The Body of Christ

The Church is Christ’s Body.  Yes, this image is a metaphor, and so we must be careful of literalizing the image beyond what the metaphor carries.

That said, a human body is not just the aggregate sum of its parts.  You don’t just pile a bunch of organs and limbs on a table and say: There’s a human body.  No, that’s a collection of human body parts.  Similarly, you don’t just stitch body parts together in any old way that you want.  For a human body to be human, it’s organs and limbs will be arranged in ways that are, well, human.  There won’t be a foot sticking out of the middle of the forehead and there won’t be an arm sticking out where the leg should go.  A human body is organized, quite literally: it’s organs (and limbs) are arranged in a definite shape, order and extension.

Now, let’s turn to Scripture, and I’ll say a bit more about this metaphor.

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. For in fact the body is not one member but many. . . .

But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. . . .

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. . . . 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. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.  (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18, 20, 24-29, NKJV)

Now, note that what I have described above, on the basis of the human body metaphor–it’s ordered arrangement, it’s greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts, and so on, are precisely the very things St. Paul says about the Church with regard to the metaphor.

Now, here’s the thing: Christ’s Body existed on the Day of Pentecost and looked a certain way, was arranged and ordered a certain way.  That Body continues to exist, because it is Christ’s Body and he promised to keep it, and it continues to look a certain way, is arranged a certain way and is ordered a certain way.  No limbs have been lopped off.  No organs have been cut out.  No parts have been rearranged.  Muscles have developed and gotten stronger.  Ligaments and tendons (cf. Eph 4:16) have grown stronger and more resilient as the Body has grown and increased and developed (just like all human bodies do).  But it is the same essential body.

Now, many today, including the churches in which I was raised, want to claim to be the New Testament Church.  But look around.  The matter of identification isn’t hard.  Do they look the same?  Are they shaped and arranged the same way?  Do they have bishops (Acts 20, 1 Tim 3 and 5)?  Do they observe a Lord’s Supper which is the very real participation in the Body and Blood of the Lord in the bread and the wine (1 Corinthians 10-11)?  Do they hold to the traditions handed down from the Apostles (1 Thessalonians 2)?  If they don’t look like, act like, have the same dimensions and arrangements that the New Testament Body had, how can they be the New Testament Body?

Now, granted, the New Testament Church today looks a little different than it did in the first century: after all, I, as a near-forty-year-old man look different than when I did as a teenager.  But people who haven’t seen me in years still recognize me, because I still look pretty much the same, still act pretty much the same.  So, too, the differences in the New Testament Body of Christ today and that of the New Testament Body in the first century, are differences of growth and development of a body, an organism.

On that basis, it’s pretty easy to figure out where and who is the Body of Christ.

2 thoughts on “The Body of Christ

  1. Clifton,

    The Church is the same body today as it was on Pentecost but it has been afflicted with the monuments of history. After His resurrection Christ’s glorified body still possessed the wounds of the Cross. Similarly, the Church still possesses the afflictions it has endured throughout history. Just as Christ’s wounds were proof to St. Thomas that Jesus is “Lord and God” the wounds of history bring proof of the divine nature of the Church.

    The apostles, and the bishops who succeeded them, certainly are an important part of the body, and they, perhaps above all display the wounds. As St. Paul states, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the Church.” In another place St. Paul says, “We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.”

    Sometimes these wounds come from without, such as in persecutions, and sometimes these wounds are self inflicted. The former are generally easy to see, for the martyrs shine as a glorious testimony to the truth of the Gospel. The latter may be harder to see, Peter’s refusal to eat with Gentiles would be an example of a self inflicted wound.

    How many today point to wounds of the Church and scoff, yet these scoffers are mistaken in that they point to the Church’s strength and not its weakness. Those with spiritual eyes can see the glory of the Church, not in spite of its wounds, but through its wounds.

  2. Good post. Funny that I was just talking with my wife about this the other night, but from a slightly different perspective. The Church is seen as both “body” and “family” in Christian metaphors. The prevailing notion in American pietistic thought is that if one decides to “follow Jesus” and “be holy,” he/she can sit down with a Bible, draw up a list/ideal of the “N.T. Church,” and upon “replicating” those particulars which seem most important, somehow become the “Body” or “Family” of God.

    But, that doesn’t work with a body or with a family. Simply imagining myself to be part of another person’s body, or family, won’t work, notwithstanding how much I try to look like them or act like their family.

    Not only must the Body today look like the Body of the early Church, with the Eucharist, bishops, traditions, etc., but it must also BE that body, a continuously living organism that has the “same DNA,” if I can press the metaphor that far. A living organism is unique (thus, the “one church” of St. Paul’s epistles). A family can be entered only through birth or adoption, and cannot simply be replicated in some far off place by those who wish to look and feel and be “part of it.”

    Anyway, good post. Enjoyed it. Thanks for linking me on your blog; I’m going to link you on mine. And pray for my wife and I, both catechumens.

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