WHAT IS THE BODY OF CHRIST?
By Davis Huckabee
There is a great deal of confusion in the religious world about what the “Body of Christ” is, and it is to be feared that many Baptists share in this confusion. There have been a number of very prominent Baptist radio and television preachers who are responsible in large part for this confusion that now blights so many Christian minds. It is a law of Scripture that the more prominent a ministry that a man has, the more accountable he is for what he teaches, for he has more potential to either do great good or, if he is in error, to do great evil. "My brethren, be not many masters [teachers of many, for "masters'" translates didaskalos, more commonly rendered “teachers”], knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all [we all offend, is the meaning]. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body" (Jam. 3:1-2).
Confusion is not of the Lord. "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints," (1 Cor. 14:33). Satan has always been a master purveyor of confusion, and he still works to instill error in the minds of people, and to turn aside the truth wherever he can. And where he cannot turn aside the truth, he tries to discredit it by setting up a false church which competes with true churches, and even demands and gets believers' loyalty that should be given to the true churches. Such ought never to be, but it is so nonetheless.
Many people use the phrase "the body of Christ" in such a way as to convey the idea that it is comprised of every truly born again person on the earth and in heaven, but such is not the teaching of the Scriptures. Such an interpretation confuses the Body of Christ with the Family of God, which is not the same thing by any means. This idea of a universal body of Christ is generally held by advocates of the universal church heresy, but many that disavow the theory of a universal church, yet inconsistently hold that the Body of Christ consists of all true believers.
The word "body" is used in different ways in Scripture, and there are even four different things that are spoken of as "the body of Christ," and therefore we must carefully distinguish between these in the beginning, for we wish to deal with only one of these in this chapter. These four bodies are:
(1) Christ's physical body, which was like ours that He might endure all things that we endure (Heb. 10:5).
(2) Christ's resurrection body, to which believers' bodies will be made like unto at the resurrection, (Phil. 3:20-21).
(3) Christ's symbolic body, which is the bread of the Lord's Supper that we partake of in the observance of it, (1 Cor. 11:23-29).
(4) Christ's institutional body-the New Testament church-which is the subject of our present study.
The word "body" as used in this connection, appears some two dozen or more times in the New Testament, and the largest number of these appearances are to be found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. Therefore, this seems an appropriate place for the principle study of this subject. This word is generally suggestive of the connection of
the body with the head, and so, the church's relationship to Christ is generally in the foreground of any such usages of this word. Again, this word is suggestive of life, for a body - at least so long as it is connected to its head, and is in a normal condition - is a living organism. However, this does not prove, as some think, that this body has no organizational form to it, for any organism - living thing - from the largest and most complex, to the smallest and simplest, has an organization about it. Life itself requires this.
We have asked the question "What Is The Body Of Christ?" and therefore, in order to answer this question, the following things must be considered.
I. THE BODY DESCRIBED.
The lengthy description of this body in 1 Corinthians 12 begins by showing that it is constituted of diverse members. "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 likeness is drawn from a human body, which, having many different members, is yet still but one body, for they are all pervaded by the same life, and work to the same end and purpose. As to this body being "one," we shall have more to say later in this article, but for the moment it is sufficient for our purpose to observe that what is set forth here is the diversity in unity. Many and diverse members constitute one body.
It is also to be observed that the entrance into this body is effected only by a scriptural baptism, (v. 13). But this verse, (or rather this translation of it) has been to many both a stumbling block and an excuse for not obeying the Lord. Beginning with an erroneous translation, many have derived an equally erroneous doctrine, with the result that many refuse to accept a water baptism - the one baptism of the New Testament about which there is no question of the believer's duty. The literal rendering of this verse is: “For in one spirit we all into one body were baptized ...”
Many hold that this refers to the Holy Spirit baptism of Acts 2, which, they say, was what formed the church into a body. But this is a modern theory, and few modern theories involve so many errors as this, or are based "upon so many poor translations and misinterpretations. We avail ourselves of the pithy comments of A. W. Pink upon the verse in question, in an article of his that has been reproduced a number of times in various religious papers. He opens by referring to the Revised Version, (R. V.), rendering of this verse.
