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The Church as the Body of Christ
The Body is One The Body is Fullness
INTRODUCTION
In the New Testament the Apostle Paul's metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ is highly significant and unique to his writings. It appears in three of Paul's letters and the way he uses the image shows its deep influence in the pastoral heart of this particular apostle.
 
The
life of the Church is its field of application. Problems between believers, particularly in the diversity of functions and fluidity of early Christian ministry, were the challenge to the reality behind this 'Body' metaphor.
 
ORIGIN OF
THE TERM
 
 
The Damascus road incident in Paul's conversion undoubtedly indelibly influenced his thought and its formation of concepts which later became vehicles of truth in his ministry to the Christian Church.
 
 
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?"
 
  was the confrontation. Acts 9:4.
Saul's "Who are you Lord?" brought forth a restatement of the truth –  
 
"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting".
Acts 9:5.
 
There is no reason to think that Saul of Tarsus (Paul) had ever seen Jesus or participated in any persecution of Him. But what Saul had done to Christ's disciples is the basis of Christ's rebuke on that highway.
 
 
This identification of Christ and His people is the key thought in the use of the metaphor of the 'Body'. George Ladd sees it as –
"The primary emphasis of the metaphor is the unity of believers with Christ" (Ladd 1974:545, emphasis mine).
 
Paul's
valiant defence of the Gospel to the Galatians led him to emphasize the uniqueness of his own reception of it; a uniqueness which helped form his concept of the Church -
 
 
"I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ"
Galatians 1:12.
 
"I did not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me,
but I went away into Arabia [to seek God in prayer]".
Galatians 1:16-17.
It
is probable that Paul's Arabian retreat, in which the conceptual basis of the Gospel was given to him, was also the birth place of this beautiful metaphor, and almost certainly of its concomitant truths, so uniquely his.
 
Correction:
There are some who reject this origin of the metaphor on the basis of what they see as a continuity between the three-fold structural lay-out of Israel's tabernacle/temple (outer court, inner court, holy of holies) and a human being as body, soul, and spirit. But this imaginative invention ignores the historical Biblical context, for the Bible does not teach that Man is three-in-one in terms of 1 Thess.5:23 any more than Jesus teaches that Man is four-in-one (heart, soul, mind, strength) in Mark 12:30. Genesis gives us Man as a unique God-breathed body, flesh and spirit, two-in-one.
 
Put
at its simplest, the word 'soul' (psuchē) does not represent a separate entity in the human being. It simply means 'life'. Paul is using the terms in 1 Thess.5:23 in his Jewish cultural sense as overlapping aspects of human experience, just as Jesus did, and not analytically in a Greek philosophical sense. John uses this same word 'psuchē' for all fish in the sea (Rev.8:9) and it refers simply to all that has 'life' in the sea. It is important not to impose on Holy Scripture preconceived notions arising from other philosophies.
This Paul was registered at birth with two names (Jewish 'Saul'; and Roman 'Paul') because he inherited dual citizenship from birth (Ac.22:28).
 
So, God is to be praised for using the tragedy of terrible Christian persecution at the hands of Saul of Tarsus (Ac.22:4; 26:11; 1 Cor.15:9; Gal.1:13) as raw material for the Gospel revelation (of Christ in His people) in this man's life once Saul's life fell completely into God's hands. Hallelujah!

 
THE BODY
IS CHRIST
 
  Paul writes to the Corinthians –  
 
"For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ".
1 Corinthians 12:12.
 
The message of unity in the Church which the context of this text is trying to convey simply required the statement – 'so it is with the Church'. By substituting "Christ" for the term 'Church' Paul points directly at the basis of his teaching on the subject.
 
 
All moral virtue flows from Christ. There is no merit except "in Him". The corporate identification of the believers with Jesus is the basis from which their common identity, life and spiritual function proceed.
 
 
Beasley-Murray points out that in Hebrew-Greek tradition the term 'body' was "the nearest equivalent for what we mean by person" (1962:281). He notes that in the Hebrew idiom it could even be equated with 'personality'. Bultmann is quoted by Ladd as saying – "Man does not have a soma; he is soma" (Ladd 1974:464). Ladd himself, in his treatment of Pauline psychology, reinforces this identification of the person with his body, saying –
"Clearly, soma is an essential element in man, and from this point of view soma can stand as an equivalent for 'I'." (1974:464).
'Sōma' (σῶμα) is the New Testament Greek term for 'body'.
  The concept of identification of the Messiah and His people is thus most fittingly expressed by the term "Body".  
But, the embryo of this precious truth is already present in the teachings of Jesus Himself –  
 
"whatever you [plural] bind on earth shall be (having been) bound in Heaven,
and whatever you
[plural] loose on earth shall be (having been) loosed in Heaven...
For where two or three are gathered in My name,
there am I in the midst of them"
.
Matthew 18:17-20.
 
