The true church produces barely a blip on the radar screen of secular history, which, for the most part, notes only its aberrant or more bizarre aspects. As viewed by modern pop culture, the church is an anachronism at best or a dangerous remnant of superstition at worst. But the multiple names used in the New Testament to designate the church should arrest the believer’s attention and cause him to meditate on the significance and importance of the church in the eyes of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone perceive its true place and value in both time and eternity. That one of those designations should be “the body of Christ” is truly noteworthy.
The core statement. In a bold and simple statement concerning the seven unities that mark the true church, Paul announces that there are one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. He begins this list by writing that “There is one body” (Eph. 4:4). Though ever in God’s mind and purpose, the church is not envisioned in the Old Testament. In fact it is made up of both Jews and Gentiles (and not merely Gentiles that become Jewish proselytes or Jews that take on a Gentile character) in a wholly new organism, something called the “one body,” or “the body of Christ.” This core statement indicates that the church is neither identical with Old Testament Israel nor an evolutionary step beyond them. It is an entirely new entity. The term (along with the other named unities) also suggests the error of denominationalism, for God clearly envisions the church as being unified in doctrine and practice. Though this will not occur this side of eternity (and though faithful believers must separate from those preaching doctrinal error or practicing in unscriptural ways), it is a testimony to man’s frailty and to God’s love that He views His body as one and will finally in eternity bring us into perfect unity with Him.
The cardinal implications. It is significant that it is in the letter to the church at Corinth—the most seriously divided and error-filled church to receive an inspired letter—that the doctrine of the church as one body is set forth most extensively. Both epistles to this church touch on this doctrine, but the twelfth chapter of the first epistle mentions most of the key implications of this name. From this chapter we learn the following information about the significance of the term. First, it is a term intended to emphasize that the church is not an organization of human construction: it is a living organism engendered by the Spirit of God. Paul writes that “by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” (v. 13). Thus, we are reminded that the true church is God’s work alone. Second, it is a term that emphasizes unity: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (v. 12). The unity is not wrought by human compromise, by abandoning doctrine, or by ignoring differences in practice. It is a unity that is truly organic, all parts sharing the same essence (the eternal life of Christ) and directed by Christ, its only Head. Third, it is a term that acknowledges diversity. “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? (vv. 14, 15). Note the diversity that Paul describes is not a diversity that accepts differences in doctrine; this diversity is one of gift and service. The members differ in ability and calling because the body has multifaceted functions. Even the weak members “are necessary” (v. 22). Fourth, therefore, the term emphasizes that the church shares one life: the life of Christ, including an interconnectedness and vital relationship among believers: “God hath tempered the body together [i.e., composed the body] . . . That there should be no schism [“division”] in the body; but that members should have the same care one for another” (vv. 24b, 25). Usage of the term body illustrates the personal, vital, purposeful, intimate, inseparable, and functional union that each individual believer in the body of Christ shares with the Head and with each other. It reminds us that we must submit to Him through faith and obedience to the His Word. It encourages us to acknowledge the purpose and value of all whom Christ has chosen to redeem and place as members in His body. It reminds us of the reality of our new life in Christ alone. And it reminds us that we have been called to serve according to the will of our Head. May we do so.
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