In our study of Matthew 16:18 we saw
how Jesus used a singular phrase to refer to the church He was going to
build. He didn't say, "And upon this rock I will build My
churches", but "Upon this rock I will build My church."
As we continue our study of the church we need to understand the meaning
of two terms used by several writers in the New Testament: The church
and the body.
The word "church" in the New
Testament is translated from the Greek ekklesia,
which transliterated means "a calling out of." Vine's
gives an excellent discussion on the use of ekklesia. We
see in the NT that ekklesia is translated into two words in
English: church and assembly. Ekklesia
may refer to either a religious or a non-religious assembly.
Please turn to Acts 19. In verses
21-41 we read of an assembly of Ephesians who gathered in response
to the cries of Demetrius and the other silversmiths who made statues of
the goddess Diana. The were afraid that Paul, through his teaching
and conversions of many people, would turn people away from worshipping
Diana. They were full of wrath and began crying out, "Great
is Diana of the Ephesians." (verse 28) Eventually the
town clerk was able to calm the assembly and dismissed them. The
word translated assembly in this account is ekklesia.
Today, everyone I'm aware of uses the word "church" to refer
to a religious assembly. Merriam-Webster's dictionary contains
references only to a religious group when defining the word "church."
The word "body" in
the NT is translated from the Greek soma.
In the NT soma is translated using the words "body",
"bodies", "bodily", and "slaves" (once, Revelation
18:13, literal="bodies"). It may refer to a human
body, an animal body, and plant or celestial bodies. It may refer
to a living or a dead body. In our discussion today we'll consider
its use when referring to a spiritual body.
To this point in our study we've seen
how the words "church" and "body" are used in the
NT. But why would I want to include a discussion of these two
words when considering the question, "Is one church as good as
another?" Obviously, the word church would be important,
since it is the focus of our study. But how do the
"church" and the "body" tie in together?
Below I've pasted quotes from the
national websites of several religious denominations. Each one
deals with that denomination's philosophy regarding the church and the
body. Please consider these positions. Afterwards, we'll
examine the New Testament's claims regarding the church and the body,
and determine the validity of these positions.
New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local
congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith
and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ,
governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges
invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the
ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship
of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation
each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its
scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and
women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is
limited to men as qualified by scripture.
New Testament speaks also of the church as the body of Christ, which
includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every
tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.
Baptists believe that every person who confesses faith in Jesus Christ
is called to discipleship and ministry. The New Testament concept of
"laos," the people of God, declares that all Christians are
called to ministry in every area of life. Believer's baptism not only
signifies faith in Christ, but also a call to discover and use the gifts
of the Holy Spirit for ministry in our daily lives. "Ministry"
is a translation of the Greek word "diakonia" which means
"one who serves." Ministry of all believers describes works of
service performed in response to the call of God in the church and in
the larger society with a conscious understanding of Christ as Lord.
church as a living organism and body is one of the primary images of the
New Testament. Christ is the head of the body. There are many members,
but none that dominate or that are mere appendages. The identification
and deployment of individual gifts and ministries of every member
actualizes Christ's body: "The gifts he gave were that some would
be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body
of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12). Also see I Corinthians 12:8-11;
14-26, Romans 12:6-8.
Statement of Purpose of American
Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., as a manifestation of the church
universal, bears witness to God's intention to bring redemption and
wholeness to all creation. American Baptists believe that God's
intention can be sought and followed in local congregations and other
gatherings of Christians and in associational, regional, national
and world bodies as they receive from one another mutual counsel and
correction. Since Jesus Christ is the head of the church, each body of
Christians, seeking to order its life in accordance with the scriptures
under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has a proper responsibility under
God for maintaining its life of worship, witness, and ministry.
Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. acknowledges that it shares a common
faith in Christ with churches which may be quite different from it in
history, polity and practice. Consequently, it seeks to share with them
a common ministry and to express it faithfully.
do I have to do to become a member of The United Methodist Church?
we think of membership like being a member of the Auto Club or the
Country Club where we pay for services and privileges. Church membership
is different. The apostle Paul used the image of a living body:
"For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or
Greeks, slaves or free-and we were all made to drink of one
Spirit." (I Cor. 12:13) In this biblical sense, to be a member is
to be part of a living organism--a vital community animated by the
Spirit of God to love and to serve. Paul's statement also points to the
inclusiveness of the church: anyone may make the journey into life in
all that seek to be members come with different experiences and
backgrounds, there are a number of pathways to follow in becoming a
member of The United Methodist Church. If you have never been
baptized and you desire to be a Christian with United Methodist
Christians, you will prepare for baptism. If you were baptized as
an infant or young child and have not made a profession of faith and
been confirmed, then you will prepare to reaffirm your baptismal
covenant. If you are a member of another part of the church
(such as Baptist, Presbyterian or Lutheran), then you will want to
prepare to transfer your membership from that church to a local United
Methodist Church. If you are a member of another Christian church
that does not transfer membership, you will want to prepare to make a
profession of faith and be received as a member.
