|Posted on April 10, 2019 at 11:30 AM|
Describing the church as the “body of Christ” the apostle Paul gives us an entirely different perspective from which to identify the church Jesus is building today. It is the way Jesus intended us to recognize the church as a living gathering of his called-out disciples being empowered and led by his indwelling Spirit to love others just like he does. This living body of believers is not to be confused with a corporate organization or religious institution made by human effort. Instead, it is recognized by the very love of Christ being expressed in a variety of ways and settings as directed by Jesus as the head of the body.
This perspective of the church was given by Jesus in the memorial meal he instituted on the eve of his crucifixion we call communion or the Lord’s supper. The two elements of communion, the wine and the bread, reveal two important aspects of the new covenant or contract of grace God was making with mankind. In this new covenant God reveals how he will do for us all that we cannot do for ourselves by his grace rather than our efforts. And the two elements symbolize the way he planned to make us both secure in his love and significant in his plan. The wine represents his sacrifice on the cross while the breaking of the bread represents his continuing work through his body, the church.
Of particular note here is the bread which he said was “his body which was being broken for you”. His reference to his body being broken was not to that physical body that was crucified the next day but to the body of believers collectively known as the “church of the firstborn”. Theologians refer to it as the “universal church” since it includes all called-out believers of all time. That church, although built by Jesus, is invisible since it is in the eternal, spiritual realm. What Jesus promised through the “breaking of the bread” referring to his body in communion was to divide the larger invisible body into small pieces that could be recognized and experience by those living in time. Bible scholars call it the “local church” but often confuse it with a religious organization.
Because the local church is still the “body of Christ” we might expect to see the church Jesus is building as a called-out assembly of believers who are loving people like Jesus fulfilling his commission to make disciples of all nations, teach them their new identity in Christ, and how to follow the personal direction of Jesus in their lives. Sadly, much of what is recognized as the local church today (religious institutions and organizations made by man) does not display the characteristics of the body of Christ. Thankfully, at least some local churches declare the initial good news that Jesus died for our sins and are used by Jesus to make disciples. But the majority fall short of teaching those disciples their true identity in Christ and how to listen to his direction in their lives.
Despite the confusion caused by the counterfeit religious organizations throughout history I remain hopeful in believing Jesus is as much at work today in building his church as he was in the first century. Although we may not recognize such called-out assemblies of believers loving other as a “church” I am convinced they are what Jesus intended his local church to be. Join me in praying for our eyes to be opened to the true nature and function of the local church as the body of Christ.