There is One Body Part 1

“There is one body . . .” (Ephesians 4:4). Thus the apostle Paul begins his list of seven “ones,” or “the seven pillars of unity,” as they are commonly called.[1] But this first statement in itself brims with meaning. Several times in the New Testament, Paul refers to the church as the “body” of Christ (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Colossians 1:18, 24). He sprinkles the analogy generously throughout the book of Ephesians (2:16; 3:6; 4:12-16; 5:23-32), in which book he clearly defines his terms: “…the church, which is his body…” (1:22-23). The church and the body are one and the same. When the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “There is one body,” He taught that there is one church. Consider further what this pithy statement teaches.

There are not multiple bodies, at least not as far as God is concerned. One might observe, “Of course there are multiple bodies, because there are multiple churches. There is the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and many others.” Yes, as a matter of fact, a little over ten years ago one source identified 213 different religious bodies in the United States, noting that their list was far from all-inclusive.[2] Others have counted far more. However, there were also various different religious bodies when Paul wrote—there were cults of the various pagan deities; there were Jews; there were different groups within Judaism, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees. But as Jesus said of such groups and their peculiar doctrines, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13).

Some may protest, “But those other religious bodies in Paul’s day did not even profess to be Christian. There are numerous bodies today which have Christ as their head.” When Paul wrote, the Lord only authorized the existence of one body, and thus, He only recognized the existence of one body. And the Lord has not authorized any new religious bodies since the first century (Colossians 3:17; 2 Peter 1:3). The Lord only recognized one body then, and He only recognizes one body now.

Christ is only the head of one body: “And he is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). There are numerous technological corporations that would love to have Bill Gates or Steve Jobs as their CEO. But just because someone starts a company and wants Bill Gates as CEO does not make it so. Similarly, many have started their own churches, and professed to have Christ as their head—the mere profession does not make it so (Matthew 15:8-9; Luke 6:46). Not only does such a profession fail to make it so; it is impossible that anyone could start a church other than the body of Christ, and that Christ could be the head of that manmade body. A body has many members (Romans 12:4-5), but it only has one head. Likewise, a head only corresponds to one body, not to several. Even should a body wish to be controlled by another body’s head, this does not make it so. A church may profess allegiance to Christ, but Christ cannot be head of a body if that body is not His body.

Looking forward to Pentecost, as He so often did, Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus did not say this in the plural—“I will build my churches.” He said it in the singular—He would build one church. The plethora of manmade denominations in existence today do not have Christ as their originator or head. “There is one body.”

Other bodies are not parts of the one body. Denominationalists generally do not acknowledge the different bodies as being different bodies. They believe the various denominations are all parts of the one body. Even though the members of the different denominations did different things to become members and to be “saved,” they assert that their churches are in the body of Christ. However, the Holy Spirit denies this.

As the human body is composed of different parts, the Bible sometimes refers to the different “parts” or “members” of the one body. To the church at Corinth, Paul wrote, “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The New King James Version translates the last portion, “and members individually.” Who were the different “members” or “parts” of the body? This statement was addressed to the church at Corinth (1:2), and Paul said, “Ye are.” The Christians at Corinth were each individually parts of the body of Christ (compare with John 15:1-6).

Yes, different congregations meeting in different locations remain within the one body. As was the church at Corinth, the churches at Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi were all part of the body of Christ. However, these were not different bodies—they were simply local assemblies of Christians. They did not distinguish themselves from faithful congregations by using manmade designations (Acts 4:12; 11:26; Romans 16:16; 1 Peter 4:16). They did not have different organizational structures and hierarchies. They all did the exact same thing to become members; that is, they were “baptized into Christ” and into His body (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27; compare with John 3:5; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Peter 1:22-23). Other than their geographic location and the local eldership overseeing the work, there was nothing to distinguish them from each other as separate entities.

When the day of Pentecost came and the church was established (Mark 9:1; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4), the Lord began adding obedient souls to His church (verses 41, 47). They all obeyed the exact same thing to become Christians (verse 38), and subsequently “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (verse 42). Sometime later, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (8:5). And “when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (verse 12). Did they thus form a new body distinct from the one body? No, they each did what the Bible instructs to become Christians, and did nothing at that time to form a distinct body. If a group of people who has done what the Bible says to do to become Christians begins meeting together, are they forming a new body? If they “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship,” absolutely not. They remain in the one body, individually simply Christians.

As one commercial for chicken nuggets used to say, “Parts is parts.” Only a part can be part of the body—a body cannot be part of the body.

[1] For a discussion of each of these, see the series “Seven ‘Ones’ of the Church,” from the August 1998-June 1999 FCGN.
[2] National Council of Churches, Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 1999 (Eileen W. Lindner, ed.), 1999.

