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One plus one = three: An image of church

If you have been in the church for any amount of time, you have probably heard Romans 12:2 during a graduation, confirmation, or maybe when a pastor or another member of the staff is joining your church or moving on. It reads:

Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature.

Romans 12:2 CEB

I like the first part of that verse a lot. Back in the day, when I was asked for a life verse, this was it. There is something to be said for not conforming to the patterns of those around us and living life differently because of our faith.

But then there’s that other part about figuring out God’s will. We (or maybe it’s just me) often read that verse as if it is all about me as an individual. We think it says, “you can figure out what God’s will is for your life.” But it doesn’t. Look again.

In the original language, the you is plural. Figuring out God’s will is not an individual quest, but a group project. It’s not, “so that you, Joe, can figure out what God’s will is.” A much more accurate rendering might be, “so that y’all can figure out what God’s will is…”

All y’all

I’ve often fantasized about a Bible translation that has an easy way of identifying when you is plural. Y’all. You guys. Yinz. All y’all. I don’t really care. We just need to recover this sense that we are not on our own.

The whole thing about your own, personal Jesus (thank you Depeche Mode and Johnny Cash), encourages us to be in relationship with Jesus, but we are meant to live it out in community.

In other words, church isn’t simply a place we go to fill up our individual tanks. Instead, it is where believers encourage one another in our spiritual journeys, and pool our gifts, abilities, and resources to love and serve our neighbors better—to figure out God’s will, “what is good and pleasing and mature,” and live that out.

In the very next verse, Paul makes that clear when he uses the image of a body to explain how we have been designed for one another. When we put our gifts together, he tells us, we can be more than we are on our own (Romans 12).

Instead of a body, we might talk today about a team, the cast of a television show, a highly functioning work environment, or maybe a band.

1+1=3

In his Broadway show, musician and amateur theologian Bruce Springsteen describes the elements of a great rock and roll band.

“They come together in a whole that is greater than the sum of their parts. They may not be the best players, that’s not necessary. They need to be the right players.

And when they play together, there is a communion of souls and a natural brotherhood and sisterhood that manifests itself, and a quest has begun. You’re in search of something. An adventure is undertaken…

In a real band, the principles of math get stood on their head and one plus one equals three… That’s when your life changes. You see everything new. These are days when you are visited by visions, when the world around you brings down the spirit and you feel blessed to be alive.

It is the essential equation of love… It is the essential equation of art. It is the essential equation of rock & roll. It’s the reason the universe will never be fully comprehensible. It’s the reason “Louie, Louie” will never be fully comprehensible. It’s the reason true rock and roll and true rock and roll bands will never die.”

Transcription and emphasis by me

I think that is a 21st century version (20th at least) of what Paul is going for. The church is a rock & roll band—a group of players, a communion of souls, brothers and sisters on a quest, a journey, together.

When Paul writes those words about figuring out God’s will—what is good, pleasing and mature—he’s not talking to me, Joe. It’s not about my life-plan.

He’s talking to us, church.

This is our quest.

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