"We believe this is much better and a more accurate translation of the Greek than the Authorized Version, (A. V.), rendering. But we have one fault to find with the R. V. rendering too. The capitalizing of the word 'spirit' (pneumati) is utterly misleading, and while it is well nigh impossible to get at the real meaning of the verse, for the benefit of those who do not read the New Testament in the Greek, we may say that in the language in which the New Testament was originally written there are no capital letters used, except at the beginning of a book or paragraph. Pneuma is always written in the Greek with a small "s," and it is a question of exposition and interpretation, not of translation in any wise, whether a small "s" or a capital "s" is to be used in each instance where the word for spirit is used. In many instances it is translated with a small "s" spirit, (Matthew 5:3, etc). In others, where the Holy Spirit of God is referred to a capital is rightly employed. Furthermore, the Greek word pneuma is used not only to denote sometimes the Holy Spirit of God, and at others the spirit of man (as contradistinguished from his soul and body), but is also employed psychologically; we read of 'the spirit (pneuma) of meekness' (1 Cor. 4:21), and of 'the spirit (pneuma) of ,cowardice,' (2 Tim. 1:7,) etc. Again in Philippians 1:27, we read 'stand fast is one spirit.' Note that in Philippians 1:27 even the translators of the A. V. have used only a small "s" for “spirit” - as they most certainly ought to have done in 1 Corinthians 12:13. One other point concerning the Greek: the preposition translated ‘by’ in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is 'en,' which is translated in the N. T. 'among' 114 times, 'by' 142, 'with' 139, 'in' 1863 times. Comment is needless. 'In one spirit were we all baptized' should be the rendering of 1 Corinthians 12:13. The ‘baptism' here is not Holy Spirit baptism at all, but water baptism. Note: Whenever we read of 'baptism' in the N. T. without anything in the verse or context which expressly describes it, (as in Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:5, etc.), it is always water baptism which is in view. "-Article entitled "Why 1 Corinthians 12 Does Not Refer To The Universal Church." (Corrections & Emphasis mine - DWH.)
Thus, this verse has no reference whatsoever to either the Holy Spirit or Holy Spirit baptism. Paul was writing to saved persons, members of the Corinthian church who had been baptized into that church, which is the only scriptural way of entrance into any sound church. At the same time, baptism always has the same purpose and is administered the same way for all people if it is scripturally administered. "In one spirit were we all baptized into one body" therefore means that this baptism was administered in a unity of purpose and practice. Again, it is to be noted that this verse neither says nor intimates that "we were all baptized into the same body," for if a person has been Scripturally baptized into a New Testament church, he has been baptized into one body whether that one body was the Damascus church as in Paul's case, or the Corinthian church as with these to whom Paul was writing, or the Woodrow Baptist Church as it was in this writer's case.
Holy Spirit baptism was never for individuals as such, but it was for the church as a corporate body, and it was never repeated upon any group, and only took place three or possibly four times in history. Once it was the purely Jewish church at Jerusalem, (Acts 2), once for the Samaritan church, (Acts 8:14-17), and once for a purely Gentile church, (Acts 10:44-45; cf. Acts 11: 15-17), where this was accounted the same thing as what had happened at Jerusalem.
The purpose of the baptism in, (not "with" or "by", neither of which preposition is ever used in the Greek in this matter) the Holy Spirit was to accredit the church as the House of God in the new dispensation. As the Jews had twice before seen God accredit a new House of Witness, (Ex. 40:33-38; 1 Kings 8:10-11), they would not have accepted the church as God’s House without a like accreditation. In as much as this baptism in the Spirit was simply for the purpose of accrediting the church, there was no purpose in its being continued after the church was initially accredited, and this is what we find to have taken place. It was a once-for-all event that took place only three or possibly four times in history, and the three certain instances of this exactly parallel the three divisions of the church's commission in Acts 1:8. See further the chapter on this subject in this series.
"On the day of Pentecost, the church, which is the antitype of both the Tabernacle and Temple, and which is the new house of God that had been built by our Lord Jesus Christ in his lifetime, but up to that hour tenantless, was filled by the Holy Spirit, and every man and woman of the 120 who that day were baptized in the Holy Spirit, were baptized eis ten ecclesia- 'unto the church.' They were all baptized in one Spirit, but the purpose of that baptism was unto the church. Whatever may be said about that baptism in the way of power, it was for the purpose of attesting, or accrediting the church of the Lord Jesus Christ." -B. H. Carroll, An Interpretation of the English Bible, Vol. 13, p. 19.
Paul's description of this body shows that it is susceptible of divisions, as indeed was the case at Corinth. One of the primary objects of this epistle was to correct the schisms and sects that were disturbing the Corinthian church at this time. The sectarianism and denominationalism of the present day were not remotely referred to by the Apostle, for they did not exist in his day, nor for some time afterward. Paul was dealing entirely with divisions that existed in the local body at Corinth; this very fact goes far in describing the body that Paul speaks of in these verses.
