In critique of “being the hands and feet of Christ”

Posted on July 14, 2010 by juliereishus

I wanna be Your hands
I wanna be Your feet
I’ll go where You send me
I’ll go where You send me
I’ll be Your hands
I’ll be Your feet
I’ll go where You send me
I’ll go where You send me
And I try, yeah I try
To touch the world like You touched my life
An I’ll find my way
To be Your hands

–Audio Adrenaline, Hands and Feet

I hear the phrase, “being Christ’s hands and feet” a lot. I imagine you do too. I hear it at church, when I talk with my friends, and in popular Christian music. I read it in books and on blogs, and I’ve used it myself. I feel like today the idea of being Christ’s hands and feet in the world is very trendy, especially for the social justice-conscious crowd. The context I see it show up most in is in relation to serving those who are poor and needy.

In their book Exploring Ecclesiology, authors Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger write, “Just as God ministers in the world through his two hands – the Son and the Spirit – we are his hands and feet through our union with Christ in the power of the Spirit. As the body of Christ, the church…goes out to the world, serving as Christ’s hands and feet” (246). As right as this sounds, I would press the authors, and anyone else who ascribes to this belief, to be a little more critical of it and cautious about what this metaphor might mean.

I believe the idea of being Jesus to others, of being his hands and feet, is problematic. It’s problematic because in truth, we are not. We are not Jesus to those who are poor. In a sense those who are poor are Christ to us; they are people who are hungry and displaced and oppressed who we must love. Jesus said whenever we serve the least of the members of his family we serve him, not that we are him when we serve.

By claiming to be the hands and feet of Christ we can edge into the dangerous territory of placing ourselves on the center stage and claiming we have Jesus’ redemptive power. It can tempt us into thinking the church will only survive through our efforts and if we are faithful. It can give us the impression that human deeds could take the place of God’s action. Instead we have to realize that we are not necessary for the salvation of the world, though we are called.

At the same time as I express this caution, I wonder at how my concern squares with the notion that we are the body of Christ – with Christ as the head and specific body parts ascribed to us – found in Scripture. Ephesians 1:22-23 says, “And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all,” and Romans 12:4-5 reads “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.”

Maybe the point here is on our inter-connectedness, and how as the people of God we rely on one another to be whole, rather than on us being Christ to others. I continue to think through this, and hope you will too.

Julie Reishus

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