Discerning the Body

bodyofchrist

Do you long for real connection with the Body of Christ?  Are you tired of all the theories, platitudes, and empty rhetoric about the blessing of being part of His Body while you search for the tangible evidence of that presumed blessing?  Is there really a community of people on this earth that continually loves, serves, laughs and weeps together, existing in transparent openness, seeking one another’s best interests devoid of personal agendas or destructive motivations?

Not easy or simple questions, are they?  It seems to me while there is no shortage of groups, churches and organisations claiming to be the living demonstration of Christ’s Body on earth, actual experience of Body life is a rare and precious thing among disciples of Jesus Christ.

To be honest, I didn’t want to write about this subject.  Not because discussing the Body of Christ is undesirable, but because I personally have not yet come to a place where I feel qualified to discuss it with any great clarity. 

Nevertheless, here we are.  Perhaps, like me, you feel more certain of your footing discussing what the Body of Christ is NOT, rather than what it is or could be.  At least that’s a starting point so here goes:

1)    The Body of Christ is NOT a physical or psychological identity.  A physical gathering of Christians according to religious tradition, denomination, ethnicity, or geographical location does not necessarily constitute an expression of the Body of Christ.  People who do not follow Christ can get the same warm and fuzzy sense of group identity by participating in a social or hobby club.

2)    The Body of Christ is NOT a group event. Coming together to sing the same songs as everyone around us, raising our hands with others, nodding our heads in united agreement with the pastor’s sermon is not necessarily evidence of the Body of Christ.  Any or all of these may be legitimate Christian activities and may cause us to feel like we belong to something meaningful.  However, many non-believers attend rock concerts, football games and similar events to get the same communal buzz.

3)    The Body of Christ is NOT an ideology, political movement or moral cause.  Being affirmed through agreement with other believers on common ethical and moral beliefs may make us feel connected and strong.  Campaigning, lobbying, protesting or advocating in connection with other like-minded believers with shared ethical, moral or political values can cause us to feel a sense of affirmation and unity of purpose, but should never be mistaken for connecting to Christ’s Body.  Non Christ-followers also give up their time, money and voluntary efforts to support causes they believe in, often more zealously than believers.

4)    The Body of Christ is NOT measured as masses of people.  Thousands of people gathered together in one place in Christ’s Name is not necessarily a sign of healthy church growth.  Healthy, desirable church growth is defined in scripture as the church corporately growing up into Christ (Eph. 4:13-15) Quality, not quantity.

Ok, so if these are some of the things the Body of Christ is not, what can we say with certainty that it is?  Building on the above four observations may help us draw closer in our understanding of what the Body of Christ looks like because we know what it doesn’t look like.  Let’s start with point number one.

If the Body of Christ is not a physical or psychological entity, it must be a spiritual entity.  This is backed up by scripture so we must be on the right track: “For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body….” (1 Cor. 12:13).  This Body is spiritual, being first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit.  Christ’s Body therefore cannot be understood in terms of human limitations like geographical proximity, time or space.

Nowhere does the Bible tell believers to do anything to make ourselves connected to other members of the Body.  We are exhorted not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together,  but this is the Body coming together in one place for mutual edification, not the Body coming together in order to be the Body.  We are not told to try and join ourselves to one another because there is no need. As soon as we were born again we were connected….. by the Spirit.   This means I am as much connected to Priscilla, John, Peter, Paul, Junia, Timothy, Apollos or any other believer who has lived throughout history as I am to anyone alive today in Christ, because His Body is a spiritual place, not a place defined by time, location, tradition or even building.  Equally, I cannot assume the person sitting in front of me in church, or across the aisle from me at a Christian concert, is part of Christ’s Body simply by virtue of our attendance at the same venue.

Another New Testament passage tells us not to take on a self-sufficient attitude towards the other members of the Body, as though we have no need of them (1 Cor. 12).  We are also told individually to contribute, or do our share, for the edification of the Body (Eph. 4:16).  However, we are not told to do anything at all in our own efforts to become part of the Body of Christ.  Whether we feel it or not, and whether or not we are physically in touch with other members of the Body, if we have been born of the Spirit then we are members of this mysterious, spiritual Body of Christ.  In other words, we are part of the Body by faith, not by feeling.

The human body is made up of many parts encased in one living, breathing organism which we call “skin”.  Without skin to hold us together, we don’t have a complete physical body; we just have a lot of loose body parts.  Likewise the Body of Christ is made up of many parts encased in one living breathing entity: Christ. 

“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12)

The only way to become a member of the Body of Christ is through being born again of the Spirit.  And the only scriptural outward sign of that physical membership is baptism.   Signing a membership card, being on the church board, or having attended church meetings all our lives will simply not cut it. 

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13)

There are no means by which man can enlarge or add to the Body of Christ.  The efforts of man can produce physical buildings where the Body of Christ can meet, or programs by which the Body of Christ can educate itself or take its message to the world, but the natural work of man can never produce that which is spiritual.  Sadly, many of today’s church growth programs are founded on a false belief that the Body of Christ can be increased by certain strategies thought out in the mind of man.  These strategies may succeed in adding physical numbers to church attendance, but will not increase the spiritual Body of Christ.  It is always God who gives the increase, not man’s clever ideas (Acts 2:47, 1 Cor. 3:7).

