The Church As The Body Of Christ ? Which Means What?
The church of the New Testament is in the scriptures referred to under several different designations or appellations one of which is the body of Christ. “And he put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph. 1:22-23 NKJV) “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24 NKJV) Paul says, in speaking to the church (see 1 Cor. 1:2) at Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12:27 NKJV) To those in Rome he says, “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” (Rom. 12:5 NKJV)
The body of Christ, the church, is of course a spiritual body. Peter describes the church as a building but what he says is applicable here for he says, “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house.” (1 Peter 2:5 NKJV) The church is spiritual made up of men and women and boys and girls of accountable age who each in their individual spirits have submitted to Christ in both faith and obedience. “You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:9 NKJV) “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Rom. 8:14 NKJV) “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body (the fleshly physical body we each possess – DS), you will live.” (Rom. 8:13 NKJV) It is thus spiritual beings, having the Spirit of Christ within them, who make up the church, the body of Christ.
In the description the Holy Spirit gives of the church as a spiritual body, the body of Christ, it is compared to a physical body in order to provide us with some lessons of its nature and what it is to be. He (the Holy Spirit) says, speaking through Paul, “for in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Cor. 12:14 NKJV) and then begins discussing the foot, the hand, the ear, the eye, the smelling (the nose) with the idea being that each member of the body has its function to fulfill for the profit of the entire body and that each part of the body, each member, contributes to the well being of the body and is needed. (1 Cor. 12:15-22) With the physical body we readily see this need. Remove any part of the body and to that extent we become handicapped.
This is a lesson the church needs to learn – the value of every single member and the fact they each contribute in one way or another whether we see it or not. Too often the member that has standing is the one with speaking talent, or the one who is a church leader in one capacity or another, or one who is well thought of in the community while the poor widow with but two mites to cast into the collection plate (Luke 21:1-4) is left out of the social interaction of the membership. The church that is what God would have it to be is egalitarian. Too often the church is divided into cliques based on social/economic status or perceived superiority. This is nothing less than shameful and disgusting. It stinks to high heaven. If such behavior cannot be hidden from men how can it be hidden from God?
But the reader should not make more of what I have said than what I stated for I do not mean to imply this is a common practice but if it is found even once it is once too often. Every congregation is different and the whole body of believers should never be judged on the basis of what one might find in a particular location. Do we think it would be fair to judge all of the congregations that belong to Christ based on the church of Sardis as described by Jesus himself in Rev. 3? I think not.
Here is the body of Christ, the church, as God would have it be – “that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12:25-27 NKJV) “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35 NKJV)
The church being what it ought to be starts with each individual being what he ought to be in his relationship both with Christ and with his fellow brethren. We cannot set back as observers and see how it is going and say the church is not what it ought to be in its love for each of its members when we are, as stated, just setting back and watching and not becoming actively involved ourselves.
John says, for example, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17 NKJV) We say that is the church’s duty, the church’s responsibility, to care for the needy. Now be honest, is that what the passage says that it is the church’s obligation? It says it is my obligation if I can help at all to step in and help; the church being what it ought to be as a body begins with me in friendship, in fellowship, in caring, in sharing, in sacrifice, in the depths of love as measured by God’s word. Besides if we do not care about one another who will care about us?
How many bodies does Christ have? That is a foolish question on its face. How many bodies do you have? It makes as much sense to ask one as to ask the other. Besides, even if we were that dull, Paul tells us, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling.” (Eph. 4:4 NKJV) There is an idea held by many that each of the individual denominations is a member of the body of Christ and that taken collectively they make up the church. Talk about an absolute perversion of scripture and utter nonsense!
Denominations did not exist when the New Testament was being written thus when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth talking about these matters of being members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12) he most certainly was not talking about that which did not exist. He clearly was talking to, “those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” (1 Cor. 1:2 NKJV) How do I know he was talking to them – because I just quoted the passage, because he says so. They, each one individually, each Christian, was the member of the body of Christ to whom he was speaking. “You are the body of Christ (the church at Corinth – DS), and members individually.” (1 Cor. 12:27 NKJV)
Christ is the head of the body, the church (Eph. 1:22-23, Col. 1:18), to whom each member of the body is to hold fast (Col. 2:19). The head always regulates and directs the body using the analogy of the physical body. The rest of the body follows the decisions the head makes. In other words the head rules the body. God never gave man legislative powers in the realm of religion as Christ has all authority. “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18 NKJV) were some of the last words Jesus spoke while on earth. He is the king of a kingdom and not a president of some kind of a democracy. This being the case, and as Christ the head has spoken and given his will in the pages of the New Testament, why have men not been content to be guided by his will and it alone?
Men have arrogated power to themselves and set up conferences, and councils, and governing bodies and tried to make laws for God and in many cases even overrode his will for their own setting aside scripture and people say it is okay, all is well, God is pleased, we are saved. In religious bodies that have done these things it is safe to say Christ may be spoken of as the head but it is not taken seriously by those of us who have a New Testament and have read it and studied it and believe it.
Man may vote and elect a governing body in a club, or a benevolent organization, or a union, or whatever but such has no place in the New Testament church, the body of Christ, which already has its head and governing body in place – Christ himself.
Christ is the Savior of the body (Eph. 5:23) but scripture says his body is the church (Col. 1:24). There are an awful lot of people that believe the church does not matter. To their thinking it does not matter whether one is a member of the church or not for their thinking is a man can be saved without church membership. If you can be saved without church membership then it does not matter whether or not you are in the body of Christ for the church is that body (Eph. 1:22-23). If you are in the church you are in the body of Christ, if you are not in the church you are not in the body of Christ.
Now what is it that Christ is the Savior of? It is his body, the body of Christ (Eph. 5:23). Name one place in the Bible where Christ ever promised or gave hope of saving any one not in the body of Christ. I am willing to wait for the answer but it will be a long wait for you will not find it.
Here is what causes the confusion – people do not know the truth about how one becomes a Christian. They think becoming a Christian is one process and becoming a church member is another. The truth is that the same process that makes one a Christian also adds him to the body of Christ, the church. If you obeyed the gospel of Christ in all truth and sincerity you are a member of the church whether any in the church like it or not. God adds you to the church (see Acts 2:47 NKJV), not men. He does it when we obey the gospel. You cannot obey the gospel and not be in the church.
God adds you to the church, the body of Christ, but on conditions. One condition all agree upon is faith in Christ. That, however, is only one condition. While everything else flows from it and while it must of necessity be