Christ is not the extra person. Representatively, He is the "two or three ... in My name".
 
 
And again,
 
 
"He who receives you receives Me" (Matt. 10:40), and, "as you did to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me".
Matthew 25:40
 
Here, the Zionist-Christian abuse of this Scripture must not divert us. Christ speaks of His brethren spiritually, that is, without any Jewish identification whatsoever, as He Himself explained with reference to His own mother (Matt.12:48-50).
 
Even
the practical example and pattern of this identification had been demonstrated in the Lord Jesus. To His disciples He expressed His relationship to His Father as –
 
 
"He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'show us the Father'?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me?"
John 14:9-10
 
This unique intimacy of Christ to His Father, in which each dwelt in the other, was the basis of Christ's works or ministry (John 14:10-11). It has nothing to do with His deity, as so many have misunderstood. His disciples were to enjoy this same degree of intimacy with Christ after completion of His redemptive work (14:20). To His Father, Christ prayed in the presence of the eleven leaders of His disciples –
 
Awesome words! "The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one even as We are one, I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them even as You loved Me." John 17:22-23.
 
Thus the essential elements of the identification of Christ with His Church were already present in the teachings of Jesus, but Paul alone was enabled by God to project this truth so comprehensively in his concept of the Church as Christ's 'Body'.
 
Yet,
a caution. The danger which we must be careful to avoid is the pressing of this symbolism of the Body to the extent that one practically deifies the Christian Church (Beasley-Murray 1962:281).

 
THE BODY
IS ONE
 
 
The direct application of the Body metaphor in Paul's Corinthian and Ephesian letters is unity. The diversity in the Body, which expresses the incompleteness of its separate elements and their interdependence, is purposefully designed that
 
 
"the members may have the same care for one another".
1 Corinthians 12:25.
 
In Ephesians the apostle declares that as much as there is one Lord and one Spirit there is one Body. All bears testimony to the same truth for there is only one hope, one faith, one baptism, and "one God and Father of us all" (Eph.4:4-5). Thus there can be no striving or antagonism between congregations, or denominations of congregations, for they each congregation is simply a local expression of this "one Body".
 
 
Individually and congregationally Christians are not striving to attain unity. They have it, for their spiritual identity in one! Rather, they are "eager to maintain the unity" for it is the "unity of the Spirit" (Eph.4:3). Even to the Corinthians who had divided into partisan groups, Paul declared –
 
 
"we who are many are one body"
1 Corinthians 10:17.
The Table
of the Lord, which they thought they celebrated, was not the Table of the Lord in God's sight (11:20), as commonly happens today, for they were not "discerning the Body" (I Cor.11:29). Instead, their actions despised "the Church of God" (11:22). They are instructed rather to "wait for one another", "lest you come together to be condemned" (11:33-34).
 
 
This deliberate banishment by Paul of all 'free-lance' or independent action by believers toward other believers is backed up in this connection by a solemn warning of physical judgment. Weakness, illness and untimely death among the Corinthian Christians is directly attributed to their treatment of one another and a failure to regard each other as the Church – the Body of Christ (11:30). It is not private sin that is the issue regarding their approach to Communion/Eucharist. It is their treatment of each other in violation of the essence of their relationship, portayed in their sharing the Bread of Holy Communion.
 
 
The fact that Paul chooses to emphasize this aspect in association with Holy Communion, the Eucharist, points to the remedy of the problem and the true source of unity. Taking the sacrament showed the Lord's death (11:26). The Christians are one because they "all partake of the same loaf", that is – Christ (10:17). It is their relationship to Jesus that is the source and basis of their unity.
 
Remember the prayer on Passover eve which Jesus prayed for His people –  
 
"that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us,
so that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me".
John 17:21
 
As Beasley-Murray puts it – "The unity of the Body of Christ is not simply sociality but a Koinonia in the Spirit after the pattern of the Koinonia of the Blessed Trinity (1962:281). The inter-relationship within the triune God is not an simply an ideal for us to strive toward. It is a prescription for inter-relationship within the Body of Christ. This is the pattern of unity!
 
 
In Ephesians Paul presents the idea of progress or growth toward a full realization of the unity of the Body. He considers the diversity of special ministries (apostle, evangelist, etc.) as being specifically for the equipment of the people of God to do the work of the ministry and so build up the Body of Christ (4:12). He describes the Body, "joined and knit together", for growth –
 
 
"each part is working properly makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love"(4:16).
 
