The Body of Christ

What is the body of Christ?

by Pastor Mark Pyles

 First, a body by the term itself must be local. In order to qualify to be a body it must be together and functioning. No thing can be called a body that is not joined together and operating. To be a body as used in the NT there must be locality, function and unity of purpose and belief. Otherwise it is not a body but a debate. The NT use of ekklesia assumes unity of purpose and function.

The body of Christ then is His body. This would mean that it is a body that operates according to HIS specifications and requirements. It is only His body if it is meeting those requirements and specifications.

Christ is said to be “the Head of the body”. So since He is the head of this body what ekklesia qualifies to be His body? Any ekklesia considered to be His body must line up with His requirements, doctrine and practice—a NT church. If it does not is it considered a body? Certainly not. Christ is not Head over any group of people meeting together who are not following His requirements for an ekklesia.

So concerning the universal church view, is Christ the Head over all of those calling themselves churches? Can He be Head over so-called churches who are not teaching His truth or observing His ordinances as He gave them? It would be absurd to say yes to that.

Only those meeting His requirements are His body- His churches.

So the references in Ephesians and Colossians to His body the church must be considered in the generic sense to describe Christ’s kind of churches, or His particular churches. All of the references beyond the 92 unargued references to the local church are usages that refer to the church in abstract, or Christ’s kind of churches numbering only 23.

When Eph. 5:24 says that Christ loved the church one must be careful that he does not interpret it with preconceived notions reading a universal church into it. This is a beautiful statement in which Christ’s expresses His love for His kind of church, the churches that are His, true NT churches.

 

So, the question I asked here is can a truly born again believer live periods of his life while not being a part of Christ’s church? Yes. If one is not baptized by water into membership of a local church that meets Christ’s qualifications for a NT church he is not a part of Christ’s church, His body. This person is not a part of Christ’s body. He has not submitted to Christ’s headship. Why is this true? Because Christ is only said in Scripture to be Head of His church. So if one has not submitted to, placed himself under the authority of a local NT church, he is not considered in Christ’s body. He is a member of Christ’s kingdom but not His body, the local church.

The notion that one is placed into a universal, invisible, mysterious universal body at salvation is an invention of man and is not supported in any way by Scripture. Besides that, it is not logical.

Let me explain.

 
1) How can a body be universal? How can something be considered universal when the word “body” as used in I Corinthians, Colossians and Ephesians obviously means to be in the same location with synergistic functionality. How can a body do that which a body does while spread throughout the world? I submit that it cannot.

I Cor. 12:27 describes Christ’s body very clearly.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.”

The entire chapter refers to the local church at Corinth and here Paul describes His body as “members individually”. “Body” is synonymous with “members individually”. This “body” cannot be invisible and scattered for it is comprised of individual members. Every body has members that are working together in unity in both health and function.

2) How can a “church” that does not hold to the truths as taught and established by Christ and His apostles be a part of Christ’s body? Is He the head of those so-called churches? Does Christ call those congregations His body or His church? He is certainly not Head over them, as a matter of fact He doesn’t even know them. But what about the churches who may differ in non-essential areas of doctrine? Are they NT churches or truly Christ’s body? If they are following Christ’s requirements in order to be one of His churches, no doubt they are. (I have another article that clarifies what makes a church a true NT church).
 
3) This inevitably brings out the question as to who truly makes up the bride of Christ. Are all born again believers a part of the bride of Christ?

In John 3:29 John speaks of the bride and the friends of the bride, a group in which he placed himself. Why? Because John the Baptist was not in the church. This was not his calling nor his role. He was the forerunner to prepare the way for the One who would establish His church on earth.

So who then is the bride of Christ?

Let’s look first at where this phrase is used in the NT.

In Rev. 21:9-10 we see her referred to.

“Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,”

 

Here the bride of Christ is personified as the New Jerusalem. Now obviously the physical city could not be the Lamb’s literal wife. Rather the text is speaking of the residents of this city. The city is called the bride because that is who inhabits it. It was made by Christ Himself for His precious bride, as is pictured in the Jewish marriage tradition. So the city is named the bride because the bride of Christ makes the city complete. And she will reign from her over the earth. The New Jerusalem will be the capitol city of Christ’s total kingdom reign.

The question here is who does this bride include? Is it Christ’s glorified church and the OT saints or is it just Christ’s church?

I think John the Baptist clears that up for us as he represents the OT saints and the end of the age of law. He includes himself in the group called “the friends of the bride”. They are privileged guests but they are still guests. They are not the bride.

So far we have eliminated the OT saints from the bride, now what about those who have been saved in this age of grace yet have not committed to a truly NT church? Are they considered a part of the bride?

I believe the best way to come to a conclusion on this is to understand that a bride is first betrothed to the groom, bound to Him through the dowry of the Father which is followed by the glorious consummation of the marriage in the most intimate way possible.

So only those betrothed to Christ will actually compose and actually become His bride. Who is betrothed to Him?

