The Difference between Church as Individual Divers and Church as an Organic Body
The pattern of congregational life established by the beginning of the Middle Ages, in which the laity become passive observers of the redemptive mystery instead of celebrants and participants mutually edifying one another, has resulted in an individualistic spirituality that the church has never quite abandoned.
In this model of the Christian life the individual believer is connected to the source of grace like a diver who draws his air supply from the surface through a hose. He is essentially a self-contained system cut off from the other divers working around him. If their air supply is cut off, this does not damage him nor can he share with them the air that he receives. The situation would be no different if he were working alone a hundred miles away.
Lovelace contrasts this with the body metaphor in the New Testament:
The organic metaphor for the church used by Paul absolutely negates this conception by asserting that grace is conveyed through the body of Christ along horizontal channels as well as through the vertical relationship of each believer to God. No individual, congregation or denomination of Christians is spiritually independent of the others. . . . Therefore, ‘the normal Christian life’ is not simply a function of an individual believer’s relationship to God. If he is isolated from Christians around him who are designed to be part of the system through which he receives grace, or if those Christians are themselves spiritually weak, he cannot be as strong and as filled with the Spirit as he otherwise would be.
—Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979), pp. 167-168.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” . . . If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:21, 26)