The BODY of CHRIST
Various New Testament Scriptures make reference to the "Body of Christ". The Greek word for "body" is "soma", which has a wide range of meanings. At times it does refer to the physical body of a person. However, at other times it refers to a collective group of persons who, together, comprise a "body". The U.S. Senate or House of Representatives is sometimes referred to as a "body" of lawmakers. In much the same way, various Scriptures refer to a "body" in such a way that the meaning is clearly a group of people, not an individual physical human body. That being said, to which group does the Scriptural "body" refer? Is it to an individual "local church body" or to a larger group? We have attended church services where the focus of the sermon was local church membership and responsibilities. Various Scriptures are introduced to lend credibility to what is being proclaimed.
We wish to suggest several things. First, it is indeed the Scriptures that need to be proclaimed and taught - they (that is, the Scriptures) need to be allowed to say what they say, and not be made to say what we want them to say. In a message we recently heard, the preacher, at the beginning of his message, quickly dismissed the idea that the Scripture to which he was drawing attention could possibly relate to a "body" other than an individual local church. We have yet to understand on what basis this dismissal occurred. Our second suggestion is that if we look at the various Scriptures in their contexts AND if we will take the time to compare Scripture with Scripture, the picture that unfolds is one whereby ALL of the verses typically used in the sermons referred to above seem to point clearly to a larger "body" and NOT to any individual local church. We will show those Scriptures to you in just a moment. But please consider this Scripture first:
Romans 12:3-5 "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another."
If you start with a presupposition that this is talking about a local church, then you can certainly make this Scripture apply to that. However, there is no justification for that presupposition. One key point, which will be made exceedingly clear in the Scriptures cited below, is that the reference is to a singular body - a body of which Christ is the head and all true believers comprise the body. Christ has ONE body, not MANY bodies! When a group of believers gathers locally (which is a good thing!) that certainly is a meeting of members of Christ's body, but that is not THE body of Christ!
1 Cor. 10:17 says "For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread."
1 Cor. 12:12-27 - "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. 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. 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."
Ephesians 1:22-23 "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."
Ephesians 2:14-16 "For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity."
Ephesians 3:5b-6 "...it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel."
Ephesians 4:4-5 "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism;"
Ephesians 4:11-16 "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love."
Ephesians 5: 23-24 "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church [not just the local "church"] is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything."
Ephesians 5:30 "For we are members of His body [singular - not many bodies]..."
Colossians 1:18 "And He is the head of the body, the church,..."
Colossians 2:11-19 "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God."
Colossians 3:15 "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful."
Hebrews 13:3 "Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also."
Ephesians 2:19-22 "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."
If these verses are all pertaining to "local church bodies", it would seem odd that the Apostle Paul would write "we" in letters to believers in Rome, in Corinth, in Ephesus, in Colosse and to the Hebrew believers as well unless he was a "member" of each of those. Once again, it seems plain to us that the clear meaning of all these verses has in mind the one, singular body of all true believers who collectively comprise the "body of Christ" which is "the Church".