The Body of Christ is further described in Ephesians. 1:22-23. "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all." It is mistakenly assumed by some that this means that this body fills all in all, and that therefore it must be a universal body of some sort. But it is the Lord Jesus that "filleth all in all," the body is only called "the fullness of Him that filleth all in all." This fact suggests that this body is fully adequate to do all that has been committed to it. This is the same thing that is implied in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. For before commissioning the church to "make disciples, baptize them, and teach them," our Lord said, "All power is given me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore..." "Therefore" shows that there is a definite connection between Jesus' omnipotence and the commission. His fullness is the sufficiency of the church. Paul always looked upon the churches in the same way as the Lord did the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 through 3 as each one being a complete entity within itself, fully adequate under God to fulfill its purpose without any outside help, and therefore fully responsible to do so. This is why churches are often spoken of as if there were no others in existence. God treats each and every scriptural church as if it were the only one in existence, for the truth is that if every other church on earth but one was suddenly removed, this would neither lessen nor increase that one church's responsibility. It is ignorance of this principle that has caused the dangerous error to be brought in that churches cannot fulfill their responsibilities except by banding together into great ecclesiastical bodies.
But this is to indict the Wisdom of God as incapable of foreseeing the exigencies of these last days, or else to indict the Power of God as inadequate for modern day tasks. Every New Testament church not only has been commissioned to go and make disciples of all nations, baptize the converts, and then teach them to make a practice of all that Jesus commanded, but it has also been given all the necessary authority and power to do so. But we have gotten somewhat ahead of ourselves, and have assumed as true that which we next shall prove. Therefore we note --
II. THE BODY IDENTIFIED.
This is the question that we asked by way of title to this study, but after what has already been said of the body, it is clear that the Body of Christ is His church. This is what is stated in Ephesians 1:22-23 as quoted above. And this is also what is implied in 1 Corinthians 12:27 when Paul said to the Corinthian church that "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." "But," objects some, "the Body of Christ is the whole number of the redeemed, and the meaning of such passages as this is that the local congregations are only parts of the Body of Christ." This Scripture neither says nor implies such. Indeed, the literal rendering of 1 Corinthians 12:27 is "Now ye are a body of Christ," for there is no definite article in the original text.
Too many people have refused to let the Scriptures say what they are supposed to say, and instead have reasoned out a doctrine that satisfies their own mind without considering whether the Scriptures countenance such a doctrine. Every church in the New Testament is considered to be the Body of Christ in that location, and each one was viewed as completely fitted for that purpose by the Lord. None were parts, but each and every one was a complete entity in itself.
Many Baptists, while rightly rejecting the idea of a present universal church, yet inconsistently hold to some sort of a universal Body of Christ. But the church and the body of Christ are identical, as many passages show. "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 . . . 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," (Col. 1:18, 24).
But doubtless some will protest that the Body of Christ must be a single unit comprised of all the redeemed inasmuch as Ephesians 4:4 declares that there is but "one body." Not so! For the numeral "one" is used in several ways, both in Scripture and in common language. For instance, two people may be "one" because they are unified in thought, purpose, object, etc., yet they do not cease to be two distinct individuals. In marriage, two people become a single unit in a sense, for it is written: "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh," (Matthew 19:5). And this same principle is true even in the illicit sexual union. "What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh," (1 Cor. 6:16). This makes it clear that the word "one" is not restrictive in meaning to numerical singularity:
Obviously the Corinthian church was not partially the Body of Christ. But just as obviously, neither was it exclusively the Body of Christ, for if it had been partially the Body of Christ, Paul would not have said, "Now are ye a body of Christ," as if it was a complete unit. And if it had been exclusively the Body of Christ, there would have been no other churches so called, yet we find Paul applying this same term to other congregations as well, and therefore recognizing each as a distinct Body of Christ, (See Rom. 12:4-5; Eph. 4:16; Col. 3:15). None of these are viewed as either partially the Body of Christ, nor as exclusively the Body of Christ, but each and every one is looked upon as a complete unit, recognized and confessed to be the institutional Body of Christ in its particular location. But this brings us back to consider the matter of there being but "one body" as Ephesians 4:4 declares. If this Body is not "one" numerically, in what sense is it "one"? Consider this: Ephesians 4:5 declares that there is "one baptism," yet no one has the absurdity to claim that there has never been but a single act of scriptural baptism performed. All recognize that what is here meant is that there is but one kind of scriptural baptism, and that the word "one" is here used generically. Apply this same reasoning to the "one body," and all difficulties are immediately removed. There is "one body" generically, or so far as kind is concerned, and that one kind is the local church to which the apostle was writing those very instructions. Any other interpretation runs into great and insurmountable difficulties and makes Scripture contradict itself.
