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.
A 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.
The 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.
American 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.
The 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
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.
American 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.
What do I have to do to become a member of The United Methodist Church?
Sometimes 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 the church.
Since 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.
241. 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.
By 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.
We 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.
Ecumenical Relations: 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
Our 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 Church)
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 denominational exclusiveness.
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.
Ephesians 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."
Colossians 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."
Colossians 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.
In 1 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 "body"?
It is one. (verse 12)
It has many members. (verse 12)
All of the members are members of the one body. (verse 12)
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. (verses 15-17)
God has set the members as it pleased Him. (verse 18)
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 27)
Again in Romans 12:4-5 Paul uses a similar analogy. What does he say in these two verses?
There are many members in one body. (verse 4)
Not all members have the same office. (verse 4)
Many members make up the one body in Christ. (verse 5)
Everyone is a member, one of another. (verse 5)
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.