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The Body of Christ

Is the church the body of Christ? Why?

Of Christ, Colossians 1:18 states, "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." Here, the body is defined as the church. Certainly, the church is the body of Christ.

For most people, the real conflict comes in determining the identity of the church which is His body. Some say that it must refer to the local church and others say it must refer to the church of all believers. I stand almost alone in teaching that it can refer to both. I see the local church as an imperfect type of the future joining of all believers in the assembly which will meet in heaven. The body of all believers is incomplete and scattered. Some of its members are in heaven, some are scattered all over the earth, and others have not yet been saved. Until the time that this body is complete, God has given us earthly local bodies. They are imperfect because we are imperfect. But they have a completeness to them that the heavenly body does not yet possess. In our local churches, we can assemble together and join in performing the work of God and in worshipping Him. Only in the future can we do these things in our heavenly assembly.

A good place to see this dual application of the body of Christ is in 1 Corinthians 12. In verse 13, Paul states, "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free..." By using the pronoun "we," Paul includes himself in this body. It must include all believers. It is God's Spirit who baptizes us into this body. Evidently, this is something other than water baptism and it clearly occurs at salvation. Here then, we see the body of Christ which includes all believers, whether in heaven or in earth. They are the family of God. but they are also the body of Christ.

However, in the same chapter (1 Corinthians 12) in verse 27 we read, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." In this section of the chapter, Paul is emphasizing the care that all the members of the body should have for one another. According to verse 26, when one member suffers, all of the members should suffer with that member, and when one member is honored, all the members should rejoice with that member. Though it may seem a wonderful sentiment to apply this to all believers around the world, it is hardly practical or possible. How could we rejoice every time another member is honored and suffer when they suffer. This is difficult enough within a local body of believers, but it becomes an impossibility to apply to all believers around the world.

Therefore, when Paul deals with this application of the body, he changes how he speaks of it. He tells them that "ye" (not "we") are the body of Christ. He begins this epistle by identifying his audience as "the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Corinthians 1:2). The "ye" then must refer to this church and that local church is called "the body of Christ" in 1 Corinthians 12:27.

One (the local body) is complete but imperfect and the other (the body of all believers) is perfect but incomplete. However, one day when all believers are assembled together in heaven, the local body and the spiritual body will be joined into one body of Christ which will be both perfect and complete. What a day, glorious day, that will be!