 
It is the personal koinonia or participation of each believer that causes the growth of the whole. The tools of growth in the diversity of ministry according to each particular Spirit gift of grace will therefore continue –
 
 
"until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,
to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ".
Ephesians 4:13.
 
The maturity of the "Body" will bring its growth to completion, that is, the spiritual maturity, and usher in the Eschaton of God.

 
THE BODY
IS FULLNESS
 
 
There is a progression in Paul's use of the Body metaphor. In I Corinthians (c.57 AD) and Romans (c.58 AD) the whole Body is Christ and its organs and limbs are the individual believers in their Spirit-anointed functions. In Ephesians and Colossians, written together about 62 AD from a Roman prison, the Body is the Church of which Christ is the Head.
 
 
In this further development of the concept, the idea of unity is still inherent, as is shown by the use of ekklesia in the sense of the Church universal rather than local, and by the uniting-activity of Christ as the head of all things (Eph.1:10,22). The element of identification with Christ is also carried through as –
Ekklēsia (ἐκκλησία) is the New Testament term for Church and literally means 'congregation'.
 
"He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,
as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body.
'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one'.
This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the Church"
.
Ephesians 5:28-32.
The new
component in the use of this metaphor is an exciting perspective. It arises from the emphasis on the lordship of Christ now introduced into the metaphor by seeing Him as the "head" and not simply as the whole.
 
 
The work of the Cross, arising from which Christ has been exalted to the "right hand of power" (Matt.26:64), is the means by which there is now "one new man in the place of two" (Jews and Gentiles, Eph.2:15) created in Christ Jesus. This new spiritual identity has as its head Christ, its author. His lordship is over all things but is uniquely over this new creation – the Church – His Body – the sharer of His life (Eph.1:22). As its source He is also its destiny. It is to
 
 
"grow up in every way into Him who is the head" (4:15). 
This goal is called –
"the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph.4:13).
 
 
This means of attaining the goal is not by obtaining but by apprehending. The ability or strength to apprehend comes through the real intimacy of spiritual identification with Christ, the mutual indwelling, "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (3:16-17), so that the believers may –
 
 
"comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fulness of God"
(3:18- 19).
 
This
is described as "glory in the Church", and – could it be anything less? (3:21).
 
 
The obtaining of this blessing has been done, by God's grace in Christ (1:3), and awaits our appropriation. In fact the fulness of His blessing is inherent in the nature and purpose of the Church, Christ's Body. It is –
 
 
"the fulness of Him who fills all in all" (1:23).
 
 
Some have seen this description of the Church as referring to Christ's completing of His mission and purpose in His Church, but, although this is surely included in the idea, it is larger than this. Its more natural meaning, in the context of the letter, is – "the Church as the body of Christ is filled with His life and power" (Ladd 1974:546).
 
 
The goal of the Church in Ephesians 4:13 may be in the end-time, but the objective in 3:19 – "all the fulness of God" – is personal, experiential and immediate now.
 
 
"Every spiritual blessing" has been given in Christ (1:3). It therefore awaits appropriation by each individual believer or spiritual "part" of the sacred Body of Christ that there might demonstrably be –
 
 
"glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen"
.
Ephesians 3:20.
Remember then, that the Christian Church does not represent Christ!
  The Christian Church represents that which Christ represented –
He who is on the Throne, God the Father,
as Christ Jesus Himself did during His own human ministry.
 
The Church is Christ's Body, and as such it is now the continuance of Christ's life and work in this present world . . .  
In this reality alone is the Church's authentic authority in this world, just as Jesus.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
 
 
Beasley-Murray, GR 1962  Baptism in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, USA: Eerdmans.
Ladd, GE 1974  A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, USA: Eerdmans.
Lenski, RCH 1963  The Interpretation of I and II Corinthians Augsburg.
Richardson, A (Editor)  1969  A Dictionary of Christian Theology. London, UK: SCM Press.
Ridderbos, H. 1969  The Coming of the Kingdom. Philadelphia, USA: Presbyterian and Reformed.
Strong, AH 1962  Systematic Theology. London, UK: Pickering and Inglis.
 
 
Crucifixus est dei filius; non pudet, quia pudendum est.
Et mortuus est dei filius; credibile prorsus est, quia ineptum est.
Et sepultus resurrexit; certum est, quia impossibile.
Tertullian, lawyer and
Christian apologist c.200 AD
Translation:
'The Son of God was crucified: I am not ashamed -- because it is shameful.
The Son of God died: it is immediately credible -- because it is silly.
He was buried, and rose again: it is certain -- because it is impossible.'
 
Hallelujah!
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Symbols that Strengthen Baptism of the Spirit Ministry Structure Church Discipline

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