By Pastor Cornelius R. Stam
(This is the fifth and last of a series of articles that first appeared in 1950 in Truth magazine, published by Milwaukee Bible Institute/Worldwide Grace Testimony, now the Grace Gospel Fellowship. These articles have never before appeared in the Searchlight.)
“Now ye are the Body of Christ, and members in particular” (I Cor. 12:27).
The most wonderful truth in all the Word of God is that which concerns the relationship between Christ and the Church of this dispensation, called “His Body.”
To understand this distinctive truth, however, we must first learn that the words Church and body, as they are rendered in the Authorized Version, are not always synonymous.
THE TERMS “CHURCH” AND “BODY OF CHRIST” EXAMINED
The word Church (Gr. ekklesia) is a general term and is interdispensational in scope. It means simply a called-out group, or assembly, and God has had His called-out people in every dispensation. Israel under Moses was called “the church in the wilderness” by Stephen (Acts 7:38). Our Lord instructed those of His day how, if a sinning brother could not be reasoned with, they might, as a last resort, “tell it unto the Church” (Matt. 18:17). At Pentecost “there were added…about three thousand souls” and “the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:41,47).
The word ekklesia is not, of course, found in the Old Testament since the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, but it is significant that it is found in reference to Israel some sixty times in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.
The word Church, then, is a general term for God’s called-out people in every age.
The word body (Gr. soma) is an entirely different word in the original. It may refer to any physical body, but when applied to “the Body of Christ,” that Body of believers of which we are members, it is a particular term and is distinctly dispensational in character.
How it can be argued, for example, that the Body of Christ had its historical beginning at Pentecost, when Pentecost was the fulfillment of prophecy and the Body of Christ is not even mentioned until Paul, has always puzzled us. The Messianic kingdom was prophesied throughout the Old Testament Scriptures; it was proclaimed “at hand” during our Lord’s earthly ministry and offered for Israel’s acceptance at Pentecost. The coming of the Holy Spirit, likewise, was prophesied by Joel and others, and at Pentecost Peter said: “This is that….” Even the great period of tribulation was predicted by the Old Testament prophets and at Pentecost Peter declared that the signs of that dread day had begun to appear.
But where in the Old Testament is there any prediction of the formation of a joint Body of Jewish and Gentile believers with a position at God’s right hand in the heavenlies? Where did Christ or His apostles even mention it during His earthly ministry? Where is even the term “Body of Christ” found until we come to the writings of the Apostle Paul? 1 What right, then, have we to assume that the Body of Christ had its beginning at Pentecost? The signs of Pentecost heralded the “last days” of prophecy; the consumation of Israel’s glory in “the day of the Lord;” they did not mark the first days of “the Church which is His Body.”
The supposition that the words Church and body are synonymous in Scripture has lead to great confusion. Some, seeing Israel referred to as the Church in the Old Testament, have concluded that the Body of Christ had its historical beginning with Abel or Adam. Those referred to above, however, finding the word Church in Acts 2 and connecting this with Christ’s statement: “I will build my Church” (Matt. 16:18) have supposed—less consistently—that the Body had its beginning at Pentecost. Many good Bible expositors, including even Dr. C. I. Scofield, have sought to point out distinctions between “Israel and the Church,” when the fact is that Israel once was the Church, as we have seen from Acts 7:38.
The distinctions, properly, should be made between Israel and the Body, between the Church of that day and the Church of this.
Let us be careful, then, about our terminology. The word Church is a general term and is interdispensational in scope, while “the Body of Christ” is a particular term and is distinctly dispensational in scope, since it is the product of “the dispensation of the grace of God.”
THE FORMATION OF THE BODY
Probably more “church members” today are interested in the establishment of Christ’s kingdom than are interested in the completion of the Body. This is because they have not been instructed in Pauline truth, the truth concerning the present dispensation.
God is not establishing Christ’s kingdom on earth today. The King and His kingdom were rejected 1900 years ago. Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand as a royal Exile from earth. Believers today are translated “into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13); and “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).
Indeed, the Church which is Christ’s Body came into existence as a result of Israel’s rejection of Christ and the postponement of the establishment of the kingdom on earth. It was when Israel had rejected Christ both in incarnation and in resurrection; when she had closed her eyes and ears to all the overwhelming evidences of His Messiahship and had begun to wage war against Him, that “grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). Gradually setting Israel aside as a nation along with the other nations, God now began to form “the Body of Christ,” composed of individual Jews and Gentiles reconciled to God by faith in His rejected Son.
“For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32).
“And that He might reconcile both unto God in one Body by the Cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Eph. 2:16).
WHEN DID THE BODY BEGIN?
The Body of Christ had its historical beginning with Paul, before he wrote his first epistle.
That it began with Paul, not with Peter or before, is evident from several important facts:
First, as we have seen, the Body is not mentioned anywhere in the Scriptures until we come to the writings of Paul, and it is the great subject of his epistles.
