One body, implications of the
When questions of fellowship -- ecclesial or interecclesial --
are considered, Paul's parable of the One Body is often referred to. This is as
it should be. However, a superficial review, or a first impression, of the One
Body may lead one to suppose that the only thing to be desired is "unity", unity
without artificial "barriers" or pesky "requirements".
True unity is, of course, something to be greatly desired. But
it simply cannot be achieved by brushing aside the scruples and concerns of
other brethren. It can, perhaps, be achieved by all prospective parties becoming
aware of those scruples and concerns, and by a loving and submissive spirit
willing to go "the second mile" in addressing them.
"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its
parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all
baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free --
and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of
one part but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not
belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the
body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole
body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an
ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts
in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all
one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to
the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem
to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable
we treat with special honor. And the parts that are not presentable are treated
with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But
God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the
parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that
its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every
part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now
you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" (1Co
"The body is one" (v 12). The Father generally places
believers together in "families". The ecclesia is more often the object of
concern than is the individual standing alone. No man should live to himself;
that would be a direct contradiction of Paul's elaborate allegory in 1Co
12:12-27. A very important lesson of one's spiritual education is to learn to
think and to act unselfishly as part of the One Body, and not selfishly as a
separate individual, even as regards one's own salvation.
The body is one, yet it has many members (v 14). Some are
weaker or less beautiful than others (vv 22,23), but these too are necessary.
"God has combined the members of the body" (v 24); GOD has welded these
individuals together to form the ecclesia. That the work of preaching and
teaching and baptizing is carried out by mortal men and women in no way
mitigates the fact that God (and His Son) are actively at work in the whole
process. In faith and obedience these believers have been washed in the blood of
the Lamb and have become members of the One Body. Those for whom Christ died --
those who are the workmanship of the Son (and his Father) -- must not be treated
with disdain or indifference.
The beauty and purpose of the human body is in its diversity.
A severed foot or hand is repulsive and ludicrous. It is obviously dead and
useless. But a living, healthy body, with all its parts functioning smoothly
together, all perfectly coordinated in movement and purpose, is attractive and
powerful and useful.
Likewise with the spiritual Body of Christ. No single member
can be a body in itself –- no matter how skilled or wise. No one of us can
stand alone. We may, by unavoidable circumstance, find ourselves in lonely
isolation, but we are still part of the Body; and we must think and act as part
of the Body. Those who live for themselves alone, no matter how holy they may
strive to be, are -- like the severed hand -- a monstrosity.
So it would be very wrong for an individual to leave the One
Body, for some real or imagined shortcoming or fault, of his or her own, or of
"If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,'
it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should
say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for
that reason cease to be part of the body" (vv
Indeed, the strength of the human body is in its diversity of
abilities and characteristics: "If the whole body were an eye, where would the
sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of
smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them,
just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body
be?" (vv 17-19).
A human body with eyes but no ears would be clearly deficient.
A human body with ears but no nose would similarly be deficient.
And the analogy works on many other levels. Imagine a baseball
team, with 20 of the best pitchers available, but no catchers, no fielders, and
no hitters. Imagine a football team with 30 great offensive and defensive
linemen, but no quarterbacks, no running backs, and no receivers. Or a choir
composed solely of sopranos. Or an ecclesia with many fine speaking brothers,
but no one to teach Sunday School, no one to manage the finances, no one to set
up the emblems, no one to visit the sick and the elderly, no one to clean and
maintain the meeting hall, no one to plan and organize ecclesial activities, no
one to entertain visitors. Etcetera, etcetera.
Just as it would be wrong for any individual to leave the One
Body of Christ, thinking he was not needed, so it would be wrong for any
individual to push others away from the One Body, as though they were not
"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to
the feet, 'I don't need you!' " (v 21).
So Paul presses home the point: there should be no division
(schism) in the Body (v 25). "And if one member suffer, all the members suffer
with it" (v 26). Life itself teaches everyone that pain in one member affects
the whole body; and the loss of one part, even a small toe, can seriously affect
the balance of the whole. True believers have always been concerned about the
whole Body: Moses interposed himself as a would-be sacrifice on behalf of his
blind and erring countrymen (Exo 32:30-33). Nehemiah and David and Daniel and
the other prophets showed no sign of dissociating themselves from Israel, no
matter how wayward their brethren became. These men had learned the Bible
doctrine of the One Body long before Paul articulated it. They lived fully
Paul's exhortation in 1Co 13 (which, not coincidentally, follows immediately
after the "One Body" analogy of 1Co 12):
"LOVE suffers long" (v 4).