A pastor upon receiving a request from a member to transfer to a church
of another denomination, or upon receiving such request from a pastor or
duly authorized official of another denomination, shall (with the
approval of the member) issue a certificate of transfer and, upon
receiving confirmation of said member's reception into another
congregation, shall properly record the transfer of such person on the
membership roll of the local Church; and the membership shall thereby be
terminated. For the transfer of a member of The United Methodist Church
to a church of another denomination, an official "Transfer of
Membership to Another Denomination" form shall be used.
our union with Christ the Church binds together believers in every time
and place. We turn away from forms of church life that
identify the true Church only with particular styles of worship, polity,
or institutional structure. We
also turn away from forms of church life that ignore the witness of
those who have gone before us.
consider the variety of denominational heritages legitimate insofar as
the truth of the one faith explicates itself in history in a variety of
expressions. We do not
overlook the fact that such explications of the faith have been marked
by error which has threatened the unity of the Church. On the other
hand, it needs to be seen that a heritage remains legitimate and can be
preserved, if it is properly translated into new historical situations.
If it is, it remains a valuable contribution to the richness of life in
the Church universal.
As part of the Episcopal Church’s aim of fostering unity among the
separated branches of the Christian church, for the sake of
cooperation and mission in the world, dialogues constitute a major
component of the work of the EIR.
World Church of God
quest is not to find the Ideal Church; it is to help improve the Real
Church. Jesus wants us to commit ourselves to the Real Church, his
church, in one of its real, flawed denominations or congregations.
And there he will give us strength to persevere in the quest to improve
it. Flawed as it is, that church is the form Jesus has chosen to
take in this world. If you have been looking for the Ideal Church, give
up your quest. Commit yourself instead to the Real Church and to the
daily work of improving it.
United Church of Christ
Principles of the Christian Church
Christ is the only head of the Church.
Christian is a sufficient name for the Church.
The Holy Bible is a sufficient rule of faith and practice.
Christian character is the only requirement for membership.
The right of private judgment and the liberty of conscience are rights
and privileges for all.
Union of all Christ's followers is sought.
The Disciples of Christ (Christian
A heritage of openness
The Disciples have a long heritage of openness to other Christian
traditions -- actually having
come into existence as sort of a 19th century protest movement against
It wouldn't be possible for me to
paste a similar statement from every denomination with a national
website and maintain a reasonable length to this study. I
encourage you to research the internet should you have a question about
a specific denomination. But what can we say about the position
the denominations listed above take on the relationship between the
church and the body? The church is a single organization made
up of many denominations, and the various members of the body represent
these different denominations. Notice the italicized
statements in each of the denominational positions listed above.
This emphasis is mine, and entered to make the point that the
denominational world by and large today considers the church as a
compilation of different religious traditions, each of which is a valid
part of the Christian faith. So when Jesus said, "I will
build my church", His construction of this group of called out
individuals took many forms, which we know as the various denominations
today. But is this what Jesus intended? Let's turn to the
scriptures and search for the answer.
1:22,23: "And hath put all things under His feet, and
gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His
body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all."
1:18: "And He is the head of the body, the church:
who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He
might have the preeminence."
1:24: "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill
up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His
body's sake, which is the church:"
What have we learned from these three
scriptures? The church and the body are one in the same. When
Jesus used the singular phrase "My church", He indicated that
there would be only one body also. A superficial examination of
the denominational statements above would suggest their teaching agrees
with these verses. There is one body and one church, and that one
church is made up of many different churches which comprise the whole.
But we must ask ourselves, "Can one church truly be made up of
thousands of different churches?" The truth to this statement
isn't readily apparent. Can we confirm its truth in the
scriptures? Let's look at some characteristics of the body as we
evaluate this question.
Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul gives an analogy of the church using the
human body. In these sixteen verses Paul uses the word
"body" seventeen times. What does he say about the
It is one. (verse 12)
It has many members. (verse 12)
All of the members are members of the one body.
Christ is one body. (verse 12)
The members are baptized by one Spirit into the
body. (verse 13)
Members are not excluded based on race or
status. (verse 13)
Different members have different functions.
God has set the members as it pleased Him.
