Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Of blind men, elephants, and the church

This post might offend some of my atheist friends, but I’m going to write it anyway. And it might offend some of my Christian friends even more, but I’m still going to write it anyway. By the time you’ve reached the end, perhaps a few of you out there may have a slightly different perspective on things.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I always say. Actually, I don’t always say that, but I may have said it once or twice.

I’m going to plunge right in.

There is an interesting passage in the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth.

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. 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? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 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.” 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. 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. All of you together are Christ's body, and each of you is a part of it.”

It is clear from the paragraphs just before and just after this paragraph that Paul was talking about spiritual gifts in the church.

These words immediately precede the paragraph:

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.”

And these words immediately follow the paragraph:

“Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages. Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not!”

So it is clear Paul is talking about spiritual gifts in local churches in Chapter 12.

I would like to throw caution to the winds and go off on a tangent and suggest that it might also apply to something else.

I think it describes the entire church in the world at large, the worldwide body of Christ, if you will. (You may say I can’t do that, but I just did.) Go back and re-read that passage about the body and instead of thinking about spiritual gifts and miracles and whatnot, think about the various denominations: Baptists, Church of Christ, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, whatever, as different parts of one body.

Wait a minute, you say, all those churches teach different things and they can’t all be right. At most, one may be right and the rest of them are wrong.


If you think of Baptists as the feet and Methodists as the hands and Roman Catholics as the mouth and Greek Orthodox as the ears and Church of Christ as the nose and so on and so forth, then you might expect the same sort of dysfunctional behavior to be occurring that Paul described. The Baptists would say to the others, “Because you are not a Baptist, you are not part of the body.” And the Roman Catholics would say, “Because you are not Roman Catholic, you are not part of the body.” And the Lutherans and the Church of Christ people would say, well, you know the drill by now.

And that is exactly what happens, plus pentecostals and charismatics receive the left foot of fellowship everywhere (as opposed to the right hand of fellowship extended to new members). But just because someone says something doesn’t make it so. No matter what anyone says, the hand, the ear, the foot, and the eye are all still parts of the body.

Now that you’ve made that leap, read the following poem:

The Blind Men and the Elephant
by John Godfrey Saxe (1816 - 1887)

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!


So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!


  1. oh my how i have failed<><>i won't say all the ways i have failed, but failed i have

  2. Thank you, A Lady's Life and also Putz, for your comments. I don't quite know what to make of yours, Putz, but perhaps you will clarify it for me some day.

  3. as usual the mormonns interpret this scripture differently than you, obviously><<>we feel the church of christ must MUST have prophets who prophicy literally, and if it is missing a part, any part then it doesn.t cut the complete mustard as a church<<<>so i have failed, yes failed to convince anyone anyone of that ,,fact, failed i have to describe the priesthood of our church or our temples patterened after ancient temples and i had 6 years to get it right<><>oh woe is me<><><>now clarified somewhat you my understand my lament anxc this whole area of scriptures describes the character of christ's church<><>oh my i hope all this makes it through comment moderation, and you do not consider me a heritic><><>oh wait you wanted me to speak up my beliefes but that was only in polotics, huh?????????

  4. Which part offended me? It's late, and I'm sick, and I have no idea what you thought would do me in. I would just suggest that you expand your reasoning to include people such as I.

    "...some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary."

    How many Christians consider atheists necessary, yet is it not imaginable that they can learn from us just as they would like to think that we can learn from them? It's simply that there must come a point of being able to see the person behind the words before this learning can take place.

    "oh my how i have failed<><>i won't say all the ways i have failed, but failed i have"

    I'm with Bob in that I hope you will tell us what you're talking about.

  5. "we feel the church of christ must MUST have prophets who prophicy literally, and if it is missing a part, any part then it doesn.t cut the complete mustard as a church"

    If religion were like science, the evidence could be laid on the table, and informed choices made, but since religion is the opposite of science, progress is impossible. Some people believe one thing, other people believe the opposite, and they each claim that they and only they are in harmony with God's thoughts. They call this "faith."

  6. You should be a preacher man! All stand for the Reverend Brague! You said this post might offend "some of my atheist friends" but how can I be offended when there is no "elephant" and never was?
    (P.S. I guess The Lord will veto this comment via Moderation of the Almighty)

  7. Somehow I do not think that Putz will convince Snowbrush or that Snowbrush will convince Putz.

    Yorkshire Pudding, it is useless trying to predict what the Lord will do. Oh, one other thing, there most definitely is an elephant. Those six men of Indostan were not touching empty air. They just didn't get the whole picture.

  8. oh oh yorkshire, what you said, oh my, no elephant, i declaire, oh my oh my

  9. I like the elephant poem – I had read it before and liked it then already and was pleased by a second reading. I also enjoyed the comments you received – they are fun to view. I always enjoy reading people with different views.

  10. I thought it over, and I'm still not offended, but I will definitely keep working on it because it would be tragic to miss out on an occasion for atheist outrage. BTW, you're going a bit between posts here. Are you okay?

  11. P.S. Oh, I know, you're busy at church because of the season. First came the voting season, and now the Xmas season.