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The latest medical research provides a lesson for the church

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By Bill Horner

“ Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

It was hardly a pleasant topic for dinnertime conversation—worms. Parasites, actually. But my daughter’s explanation was so fascinating that I didn’t give the setting a second thought as I listened to her tale and downed my linguini.

Recently I had the privilege of visiting my daughter in Nashville and taking her out to dinner at a local Italian restaurant. Susanna is a nurse. She and I have something in common, IBD, Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Actually my ailment, ulcerative colitis, was cured by ostomy surgery 36 years ago, as I explained in a recent column. Susanna has the even more serious Crohn’s Disease. It is not curable by any means. And a top-notch gastroenterologist in Nashville tells me she came by it honestly. Such autoimmune diseases tend to run in families.

Autoimmune disorders occur when a body’s immune system, instead of attacking harmful bacterial and viral invaders, unleashes its fury against itself. The result is a painful, uncomfortable disease and often a destroyed organ, in this case, the colon.  Susanna takes high-powered infusions of a medication called Remicade, which keeps the worst effects of the disease at bay but does not cure it. Perhaps, though, hope is on the horizon.

Medical researchers have long wondered why third world nations have much lower incidences of IBD than we do in the United States. Someone noticed their problem with parasites and finally made the connection. Apparently the body’s immune system must have something to attack on a regular basis in order to stay properly calibrated.  In such sanitized nations as ours, with parasites largely eradicated from humans, the immune system often becomes erratic and attacks the body itself.

Recently researchers have gone so far as to implant harmless varieties of worms (parasites) into the large intestines of IBD patients in Florida with surprising and promising results. As the immune system turns its attention to these invaders, the colon has a chance to heal. I hope a treatment is not far down the road for Susanna.

But as I pondered this unusual analysis of IBD and its possible treatment, a spiritual parallel became obvious. Our Bible belt Christians and churches seem to be suffering from spiritual autoimmune disease. Never in my life have I observed such disunity and tendency among professed believers in the Lord Jesus Christ to fight each other as I see now. Indeed, the only activity that arouses passions and puts a light in the eyes of many believers is a good church fight. Pastors try to run off troublesome church members; church members try to run off troublesome pastors. And while this tug-of-war ensues, the lost continue to live and die without Christ, and professed Christians often lead lives of quiet desperation.

Why is there so much potential for conflict? Perhaps because our people and churches have, for all practical purposes, given up on fighting the real invader. As Satan stands in the way of our evangelism and discipleship, we retreat into our more self-centered programs and traditions. Then, not openly standing against the devil in our midst, we naturally begin to turn on and bicker with one another, usually over matters petty to God. The body attacks itself for lack of something better to do.

I lived with an autoimmune disease that nearly took my life. My daughter is living with one now that drains her strength and leaves her feeling sick. The hope may lie in turning the immune system back to its proper job, attacking those parasitic invaders. What difference might it make to Campbell County if our churches took this lesson to heart and united against the real enemy?

 “Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken”
(Ecclesiastes 4:11-12).