Consider, for instance, if one puts the "universal" interpretation upon Ephesians 4:4, and holds that the "one body" is the universal church, comprised of all the redeemed. Immediately, he has contradicted his own interpretation, for if there is a universal church body, then there is not "one" body, but two.
For nothing is more certain than that there are also local church bodies, for nine out of every ten appearances of "church" in the New Testament refers to some specific, local body. At the same time, he who puts the "universal" interpretation upon this verse also makes it impossible to hold that this body is "one" generically. For then it becomes an apparent truth that there is not one kind, but two. One a local, visible, assembled body, and another a universal, invisible, scattered body made up of some living members, some members who have died and passed from this life, and some who have as yet not been born, and who are therefore as yet nonexistent. And, of course, such a view also contradicts the meaning of the Greek word ekklesia, which always requires the idea of actually assembling.
It has long been a Baptist belief that the local congregation is the Body of Christ, although Baptists have sometimes in recent centuries inconsistently held to the existence of a universal body as well. Thus the Confession of Faith of the English speaking people at Amsterdam, Holland, which was published in 1611, says in Article 11, in the quaint English of the day:
". . .every of which congregation, though they be but two or three, have CHRIST given them, with all the means of their salvation, (Matthew 18:20; Rom. 8:32. 1 Cor. 3:22). Are the Body of CHRIST, (1 Cor. 12:27) and a whole Church (1 Cor. 14:23). And therefore may, and ought, when they are come together, to Pray, Prophecy, break bread, and administer in all their holy ordinances, although as yet they have no Officers, or that their Officers should be in Prison, sick, or by any other means hindered from the Church, (1 Pet. 4: 10; 2:5)." -quoted in W. J. McGlothlin's Baptist, Confessions of Faith, p. 98. (Corrections & Emphasis mine-DWH.)
But more to the point than this one Confession shows, or that any other Confessions show, is the wording of the Baptist Church Covenant, which has probably been adopted by more churches than any single Confession of Faith. In its first paragraph this covenant states a belief in the local church being the Body of Christ.
"Having been led, as we believe by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour and, on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we do now, in the presence of God, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body is Christ."
If the Scriptures do identify the Body of Christ as the local church, as has been clearly shown, then we are not at liberty to commit unto any other organization either the work of the church, or the honor that belongs to it as the House of God. "To Him be glory in the church," (Eph. 3:21), which is not said of any other organization. But many, while lauding the "universal church," will not set foot in the local congregation, will not give for its support, will not labor for its expansion or edification. Yet it is the local body alone that preaches the Gospel, baptizes the new converts, indoctrinates them, and so maintains the truth as to pass it on to the next generation. If the local body is the one that does all of the work of the Lord, then it should be the one that is given all the honor. All which brings us to consider a last thing --
III. THE BODY GLORIFIED.
Certainly we are not to glorify this Body out of all due proportion as many have done, and make it to be a god within itself. This is the great mistake of Catholicism, which has not only corrupted the truth committed to it, and therefore has lost its purpose, but it has exalted itself so that it has become a god itself in the eyes of its members. It claims to be omnipresent, for the word "catholic" means universal, and if this church is indeed universal, then it is omnipresent. It claims omnipotence, or all power, for it claims, by its decrees, to rule over all rulers, civil and ecclesiastical, and even claims to be able to reverse the Word of God itself. It claims omnisapience, or all wisdom, for it teaches its people not to think for themselves, but to unquestioningly follow the dictates of "The Church." It claims to be the "Holy" Church and infallible in its official teachings, so that it is thereby removed from the realm of fallible humanity, and made to be almost Divine.
But in spite of such outlandish claims for that which is described in Revelation 17:4-6 as the corrupt and murderous "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH," the Lord has put much honor upon His true churches. And we disregard and disparage true churches only to our own confusion and judgment, for 1 Corinthians 3:16-1 7 threatens destruction to those that defile Temples of God, which is what true churches are, and many people defile them by their negative attitudes toward them.