There is One Body Part 2

It is said, “Big things come in small packages.” “There is one body”—these four short words inspired by the Holy Spirit come together to form a weighty statement of doctrine. Sadly, the present disembodied state of professed followers of Christ belies a profound unawareness of this passage and its implications. As we noted last month, this passage teaches that there are not multiple bodies as far as God is concerned, and that other “bodies” are not part of the one body. Let us consider some further implications of the statement, “There is one body.”

One cannot simultaneously be a member of the one body and another body. As observed last month, a body is composed of its different members. And each member belongs specifically and exclusively to only one body. Two people cannot say that one hand belongs equally to both their bodies—it only belongs to one body. Two people cannot say that one ear is part of both their bodies. So it is with the one body—one cannot simultaneously belong to it and to another body.
Many are convinced in their minds that they are Christians, belonging to the body of Christ. But they insist upon being “hyphenated Christians”—they want to be “Episcopal-Christians,” “Presbyterian-Christians,” “Community Church-Christians,” and so forth. Their allegiance to their particular denomination is just as great as, if not greater than, their allegiance to what they deem the body of Christ.

However, Christ will not accept such divided loyalties. “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad” (Matthew 12:30). “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other” (6:24). “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (6:33). The kingdom that Christ commands men to seek first is His church, the one body (Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:9). The denominations to which men insist they must belong are founded upon the doctrines of men, otherwise they would not exist. And when one’s loyalty is divided between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to manmade doctrines and religious bodies, he has a heart far removed from God—as such his religion is worthless: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).

The one body must not be trivialized. The plain statement “There is one body” emphasizes the body’s importance. It immediately calls to mind the essential Biblical teaching, “There is one God; and there is none other but he” (Mark 12:32; compare with Deuteronomy 4:39; 6:4; 1 Kings 18:21; Isaiah 44:6, 8; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19). God would not accept people giving His rightful glory to another so-called “god”: “I am the LORD: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8). Likewise, God will not accept the glory due the body of Christ being trivialized or given to another so-called “church.”

The simple statement “There is one body” is grave enough, but consider the context in which it is stated. The one body is presented as one of the “seven pillars of unity.” While the term “seven pillars of unity” is not expressly stated in the Bible, it is an accurate description of the Biblical function of the seven “ones.” “Unity” simply means “oneness,” and Ephesians 4:4-6 gives markers of essential oneness in order that willing followers of Christ may indeed be one. The “one body” is a pillar of unity. A pillar gives support; and as inspiration recorded the words of a desperate soul, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3). This becomes a very valid question when applied to any of the pillars of unity. If any one of them is taken away, the entire platform of unity falls.

It is not coincidental that this list begins with “one body.” The primary focus of the entire book of Ephesians is the one body, the church. While not saying that the church was more important than the other pillars of unity, Paul focused first on the church. When seeking true unity, we have to focus on the church, the one body.

In discussing the one body in First Corinthians 12, Paul discusses the unity of the human body:
But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you…. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it (verses 20-21, 26).

Paul emphatically points out how ridiculous it is to have the members of a human body operating in any other way than in perfect unity with one another. If any member causes the body to run out of synch, an operation must be performed to correct that body part or remove it.

Of course, the church to whom Paul wrote was not operating in perfect unity (1:11-12; 3:1-4; 5:2; 8:12; 11:17-22; 14:4). But he commanded them to change: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1:10).

Where multiple bodies exist, unity cannot; because they do not “all speak the same thing.” Two people can only have unity where they are in agreement (Amos 3:3). To take away the Lord’s focus upon the one body, the church, is to knock out an essential pillar of unity.

People trivialize the one body in various ways. Many trivialize it by saying, “You do not have to belong to any particular church to be saved.” Such people will recommend belonging to a church, but they will give such unconstructive counsel as “Attend the church of your choice.” Others say, “Preach Christ, not the church.”

But consider what the other pillars of unity include: “…one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:4-6). What if people were to say similar things about the other pillars that they say about the one body?

What if one were to say, “It’s not important whether we worship any one particular god”? Or maybe, “It’s not important whether we submit to any one particular lord.” How about this for a slogan—“Worship the god of your choice.” Should preachers be encouraged to “preach Christ, not God”? Such statements would clearly be false and blasphemous. But why do so many professed Christians fail to realize that they likewise speak falsely and blasphemously when they say there are multiple religious bodies acceptable to God? The one body is not only a body, it is the body. Furthermore, it is Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:12). Christ died for that one body (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25). “[Christ] is the Saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:23).

Some apparently consider it a cardinal sin to assert that there is only one true church. However, when one asserts that there is but one church in which men and women can please the Lord, and decries all others, he is on the right path to giving the one body her proper honor.

