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The Body of Christ

Why are Christians portrayed as a body? Where did this idea originate? What is God’s purpose for this body? How is it supposed to function as a unit? How does it relate to society at large, to family, to church, to the state?

Its Origin

In the beginning God created the earth, sun, moon and stars, the entire physical universe. He created all living things culminating in man, whom He created in His own image. Man was given responsibility for the earth. He was told to develop it and populate it with godly offspring.

When he believed the Tempter and disobeyed God, this responsibility and the blessings that attended it were forfeited. Adam and Eve abdicated their responsibility when they chose to be “as gods,” that is to join with Satan. They were now under Satan’s dominion and could no longer be God’s servants and do the work they were created to do. In this, Satan appeared to have won a great victory; the entire human race was now in his power. Evil had triumphed over good. It would appear that God’s plans were frustrated but all this, of course, was a part of His overarching plan for His creatures and their world.

God at this point announced His intentions; speaking to the Serpent He declared that mankind would be divided into two opposing bodies, the Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman (Gen. 3:15). These are, respectively, those in bondage to Satan (1 Cor. 12:27; Gal. 3:29, 6:15; 1 Pet. 2:5; John 8:42–45;. 1 Jo. 3:10) and the Body of Christ, those that have been translated into Christ’s kingdom (Col. 1:13).

Its Purpose

God, at this time also said that He would place enmity between the two seeds. The heel of one would be bruised while the head of the other would be crushed. This is typically thought of as referring to the struggle between Christ and Satan. It is this but it extends to two bodies of people as well. The enmity between Christ and Satan is obvious and well known but the enmity that God placed between the two bodies of which they are the respective heads is not so well understood.

Why enmity? God is a God of love, not hatred. Why would He divide mankind into two warring factions? It isn’t our place to question God, but one reason could be that He knew that we always tend toward the easy road of compromise and He did not want to see good and evil mixed together (much as we see it today). They were to be set apart from each other and clearly distinguished. All His creatures were to be faced with a clear and unambiguous choice. They were to be without excuse.

Its Formation

The Body of Christ came into being when Jesus died on the Cross and paid the sin-debt of all that believed in Him. In this act, they were now redeemed, bought back and released from bondage to Satan. The human race was no longer totally in that bondage. There were now two seeds in competition for the future of the world, each striving for very different goals. The struggle God instituted could not end until one of the two seeds was totally victorious and the other totally defeated. At Christ’s resurrection, Satan’s defeat was assured but much work remained, and still remains, to undo the evil effects of the Fall.

Jesus’ atoning sacrifice took place 4,000 years after the Fall but its effects were felt throughout all of history. All those that believed in Christ, the Messiah, both prior to and after Calvary, were made a part of the Body (Hebrews 11).

Its Charter

The responsibility originally given to Adam has been transferred to Christ. Christ was given “all authority” over the nations of the world and He delegated to His Body the task of bringing His nations into obedience. The Body was to baptize, teach and disciple the nations until they obeyed all His commandments (Matt. 28:18-20). This Great Commission is nothing less than a call to make this world a Christian world!

All this is to take place while Christ is seated at God’s right hand and all His enemies are made a footstool for His feet (Acts 2:34-35). When this work is completed, the Serpent’s head will have been crushed and his power broken. It was crushed in principle at the Cross and will be crushed in fact in history.

Its Operation

The meaning of all this is quite clear for pastors, missionaries and evangelists; they are to preach, baptize and teach Christ’s commandments (God’s word). But what about the rest, the great bulk of the Body of Christ; how do they fit in? What are their responsibilities? Is it any more than to believe, raise godly families and support the church? Jesus said they are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This sounds like a much broader responsibility, which it is indeed. They are to be the force that prevents the decay of what is good (salt) and spreads God’s truth (light) throughout the world. They are to seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, as the top priority in their lives, even before food, clothing and shelter (Matt. 6:33). It is what they pray for in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Great Commission is a two-sided coin; conversion and baptism on one side and cultural overhaul on the other. The first is primarily the role of pastors and missionaries but the second, the far greater task, is the role of every believer. It means influencing family and friends and using every available opportunity to teach as many others as possible the need to live in accordance with God’s law. It means putting personal pride and other inhibitions aside and speaking out against evil and wickedness in the media, the schools or wherever it raises its ugly head. It means influencing government by writing letters in support of godly and in protest of ungodly court, legislative and other governmental actions. The nation’s true faith is reflected in the nation’s laws and these, along with the entire culture, must be brought into subjection to Him who is today the King of kings and Lord of lords. In this way, not through the use of force or coercion but by means of teaching and persuasion, Christians are to take dominion in the name of Christ and by the authority vested in them through His Commission.

But before this can begin, the members of this great Body must themselves gain an understanding of what it is they are fighting for. They cannot teach, or even obey God’s law, before they understand it themselves. This means serious study of the word and discussion with fellow workers to insure that all are in good agreement and possess a firm grasp of its meaning. Much of this can be accomplished by Christian nurture within families but, to insure unity and coherence within the Body, there is still a need for ongoing study, regular assemblies and continuing interactive communication with other believers (Heb. 10:25).

