-driven pragmatism we have failed to follow the New Testament’s example of the organic life of the church. Contrary to the culture of Evangelicalism, the church is not an organization. It is an organism. It is a living entity. It is not merely like a body, but it is a body—a body that simply cannot function authentically, to its fullest God-intended potential—without the presence of both weak and strong members.

But this way of thinking is contrary to ‘normal’ patterns and, sadly, is also contrary to the way most churches function. Yet 1 Corinthians 12:22 could not be more clear, “On the contrary [to thinking that only the strong are important] it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.” These Holy-Spirit-inspired words of the apostle have for too long been neglected. According to Scripture, it is essential to the church’s health and faithfulness to the gospel that we intentionally reach out to the physically and mentally disabled with God’s saving truth and, for those who repent and believe in Christ, to include them in the functional life of the church.

For this reason, I am thrilled that the Evangelical church appears to have begun to grasp the significance of God’s love and concern for the disabled. For too long, the faithful ministry of Joni and Friends has sounded like a lone voice in the wilderness. But other torches are being lit! More books are being written and more ministries are being raised up.

Last Thursday, it was a great delight to attend Desiring God’s “The Works of God” conference. For almost two years I have anticipated this conference, having first heard of it while yet in its dream stage. I was not in the very least disappointed! It was a feast of biblical thinking and passionate, tender affection for God’s good design for disability. In the days and weeks ahead, I will link you to audio and video resources that are being worked on at this time. I also encourage you to subscribe to The Works of God blog.

For now, let me pass along a challenging quotation from a new book that I received at the conference. Though I have only read Part 1, thus far Michael Beates’ Disability and the Gospel is very refreshing.

And just as culture works hard to bury the reality of our sin and mortality, so too often does the church. While we confess our belief in salvation by grace, we all get properly dressed and work quite hard to appear clean, healthy, and whole (too often for all the wrong reasons). True spirituality does not project an image of superiority or power or ‘togetherness.’ Rather, true spirituality is quite ordinary and transparent in its shortcomings and weaknesses. The Lord Jesus, in his humanity, was quite ordinary and even weak. Like all of us, he was ordinarily weak as an infant in the manger and extraordinarily weak and vulnerable on the cross.

The absence of people with disabilities in the church indicates that the church has not yet grasped deeply enough the essence of the gospel; and conversely, God’s people have drunk too deeply from the well of cultural ideology with regard to wholeness and brokenness. If people with disabilities are not welcomed by the church, much less aggressively pursued by the church, it may be because, like the world around us, we would rather think we are on the way to recovery, that we are strong in Christ and healthy. We would rather not be bothered by the care that those who live with brokenness require. We don’t wish to be reminded by their very presence how much like them we really are.

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