There are observable differences between the one body and other bodies. A body is distinguishable from other bodies. I can readily discern my wife and children from another man’s wife and children. While there are indeed numerous religious bodies in existence today, that the Holy Spirit would inspire “There is one body” as a timeless truth tells us we can know the difference between other bodies and the one body. As Jesus said, “If ye continue in my word…ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). By looking steadfastly to the New Testament, the word of Christ, one can know the differences between the one body and other religious bodies.

One can observe an obvious difference between the one body and other bodies by looking at their names. Scripture designates the one body by various names—the church, the churches of Christ, the church of God, the kingdom of [God’s] dear Son, and other names as well. The one body will likewise refer to herself by these designations; and of these will probably be found more usually referring to herself as the church of Christ.[1] Denominations often refer to themselves after the names of men, such as Martin Luther or John the baptist; or after the names of their particular structures and practices, such as the Presbyterian or Episcopal systems.

The one body can be distinguished by her offering worship to God only by Scriptural acts; including prayer led by Christian males (Acts 12:5; 1 Timothy 2:8), congregational singing (Eph. 5:19), giving on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), partaking of the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week (Acts 20:7), and participating in Biblical reading, exposition, and exhortation (Acts 20:7). Other bodies may be found having prayer led by women; music that includes instrumental accompaniment, solos, or choirs; giving on various days of the week; the Lord’s Supper being partaken of at irregular times; and drama being used in place of preaching.

The one body can be distinguished by her mission and work. The one body has the mission to “Go…therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Accompanying this work is edification (Hebrews 3:13; 10:24-25) and benevolence (Galatians 6:10; James 1:27), but the church’s principal mission and work is evangelism. Other bodies will be found busily engaged in raffles, plays, and festivals; occupied with social issues, but rarely interested in preaching the Gospel.

Another observable difference between the one body and denominations is its government. The one body may be described as governed by a constitutional monarchy—that is, being ruled by a sovereign king and governed by an established body of law. In the case of the one body, the sovereign king is Christ: “[God] hath put all things under [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body , the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23; compare with Acts 2:30-36). The established body of law is the New Testament and only the New Testament (John 12:48; 16:13; Eph. 4:4-5; James 1:25; Jude 3). Outside of their accountability to Christ and the New Testament, local congregations are autonomous, being governed in matters of expedience by Scripturally qualified elders (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Deacons are Scripturally authorized assistants to help the elders (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-10).

Other bodies are governed differently. The Roman Catholic Church may indeed be governed by a form of monarchy, but they have an unscriptural hierarchy in place, and the wrong man sitting on the throne. Also, their established body of law is the decrees of councils, writings of “church fathers,” and papal bulls. Protestant denominations are likewise usually governed by various hierarchies, and their established body of law includes manmade creeds in addition to the New Testament. Many denominations add the Old Testament to their established body of law (against Romans 7:4-6; Galatians 3:23-25; Hebrews 7:11-12; et al.).

Many denominations implement a democratic form of government, whereby the majority rules. In a representative democracy, elected representatives are always held accountable to the preferences of their constituents. If voters do not like the decisions their representative has made, they can vote him out of office. If they do not feel like following him, they can follow someone else. This is not how the Lord designed His body to function. Members are to “obey” and “submit to” their elders (Hebrews 13:17). If their elders become disqualified or otherwise persist in sin, accusations are to be brought against them (1 Timothy 5:19-20). But until that happens or they resign, elders are shepherds over their flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).

Another observable difference between the one body and religious denominations is that the one body is thoroughly undenominational. Some churches profess to be “non-denominational,” which merely means they are “open or acceptable to people of any denomination.”[2] But to be undenominational involves a complete rejection of the principles of denominationalism. The very statement “There is one body” tells us this is how we should be.

Yet we see a religious world full of the “hyphenated, divided allegiance Christians” discussed earlier. When someone says, “I am both a loyal member of my denomination and of the body of Christ,” he betrays that his professed allegiance to the body of Christ is not to the body of Christ at all. Such a person’s loyalty is to a loosely affiliated conglomeration of bodies that all profess faith in Christ. The one body is not a loosely affiliated conglomeration of bodies—as noted last month, God does not recognize multiple bodies, and other bodies cannot be part of the one body.

One will find denominations called by a plethora of names, worshipping differently, holding different standards of doctrine and practice, being organized differently, and missing the need for undenominational Christianity. Yet God assures us, “There is one body”—and if we will look, we can discern that body from the throng.

“There is one body”—this short phrase tells us quite a bit about the nature and significance of that body. So much more could be said about the one body, for indeed the Bible says much more about it. Sadly, the denominational world has obviously failed to consider this weighty four-word statement for its worth; for grasping and complying with its meaning will force one to abandon all ties with denominationalism. May we ever love and cherish the church of our Lord—for “there is one body.”
[1] See “Why Persist in Calling the Church ‘the Church of Christ’?” May 2007 FCGN.
[2] Oxford American College Dictionary, s.v. “nondenominational.”

By Lee Moses

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