Church And Kingdom Part One

Church & Kingdom

27 Jul

Part One: The Nature of The Church

Tony and Ellen were desperate.  Called to organic church, Tony left a successful ministry career, moved to a new state, and mortgaged the house to start a business.   Along the way their local organic church broke apart due to a lack of common vision.   Now desperate, they are travelling the county in search of a healthy organic church.  They had been taught that Christ is the Church, and the Church is the Kingdom.  Despite placing Church first, authentic church seemingly eluded them.   Tired from being on their own, they are willing once again to put down jobs, their house, and anything that seemed to be in the way.  After all, they are putting the Kingdom first, aren’t they?

A young single man in his twenties has found a healthy church that he really enjoys and considers family.  They hang out almost daily.  But he was just accepted into a graduate program in another state, which would mean leaving.  He feels guilt when he thinks about moving.  Doubtful he would find another church like this, he feels great pressure that he is putting his own desires ahead of the Kingdom.  Is he really?

Cindy has taught Sunday school for 40 years.  She has 3 grown Christian children and 8 grandchildren.  But she has hardly met several of her grandchildren or spent time with them.  Now in her late 60’s, she cannot fathom the thought of being absent even occasionally from her teaching post, and therefore has not gone to visit her grandkids in another state.  She tells her children she is putting the Kingdom first. Is she?

All these cases above describe people who made great sacrifices to put church first in their lives, in the belief that this is what it means to put Christ and His Kingdom first.

The bible refers to the Church as the body of Christ, the royal priesthood of Christ, the bride of Christ, the temple of Christ, and even the city of Christ.  Some say these are not pictures or metaphors, but actually define who Christ is in reality.    Is the Church the same as Christ?  Is the Kingdom the same as the Church?  Many have been taught the answer is yes.

Those that believe this cite 1 Corinthians 12:13-14.  So is Paul’s aim to say the Church is Christ, or is he describing the body that both He and us belong to?

To quote my friend John White, “There are ways in which the church is an expression of Christ and ways in which it isn’t.  If I ask the question – is my body me?  In one sense, the answer is “yes,” but certainly not all of me.  My body is the vehicle through which the will of my head/brain is expressed.  If my body is no longer responding to my head, my body is still me, but only in a very limited sense.  Isn’t it the same with the body of Christ?”  John implies that he is more than his body, perhaps his mind or spirit also need to be considered.  This seems to describe how Christ is connected to the church.

What is the Church?   The Church is the body of Christ in this present age.  This is well developed in 1 Cor 12-14, in Colossians, and Ephesians.  What does this mean?  It means that Christ manifests His presence in the world by inhabiting individuals (1 Cor 6:19) through His Holy Spirit (Eph 1: 13-14).  These individuals are in the Church, and are placed into it when they are saved.   Christ still has a physical body (Luke 24:39-40) that sits at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:33) in heaven.  Yet His presence in the world is manifest through placing His Spirit into His followers.

The scriptures tell us the Church, and even all things, are in Christ and held together by Christ.  They also affirm that Christ is in the Church.  They tell us that whenever two or three are gathered in His name, that He is present.  Cool stuff.  So is the Church Christ?

Let’s look at the English taken word by word from the Greek.

1 Cor 12: 12-13

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of the body, though many are one body, so also the Christ, for indeed by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all given one Spirit to drink.   (Literal Greek to English)

The above verses are quite hard to translate and do not flow right off the tongue when looking at the literal Greek to English.  Having eight clauses, it is not easy for translators to put this into a flowing English sentence.  Paul is famous for this in his writings.  I believe this difficulty results in some proponents of organic church concluding that the body is Christ.

1 Corinthians 12 describes the body as having many parts and that we all need one another.  The context reveals that the whole chapter is a description of how the Church functions.  Paul was trying to help a group of people to get along and consider each member indispensible.  During Christ’s earthly life, He used His physical body to carry out the tasks His father had given Him.  Now that He is in heaven, He uses another body, or vehicle, the Church, to carry this out, and it is in this sense that the Church is His body.

Most of us agree that Christ the Head does not share his deity with His body.  This means that while Christ is the Church in some aspects, it also means He is more than the Church in other aspects.  Verse 12 may have said, “So this is how the body of Christ functions.”  Why did he not just say it like that?  Paul gets wordy, and probably chose not to get any wordier than he had already.  By using  “For as,” Paul uses the literary device of a simile to describe how Christ works.  Because this is a simile, it means He is comparing Christ to something.    While we display Christ to the world, this does not seem to say that Christ is only His body, especially when the Church fails to express the will of Christ.  Therefore, in some aspects, He is more than His body.

So how might 1 Cor 12:12-13 verse sound in light of the prior discussion?  I would paraphrase it as:

“Here is what Christ does.  He is Head of a body that has many parts that function together as a whole.  By one Spirit, we were baptized into one body regardless of our old upbringing or background, and that same Spirit feeds us in our various functions as body members.  “(Steve Scheller paraphrase).

Part Two will continue this discussion on the Church and The Kingdom.

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