Be Free?

     There is a painting of a feather graffitied on the underside of an overpass. There is nothing particularly special about it. It is just a normal feather that might have floated from any normal bird. Underneath, though, is the message, “Be Free!” At first glance this seems like a neat message. One could imagine a feather stuck to a bird longing for a life of freedom, unattached to the drudgery and monotony of being stuck like every other member of the plumage. In a way, this graffiti captures how we often feel. Yet, there’s a problem with the message.

     What happens to a feather when it has become “free” from the body of the bird. Does it get to live a happy life doing what it wants to do? No. In reality, when a feather is detached, it loses everything and gains nothing. Consider:

  • A detached feather loses nourishment. It no longer has nutrients flowing to make it healthy.
  • A detached feather loses control. Freedom from the bird does not mean a feather can go where it wants. A “free” feather can only go where the wind blows it. It has no control over its path.
  • A detached feather loses its purpose. Connected to the bird, it has a job…a reason for existence. Disconnected, it is just there, serving no real purpose.

     The Bible teaches us that following Jesus means having true freedom. Yet, a popular idea today is the idea that someone can be spiritual while being separated from “organized religion.” Often this is phrased as “I have Jesus, but I don’t need the church” or some other version. They believe themselves to be “free” from a binding institution. On a level this could be an understandable sentiment that sounds appealing to many. There have been plenty of unfortunate interactions with congregations that leave a sour taste in some believers’ mouths. (Though I believe they are more of an exception than the rule.)  The problem is that such a position is the spiritual equivalent to a feather wanting to be “free” from the bird.  The Bible also describes the relation between Jesus and his church as that of a Head (Christ) and the body (the church) [see Col 1:24; Eph 5:23; 1 Cor 12:12-31].

     To be connected to Christ automatically creates an essential connection to the church. Thus, for someone to say they want Jesus, but they do not want the body can have some really significant spiritual ramifications. They lose everything and gain nothing.

  • A detached Christian loses nourishment. The body is where most of our feeding and refreshment comes as we gather to worship/serve our Savior.
  • A detached Christian loses control. The body is where Jesus gives us a sense of direction in life. The relationships with other believers anchored in the word of God help us know how to navigate this life. Disconnected from the body of Christ means we are being blown about by the winds of the world instead of being truly guided by Christ.
  • A detached Christian loses purpose. Being part of the body is where we find and use our spiritual gifts for God (see 1 Cor. 12). Without that connection we have no lasting purpose in life other than to do what feels good. Christ and his church give us lasting meaning that carries through our lives. 

     The idea of freedom is one we do cherish and desire. However, true freedom does not mean we become disconnected from the entity that gives us life to begin with. A feather without a bird is not free. It is lost. A Christian without Christ’s body is not free. They are wandering. Therefore, let us make sure we stay connected to Christ by also being connected to his body.