So, we have established that the Body of Christ is spiritual and cannot be confined simply to physical gatherings. Neither can we assume we are members of Christ’s Body through simply identifying with others who look, think, act alike, or share the same history as us.   Where do we go from here?

Stay tuned for more uncomfortable shattering of mindsets as we continue seeking to discern the true Body of Christ. 

And please feel free to contribute to the discussion by leaving your (helpful) comment.

Copyright Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2013



Categories: Exploring Community, Life in Christ, The Bride of Christ, Words of Grace and Truth

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14 replies

  1. Reblogged this on Walking Tomorrow and commented:
    Here is a great article on the Body of Christ by Cheryl McGrath. Part Two to follow …..soul food indeed!

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  2. Though we see a so called/self-acclaimed “body” everywhere… the true body is only found in those: being burried with Christ and having risen from the dead by His Spirit in us!
    The weeds will grow with the wheat… and they outnumber the wheat for sure… but it needs two grains of wheat, willing to be put to death, at least to start a body functioning in the Spirit.
    It’s not about a nice fellowship, good family-time, caring for each other etc. It’s about the reality of the risen Christ being manifested in my whole being – body, soul and spirit!
    The body is the “natural” by-product the very moment we start living IN Him alone. Our focus/concern should never be the body itself but Christ being revealed in us alone.
    For further interest:
    http://www.seven–stars.de/en/articles/mr_1e.html
    http://www.seven–stars.de/en/articles/mr_6e.html

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  3. One other thought: It always gives me perspective to see that the body IS Christ, just as my body is me. We are probably less likely to confuse Jesus Himself with our organizations & activities. But we easily confuse our organizations & activities with the body because, in our minds, the body is something other than Christ Himself. I don’t know if I’m making sense but there you go 😉

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments Mr. Teague. Yes, we do easily confuse our organisations and activities with the Body of Christ, don’t we? We just don’t seem to get it that Christ does not think of us apart from Himself, just as we don’t think of our bodies as apart from ourselves. I wonder when and how it came about that the church started thinking of itself as separate from Christ Himself. Interesting insight!

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  4. Good thoughts. I love the analogy of Christ being like skin that holds the body together 🙂

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  5. …we left CCI, the church of Rob Rufus, as many others have done, wondering what “family caring” really should be… We wanted a deeper connection, familial times of gathering, sharing, true participation. This article explains how we and many others have felt over the past 4 or 5 years as those at CCI labeled us “rebels”, “trouble makers”, “those not honouring leadership”, or “those who have refused to accept the trajectory or goals of the community”. We are the community, We do have a voice.
    …thought this was another excellent word for consideration as we journey along the road to Christian maturity and God’s purposes for the world

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    • Hi Gregory and thanks for taking time to comment. I’m not personally familiar with CCI or Rob Rufus (apparently Hong Kong right?) but your experience is a pretty familiar one for those of us seeking a deeper understanding of the Body of Christ. I get the impression your church must have been a large one, correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve been in those in the past and I personally think the larger the church the more difficult it is to find true Body life in terms of feeling like we actually are a functioning member of a Christian family rather than filling a seat in the auditorium. The larger churches often try to counter this by having their small mid week home church settings, but there’s still the big name ‘apostle’ or ‘senior pastor’ and the inevitable hierarchy that comes with that whole pattern and that hierarchy all filters down to the smaller groups of course. Thanks for contributing and blessings to you as you continue on the journey.

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  6. Cheryl,
    Thanks for taking on that which is uncomfortable. We can’t proceed far on our journey to “perfection” (even unto the stature and measure of Christ) without disturbing the undisturbed. It is impossible to “come up higher” in Christ if we only remain within the comfort zones of what we think we know. Yes, if we choose to go on in Christ and to come up higher, we will need to step out in faith. For we only know in part and teach in part, even in our “comfort zones”. To come to the maturity, in Christ, that God has purposed for His Church we will need to follow Him and trust Him, even though there is no certain path that we are comfortable with.
    You have taken a step, in faith, in this area may God direct you and lead you and embolden you by His Spirit. There is so much more,
    Keith
    http://www.highcountryminitry.com

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    • G’Day Keith, Good to hear from you. How are things in the high country? Thanks for your encouraging comments. I seem to have a talent for “disturbing the undisturbed” as you put it. “If we choose to go on in Christ and to come up higher, we will need to step out in faith.” I totally agree. It’s always a choice we don’t regret.
      Cheryl

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  7. Thanks, Cheryl. I have asked myself many times the same questions you posed at the beginning of your post. Sometimes, have felt so alone because of few who seem to be “on the same page”. Realizing that the Body is spiritual and, therefore not “understood in terms of human limitations like geographical proximity, time or space” has really been encouraging to me as I then understand I am not alone at all — far from it! As an example, though we (you and I) are separated by half a world, we are connected…we are encased in Christ…members of one Body. — His! Only God… 🙂

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    • Hi Dollea,
      We all have had so many ‘feel good’ ideas about the Body of Christ and how it functions and then we blame ourselves because we don’t seem to fit in to how it all should look. God has some major readjustments to do in all of us in so many areas, the Body of Christ being just one of them. As Keith implied, these things need to be brought out into the light so the Holy Spirit can help us separate truth from fiction. Thankyou for being part of the discussion.

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  1. Discerning The Body, Part Two | Bread for the Bride
  2. Discerning the Body Part Three | Bread for the Bride

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