Rhode Island: The Canary in the Mine of the American Church?

So, here’s a question the unchurched public must ask themselves: “Can the church of Jesus Christ walk and chew gum at the same time?”

I imagine that’s the discussion around Rhode Island dinner tables lately

as those who represent the church take stands on whether or not Christians should concern themselves with issues such as what the governor calls a Christmas tree or whether one atheist can demand a prayer mural be removed from the wall of a public school

or if we should all be so busy caring for the poor that we don’t have time to weigh in on such debates.

Whew, right?

Here’s the thing.

The human body is an AMAZING concert of art, science, machinery, and mystery.

Right now, my hands are typing, my heart is beating, the nerves in my left leg are telling my brain that it needs more blood, my lungs are taking in air, I assume my kidneys are doing their job so I’ll have to take a break soon, and my mind is both composing this blog post and watching a John Cusack movie!

God designed it this way, in part, to clue in the church that if we respect one another as separate parts but work in cooperation, we can be the same source of awe, wonder, inspiration, and accomplishment as a genius Olympian up for the Nobel peace prize.

Well, that’s my paraphrase.

Paul said it like this:

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Romans 12: 3-6a


“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” I Corinthians 12:24b-26

So, maybe I’m naïve or idealistic or, you know, someone who takes God at His word, but I believe that many hands can minister to the poor (and should), while others can make an impact on the representation of Christ in culture, and still others can care for those within the body of Christ who need guidance or correction.

WE can do many things.

IF, we don’t screw it up.

In my twenties, I suffered from an illness called systemic lupus (I’ve since been healed by the power of Jesus Christ). It’s called an auto-immune disease because the body system designed to fight disease begins, instead, to destroy healthy tissue.

In other words, the body attacks itself.

As a result, I was lethargic, lacking strength, racked with pain, and often unable to accomplish my daily tasks, let alone concern myself with helping others. Sound like the church on a good day?

There are times when what other believers say in public really annoys me.

I want to pretend I don’t know them. That maybe they’re “not really legitimate members of the family to which I belong.” And some aren’t but many are and they just have a different perspective on the world than I do. I need to remember that and be careful not to attack my own body simply because, as a cell in the liver, I don’t completely understand you, who are bones in the foot.

Should the church care for the poor – yes! Should we be active in representing Christ in our culture? In the marketplace – yes! Should we be devote to prayer, to worship, to evangelism, to sacrificial giving, and to building up other Christians? Yes, yes, yes. But not ONE of us can do it all and even different local congregations are called to different ministries and different expressions of faith.

If you don’t live in Rhode Island, you should still pay attention to what goes on here. We’re like the canary in the mine of the modern American church. When you stop hearing our voice, take heed.

We’re weak. So weak, we’ve been declared an unreached people group in old New England. I visited all the churches in my area this summer and most congregations were fewer than forty people on a Sunday morning. Only two of the thirteen I visited had any teens or twenty-somethings in attendance. It felt as though they were all gasping for air.

But we are not without hope because the church is a living organism that runs on Jesus Christ, not a human institution that relies on membership drives.

I think one way to work together is to pray for those who have a different perspective and to listen to what God says about them before judging. If someone is called to a different ministry, unless it’s clearly unbiblical, we should thank God for their work and keep our hand at ours (and we should all be at something that builds the kingdom, yes?).

Pray for the church in Rhode Island. We are small but we are not insignificant. We are the canary God has placed in the mine of the American church. We’re still singing – for now.

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1 Comment

    The Conversation

  1. Joe Crowley says:

    We need to speak sometime, Sis!