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Fulton County Gospel News

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There is One Body Part 1

By Lee Moses

“There is one body . . .” (Ephesians 4:4). Thus the apostle Paul begins his list of seven “ones,” or “the seven pillars of unity,” as they are commonly called.[1] But this first statement in itself brims with meaning. Several times in the New Testament, Paul refers to the church as the “body” of Christ (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 1:18, 24). He sprinkles the analogy generously throughout the book of Ephesians (2:16; 3:6; 4:12-16; 5:23-32), in which book he clearly defines his terms: “…the church, which is his body…” (1:22-23). The church and the body are one and the same. When the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “There is one body,” He taught that there is one church. Consider further what this pithy statement teaches.

There are not multiple bodies, at least not as far as God is concerned. One might observe, “Of course there are multiple bodies, because there are multiple churches. There is the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and many others.” Yes, as a matter of fact, a little over ten years ago one source identified 213 different religious bodies in the United States, noting that their list was far from all-inclusive.[2]  Others have counted far more.  However, there were also various different religious bodies when Paul wrote—there were cults of the various pagan deities; there were Jews; there were different groups within Judaism, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. But as Jesus said of such groups and their peculiar doctrines, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13). 

Some may protest, “But those other religious bodies in Paul’s day did not even profess to be Christian. There are numerous bodies today which have Christ as their head.” When Paul wrote, the Lord only authorized the existence of one body, and thus, He only recognized the existence of one body. And the Lord has not authorized any new religious bodies since the first century (Colossians 3:17; 2 Peter 1:3). The Lord only recognized one body then, and He only recognizes one body now.

Christ is only the head of one body: “And he is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). There are numerous technological corporations that would love to have Bill Gates or Steve Jobs as their CEO. But just because someone starts a company and wants Bill Gates as CEO does not make it so. Similarly, many have started their own churches, and professed to have Christ as their head—the mere profession does not make it so (Matthew 15:8-9; Luke 6:46). Not only does such a profession fail to make it so; it is impossible that anyone could start a church other than the body of Christ, and that Christ could be the head of that manmade body. A body has many members (Romans 12:4-5), but it only has one head. Likewise, a head only corresponds to one body, not to several. Even should a body wish to be controlled by another body’s head, this does not make it so. A church may profess allegiance to Christ, but Christ cannot be head of a body if that body is not His body. 

Looking forward to Pentecost, as He so often did, Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus did not say this in the plural—“I will build my churches.” He said it in the singular—He would build one church. The plethora of manmade denominations in existence today do not have Christ as their originator or head. “There is one body.”

Other bodies are not parts of the one body. Denominationalists generally do not acknowledge the different bodies as being different bodies. They believe the various denominations are all parts of the one body. Even though the members of the different denominations did different things to become members and to be “saved,” they assert that their churches are in the body of Christ. However, the Holy Spirit denies this.

As the human body is composed of different parts, the Bible sometimes refers to the different “parts” or “members” of the one body. To the church at Corinth, Paul wrote, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The New King James Version translates the last portion, “and members individually.” Who were the different “members” or “parts” of the body? This statement was addressed to the church at Corinth (1:2), and Paul said, Ye are.” The Christians at Corinth were each individually parts of the body of Christ (compare with John 15:1-6).

Yes, different congregations meeting in different locations remain within the one body. As was the church at Corinth, the churches at Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi were all part of the body of Christ. However, these were not different bodies—they were simply local assemblies of Christians. They did not distinguish themselves from faithful congregations by using manmade designations (Acts 4:12; 11:26; Romans 16:16; 1 Peter 4:16). They did not have different organizational structures and hierarchies. They all did the exact same thing to become members; that is, they were “baptized into Christ” and into His body (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27; compare with John 3:5; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Peter 1:22-23).  Other than their geographic location and the local eldership overseeing the work, there was nothing to distinguish them from each other as separate entities.

When the day of Pentecost came and the church was established (Mark 9:1; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4), the Lord began adding obedient souls to His church (verses 41, 47). They all obeyed the exact same thing to become Christians (verse 38), and subsequently “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (verse 42). Sometime later, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (8:5). And “when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (verse 12). Did they thus form a new body distinct from the one body? No, they each did what the Bible instructs to become Christians, and did nothing at that time to form a distinct body. If a group of people who has done what the Bible says to do to become Christians begins meeting together, are they forming a new body? If they “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship,” absolutely not. They remain in the one body, individually simply Christians.

As one commercial for chicken nuggets used to say, “Parts is parts.” Only a part can be part of the body—a body cannot be part of the body.
 
[To be continued next month].


[1] For a discussion of each of these, see the series “Seven ‘Ones’ of the Church,” from the August 1998-June 1999 FCGN.

[2] National Council of Churches, Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 1999 (Eileen W. Lindner, ed.), 1999.

 

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