The Body of ChristTom Ballinger
The subject of The Body of Christ is one in which has been prayerfully considered for sometime. The writer has been ever mindful of the fact a student of Gods Word must always be willing to unlearn that which he learned from man, in order to learn from the Word Itself. We have found many of our most precious doctrines turn out to be the doctrines of men and not truth learned from the study of Gods Word. As this subject is approached, we are reminded of the Apostles warning in Colossians 2:8.
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit,AFTER THE TRADITION OF MEN,… AND NOT AFTER CHRIST.
The burden tradition carries weighs very heavy upon the hearts and minds of most all of us. So much of our Bible background was implanted by those who were professional church operators learning their Bible from accredited schools of Theology, all of which had specific doctrines to propagate and to defend. Perhaps so it is with our subject –The Body of Christ.
Most all fundamentalists agree with “right dividers” in believing the “Body of Christ” is the mystical Church over which Christ Jesus is the Head. They may not agree as to when the “Body of Christ” began, but they will agree the term the Apostle Paul uses for the Church is “The Body of Christ”.
The term, the “Body of Christ”, is specifically mentioned twice in the Scriptures. The first occurrence appears in the Scripture written during the Pentecostal Dispensation.
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. (I Cor. 12:27)
The second time it is used is in the epistle which makes known and explains the Mystery.
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. (Eph. 4:12)
GIFTS GIVEN BY THE ASCENDED CHRIST
In order to come to some settled conclusion, we call the readers attention to Ephesians 4:11:
And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;”
This tells us the Ascended Lord Jesus Christ gave these men to the church for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ.
The standard interpretation is the Lord Jesus Christ gave some apostles and prophets to the Church as His initial gift. That is to say, after the Apostle Paul received the revelation of the Mystery, Christ ordained a set of apostles and prophets whom he used after 63 A.D.. These were men who traveled between Pauls prison and the previously established assemblies. This set of apostles and prophets were not the Twelve, but rather another set. Men like Timothy, Epaphroditus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Marcus, Jesus named Justice, Epaphras, Luke and possibly, Demas. These men were the apostles and prophets mentioned in Ephesians 2:20, and Ephesians 3:5. The Gentiles, who were no more strangers and foreigners, were built upon the foundation of (these) apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19-20).
It is said these initial men were the apostles and prophets. After they completed their ministry, the ascended Christ did not give the Church any more apostles and prophets. They performed the foundational work for the Church of the Mystery. It is agreed by most all the apostles and prophets died out.
After the foundational work of the Apostles and Prophets, there was no longer a need for them. Therefore, the only gifts to the Church which remained after the initial foundation work were the evangelists, pastors and teachers.
This standard interpretation, frankly, never satisfied this writer. He thought for some time that Christ gave some of the Church apostles and prophets. Later He gave some of the Church evangelists, then later in these last days, He gave some of the Church pastors and teachers. This idea would not stand up under close scrutiny so we had to abandon it.
We were still not satisfied that two of the gifts. (i.e., Apostles and Prophets), were phased out and the other three remained. We have heard many Bible teachers and pastors use Ephesians 4:11 as the justification for their ministry. They felt they were a gift to the Church, called and ordained by Christ to be a pastor and teacher of the Word. In fact, we even imagined this about ourselves. However, after coming to grips with the matter, we realized Ephesians 4:11 did not apply to ourselves. If we were to find a Scriptural excuse for our ministry, we must move it from Ephesians 4:11 to II Timothy 2:2; for the Lord Jesus Christ did not give me to the Church, nor did He give others to the Church.
The key to understanding what Christ gave, to whom He gave, and for what purpose He gave is found in understanding sixth grade English. The key to this understanding is found in the verb, gave. Gave is the preterit of the verb give. The preterit is past; applied to the tense in grammar which expresses an action or being perfectly past or finished, often that which is just past or completed. (Websters 1828) Therefore we note Christ:
GAVE GIFTS UNTO MEN … (Eph. 4:8)
HE GAVE SOME
PASTORS AND TEACHERS … (Eph. 4:11)
This certainly informs the student the action was past or finished when Paul wrote about these gifts in the Ephesian Epistle. In plainer words, the Bible doesnt say that Christ gives the Church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. It says that He GAVE (past tense, which expresses action which is perfectly past or finished) these men to the Church.
The Lord Jesus Christ ordained these men sometime between Acts 28:28 and Pauls writing of the Ephesians Epistle. He did not continue to give the Church of the Mystery apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These men were carefully chosen by Christ to minister to the saints who lived through the dispensational change of Acts 28:28.
When viewed from this perspective, the problem concerning these gifts today vanish. Simply stated, these gifts to the Church have not been given since the initial ones were ordained with the ushering in of the present dispensation. The reason Christ gave these men to the Church was for the express purpose which is stated in Ephesians 4:12:
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the
ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
Therefore, it is noted Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers
1. for the perfecting of the saints
2. for the work of the ministry
3. for the edifying of the Body of Christ.
Saints refers to those who were saved under the Pentecostal program and lived through the dispensational change at Acts 28:28. The saints were those who believed the revelation of the Mystery. There was need of perfecting them. Immediately after Israels blindness was pronounced, (Acts 28:25-28), there was a need for readjustment. The saints who believed the testimony of the Lords Prisoner were going through a period of readjustment, (i.e., perfecting), from that which was Pentecostal with a Jewish priority, to that which was all Grace with the Gentile ascendancy. This period of adjustment called for special men who were raised up and ordained by the ascended Christ to perform the work of perfecting the saints.