"LOVE thinks no evil" (v 5).
"LOVE keeps no score of wrong, does not gloat over other men's
sins, but delights in truth" (v 6, NEB).
"LOVE bears all things, hopes all things" (v 7).
In all the foregoing, it should be realized (although a
superficial review might not reveal the force of this point!) that Paul is
exhorting individuals who are -- or should be -- participating members in the
same religious organization. And -- let it be noted -- the same is true of what
In Rom 12:4,5, Paul gives what might be called the "abridged"
version of 1Co 12, but the same points are made, more succinctly:
"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all
have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each
member belongs to all the others."
That last phrase adds another dimension: "each member BELONGS
to all the others!" There is a price to be paid, a toll to be exacted, for the
privilege of belonging to the One Body -- and it is this: that every member is
not just his own any more. Rather, every member, in some sense, belongs to all
the other members! There is a mutual responsibility and accountability and
obligation attached to membership in the One Body. Being a member of the One
Body means being aware of, and concerned about, and committed to that which is
of benefit to the whole -- even if it must come at the expense of one's own
personal comforts and desires. [See Lesson, Belonging
God did not design any part of the human body merely to act as
a "parasite" and draw nourishment from the rest! Instead, He has designed every
part to give something back, to "pull its own weight"! And the same point should
be made about the One Body of Christ. So we might truly take as our motto: 'Ask
not what your ecclesia can do for you; ask what you can do for your ecclesia.'
How important to each of us is the local ecclesia? Do we truly feel a part of
all it does? Do we ask how we can help the whole, not just how the whole can
help us? Do we look for the areas, and the activities, where a helping hand is
needed, and pitch in without being asked or solicited? Are we always considering
how we can build up and edify? Or are we only concerned about our own ease and
comfort and "edification"?
There are other metaphors for unity in the New Testament, each
one adding facets to this divine picture of the One Body:
Do not all these metaphors derive their force from the common
theme of a single, unified entity? Is not their force drastically dissipated
when set alongside a reality of two, or three, or many distinct and competing
- The shepherd and his flock (Joh 10:1-30), with its implicit reminder: 'Keep
close to the rest of the flock. Don't stray into far fields and lose sight of
- The one vine (Joh 15:1-17) -- calling to mind the
exhortation: "Remain, or abide, in the vine!" A severed branch is like an
amputated hand -- useless and unfruitful.
- The one temple, with one
foundation and one cornerstone, serving one God (Eph 2:11-22). Here Paul
explains how "two" (in the first century, Jew and Gentile) became one when the
"barrier" -- the wall of separation between the court of the Gentiles (those
"far away") and the inner court of Jews only (those "near") -- was removed in
Christ. And so both Jew and Gentile found their unity in a shared access to the
Glory of God in Christ, and the resultant "peace" or reconciliation this
brought. The Jew, finding his sins forgiven, discovers now a mutual affinity
with his "neighbor" the Gentile, whom previously he probably despised, if he
even noticed at all! And the two former enemies became brethren in the
fellowship of need, and the fellowship of shared blessings!
- Likewise, Jew
and Gentile, slave and free, male and female all become one in Christ, without
distinction, and all become heirs of the promises made to their "father" Abraham
(Gal 3:25-29). Thus, in Christ, there is a unity of parentage.
- The husband
and wife, in marriage, become "one flesh" (Eph 5:22-33) -- just as Adam and Eve,
once (as Adam alone) one body, then (when Eve was created) two, became one again
in the sight of God (Gen 2:21-25). And all this is a "mystery", which eloquently
portrays Christ and the "church"!
- The one "creation" of Christ the "creator"
(Col 1:15-29). Every member of the spiritual "new creation" owes his or her very
existence to Christ. Thus there is, in Christ, a unity of spiritual
- The one house, one priesthood, and one nation (1Pe 2:2-10) -- Jews
and Gentiles again, in a unity of "construction" and "constitution"!