Second, the Body of Christ is a joint Body, composed of Jewish and Gentile believers alike, with no difference, positionally, between them.
“That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs [joint-heirs], and of the same Body [of a joint-Body], and partakers [joint-partakers] of His promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). 2
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles…” (I Cor. 12:13).
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek…for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28).
This is very different from the program of prophecy and the so-called “great commission” in which Israel is given precedence over the Gentiles (See Isa. 60:1-3; Zech. 8:13,23; Luke 24:47; Acts 3:25,26).
Third, the Body is made up of reconciled Jews and Gentiles as we have seen from Ephesians 2:16. Now we cannot reconcile friends. Reconciliation postulates alienation. This is why the message of reconciliation was not preached, nor the Body formed, until God had begun to set Israel aside along with the Gentiles. “The casting away of them” opened the way for “the reconciling of the world” (Rom. 11:15). Nor is there any indication of the setting aside of Israel until Paul is raised up.
Fourth, Paul distinctly states, by the Spirit, that the Body of Christ is a “new man” and a “new creation.”
“Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature [Gr. there is A NEW CREATION]: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Cor. 5:16,17).
“For He is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;
“Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain ONE NEW MAN, so making peace” (Eph. 2:14,15).
This “new creation” and “new man” stand in contrast to Adam and the old creation. Having concluded all in unbelief, God now offers to take the fallen sons of Adam and make them a new creation in Christ.
Fifth, the Apostle further states that God’s purpose concerning the formation of the Body of Christ was kept a secret until revealed through him.
“Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ,
“Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:4,5).
“[His Body, Ver. 24] whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfill the Word of God;
“Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints” (Col. 1:24-26).
That the Body had its beginning before Paul wrote his first epistle is also evident, from the fact that he speaks of it in his early epistles as having already been brought into existence and refers to the mystery as having already been revealed.
(See, as to the Body: Rom. 12:4,5; I Cor. 6:15; 10:17; 12:12,13,27. As to the mystery: Rom. 2:16; 16:25; I Cor. 2:7).
THE CAPSTONE OF DIVINE REVELATION
When the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians that it was given to him to “fulfill [complete] the Word of God” (Col. 1:25), he means that the truth of the Body is the filling up of the divine revelation. More of the Bible was doubtless written later, but these later writings simply supplied further details and instructions concerning an already prophesied period of time. But the glorious mystery of the Body is the capstone of the divine purpose and revelation. Here we have the highest truth in all the Word of God. The Body is called, in Ephesians 1:23, “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all,” and we who have received grace to trust Christ during this age of His rejection should humbly thank God a thousand times a day that He has seen fit to give us the most exalted position contemplated for the redeemed anywhere in the Scriptures.
In this connection it should be noted, first of all, that the Body of Christ is more than an organization; it is a living organism. As necessary and Scriptural as organization is in the professing Church on earth, we should always remember that the true Church of today is made up of believers inseparably and eternally united to the living Christ in glory. And this Body grows in its dimensions, as one believer leads another to Christ and spiritually, as all believers come into a fuller knowledge and appreciation of the truth.
“In whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21).
“But speaking the truth in love… grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
“From Whom the whole Body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the Body unto the edifying [building up] of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15,16).
Another blessed truth in this connection is that all true believers belong to this Body, even our individual bodies being called the members of Christ. And because we are the members of Christ, we are members one of another; each having some different function in the Body, to be sure (Rom. 12:4; I Cor. 12:14-26), but all equally members of it and of one another.
“So we, being many, are one Body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:5).
“Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?” (I Cor. 6:15).
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one Body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free” (I Cor. 12:13).
“Now ye are the Body of Christ, and members in particular” (I Cor. 12:27).
“There is one Body” (Eph. 4:4).
How this should make us love one another! How it should break down denominational barriers! How it should overcome personal differences! This bond should be most precious to us when we reflect that it is our union with Christ that makes us members one of another.
Finally, we should never forget that Christ, Christ alone, is the Head of the Body. We, the members, must always be subject to Him, ready to respond instantly to His will.
“And He is the Head of the Body, the Church…that in all things He might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).
“…Christ is Head of the Church… the Church is subject unto Christ…” (Eph. 5:23,24).
And this clearly implies that He will plan the very best for us; that His will for us will not be grievous.
“For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church” (Eph. 5:29).
- It is true that Paul speaks of those who were “in Christ” before him (Rom. 16:7) but here, as in many other places, the term has a moral connotation. These believers stood before God morally in Christ, since their sins had been imputed to Him and His righteousness to them. Thus we too have redemption “in Christ” (Eph. 1:7). This term is also used in an affinitive sense, as in our Lord’s upper room discourse: “Abide in Me” (John 15:4). This has the idea of belonging together as one. But in neither of these cases are men said to be in Christ as “members of His Body.”
- “Fellowheirs,” “same body” and “partakers” all have the same prefix in the original.