THE FELLOWSHIP OF FAITH PART 1- YOU ARE: THE BODY OF CHRIST
O.T. Lesson: Psalm 51:1-8
N.T. Lesson: Ephesians 4:1-6We live in a society that prides itself in tolerance and concern for others, and protection of rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination, etc. And sometimes we think we live in a ‘Christian’ country.
The Bible says however that the Christian is to be different from and separate from society at large — that there is something ‘unique’ about those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
The Greek word for Church is ‘Ekklesia‘. It literally means “an assembly ‘called out’ for a particular purpose or cause”. And the N.T. writers use some 96 analogies of the church, which can be grouped into as many as 31 minor images and 4 major ones. Dr Stafford in his book, Theology for Disciples1 suggests that “The fellowship in faith” is a good overall figure of description for the church. The N.T. uses words like the sanctified, the faithful, the justified, followers, disciples, the witnessing community, confessors, slaves, and friends to define it. Christ calls the fellowship into existence as people respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing them into a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ.
I would like to explore the other 3 major analogies, one at a time:
- The Body of Christ
- One New Humanity
- The People of God
So this week we will look at The Body of Christ.
The main reference is found in I Corinthians 12:27,28 “You are Christ’s body– that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his ‘body’; apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, organizers, those who pray in tongues,” [MSG]. This is how our Lord is making himself known in the history between his first and second coming.
The assumption in the early church was that each person in the fellowship loved Jesus and was serious about being His follower. And so they stuck together and worked at their relationship, which was based on Scripture and the direction of the Holy Spirit. [See Acts 2:37-ff]
But the early church also had its share of problems. One problem was the dominant religious society each had come from. [See Galatians 1:6,7; 3:1-5] The most part it was Judaism, with its rules, regulations, and the development of Doctrine set in place by the three main schools of thought- the Pharisees (“the Literalists”), the Sadducees (“the Pragmatists”) and the Hellenists (“the Accomodationists”).
Not very different from today. Some want to take every word literally and they will go on forever quibbling over words [see Titus 3:9]. Others want to be practical– ‘nothing succeeds like success”. And the prosperity cults and “name it-claim it” take off on their own. After all, “God is on my side automatically, because I exist.”
Then there are those who accommodate every one and every doctrine and have concluded that ‘as long as you are sincere’ you are O.K. No one ought to be excluded from God’s heaven — a warm fuzzy place where everybody is right.
However, the Bible says that the gifts God has given to the church are the leaders “to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” [Ephesians 4:12,13 MSG]. Notice that it is a developmental process.
And the early church had its problems. Paul describes the Corinthian Church’s ‘Love Feasts’ in I Cor 11:21 and 14:21,23. These had some hungry and others drunk, and worship services that were competitions of manifestations.
What God wants is each member of the body, whether in a local assembly or within the framework of the whole universal family of God [all those who have put their faith and trust in Christ], functioning effectively with all of the rest. I’d like to share a note from Max Lucado’s book, No Wonder they call Him the Saviour2. I believe it will help us past the periphery and get us into the centre of where we can function in the way God intended.
“Those selfish soldiers,” we smirk with our thumbs in lapels. “They were so close to the cross and yet so far from Christ.” And yet, are we so different?”2
1 Structure of discussion from Theology for Disciples, Gilbert Stafford, Warner Press 1996, pages 158-167. [return to text]
2 Lucado, Max, No wonder they call him the Saviour, Multnomah Press 1986. Chapter 24 “Close to the Cross, but far from Christ”. [return to text]
© 2000 D. H. Friesen