Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 3/01/1998
" . . . the Church which is his body, the fullness of all in all."
We bring to a close today our study of the first chapter of Ephesians. I hope you have seen in it a vision of God's eternal purpose and your place in it that has put just a little more backbone in your Christian life. For we have seen that God's eternal purpose is to sum up all things in Christ, to bring glory to his name, by the salvation of sinners and the forming of them into one great and glorious body, the Church. When the vicissitudes of time have swept all that is temporal and transient into oblivion, what will remain for all eternity is the Church, a vast and glorious temple to the praise of the glory of his grace, in which we will be set as living stones. In the last two weeks we have focused on our relationship with Christ that gives us that position as living stones. Scripture describes it in many ways: We are related to Christ as brick to cornerstone, as bride to groom, as branch to vine, as body to head. Last week we saw Christ as head of the body: He is its source of life, unity, direction; he identifies with us and feels for us as the head does the body; he gives us our identity. Today we look at the Church as Christ's body. What does this metaphor say about what it means to be part of the body of Christ?
But is this doctrine believable? For outwardly the Church is grievously fragmented. Off the top of my head, I can come up with four Lutheran, six methodist, eight presbyterian, and eleven baptist denominations. But David C. Barratt in the World Christian Encyclopedia lists a total of 22,000 different denominations world wide, many of which are not even on speaking terms with any of the others. This face that we present to the world brings with it a serious problem of credibility.
Nevertheless, I tell you that the true Church of Jesus Christ is still one Church. It has not lost its unity. For its unity was never organizational but rather organic: there is one body because there is one Head. So how amidst all the competing claims do you recognize the true body? There is only one question you need to ask: Is it joined to the Head? And how is it joined? By faith. If you believe the Bible, confess the Gospel, and love the Lord, you are my Christian brother. I don't care if you dunk, sprinkle, or pour; I don't care how you part your hair; I don't care if you read the KJV, the RSV, the NIV, or only the original Greek; I don't care if you wear a clerical collar or if you don't even wear a tie; I don't care if you holler Amen or sit in silence; I don't care if your response to a contemporary praise chorus is to raise your hands or to put on eaplugs: if you and your group believe my Bible and preach the Gospel that saved me and love my Lord, then you are my Christian brother and you are stuck with me, whether you like it or not. I am not saying that doctrine does not matter; it does. But some things are family discussions to be carried on only in the family in love, not in rancor before the outside world.
We are talking about fellowship between people who are members of legitimate Evangelical denominations. Not every one who claims to be part of the body really is. Martin Luther said the church stands or falls by the doctrine of Justification by Faith, and Paul in his Galatian anathemas (Gal. 1:8) seems to agree. Trinitarian orthodoxy (for we must be worshipping the same God) and Reformational soteriology (for we must be proclaiming the same Gospel) are non-negotiable. Where these conditions are met we should pray for one another, cooperate with one another, and rejoice with one another despite our differences, always speaking the truth in love. We must also forgive one another and care for one another. And when these conditions are not met we must not have formal fellowship or cooperation, but we must still treat one another with love. If someone is our enemy, well, we have standing orders about how to treat him!
We are Christ's body, the "fullness" of him. What does this word mean? In secular Greek, the phrase pleroma nauou, "ship's fullnes," means the crew, what we in English would call the ship's "complement," i.e., that which completes it. Now, in one sense Christ is totally self-sufficient. But as Head of the Church there is a sense in which he has graciously stooped to be willing to be incomplete without his body. We are also called the Bride of Christ. Lovers feel incomplete without each other. They long for marriage because only then will they feel one, complete, whole. So Jesus Christ: as God he needs nothing, but as Head of the body he longs for his bride and awaits with longing the day when the last saint will be added and his body will be complete, whole, and united perfectly in bliss with him forever.
If therefore we understand what it means to say that the Church is the body of Christ, we will see it as a great motive for evangelism. The more closely we are in sympathy with the Head, the more we will long for the completion of the body. We will find it a great incentive to faithfulness. It is not just the individual but primarily the body which is the Temple. Your absence detracts from it, impairs its service. It will be a great incentive to holiness. Have you ever played baseball in a cowpasture--barefoot? If you have, you will remember the possibility of stepping on something other than one of the bases. As I recall, when I did that the head probably minded it more than the foot did. You've got to get that material off. You're not going to amputate the foot, but you do immediately start wiping it on the grass! It will also be a great incentive to love of the brethren--for we are Christ's body and individually members of it, and hence of each other.
There is finally no greater expression of what it means to be part of the body of Christ than the Lord's Supper. Just as the early Church did, we use one loaf to symbolize the one body, our unity in Christ. Let us recommit ourselves to him and to his body as we partake today.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams