Leukemia in the Body of Christ

I apparently stopped being notified by email of comments on this blog. I had a couple that sat for a few days before being approved. Sorry.

This is an email I wrote to someone. This is now in the “thinking out loud” stage. I’ve been through the “thinking quietly and talking only to close friends” stage for over a year. So this is the best stage to jump all over me if you’re offended by this, even though I’ve thought about it a while. At the moment, I’m still holding it before God, but I’m confident enough to say this out where anyone can hear it.

This is directed at professed Christians:

Leukemia in the Body of Christ

I had leukemia last year. Chemo, radiation, and a stem cell transplant have put it into remission, hopefully permanently. Leukemia, however, painted a really clear picture for me of a problem in the body of Christ.

Leukemia is a cancer. All it takes is for one cell to go bad, then survive. That one blood cell does not finish its development. It gets stuck along the way as an “adolescent,” not grown into it’s proper role. It then reproduces and reproduces.

It reproduces and reproduces, always clones of itself, and it and its clones do not know how to die. All our other cells are programmed to die when they are not functioning correctly or when they are overcrowded. Not cancer cells. They just keep multiplying until they crowd out all the other cells.

In other words, these cloned cells stop all the blood cells from doing their job, and they don’t fulfill their own role, either.

The church is like that today, and the leukemia cells are pastors.

Yeah, I really said that.

They have multiplied out of control, and they don’t know how to stop. They don’t quit, even if they are not doing the job God made them for, and even if their work is actually damaging to the church.

Leukemia cells crowd out other cells by sheer number. Pastors crowd out other gifts by the role they play rather than by numbers. Rather than training the saints so that the saints do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12), they try to do it all themselves. The body of Christ is reduced to one big mouth with no other parts functioning.

That’s an exaggeration, but the picture is correct.

Worse, the pastors are not fulfilling their Scriptural function, but a new, false (cancerous) function. Some are evangelists, evangelizing the supposed church, preaching salvation messages to the same crowd every week.

Actually, they preach soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, confusing it for the Gospel. I thought I wrote a recent post on this, but I guess I didn’t. I did write a booklet on it. I’ll condense it and make it a post in the next few days.

Some are trying to do the work of shepherding, but most know little to nothing about real church life and the need for and power of unity. In fact, most vastly underestimate the importance of obedience to Christ understanding neither salvation nor grace nor the judgment.

Since they are qualified in the wrong way—by theological training at a seminary, college, or Bible school rather than by established character lived out before the church throughout their lives—it is no surprise that they function in the wrong way, teaching Christians to pursue the wrong goals.

Not everywhere is like that. There are exceptions. House churches are multiplying. Unique expressions of modern church arise more quickly than ever.

Nonetheless, the primary model of Christianity being displayed in the western world—and in the third world, for that matter, where we’ve transported our cancer—is a pastor-centered model that cannot be found in the Scriptures. In it the church is a building, and the center of church life is not the unity and love of the saints, but a couple meetings held at the church (meaning the building) every week, where a song leader, a group of money collectors, and a pastor are the only members functioning.

Leukemia. The body of Christ has leukemia, and the leukemic cells are pastors.

The cancer has not completely taken over, but it is very, very advanced. Kudos to the many who are fighting against it, but I hope you are going to step back and let God create the new blood system rather than building a new cancer into the work you are doing.

Treating Leukemia

What the hospital did for me when I had leukemia was destroy my entire blood system so that it could be built over again from scratch.


I had acute leukemia, though. Acute leukemia advances so aggressively that the patient usually has only weeks to live once it is diagnosed. My leukemia was found about six weeks before I would have died.

Chronic leukemia moves slower. Doctors don’t treat chronic leukemia like acute leukemia. Destroying a blood system and starting over kills a lot of patients.

If you have Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), about 75% of patients either can’t get or don’t survive the treatment.

What I had was worse, but the treatment was the same as the strongest AML regimen available.

From a nurse: “Wow. This is a big dose! Are they really giving you eight of those?”

Me: “Uh, no. They’re giving me twelve.”

The nurse left the room without comment.

Since patients can survive chronic leukemia for a long time, it’s better to give those patients safer treatment. Most chronic leukemia sufferers stay on a single pill dose of chemotherapy all their lives, and they’re never quite completely healthy and sometimes very, very sick.

I’m not going to explain that illustration. I’m just going back to thinking about it. I just wanted to let you chew on it with me.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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2 Responses to Leukemia in the Body of Christ

  1. paulfpavao says:

    I’ve written about this before. I am not sure if I shared it publicly. Leukemia consists of clones. One cell develops wrong, and if it loses the ability to die for the benefit of the body, look out! That cell multiplies and multiplies, each one refusing to die–something normally programmed into our cells–and the cell and its clones crowd out all the healthy, useful blood cells. The body dies.

    How much like the modern role of pastor is that? We start churches by buying a building and hiring a pastor–probably one who has no idea that he has been encouraged to do without a salary because giving is better than receiving (Acts 20:35). Every church has one, and generally he does all or most of the work that is supposed to be done by “every one of you.”

    The pastor role is clearly a mutant. The early churches had multiple pastors, all from the congregation and lifelong members of it, chosen for their godly lives, godly family, and godly example. No schools. No traveling. Even in AD 325, at the Council of Nicea, the church still forbad moving from one church to another for elders (Canon 15, see http://www.christian-history.org/council-of-nicea-canons.html).

    Using the leukemia model, when the healthy cells stop functioning because they are replaced by the proliferation of mutants, the body dies.

    I think the allegory cannot be missed.

  2. Evan says:

    Perhaps this might be an apt analogy comparing the chronic leukemia patient and the “health” of the church body penned by Rustry Entrekin paraphrasing our modern way of meeting together compared to the NT standard – citing 1 Cor 14:26-40:
    How is it then, brethren? When ye come together, the pastor hath a doctrine, and the minister of music hath psalms. Let all things be done unto edifying.
    If anyone besides the pastor hath a doctrine, let him not speak; let him hold his peace. Let him sit in the pew, and face the back of the neck of the person which sitteth ahead of him.
    Let the people keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith church tradition. But if they will learn anything, let them ask their pastor after the service, for it is a shame for a layman to speak in the church. For the pastor, he hath a seminary degree, and the layman, he hath not so lofty a degree.
    If any man desire to remain a church member in good standing, let him acknowledge that what I write to you is the command of the denominational headquarters. But if any man ignore this, he shall be promptly escorted out the door by the ushers.
    Wherefore brothers, covet not to speak in the church. Let all things be done decently and in the order in which it hath been written in the church bulletin.

    And we often wonder why the church is weak and the health of the church body is not edified and strengthened – much like the chronic leukemia sufferer.

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