COPELAND: A cure for canibalismJesus speaks about the coming of the Holy Spirit

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Galatians 5:13-15 (NASB)
In my denominational tradition fried chicken is a staple at our church fellowships. Having been raised in the deep South there are certain proprieties regarding the consumption of fried chicken. First, the use of a knife and fork to eat chicken is totally inappropriate. Second, all the meat of the chicken is consumed. Small bones are pulled apart and your teeth become fleshing tools until all the meat is gone. After the meat is thoroughly consumed, any gristle or cartilage is chewed off the bone. What is left of properly consumed fried chicken would rival what a school of Amazonian piranha might have accomplished. The chicken is devoured, stripped bare.
The passage above gives a similar picture of what can happen in a church when there is infighting, quarreling, unresolved conflicts, a lack of forgiveness and grace. The words used describe those kinds of negative actions in the body of Christ is the equivalent of devouring each other – cannibalism. Isn’t that a horrible visual, a cannibalistic church? That even exceeds what happens to fried chicken at a church fellowship! Yet, well, cannibalism in our churches happens all too often, it seems. A March 24, 2014 release from Barna Research Group indicates that among the top reasons that eighty percent of Millennials feel that church is irrelevant and thirty-five per cent of Millennials take an anti-church stance are hypocrisy of church members characterized largely by the things described above. We too often are seen as devouring each other in the church and have nearly lost an entire generation from what should be the warmth, love, closeness, and grace of Christian community.
Yet, there is a cure that could and should be administered to defeat cannibalism, our tendency to devour each other, in our churches: through love serve one another. Notice how love and service toward each other are linked together. Have you ever noticed how these are misapplied or only partially applied in the life of a church? People will speak words that say they love the Lord Jesus but act as if others in the church have a dread disease and go out of their way to avoid them, ignore them, or gossip about them, lining up a spiritual cannibal buffet. Then there is the idea of service. Galatians says the object of service is not just the Lord Jesus but pointedly says we are to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. As surely as we serve the Lord, we are to make each other the object of our love and service.
What does it look like when love and service toward compliment each other in the church? We might see people asking questions about each other then following with actions to tend to each other’s needs. We might see people gathered around each other in spontaneous prayer in the hallways and entryways and parking lots of our churches. We might hear laughter, people humming as they enter the worship service, an increased sense of charity and giving, and church lay leaders happily engaged in leadership with positive attitudes.
Perhaps even more importantly, as the Lord’s Holy Spirit attracts pre-Christians to our churches those folks will see groups of happy, loving people living what they say they believe.
If you have been wounded by a church who had more of a ‘devouring’ heart than a ‘devoted’ heart, might I encourage you to prayerfully continue your search. God’s Word knows nothing of disconnected, Lone Ranger, Christians. There are communities of faith that love each other with the same fervor they love the Lord Jesus, and they are waiting to love you, too. Keep praying, keep looking until the Lord confirms that place on your heart.
Instead of ‘serving up’ each other in cannibal style, God’s Word encourages us just to serve each other, in love and honor preferring others over oneself. What a great encouragement that is for many of our churches today.