State of the Church: El Cuerpo de Cristo

The following post is a continuation of what will be an ongoing series, "The State of the Church," where we look at issues relevant to the current state of the body of Christ. Through these posts, we hope to bring to light issues of both encouragement and criticism which we feel deserve more attention.

I landed early this morning at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, returning from a short trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. This was the second consecutive year that I traveled to the "Paris of South America" to visit and help support La Misión Iglesia, a partner of my home church in Memphis. La Misión is located in Bajo Flores, a diverse district of Buenos Aires, and birthplace of the newest pope of the Catholic Church. Flores is the home of both middle-class citizens as well as some of the most materially poor in the country. One of only a few evangelical churches in the city, La Misión leads ministries in the district that seek to transform the community and alleviate poverty through the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had the opportunity of spending the week with members of this church, standing alongside them in their ministry to the city and gaining a perspective of the issues that face the Church in South America, and specifically Argentina. I would like to use this post to discuss several items which are relevant to the Church, the Body of Christ, El Cuerpo de Cristo. If you would like more details, please email us at our Contact Email and request to receive a more specific follow-up of the trip.

1. The Body of Christ Transcends Cultural Boundaries

The most encouraging take-away from this trip was that the Church transcends national and cultural boundaries. This could not have been better exemplified than by how we interacted with our fellow Christians in Buenos Aires. A powerful instance of this came during a sharing time at a small group from the church that I was blessed to be able to attend. This specific group is usually all women, but the woman who hosted it asked that our group send a couple men as well, because her husband and sons expressed interest in "meeting the Americans." After several minutes in her humble home, we learned that her husband could not be there and her sons were sick with a fever. Looking around at the faces of a dozen older women, I remember thinking "what am I doing here?" The question was quickly put out of my mind when they requested that our group share testimonies of how we had become Christians. A friend of mine from the States began to hesitantly explain how she had fallen into a lifestyle that included sins which she was so ashamed of that she believed she could not be forgiven. As she continued to explain how God had changed her heart and showed her that she was forgiven, she started to cry enough that it was hard for her to continue. The Argentine woman sitting next to her immediately embraced and began to comfort her, affirming in Spanish how glad God was that she had turned to Him and repented of her past. The sympathetic look in this woman's eyes, and the soft tone in her voice were indicative that she understood what my friend had gone through; she really knew what it was like to experience God's forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen-- two women from two different countries, who had grown up in two different cultures and spoke two entirely different languages were able to embrace one another and cry tears of joy as they celebrated the saving work of the gospel in their lives. I don't know of anything else that could have confirmed to me how much it means to be a part of the Body of Christ; despite cultural, national, lingual or even socio-economic differences, there is only one body of Christ. Yet these differences really give one a new perspective on that Body, and consequently on God Himself. It is tough for me to really articulate the way which this interaction has changed my understanding of God, because I have not had a lot of time to process it yet, but I know that it has.

2. The Gospel Message Is True

A mere ten minutes after my American friend had shared her testimony, as described above, an Argentine girl shared a testimony which had some similarities. In her early teenage years, she began to experiment with drugs and alcohol. As she fell deeper into the lifestyle, she started to experience an emptiness and severe depression that effectively debilitated her. A downward cycle emerged where she would feel guilty and unworthy of love, which would cause her to cut herself as "punishment," which in turn made her feel even more worthless. One day, as she was contemplating suicide, which she often did during those days, she remembered a Christian song she had heard a long time ago and forgotten until then-- "Creeré," which translates in English to "I Will Believe." This ended up being a turning point where, inspired by the thought that God had put the song into her head at that time, she began to seek out other Christians, go to church and learn about the Bible. Upon learning about the saving work of Jesus Christ's death on the cross, and the empowerment he offers through his resurrection, she decided to become a follower of Christ. Now, years later, she is able to look back on her darkest moments and see how God has brought her away from them.

Hearing her testimony that night gave me confirmation that the revelation I have read in the Bible is true. We are a broken and sinful people and the things that the world offers-- drugs, alcohol, sex, violence, etc-- will only make us feel empty. But the message of the cross is the power of God; knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we can be made new creations through faith in God's offer of salvation brings freedom and joy regardless of our circumstances. This is just as true in Argentina as it is in the United States or the Near East in the time of the early Church.

