It is so common to speak of the church as an inanimate object. We say that we are going to church, having a meeting at the church or even needing to clean the church. We can hear a great message at church…at least we do if we attend church. We may even share with others how beautiful church was this past week. When we find a church that we like then we may decide to become members of that particular church. And that is where the real problems start. At least from the perspective of defining what the church really is. We can refer to the church as a physical location to which we go, a physical object or building, an event that we attend and an organization where we can become members. But the church is so much more than that.
The Church–quite simply–is the Body of Christ. It is the fullness of all those that believe in and put their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior, meaning all such people for all time. In that sense the Church is timeless, which I find to be a fascinating concept. My default way of thinking tends to only include those that I actually see. It can be easy enough for me to forget about those out of my sight and it is even easier for me to forget those that are out of my time. Unfortunately we may not have such an easy time trying to determine which of those are actually a part of the Body of Christ.
If someone professes faith in Jesus Christ and is willing to be (or has been) baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, then that person is a part of the Body of Christ. And in the same way, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ we need to realize that we are now considered a part of the Body of Christ. The work of becoming a part of the Body of Christ is not something that we do on our own but rather it is the Holy Spirit that does so:
"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free-and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many."
What Paul is saying in this passage is that when we accept Christ as our savior we are baptized by the Spirit into the Body of Christ. If the Church is the Body of Christ then by default when we become a part of the Body of Christ we have also become members within the Church. And if the Church is the Body of Christ then we must live as a body. Paul goes on to say:
"If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
"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.' On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
"Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."
Paul does not mean that we are supposed to live as a body in a ideological or theoretical way. He means that we are supposed to live as a body in a very real sense. This means that we are supposed to function as a body. We cannot live as a body apart from other Christians. We cannot say that we have no need for the Church. We cannot follow Christ and reject his Body at the same time. If we are to be obedient to Christ we must be a part of the Church and this also means that we must be a part of a local congregation.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.