In 2 Cor. 11:2 Paul said to the local church at Corinth,

“For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”

 Of course this “betrothal” is a term used by Paul with which His readers were very familiar. The Jewish tradition in marriage was for the parents to choose a spouse for their child and to betroth that child to their promised spouse by a down payment, or a dowry. The betrothal or engagement usually lasted one year after which the usually one week long marriage ceremony and celebration would take place. So betrothal was a sealed commitment of marriage. It required a legal divorce in the courts to nullify that betrothal.

Paul had been the instrument thru which the ones in this local church had been saved and through which the church had started there. He “betrothed” them to Christ in that sense. He was the one that would “present them as a chaste virgin”.

 Doddridge says that this is an allusion to the custom among the Greeks “of having an officer whose business it was to educate and form young women, especially those of rank and figure, designed for marriage, and then to present them to those who were to be their husbands, and if this officer through negligence permitted them to be corrupted between the espousal and the consummation of the marriage, great blame would fall upon him.” Such a responsibility Paul felt. So anxious was he for the entire purity of that church which was to constitute “the bride, the Lamb’s wife;” so anxious that all who were connected with that church should be presented pure in heaven.

 

So Paul tells us that this local church (which would include all NT local churches) are considered the bride of Christ.

But are all congregations that call themselves churches a part of His bride? No, they cannot be. And this is because there are apostate “churches” innumerable. And there are churches who even hold to fundamental truths yet teach falsely about Christ and His atonement or who do not believe in the complete sovereignty of God, for example. Do they meet the qualifications for a NT church? Only if they line up with Christ’s description of His church. He will only be married to those who have held to His truth and His practice and His polity all of which are clearly expressed in Scripture. How could Christ be married to a false church? He cannot. These churches are to be spit out of His mouth. They make Him vomit (Rev. 3:16). No Church that makes Christ sick will be united with Him in marriage.

Some might say at this point that after the Rapture and Judgment Seat the church will be one forever and so all will be a part of the bride. This is to assume that the bride is only potential and not present. But the bride of Christ exists right now according to Scripture. The bride is not everyone who is redeemed as was established earlier. It is a select group among the NT saints.

 

Another passage describes the “wife” of the groom in heaven. It is Rev. 19:7-8.

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

 

So the wife will be clothed with the glory of the deeds they did while on earth that came through the Judgment Seat as “gold, silver and precious stones”, or rewards. I believe this clothing is an enswathment of the glory of their regenerated spirits which was always perfectly holy even while in the unredeemed fleshly body. It was through this new nature that all works approved by and produced by Christ were performed in their earthly life.

The only way any believer will be fully rewarded on that day is if he/she treated Christ’s churches as Christ’s bride. This means to cherish her, submit to her and to do all one can to prosper and grow her through commitment and service. This means to submit to the teachings of that church and the leadership of that church.

When a professing believer lives his life outside of the local church he is either not truly a believer or he is living his life willingly outside of the clear will of God as revealed in the NT.

So who are those who will live in the age of grace and yet not be a part of the bride of Christ?

First, believers who are attending a church that is not meeting the requirements Christ laid down in order to be a NT church and are thus compromising biblical truth. Second, believers who are not committing to one of Christ’s true churches in their earthly life.

 When Christ and His bride are united in heaven during the Tribulation Period on earth it will be to a bride who was faithful to Him during their betrothal. He will not be married to an impure and unfaithful bride. Though she was not perfect by any means, she nevertheless stayed faithful to the teachings, will and purpose of her Bridegroom during the betrothal. All through the betrothal she told others about her Groom, proclaimed the beauty of her Groom, always praised the pure character of her Groom, proved faithful to her Groom throughout persecution and threats and lived her life with joyful anticipation of their coming marriage. This is the bride of Christ. And though it may not be popular to say it in this age of an infatuation with the false notion of a universal, invisible, mysterious church, not all churches will be in the bride. Some will be friends of the bride or attendants.

 

So the conclusion to the matter of what comprises the body of Christ is that His body is used in a local way, not a universal. Even the texts that seem to speak of a spiritual body do not have textual support for a universal one. One must be careful to not read into a text what it seems to say for what it truly intended. Using the contextual considerations is essential for proper hermeneutics. What was the author’s intent and purpose for the direct audience to which he was writing? How did they understand what he was writing– for example, the word ekklesia? Once this is considered and rightly interpreted only then should we determine the meaning and application to ourselves.

All of one’s doctrine (and here our ecclesiology) must be formed by the Scriptures alone.

As a former universal church theory proponent myself, I struggled when my belief was challenged. It is hard to leave behind any previously held belief. Yet if the Scriptures refute our view we must reject our view. This I have done in the areas of both soteriology and ecclesiology, with some rejecting me personally and as their pastor because of it. But I must be true to what the Scriptures say, not what man prefers. It is my prayer that, if you have not done so, that you will also.

                                       

 

 

 


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