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The Church as the Body of Christ
God chose wisely in selecting a metaphor for the relation and tie between Christ and His church. What is something that every human being will be able to relate to? Many metaphors would not be understandable over centuries of cultural, social, economic and technological change. If He had compared it to an oxen pulling a plow, the parallel would be vague and insignificant for today's generations of city dwellers. If He had compared it to an automobile and its owner, centuries of Bible readers would have been mystified until the early twentieth century, when the car was finally invented.
But here is something that every human being from the beginning of time until now can understand: the body. We all have one. We all have a body and we all have a head. If you were missing either of those, you sure wouldn't be reading this article! We might not understand all the intricacies of how our bodies function, but we at least understand what it's like to have one. And God has set it up so that with this basic, universal knowledge, we can have a direct insight into the relation between us as the church and Christ as our Savior and Lord.
There are two instances in the Bible that most directly state this relation:
"And He put all things in subjection under [Jesus'] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all." Ephesians 1:22-23
"[Jesus] is also head of the body, the church..." Colossians 1:18
So it's as simple as that. Now let's check out some applications.
One of the most noticeable applications springing from this relationship is the teaching of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:22-23:
"Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body."
The principle is that the body is in submission to the head. This principle can be seen in such areas as:
In Ephesians 5, Paul teaches that in a symbolic, spiritual, but very real-life and practical way, the husband is "the head" of the wife. It is a matter of male spiritual leadership. He is the head of the home, and he is the head of his wife, as Christ is the head of the church.
The parallel here in Ephesians 5 develops into these applications:
Throughout all of this practical, down-to-earth teaching on the marriage relationship, Paul is referencing the relation between Christ and the church, as he notes at the end in verse 32:
"This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church."
Do you know of any churches that have a headquarters on earth? A President, pope, or governing assembly to make decisions of doctrine or any other matter for the church or denomination as a whole? Keep that in mind, and now compare it to the picture the Bible paints:
The definition and meaning of denominationalism is a discussion that will be discussed in a different article, but for the purposes of this presentation, we will take a brief look. Consider the following comparison:
Christ and the body
The above are just two organizational implications of the church-body relationship as we have seen in the New Testament, and examples of how things have gone awry in other "churches." But there are also things to consider in applying this metaphor to the true body of Christ, His church.
Members of the one body
Regarding those within the one body, there is much Biblical discussion on our relationship with one another as members, or individual parts, that make up the whole body. This, too, is a subject that can be discussed more thoroughly on its own.
In short, we can summarily say that it is crucial for the body to cooperate with itself, for the parts to function in harmony and health. Practically speaking, this involves avoiding bickering, quarreling, and selfish treatment of each other. It also involves keeping each other in line in a loving and caring way, and keeping each other spiritually balanced and strong. It is fitting for us to close this discussion with a quote from the New Testament that captures the essence of this idea:
"But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." Ephesians 4:15-16