THE CHURCH, THE BODY OF CHRIST
T. Pierce Brown
In the sixty years we have been reading the Bible and hearing preachers proclaim the gospel of Christ, we have heard many comments made on the fact that Christ is the head of the church. With this statement no man who calls himself a Christian should disagree. However, without exception, all those who have spoken on the subject in our hearing have spoken as if the meaning of the phrase was practically exhausted when one thinks of the head as a sort of director of an organization. Or, if they want to go half a step farther, they cap the climax by saying something like, “As my head directs my hands and feet, so Christ, the head of the body, directs every member of the body.”
With all my heart (or head–or whatever) I believe that Christ is to direct every member of the church, the body of Christ, but aside from the little technical fact that my head does not really direct my hands and feet, but the head itself is directed by the brain to move, turn, etc., just as the hands and feet are, it is my conclusion that those allusions to the “head” of an organization directing it and the head of a man directing his body do not do justice to the meaning which the Holy Spirit would like to transmit to us through His word. I am not arrogant enough to assume that I will now do justice to it, but if I can cause earnest, honest students of God’s word to probe more deeply into some Bible truths, and to see some other significant facets of God’s multifarious revelation, I shall be gratified. Primarily, I hope to open some avenues of thought with the hope that those with better minds, deeper spirituality, and broader knowledge may amplify or correct our conclusions.
In the first place, to conceive of the church as an organization–a sort of glorified country club — or we could even say, “a Divine Institution” — into which a person must come in order to be saved does not do justice to the Bible picture. It is true that the church is called the house or family of God, and one must be a son of God to be saved. God has no children outside his family. But that does not mean that the Apostles presented the church as a Divine Institution into which you had to come in order to BE saved. The Bible concept is that when a person accepted the risen Christ as his Lord and Savior and demonstrated that faith by his repentance and baptism for the remission of sins, he became a part of the family, inasmuch as he was being saved as he obeyed the gospel (Acts 2:47), and the Lord added him to his family. If this distinction seems too fine to be practical, let us suggest this difference. The idea of a divine institution into which one must come in order to be saved suggests a concept of an organized church which one has to join (even if we would rather use another phrase, “come into”) in order to be saved. The second idea suggests a concept of a group of persons who have become ONE with Christ by surrendering their lives to him in accordance to his terms, and are thus recognized as a part of his family, or body. The second one is scriptural; the first is not.
There is no hint that the Ethiopian eunuch had any concept at all of some DIVINE INSTITUTION into which he must come before he could be saved, but he did have a concept of obeying his Lord, at which point he would be saved, automatically becoming a part of the total group of saved persons. Nowhere in the Bible is the idea taught that a person should think of “coming into the church” in order to be saved (as we usually put it), nor that he “got saved” then joined the church, as most denominations conceive of it. What he was taught was, in essence, “Surrender your life to the Lord on his specified terms and you will be saved and simultaneously be a part of the body.” They neither thought of coming into the body to be saved, nor being saved in order to be thought worthy (and perhaps voted on) to get in the body.
Now, we want to consider a little more intensively and extensively some additional thoughts relative to the church as His body, and Christ as the Head that we might see that these terms as the Holy Spirit uses them imply far more than the head of a corporation telling a body of people what to do. Christ as head will have to be studied in another article.
The term “body” is from “soma,” so translated in the KJV 145 times. The word “flesh” is from “sarx,” so translated 147 times. It is also apparent when one reads every passage in the New Testament where the term “body” is used, it is never used to simply mean a “body of people”–a crowd or an assembly, organized or not!
It is true that Ephesians1:23shows that the church (assembly of called out ones) is His body. But Paul is not simply saying, “The church is his crowd of people.” He means, “The called out assembly (which belongs to Him) may also be classified as his BODY (a term which embodies other characteristics than those inherent in a mere assembly of people).” When the Bible speaks of the church as his flock, family, bride, house, etc. we properly find characteristics of a flock, family, etc. and show that the church has those. If we can discover some characteristics that inhere in the term “body” beyond simply being a group of separate entities directed by one “head,” our purpose will have been accomplished.
A reading of Colossians 2:17 in the NASB suggests “things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” The King James says, “but the body is of Christ.” It is evident that whatever is meant by “soma,” translated “body” or “substance” is opposite to a mere shadow, and involves the idea of reality, substance, or essence. As we examined all the uses of the term “body” in the New Testament, it seemed more evident that the basic idea was not the human form or bodily shape, and certainly not a group or “body” of people, but the essence or substance of something.
Now, it happens that the substance (dust) of which man’s outward being is composed is called his body. It usually has a particular form or structure. But note carefully: The thing that makes it the body of a man is NOT its external form, but its essential qualities! One can determine whether a piece of flesh is from the body of a man, cow, pig, or ape, not by its form or shape, but by its essence, nature or substance.
Without belaboring the point unduly, or even trying to suggest all the reasoning and research that led up to that conclusion, this is our point: When Paul speaks of the church as the body of Christ, it is more in keeping with the depth of his thinking and his use of language to suggest that he means that every member of the church (body) must be a partaker of the Divine nature–that the very essence of his spiritual being must be such that he has the essential qualities of Christ, rather than the idea that he merely becomes a member of a group (body) of people whose head (leader) is Christ. We ARE members of a group. Our leader IS Christ. He is more than that. He is my Example. He is more than that. Paul touches more deeply the real concept in Galatians2:20when he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” This is more than merely an example, a leader, or director, as good as those concepts are. This is: “He is the very essence of my life!” That is, I am a part of his body, the church. It is not enough to merely think of him as the director of an institution to which we belong.
We are persuaded that Christ was trying to get the same point across in John 6:53-56. There is no reason whatever to assume that he is talking about the Lord’s Supper. But to eat his flesh and drink his blood is to assimilate his life in ourselves. It is to be a “partaker of the Divine nature.” If you do not see any difference in “being a partaker of the Divine nature” and “getting membership in a group” that claims they will follow Jesus, this article will not mean anything to you.
What constitutes a person as a member of the body of Christ is that he has become a partaker of the Divine Nature–he has become a new creature–the very essence of his being is changed. He has become one with Christ.
Someone may scornfully say at this point, “That is what all faithful gospel preachers have said all along. You are not saying anything new!” Thank God for that if it be true! But I am persuaded that one of the reasons for the rottenness and liberalism which is destroying the faith of many today is the concept of some of God’s “grandchildren” that if you “get membership” in God’s Divine Institution, you “get saved.” (Of course God really has no “grandchildren,” but I use the expression it to describe some “second-generation Christians” who “grew up in the church” and are “Christians” because their parents were). So instead of Christ becoming a living, personal reality, whose nature and life becomes our nature and life, he is rather a sort of impersonal head of an institution, sending down directives to follow.
If the “body” of Christ may be defined as that group of persons whose essential nature is that they have become Christlike, not merely a “body” of people who claim Christ as their leader, what is involved in the idea of Christ being the “head” of that body? That subject needs to be discussed in another article.