The caption to this article sets forth the indisputable fact that when "body" refers to God's people, the ecclesia, there is only ONE! Not two; not many, but one (Ephesians. 4:4). Over and over again, the apostle Paul uses the figure of the human body to represent the Lord's people, and he always has in mind the one great gathering from the world of darkness "into the kingdom of the Son of his love" (Colossians. 1:13). He never applies the figure to a group of disciples in any given locale, except to include them as part of "the one body"! Interestingly, Paul is the only inspired writer to use this figure; and we plan to examine every verse that deals with this subject. Then, we will see without a doubt how Paul used the figure of "the body."
To the Christians in Ephesus he wrote that God "put all things in subjection under his (Jesus') feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, WHICH IS HIS BODY, the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). In the second chapter, we read that "the middle wall of partition" which separated Jew and Gentile was abolished that both might be reconciled "IN ONE BODY UNTO GOD" (2:14-16). In chapter four, included among the unifying facts of the gospel, is the brief, clear statement, "THERE IS ONE BODY" (4:4). In chapter five, we are treated to the wonderful thought that Christ is the head of the church, "being himself the SAVIOUR OF THE BODY" (5:23). There should be no doubt in our minds that Paul's treatment of the church in the figure of the human body indicates (1) he is talking about the ONE TRUE BODY of God's people. (2) This body is the ONE TRUE CHURCH OF OUR LORD which shall be saved for eternity; and (3) there is a strong inference that the saints in Ephesus were part of that body.
With his letter to the Ephesians, Paul sets the pattern for his figurative use of the human body. We shall see from his other writings that he never used the figure to represent other than all of God's people. If he does allude to the disciples in a given city in this connection, it is always as being part of the whole body.
To the "saints and faithful brethren in Christ that are at Colosse," Paul wrote; "And he is the head of THE BODY, the church" (Colossians 1:18). The Greek emphasizes the word "THE", which indicates that THE ONE AND ONLY BODY is under consideration in this verse. In chapter two Paul declared, "The body is Christ's," and some were not "holding fast the Head, from whom all THE BODY, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God" (2:19). In chapter three Paul encouraged the brethren: "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in ONE BODY; and be ye thankful" (3:15 ). In each reference to "THE BODY" in this epistle, Paul has in mind the one great gathering of the Lord's people. "THERE IS ONE BODY" (Ephesians. 4:4).
Having considered every scripture in Ephesians and Colossians that deals with the church in the figure of the human body, we should see that in every case so far, Paul looks upon the people of God as a whole, representing them in the figure of a human body. We also shall see that he does not differ from this approach in writing to the saints in Rome and in Corinth.
Before we look to those two great letters of the apostle, we need to understand the problem that besets us today. We have built up a concept about the church that is foreign to the scriptures. When I say, "we," I mean that in all denominational branches, there are preachers and teachers who commonly teach that "each congregation is the Lord's body," a concept not found in the scriptures. Many embellish this false idea with words not found in the revelation of God, but originate directly from the wisdom and logic of men. They talk about "the local body, the church." Others describe it as "an institution, organization, functional unit, and corporate body." Furthermore, many preachers today are willing to affirm that God has commanded us to form ourselves into one of these institutions. Some are saying that God commanded that certain works be done that only this institution can do, and they mean the "local body of Christ." While God has given His people plenty of work to do, THERE IS NO COMMANDMENT, APOSTOLIC EXAMPLE, OR EVEN A NECESSARY INFERENCE THAT AN INSTITUTION WAS SO CHARGED, OR THAT ANY SUCH INSTITUTION EXISTED!
Someone needs to show us the passage where God commanded, or show how by example, to form one of these things that is now called by these fancy theological terms not found in the Bible. Then, how do we come to calling it "the local body of Christ"? Where is the book, chapter and verse?
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that God does not want us to "assemble ourselves together" (Hebrews 10:25) in various groupings. He does. We must! What I am saying is that the concept that has developed over recent decades concerning "The local body - the church," meaning our own "independent, autonomous congregation," the "church that we go to," is not found in the scriptures. It is a product of our imagination. All of this, including the "Universal Church" and the "Local Church" distinction is not scriptural. I repeat, you cannot find this distinction anywhere in the New Testament. The disciples are always considered to be part of the one and only body of Christ, whether they live in Ephesus, Colosse, Corinth or Rome. Remember, "There is one body" (Ephesians. 4:4).
Often is the case that men are found teaching a concept for truth that is not found in the scriptures. When challenged, some will admit to the wrong and will change their thinking. This reflects an honest and good heart. However, too many will not give up the false notion, but will try to lift a verse(s) out of context and force an interpretation that "proves" their position. Peter called this practice "wresting the scriptures to their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:16). Apparently, some have difficulty with admitting to teaching error, and to changing from a faulty position to a true one. Could it be that we have too much pride?
Today, men are attempting to "prove" the "Local Body = Local Church" concept by appealing to one verse in the Bible: I Corinthians 12:27. (Some try to use Romans 12:4-5 also). They reason that if they can prove the "local body" from 1 Corinthians 12:27, since "the body is the church," then they assert that they have "proved" the "Local Church" exists. Remember that they are trying to prove that the "Local Church" is an "institution, organization, functional unit and corporate body" which God has commanded us to form. The bottom line of their thinking is that "every disciple must place himself UNDER THE CONTROL" of this corporation. Furthermore, he must submit totally to its authority (elders, overseers, bishops) in all matters of judgment. This submission means the complete subjugation and domination of each Christian. What ever happened to the principle: "For freedom did Christ set us free; stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage" (Galatians 5:1)?