All members are important, regardless of
function. (verses 21-24)
Members should have the same care, one for
another. (verse 25)
The members of the body are Christ. (verse
Again in Romans
12:4-5 Paul uses a similar analogy. What does he say in these
There are many members in one body. (verse 4)
Not all members have the same office. (verse
Many members make up the one body in Christ.
Everyone is a member, one of another. (verse
Let's think of our own bodies for a
moment as we consider whether the body of Christ can be comprised of
many different churches. Obviously our physical bodies are
highly complex, made up of untold billions of individual cells.
These cells are grouped into organs, which perform different functions
within the body. Each organ has its own individual function,
without which the body as a whole would not be complete. On the
surface it would appear that the body is truly a whole made up of many
different parts, which share nothing in common. But is that true?
No! Even though each organ may serve a different function, each
cell making up that organ is identical in the most fundamental way:
They all have the same 46 chromosomes, and the arrangement of genes on
those chromosomes is identical. While my heart may consist of
millions of heart muscle cells performing their pumping function and my
brain millions of nerve cells performing their brain function, they are
all identical in the most important way. Because my heart cells,
brain cells, liver cells, etc. are identical, my body works together for
the good of the whole. We see this fundamental unity when we
transplant organs from one body to another. Lets say my heart
becomes diseased and is no longer able to perform its function. If
that function isn't replaced, the entire body dies. With the
advances in medicine today we are able to remove the heart from one body
and place it within another. Sounds good, doesn't it! Take
one pump out, and put another in. But what problem do we have to
overcome before this new pump will work? Rejection! But why
would my body reject an organ that is performing such a vital function
for the good of the whole? It is fundamentally different
than the rest of the body! Its 46 chromosomes have genes
arranged in a different fashion, and the rest of the body recognizes
this different arrangement of genes. While the new heart is
perfectly capable of performing its pumping function, it can never
change its arrangement of genes and therefore will always be considered
a part of a different body, rather than my own.
With these thoughts in mind lets go
back to the church. Paul tells us that the church is one body;
made up of many members, and those members are all part of the same
body. The different members all have different functions, but they
all care for one another. The body isn't complete if any one of
the members is missing. Does this sound like the arrangement of
our physical bodies we considered earlier? Yes! While each
member has different functions, they are all the same in one fundamental
way: They have the same mind! Just as our physical bodies is
made up of untold billions of cells, each with an identical nucleus, the
church is made up of millions of members, each with the same mind, and
this mind is the mind of Christ. (1
Corinthians 2:16) In Philippians
2:1-8 we see some characteristics of the mind of Christ. He
didn't consider His own thoughts and desires as more important than
those of His Father. He was willing to submit His will to that of
God. So with Christ as our head and each individual member having
the same mind, one who is truly a member of the body of Christ will
consider his own will inferior to that of God and will submit readily to
each and every command his heavenly Father gives him.
But what do we see in this concept of
the church being comprised of many different denominational
organizations? Do we see the same mind demonstrated throughout all
of the members of the body of Christ if this application of Paul's
teaching was true? Absolutely not! How can denomination x
and denomination y be a part of the same body when their minds have
nothing in common? They can't! They are parts of two different
bodies, each with its own mind. Since they are parts of two
different bodies, they have two different heads. But we see in the
scriptures that Christ is the head of the body, which is the church. (Ephesians
5:23 and Colossians
1:18) Just as we saw above, there is only one body and one
church. So how does one become a part of the body of Christ?
Have Christ as the head! But how does one know one has Christ as
the head of the spiritual body of which they are a part? They must
have the mind of Christ! If they have the mind of Christ, then
they may know they are a part of the body of Christ. But where
does one find the instructions on how to have the mind of Christ?
One must look to the source that records the thoughts of Christ, which
is the Bible. Is it enough to look to this source?
No! One must apply the teachings within it in order to
truly have the mind of Christ. If one is unwilling to submit their
will to God in each and every aspect demanded within the scriptures,
they don't have the mind of Christ. In the scriptures we see the
will of God recorded for our learning. Just as Christ submitted
His will to His Father, we must submit our will also. It's not
enough to look to function when determining whether one is a part
of the body of Christ. Just as the transplanted heart in our
physical bodies will be rejected despite it's normal function, it's not
enough to perform good works and be considered a part of the body of
Christ. Many different religious organizations look like the body
of Christ on the outside (that is, they perform many good works demanded
of one who is a member of His body), but they are fundamentally
different on the inside. One who is a member of such an
organization will be rejected as surely as is the transplanted heart
containing the different arrangement of genes. I cannot state this
enough: It isn't enough for one to perform good works!
One must perform these same good works AND have the same inner makeup in
order to truly be a member of the body of Christ, which is the church.