It was the apostle Paul, under influence of the Holy Spirit, who gave us the word picture of church-life being like the life of a healthy, functioning human body. “The church, which is His Body”, he wrote (Eph. 1:22, 23). If he were alive today Paul would no doubt have great difficulty aligning this prophetic analogy with what passes for church life in the 21st century.
To begin with the early Christians understood the Body of Christ in terms of His resurrection. Christ’s Body to them was no longer hanging on a Roman Cross. They believed because Christ had risen His abundant resurrection Life actively flowed supernaturally within them. They were drawn into Christ’s Body because they were convinced He lived and could live through them. “In Him was life…….” They sought to gather with others in His Body not to prove by association they were now Christians but simply because the living Presence of Christ in each one was irresistible. To them, to be His spiritual Body was to be deeply connected to His resurrection life. That Christ-life was the motivation that brought them together, bound them together and carried them forward together into an uncertain and often dangerous future. Their fellowship was grounded in who they were becoming together, not what they did together. And what they were becoming together was the fullness of Christ on earth (Eph. 1:23).
For many our experience of the Body of Christ has been somewhat different to that New Testament scenario. From the moment they come to Christ most new believers are now pressured into believing if they don’t immediately become actively involved in a ‘local body’ they will not grow as a Christian. Rather than genuine discipleship, the emphasis is placed on ‘fellowship with His Body”. (And yes, they are two different things.) New believers are not taught that Christ Himself can keep them. They are taught they need the church in order to keep Christ.
And too often “fellowship” is not about sharing Christ’s life together…it is more about becoming like ‘us’, doing what “we” do, thinking what “we” think. So new believers quickly learn that the more they ‘fellowship’ in this way the more they will be accepted as part of Christ’s Body. They are then taught that their main purpose in this new life is to convert others and bring them also into this ‘local Body’ in order that they too may be trained in this modern form of “bodylife’. And so the cycle is repeated. Denominational Christianity makes no allowance for the Body of Christ existing outside of its own narrowly defined terms.
What most call “the church” no longer accurately reflects the Body of Christ as it is described in the New Testament. Body-life has become church centred rather than Christ centred. The result is we have too many ‘church goers’ experiencing a false body-life that in no way truly represents the Body of Christ, and too many church leaders who believe body-life is about how many human bodies they can squeeze into the building before they can go ‘to the next level’, whatever that is.
The good news is that the true Body of Christ is far too dynamic and overflowing with His abundance to ever be confined to such a regulated and restricted mould. Despite how things may appear outwardly, we need not despair. It’s still Christ who is building His church, it’s still the Holy Spirit who is overseeing its growth and it’s still the Father who is granting increase. The weeds will be allowed to grow with the harvest until the end of the age (Matthew 13:18-30). But Life, real Life which is found only in Christ, has a habit of spilling out uncontrollably whenever man tries to bottle it.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13) (
We are on a journey into unity of faith and that unity of faith is intrinsically connected to the deep knowledge of Christ. It is the knowledge of Christ as God, the perfect man….the intimate, experiential, living knowledge of Him as opposed to knowledge about Him… that connects each member of His Body to the other members. This inborn knowledge of Christ, each member individually living in Him, by Him and through Him, forms the building blocks, the living cells, of the Body. No wonder the Bible refers to these members as the ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5)
The ultimate calling for Christ’s Body is not world-wide evangelism as some would have us believe. Nor is it world-wide dominion as some others would have us believe. It is to “all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”.
The modern focus on ‘church planting’ is misleading and is an indication of how the modern “church” has elevated itself above Christ. There was and will only ever by ONE church and ONE Body. It was planted by Christ when His Blood spilled down into the earth’s crust at Calvary. Neither Paul, Peter, Philip or any other New Testament personality we might name ever planted a church.
When Paul spoke of having planted among the Corinthians he spoke in terms of having planted the gospel, not a church (1 Cor. 3:5,6). The seed that was planted in the parable of the sower was the gospel, not the church (Matt. 13:2-9). Jesus never told His disciples to go into all the world and make churches. He told them to preach the gospel. And essentially the gospel message is two simple truths: The cross where Christ suffered and died in our place and the resurrection where Christ rose from death so we through Him may live resurrection life.
The emphasis of scripture on church growth is not outward but upward… INTO Christ. The primary purpose of the Body of Christ is not to tell the world what to do, or even to get the world saved. It is to grow up in all things into the fullness of Christ. Influencing the world and evangelising the nations are secondary to that upward growth and can’t help but flow out of body-life when it is healthy and Christ centred.
Christ….from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Eph. 4:12-16)
It is from Christ and only Christ this spiritual Body is connected together, and it is by Christ in each member serving the others that the Body grows and is edified. It may come as a surprise to some that the Body does not exist for our comfort. Rather, we the individual members living in the supernatural power of Christ’s endless resurrection life, exist to ‘do our share’ to meet the needs of the other members of the Body.
“A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” said Jesus. Our search for the Body of Christ must ultimately lead us deeper into Christ Himself because it is in Him that His Body gathers. It is only in Him that we will discover how to belong to one another with no agendas, false motives or strings attached.
The Body consists not of cloned like-minded people, but of a diverse company of like-hearted people, often whose one common thread is Christ.
The community we long for already exists in the divine community of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. As the Body of Christ we have been invited to partake of this eternally existing community. Once we begin to understand this, no man-ordained substitute will ever satisfy us. The city set on a hill cannot be hidden because it shines with perfect life, Christ Life. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men”.
The key to authentic Body life is Christ in us, His endless resurrection life the light by which we live, connect to one another, grow and become His Body together. When Christ reigns in us, then we will truly know what it means to be part of His corporate Body…..together.
- Discerning the Body (breadforthebride.wordpress.com)
- Discerning The Body, Part Two (breadforthebride.wordpress.com)