Body of Christ called to unity, not conformity, peacemakers hear
September 8, 2010
When it comes to translations, much depends on the choices of the translator, said the Rev. Margaret Aymer.
She was speaking at the Peacemaking Seminar, held at New Mexico's Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center Aug. 25-28. During the conference, participants studied Ephesians 4: 1-16 in small groups. Aymer focused on one verse from the passage, which states "But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from who the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love." (Eph 4: 15-16)
Aymer focused on the phrase "knit together," noting that it is strange for Greeks to have thought in the context of knitting. Why not "joined," "tied" or "woven"? Why "knit"?
But maybe the translator did us a favor by choosing to use the word "knit." The body of Christ is like a knit scarf, said Aymer, associate professor of New Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
The passage also mentions ligaments, the strands that hold the body together, just as loops hold knit pieces together.
To be ligaments, we must remember that we're not the whole body — just one strand of it. The body is bigger than the one ligament of our congregation, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) or even the church universal, Aymer said.
If we really understand that we've passed from death to life in baptism, then we understand that our bond to the body of Christ goes back in time and includes everyone that has ever been loved by Jesus, Aymer said.
And although we’re all just one loop in the fabric, each loop bears weight. Knit fabrics have to be cared for, Aymer said. They need to rest, or else the fabric can be stretched too far and tear. When this happens, only the knitter can fix it.
The Ephesians passage also calls believers to "(make) every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph 4: 3)
This charge can seem hard for peacemakers, Aymer said. Peacemakers are always the ones pushing against the system, going the other way. They are the opposable thumbs in the body of Christ.
"Without the pushing, the body cannot grasp the believers' calling," she said.
But Aymer pointed out that unlike woven fabric, which can only be stretched in certain directions, knit fabric is flexible in all directions. We're called to be as the knit fabric. The body often needs to be stretched, even when it doesn't want to.
"We can become larger than our own imaginations and egos and bring peace, even to those who have called our enemy," Aymer said. "Ultimately, we do not shape the fabric — the knitter does."
We can be cleansed and stretched until we are pushed beyond our unwillingness.
And peacemakers can be doubtful about unity, afraid it will lead to conformity. But unity isn't a pledge of allegiance to one policy or one denomination, Aymer said. Ephesians reminds us that there is one body, inspired by one Holy Spirit. Once knitted together, the separate strands become one fabric.
"We're not called to uniformity. We are called to be linked into the body," she said. "We are called to hold on to one another."
Aymer again stated that "knit" isn't a Greek word. But it is a contextual word, she said. Maybe in the future, translations will describe the body of Christ as being "linked" and "networked" instead of "knit." Networking isn't Greek either, but it is contextual.
"Every generation must translate what it means to be a ligament," she said, urging listeners to go down as messengers of peace, "however you translate it."