The perfecting of the saints had in view the work of the ministry. In this dispensation there is no laity or ecclesiastical set-up. The saints are to perform the work of the ministry. As someone has said, In the theocracy of grace there is in fact no laity. The saints were to perform the work of the ministry, and thus they required the perfecting.
The ministry of perfecting the saints was the work and service of the gifts Christ gave the One Body. This ministry was also to edify the body of believers coming out of the Acts economy. The body of believers which came out of the Acts period was referred to as the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:27). The Body of Christ was to be built up in the truth of the Mystery. The Mystery was truth which replaced Pentecostal truth. The Body of Christ had previously been established in Pentecostal truth. Pentecostal truth related to the Kingdom and was in affect throughout the period covered by the Acts of the Apostles. Thus, there was a need for them to be built up and established in truth which superceded Pentecostal truth. The Lord used the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to edify the Body of Christ.
The work of edifying the Body of Christ did not meet with great success. We learn in II Timothy:
That all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; (II Tim. 1:15)
Paul also indicates members of the Body of Christ coming out of the Acts period were ashamed of.
The testimony of our Lord, (and of Paul) His prisoner: (II Tim. 1:8)
Pauls post-Acts ministry was associated with prison, bonds and a chain. In fact, it has been said his credential as the prisoner of the Lord was his chain. Pauls chain was his badge of authority. He states in Ephesians 6:19-20 he was an ambassador in bonds to make known the Mystery. When the Apostle writes his last letter to Timothy, he implies that many were ashamed of his chain. However, he says that Onesiphorus was not.
The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain. (II Tim. 1:16)
His use of the word chain is a figure of speech – – a metonymy. A metonymy is a figure of speech by which one name or noun is used instead of another, to which it stands in a certain relation. Hence, the “chain” stands in close relationship to why he was in bonds. He was in bonds for the express purpose of receiving the revelation of the Mystery (Eph. 6:19-20, Col. 4:3). So when Paul said Onesiphorus was not ashamed of “my chain,” he is saying in plainer words, Onesiphorus was not ashamed of the Mystery.
We learn “all they which are in Asia” turned away from Paul when he announced the good news from Glory; we learn many were ashamed of the testimony of the Lords Prisoner; and we learn many members of the Body of Christ were ashamed of his chain. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude the edifying of the Body of Christ did not meet with great success and most of the Body of Christ did not accept the Truth of the Mystery. When he said they turned away from him, that was tantamount to saying they turned away from the doctrine he was preaching. In plainer words, to turn from Paul was to turn away from what he taught.
The goal towards which the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were pointing was for all the saints to come into the unity of the faith.
“Till we all come in the unity of the faith.” (Eph. 4:13)
The reference to “we all” refers to members of the Body of Christ coming out of the Pentecostal era. During the Pentecostal era there was not unity. “Unity” means the state of being one. Certainly during the Acts economy there was no unity. There was a distinct difference between the Jewish believer and the Gentile believer. The division within the Body of Christ was real as far as privilege and priority was concerned. The Jew was first. The Jewish believer had the advantage. With the ushering in of the new dispensation, the Lord Jesus Christ raised up and appointed men to fill the special offices which are enumerated in Ephesians 4:11. These men were to be used “till we all come in the unity of the faith.” This goal was never reached as we pointed out previously. The Acts period saints never reached the goal of accepting the unity which exist within the Church of the Mystery. Instead, they turned from this doctrine.
All of this has been said to point out that the term, “the Body of Christ”, needs to be re-examined. Our conclusion is the term refers to those believers, both Jews and Gentiles, who made up the Church of God during the Acts of the Apostles. The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were given specifically to direct the Body of Christ into the unity which is inherent in the Mystery.
THE CHURCH WHICH IS HIS BODY
It should be carefully noted that the Apostle Paul never says the Church of the Mystery is the Body of Christ. If the Holy Spirit was careful not to refer to the Church of the Mystery as the Body of Christ, so should the student. Notice the references to the Church in Ephesians and Colossians.
And gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23)
Paul does say that the Church is “His body”, but he avoids saying the Church is “the Body of Christ”. Here Paul asserts the Church is “the fullness of Him”.
And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross (Eph. 2:16)
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body,…” (Eph. 3:6)
There is one body, and one Spirit,… (Eph. 4:4) From Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Eph. 4:16)
Even as Christ is the Head of the Church, and He is the saviour of the body.” (Eph. 5:23)
“For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. (Eph. 5:30)
Only in Ephesians 4:12 does Paul use the exact term, “the Body of Christ”, and as it has been pointed out, it refers to the body of believers coming out of the Acts period.
References to the “Church which is His body” is also prominent in the Colossian Epistle. Set forth below are the verses in which reference is made to the Body which is the Church.
And He is the Head of the body, the Church:” (Col. 1.18)
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His bodys sake, which is the Church. (Col. 1:24)
And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. (Col. 2:19)
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body;” (Col. 3:15)
In the Colossian Epistle no mention is made to “the Body of Christ,” The fact that mention is made in both epistles to “His body” does not give us the liberty to refer to the present church as the Body of Christ. The Church which is His body, the fullness of Him (Eph. 1:22-23) is not the Body of Christ. It is “His body” over which He is the Head. It is not said that He is the Head of the Body of Christ.
The conclusion we have reached is the Body of Christ was the body of believers, both Jew and Gentile, who were united to Christ by being baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). The Body of Christ was the Acts period believers, many of whom lived through the change of dispensations at Acts 28:28.