First Corinthians 12:12-28
Let us now turn to the passage of scripture that is said to teach a distinction between the "Universal Body" and the "Local Body." We need to look carefully to see if we can find this distinction.
Verse 12-13: "For as THE BODY IS ONE, and hath many members, and all the members of THE BODY, being many, are ONE BODY; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into ONE BODY, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit." Paul is referring to God's people in the figure of the human body. He does this to emphasize (1) the unity of His people, and (2) the importance of each member's function. It becomes obvious from verse 13 that Paul has in mind the "ONE BODY" of Ephesians 4:4, into which all were baptized. We were not baptized into some kind of "local body."
Verse 14: "For THE BODY is not one member, but many." The word "For" connects verse 14 with the two preceding verses. Therefore, "THE BODY" of this verse is the same as the "ONE BODY" into which we are baptized. Not a "local body."
Verse 15: "If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of THE BODY: is it therefore not of THE BODY?" What "BODY"? The one, great body of baptized believers.
Verse 16: "And if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of THE BODY; is it therefore not of THE BODY?" Paul makes the same argument as in verse 15. It is still the same body.
Verse 17: "If the WHOLE BODY were an eye, where were the hearing? IF the WHOLE were hearing, where were the smelling?" What is the "WHOLE BODY"? You're right, the same BODY we started with in verse 12.
Verse 18: "But now hath God set the members each one of them in THE BODY, even as it pleased him." When we are "baptized into ONE BODY" (v 13), we are added by God (Acts 2:47) to this ONE BODY, to function so as to please God who "set" us in it. Get the point? It is still the same BODY!
Verse 19: "And if they were all one member, where were THE BODY?" What "BODY"? The same one in the context.
Verse 20: "But now there are many members but ONE BODY." The same "BODY."
Verse 21-23: "And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much rather, those members of THE BODY which seem to be more feeble are necessary: and those parts of THE BODY, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness." Paul is carrying through his figure of the human body, THE ONE BODY in which we were baptized. Definitely not a "Local Body."
Verse 24: "Whereas our comely parts have no need: but God tempered THE BODY together, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked." It is obvious as to what "BODY" God "tempered."
Verses 25-26: "That there should be no schism in THE BODY; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffereth, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it." Paul is still talking about the one great BODY of God's people, howbeit, they may be clustered in various parts of the city or country. They are part of the "BODY" of the context.
Verse 27: "Now ye are the BODY of Christ, and severally members thereof." We ask the question again, "What is the BODY of this verse?" The answer must be: The BODY of the context, the ONE BODY in which we have been baptized (13), in which we have been placed by God (18), and in which we must function (22-26). We should understand that the word "the," before "BODY of Christ," is not in the Greek in this verse. This would indicate that the saints at Corinth would only be part of the great ONE BODY, and would not qualify as THE BODY. It cannot mean, as some teach today, that the saints in Corinth constituted "a body of Christ."
All scriptures examined thus far indicate that there is only ONE BODY of Christ, not many. It would be as much of a distortion to think that Christ has "many bodies," as it would to believe and teach that "the body of Christ" has many heads. Also, it is incredible that in all the verses here, where the emphasis is definitely on the ONE BODY of all baptized believers, that Paul decided to throw in a reference to the "Local Body," a reference which is not found anywhere else in scripture.
Verse 28: "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles then gifts of healings, helps, governments, divers kinds of tongues." The fact that Paul is obviously talking about "the church" here as "THE ONE BODY" of Ephesians 4:4 strengthens our argument that all verses from12 to 28 have reference to the same "ONE BODY."
Proponents of the "Local Body" concept often appeal to a statement made by W.E. Vine in his "An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words," Volume one, page 173, "It (body) is also used metaphorically - of a local church. 1 Corinthians 12:27." Here, Mr. Vine has gone beyond his scholarly knowledge of the definition of words to give us an interpretation as well. It is his opinion that the verse should be interpreted as "a local church." It is unfortunate that his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12:27 reflects an institutional church bias. In this interpretation, my institutional church brethren would heartily agree with Mr. Vine. Alas, there are no scholars who are infallible; all make mistakes from time to time.
By all rules of interpretation, "THE BODY" in First Corinthians 12:12-28 must be understood as being God's people in the total sense. The Corinthians were part of that body. This interpretation agrees with Ephesians 4:4, "There is one body." The "Universal-Local" interpretation contradicts Ephesians 4:4 because it maintains that each congregation is Christ's body, allowing for many bodies of Christ.
Now that we have an understanding of First Corinthians 12, we should be able to see what Paul taught on this subject in his letter to the saints in Rome. In fact, the teaching is identical to that of all we have examined thus far.
"For even as we have many members in ONE BODY, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are ONE BODY in Christ, and severally members one of another" (12:4-5).
Again, we ask the question, "What is the ONE BODY of these verses"? It has to be the "ONE BODY" of all other scriptures, for: "THERE IS ONE BODY" (Ephesians 4:4).
While there is a sense in which any group of people can be referred to as "a body," Paul never used the word in that sense. We have examined every scripture in the New Testament that bears on this subject, and have seen that Paul always used the word in the figurative sense of the human body representing all of God's people. Let us "speak as the Bible speaks" and "combine spiritual things (concepts) with spiritual words." God help us to give up our idol of the institutional church and to stop making of each congregation a "body of Christ." Our Lord does not have "many bodies," for the Bible plainly teaches, "There is one body."