3. The Kingdom of God Needs to Held Above the Kingdoms of Men

Another interesting facet of the trip was that we were exposed to both ends of the socio-economic spectrum in Argentina. While we spent most of our time in Bajo Flores, we were also able to spend a night in Palermo, one of the more upscale and wealthy districts in the city. La Misión is in the process of planting a church in this area of town which is home to the fewest Christians in the city, described to us as a spiritual black hole. We spent a few hours on this night at a small group in a cafe in Palermo. We started the night with introductions, and then a time for open discussion and questions. I was momentarily surprised when an Argentine girl, close to my age, asked in a contentious manner: "What are you doing here? Is it for charity? Are you here to save the poor Argentines?" (Of course, this is a condensed paraphrase because she was speaking Spanish much faster than I could keep up with and much of it had to be translated).  I was immediately reminded of an ongoing theme in a book I recently finished, When Helping Hurts. The book discusses how poverty is a lot more than lack of material goods, but rather a broken view of one of four roles that God ordained at Creation: one's relationship with God, one's relationship with others, one's relationship with creation, and one's view of self. Oftentimes, the good intentions of wanting to help someone can actually make things worse by exasperating those broken views. An honest attempt to help someone can quickly turn into a giver-receiver relationship which can amplify an unhealthy feeling of worthlessness by the receiver and an unhealthy "God Complex" of the giver. In addition, we should never seek to do anything for someone that they can do for themselves. If they can't do it for themselves, then those in their immediate family have a responsibility to do it for them (1 Tim 5:8). If their immediate family is not able to do it for them, then their local church should do it. If we attempt to do something apart from these people, we are undermining their God-given role as providers for themselves, their family and others in their direct path.

I bring up this book because I think it helped me to see this girl's perspective.  How must it look for a group to come to one's country from the outside in an attempt to "fix things?"  Well, you've done a great job of screwing things up, but don't worry-- we've got it from here!  This perceived attitude, whether real or not (and I would hasten to say that it was not in our case), has the result of causing tension between those even within the Body of Christ.  This girl calls herself a Christian, and yet apparently has difficulty trusting us and other North American Christians. Regardless of the causes, this is not a good thing for the Church.  I was  glad to have discussed this subject ahead of the trip in order that we might be cognizant of our motives and sensitive to the way others perceived those motives.  The leader of our trip responded to the girl by explaining that our reason for visiting the country was to engage another part of the Body of Christ, and by doing so, gain a better perspective of the character of God. 1 Corinthians 12 says that through Christ we are one body with many members, each with a specific role. One part of the body is necessary for hearing, another for seeing, another for touching, and still one more for smelling. If the body were composed of all hands, all eyes, all ears or all noses, it would be incomplete and incapable of fully experiencing the world around it. In the same way, the Body of Christ has many diverse members which allow it to experience the character of God in different ways. The fact is, our group leader told this girl, that we need her and she needs us.  We were there to work alongside our Argentine brothers and sisters to support and encourage them, while they did the same for us. The girl thanked us for our response, and I later heard that she may have felt bad for her assumptions. My prayer is that this discussion has helped break down a wall that exists between Christians from Argentina and Christians from the United States. Our citizenship within the Kingdom of God should be infinitely more important than our citizenship within a physical country. We as Christians need to continue to grapple with how we are going about missions that reach across national, cultural and socio-economic boundaries that is constructive as opposed to destructive. We need to build up the body of Christ instead of tearing it down.


The letter I sent out asking for prayer on this trip expressed that my hope was for our group, and the Argentine church, to be mutually encouraged and edified by one another. I am pleased to say that God answered my prayer for this in a very direct and real way. After one of the encounters explained above, an older women expressed how glad she was to spend time with us. She specifically said that she had grown from our time together and that she felt that it was "mutually encouraging." These were her direct words! She later said that she thinks our group "left an aroma" in their church that would continue to bless them even after we left. I can confidently say that their church had the same effect on us. I am so thankful to God for answering my prayer in this respect.

There are two specific points about the body of Christ throughout the world with which I would like to conclude this post. The first is that the Church is alive and well in Argentina and other parts of the world, and for this we can praise God. I have no doubt that John's prophetic words in the Book of Revelation will come true:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, Salvation belongs to our God who sits on our throne, and to the Lamb! (Rev 7:9-10)
This does not mean that our work is done-- less than 20% of the population of Buenos Aires are practicing Christians, and this number is much lower in certain other parts of the world. But the Church is there in the midst of that and we are hopeful that God's Kingdom will spread through it.

The second, and last point, is that we as Christians must be increasingly sensitive to both our own intentions, and the perceptions of others as we do missions, especially when crossing national, cultural and socio-economic boundaries. We must have the humble attitude that we have as much to gain from our brothers and sisters in different situations as we have to give. Through this, we can hope to build up the Church instead of tearing it down.
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  1. Although it's only tangentially related, is liberation theology as big in South America as it is usually made out to be? I'm not sure whether you had the chance to notice as much or not.

  2. It's tough to say for a couple reasons:

    1) The circles I spent time with there were not the types who would preach that sort of theology. Most of the people I was with were Reformed Evangelicals.

    2) Frankly, there aren't many Christians in Buenos Aires to begin with. While >80% would call themselves Catholic, though fewer than 20% are actually practicing. So I don't even think many people there would know what liberation theology is.

    But my hunch is that it isn't as big of a deal as it was at one time.

  3. Excellent post, Austin. Before you even mentioned mutual edification I was thinking of Paul's words in Romans 1:11-12
    "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine."
    Here's to looking to be blessed by the Body, whatever it's outward appearance.

  4. Thank you for this illuminating post Austin. Think locally and acting globally is a tremendous opportunity and challenge for the church. Thank you for your perspective.

    -Fred (JFS)