We read in Jeremiah 10:23, “O LORD, I know that theway of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” All men are slaves, either slaves of God or slaves of other men, which is to be the slaves of Satan. The slaves of God are the only truly free men in this world. They are, in principle, free from every form of earthly slavery. It is only the memory and residue of previous slavery that inhibits their freedom to become modern day prophets, speaking and demonstrating openly and forcefully what life in obedience to God can and should be. The Body of Christ is comprised of God’s free slaves. They should not be fearful and hesitant to proclaim God’s truth as so many are today.

The martyrs of the early church were not such; to die for Christ was, for them, a privilege. The freedom they had in Christ gave them the ability to face death and challenge Rome, the highest authority on earth, in His name. They are an example history gives us of the kind of power that lies dormant today but is an inherent characteristic of the Christian faith. Rome really never had a chance of suppressing even the very few that held this faith. We today, can do they did. When even just a small number of Christians are ready to sacrifice, really sacrifice all they have for Christ, it will be all over for Satan in America. His power will have been broken here just as it was in Rome. Scripture assures us that this day will come. Let’s make it sooner rather than later.

To be a member of this Body is the highest honor that can be bestowed on anyone in this world. It confers a status greater than the highest of any nation and has far greater value than the wealth of all the billionaires in the world combined. If you are a true Christian, you should appreciate that the world belongs to you (1 Cor. 3:21-23). You have been commissioned by the highest authority in heaven and earth to bring His law to the nations. Hold up your head and straighten your back. Speak the truth of God’s word with boldness but also with pity and compassion for all those that do not possess the gift of faith and the gift of life that is yours. Their situation is desperate. They are “dead in trespasses and sin” (Eph. 2:1) and need what you have been chartered to give them. Take dominion as one commissioned by the highest authority but also as one who knows what it means to be forgiven.

Its History

The Body progressed vigorously during its first two to three centuries. In that time, it grew in numbers and influence to the point that the Roman Empire acknowledged Christianity as its official religion. This growth rate waned however, as the Body began to see itself as an institution instead of the organic body it was and was intended to be. Its leadership, previously distributed throughout the Mediterranean, began to center more and more in the bishop of Rome. The Pope became the new Caesar, the new claimant to be the representative of God on earth. As this centralization deepened, the restraint of the Spirit’s influence working through the Body at large diminished, the leadership moved away from the apostolic doctrine and every form of decay set in. Corruption of life and doctrine, especially at the highest levels, grew to the point that the violent upheaval of the Reformation was unavoidable.

The Reformers did much to correct doctrinal error but did not return the Body fully back to its earlier organic state in which the influence of the family was prevalent. The institutional form it had acquired over the previous centuries was retained and its earlier vigor was not fully revived. The cry that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord was seen in a spiritual sense and the state was not, in practice, held to be subject to Christ. This was not the view of all the reformers but the outcome was that the family remained subject to both church and state and had little voice in either institution. This lack led to the subsequent cultural decline and the rise of the humanistic state.

Growth, however, while not at the rate of the early centuries, did continue at least through the 18th and into the 19th centuries. At this time, new theologies began to come into favor. The Body began to move away from the apostolic doctrines and became pessimistic as to the future. By the 20th century, the influence of the Body, most notably in the Christian West, was shrinking instead of growing. Civil governments throughout the West, reflecting the loss of faith in the general culture, were moving toward secular humanism and away from the Christian faith.

Today, as the culture continues to degrade, the Body is showing signs of reviving. Christians are beginning to see that they cannot just wait for Jesus’ return—as the theology they’ve been taught implies. They are gradually coming to realize that they need to do something to counter the direction the culture is taking. They are beginning to see that they can’t just ignore the greater society but need to exercise effort to move it in a more godly direction. Perhaps without realizing it, they are responding to Christ’s call for action in the Great Commission; they, led by the Spirit within, are beginning to see that they need to take dominion in His name.

Its Future

We can be sure that the Body of Christ will eventually overcome the Serpent’s Seed and accomplish the task God has set for it. The victory, however, will not be handed down, as if on a platter. Christ has given His Body this responsibility and will not do it for them. We are told to pray for God’s kingdom to come but we are also commanded to seek it and to work to establish it. We cannot expect to receive without effort what God has commanded us to do. This generation has not paid much attention to the Great Commission but one will arise that does and it will be carried out. The efforts of all the work done toward it in the interim, however, will not be lost. Everything done for Christ will last!

After working and suffering for Him in this world, the members of the Body of Christ will be with Him for all of eternity. They will be blessed beyond the ability of words to describe. Every effort they expend, every pain they experience in doing His work in this world will be rewarded many times over. When it’s over, they will hear Him say the words they yearn to hear: “well done good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25: 23).