The Lord is not only the Head of the Body, the church, but He is also the Saviour of it, (Eph. 5:23). And He has determined to present it to Himself when He has completed the task of fully sanctifying it so that it no longer has any spot or wrinkle or blemish about it (Eph. 5:26-27). But this will not take place until eternity, and then this Body will be numerically as well as generically "one," but it will, still be a local and visible assembly, (Rev. 21: 1-3).
It is the obligation of every Christian to not only become a member of the Body of Christ by being baptized into it, but also to endeavor to honor it as the House of God by laboring for the common good and edification. For it is written: "From whom (Christ) the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love," (Eph. 4:16). "Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful," (Col. 3: 15).
It must not be thought that anyone can honor Christ while dishonoring His Body, for one cannot sunder the Body from its Head as many endeavor to do. In Paul's day some had thought that they could maintain an honor for the Body of Christ while refusing to honor Christ the head. Thus Paul wrote against some of the Gnostics who, by their worship of angels, were not holding to Christ. "And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God," (Col. 2: 19).
But in our day, many have thought that they could honor Christ, the Head, while disregarding His Body, the local assembly, but this Body was purchased with the blood of Christ, (Acts 20:28), and no one can disparage it without incurring guilt thereby. Indeed, death itself is threatened for defiling the temple of God, which is the church. "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are," (1 Cor. 3: 17).
It is a glorious intimacy that is suggested by the reference to church members being parts of the Body of Christ, yet even such an intimacy will not excuse dereliction of one's duties. The Lord's own denunciations against some of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 make this evident. The greater the intimacies and privileges that are granted, the greater the responsibilities there are attending, so that we cannot excuse our carelessness and neglect by pleading that we are, nonetheless, still members of the Body of Christ. For as with the human body, atrophied or cancerous members must be cut off for the welfare of the whole body, so it is with the church.
It is true that "we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones," (Eph. 5:30), but we must remember that our Lord gave Himself for His Body "That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish," (Eph. 5:26-27). Therefore, every failure of ours to be sanctified, and every resistance against our Lord' s sanctifying and cleansing efforts is so far a denial that we are truly united to Him as the Head. For as in the human body, all the members work in harmony and obedience with the head so ought it to be in the Body of Christ. As the last quoted verse above: reveals, there is coming a time when the Lord Himself shall glorify His Body so that it will no longer have spots and wrinkles and blemishes that it now has. But we must not overlook the fact that the means of accomplishing this glorified state of the church is through a present progressive sanctification of its members through the cleansing of the Word of God, which shows our responsibility in this matter.
The Body of Christ is a New Testament church, a local congregation that is entered by a literal immersion into its faith. This is suggested in the phrase "in one spirit were we all baptized." For if all were baptized in a unity of purpose and manner, then they were obviously baptized into a common faith. Baptism is meant to picture, not only Christ's work for us, and our acceptance of it, but also our unity in the faith of the Gospel. This is why for so many centuries Baptists refused to accept the baptisms of those who differed from them on cardinal doctrines, and so were stigmatized as Anabaptists - i.e., re-immersers. But Baptists have consistently denied that they re-baptized, for none can be re-baptized who have never been Scripturally baptized in the first place. This is also why modern day Baptists, who will accept almost any kind of baptism, act inconsistently. For anyone who has been baptized into a faith that differs on cardinal points from the Baptist faith, has not been baptized at all according to the historic Baptist faith and practice. He ought therefore to be given a baptism into the Baptist faith before he is admitted into the membership of a Baptist church.
Paul was inspired to say to the Corinthian church. "Now ye are a body of Christ, and members individually," (1 Cor. 12:27), (literal rendering), and this holds true of every Scriptural church. A New Testament church is a body made up of individual members, each of whom has his or her own place and work, and about which he must be faithful.
We have now noticed all of the instances of the use of the word "body" as it relates to the institutional Body of Christ, and not one of these usages is inconsistent with the view that the Body of Christ is always and ever a local congregation. On the other hand, many of these usages of this word cannot be understood in any other way than of the local congregation. This clearly demonstrates the Scriptural meaning of this phrase and so should determine our beliefs and practices in this matter. It is time that Christians ceased venerating some nebulous, will-o'-the-wisp universal "Body of Christ," and get back to honoring the true Body of Christ - the local church of the New Testament, the one kind of church about which there is no question. Let us make no mistake. We cannot honor Christ the head while we are disregarding and dishonoring His Body for which He shed His precious redeeming blood.