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The Body of Christ

The Body of Christ

As we study the Scriptures, we learn that there are two categories for the church. The apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians wrote about a universal Church and all its spiritual blessings. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3). The idea presented in Ephesians is that the Church is a living organism or union of all true believers in Christ. It is a temple built of living stones. However, of the 109 references where the word “Church” is used, only 13 references seem to point to the idea of a universal Church. Those references (you may click on the reference) are (click Matt.16:18, Eph. 1:22, 3:10, 3:21, 5:23, 5:24, 5:25, 5:27, 5:29, 5:32, Col. 1:18, 1:24 and Heb. 12:23). The remaining 96 references point to local assembles of believers or local fellowships. The major emphasis in the apostle’s letters, as recorded in the New Testament has been on the local Church.

The word “Church” is translated from the Greek word “ecclesia” meaning, “the called-out” or “assembly”. Because of this definition, many have tried to place the nation Israel in the universal Church because they were also “a called-out group”. However, Scripture is clear in Ephesians and other places that the “Church” is unique in God’s program for the ages, and the program for the Church and Israel are never interchanged or intertwined.

When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are spiritually born anew, and are baptized into the universal Church, which is both earthly and heavenly. The universal Church will go into eternity as the Bride of Christ. However, the local Church is earth bound with heavenly leadership under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The local Church is made up of local members who may or may not be members of the universal Church. Many local Church members have never received Christ and have not been baptized into the universal Church by the Holy Spirit. They are tares mixed with wheat as Jesus spoke in the parable of the “tares and the wheat”. (Matt.13:24-30). The tares will be separated either when they die or when the Church is raptured into heaven. When we get to heaven, we will no longer be members of the local Church. But we will be members of the universal Church where we will be joint heirs with Christ as His bride.

In the eyes of man, all who are listed on the local Church rolls are members of the Church.  In the eyes of God, only those who have been regenerated are members of the local Church. This means that through the eyes of God, many large Churches may actually have very few members.

It is clear from Scriptures that the first local Church was at Jerusalem. The apostles went throughout the then known world preaching the gospel of a crucified and resurrected Christ and establishing local fellowships of believers. The apostle Paul made three missionary journeys establishing Churches in Asia and Eastern Europe. In his letters to some of the local Churches, Paul reiterated the doctrine of the Church, which was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit, and now it is part of our canon of Scriptures.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). This does not mean that good works save us, but that we are equipped for service, and are expected to perform those services. We each have a heavenly job description, and each of us has been given spiritual gifts that allow us to function as part of the local body of Christ. Some are given the gift of pastors, evangelists, teachers, ministry, administration, music, knowledge and wisdom, prayer intercessors, helps and many others. All members work together as one body with Christ as the head.

Perhaps the apostle Paul best explains how the local Church functions in his first letter to the Church at Corinth. In the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians, he writes: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore, I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.  There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (1 Cor. 12:1-6).

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:7-11).

“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. 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. 12:12-13).

“For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now indeed there are many members, yet one body” (1 Cor. 12:14-20).

“And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Cor. 21-27).

‘The local Church is a complete unity and a complete Church.  Its functions are ministry, the edification of the body, and the carrying of the gospel to a lost world. The Church functions like a family except on a larger scale. The local Church is the earthly manifestation of the universal Church and functions as a whole body. Nowhere in Scriptures do we have the local Church coming under a denomination or higher organization. Only three offices are given for the local Church – Bishop, Elder, and Deacon.  Some believe that the office of Bishop and Elder are the same. Today, we have created all kinds of groupings and hierarchical organizations that are not specified in the Bible.