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.