- And the
one "bread" (1Co 10:16,17), even as weekly it recalls the literal body of
Christ, becomes weekly a participatory reminder of the unity of his One
The "One Body" also finds expression in Eph 4:4-16, where it
appears as one (indeed, the first!) of the seven "unities" of the
"There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called
to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God
and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (vv
It is worth noting here, and stressing, that unity implies
exclusivity. What does this mean? Consider, for example, the implication of "one
God and Father of all": surely, it must be that there cannot be two, or three,
or seventeen "gods" -- because such a multiplicity would negate the essential
unity: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD [Hebrew Yahweh] our God [Hebrew Elohim], the
LORD [Yahweh] is one!" (Deu 6:4-6). Likewise, can there be more than "one Lord
[Greek kurios]"? Of course not! There is no other name under heaven whereby we
may be saved (Act 4:12), and if we were to preach another Savior alongside
Christ, it would surely render our witness powerless and pointless.
And on and on we might go through the seven "unities" of Eph
4. Do we appreciate how deep and profound is the Biblical exhortation, then, to
preserve and edify and strengthen the One Body of God's Son? It is no less than
a travesty of Bible teaching if we allow ourselves to be satisfied with the
prospect of two, or three, or a dozen separate bodies of believers all claiming,
implicitly, to be the One Body! Brethren, such things ought not to be!
Paul concludes his thought about the seven "unities" in Eph
4:16, where he writes: "From him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held
together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as
each part does its work." It is essential, he is saying, that each part of the
One Body be joined together with the other parts, bound together and
interconnected by whatever means possible, doing its work and upholding its
mutual obligation -- with all other parts -- to strengthen the collective Body,
of which it is itself a part! None of this can be done -- it should be pointed
out -- from outside the Body!
We learn several important lessons from the contemplation of
the One Body as presented in Scripture:
The Bible teaching about the One Body demonstrates that all
true believers belong together. We are obliged to work for and encourage this
unity; ie, to seek reconciliation with one another [consider such passages as
2Co 5:18-21; Mat 5:23,24; Jam 3:13-18], and to integrate all true believers, if
possible, into the One Body.
At this point, an interesting question must be raised: how do
we define the "One Body"? The answers we give may lead us, in fact, in very
different directions. On the one hand, we may say that, ideally, the "One Body"
consists of all individual believers in the true gospel -- wherever they are
found and whatever they call themselves and however (if in any way!) they
On the other hand, however, we may say that, practically or
pragmatically, the "One Body" must be the largest group of true believers that
are -- like the "body" of 1Co 12 and Rom 12 -- actually bound together and
organized and arranged so as to strengthen and edify one another and the whole
in some meaningful fashion.
In the real world, so to speak, this latter definition must
lead us to the Central Fellowship, which comprises by far the greatest number of
Christadelphians worldwide (approximately 95% of the whole). Why? Because to see
any other entity as the One Body would immediately rule out of the equation the
overwhelming majority of all Christadelphians. And because even the idealistic
definition of the "One Body" must take into account the overwhelming majority of
true believers. Furthermore, in terms of edifying the whole Body; providing
welfare and other assistance to those members in need; and proclaiming the
gospel in an effective and organized manner... in all this, the worldwide
Central Fellowship may be seen to fit the definition of the One Body far better
than any other "organization" or "fellowship". (Does this mean that Central
brethren or Central ecclesias are in any sense more righteous than their
counterparts which are not "in Central"? No, nothing of the sort! But it does
suggest that, if we are looking for the practical reality of the "One Body" in
today's world, we must start there.)
Members of smaller groups may share the same gospel hope, and
may see themselves as, ideally, members of the "One Body" that includes Central
brothers and sisters. But, organizationally, they do not function as members of
that Body. There is the incongruity between New Testament analogy and our modern
situation. Seeing this, we begin to appreciate the urgent need for the
minorities (IF they believe the same gospel) to join the majority and make the
"One Body", not just a pleasant abstraction, but a practical reality.
The "ideal" view of the One Body -- ie, that it defines all
true believers regardless of organization -- has merit in theory: on the day of
judgment Christ, with all authority committed to him by the Father, will
undoubtedly determine who will eternally belong to his One Body.
But such a definition is unworkable in practice, as a guide to
conduct now, for several reasons:
- The Central Fellowship, by and large, will not accept such a definition in
application, because it blurs the line of distinction and demarcation between
itself and "others", and at least has the potential to "open the doors" to
various false teachings and wrong practices;
- Such a definition would be
subjective in the extreme, continually changing and always changeable, and would
vary greatly from one person to another, and one ecclesia to another;
would incorporate, in some measure, many individual "believers" into the One
Body who had no real intention of being meaningful members of that Body, and no
intention of understanding -- much less abiding by -- generally accepted "rules
of order" of that Body [Should not a minimum requirement for membership in an
organization be... a personal commitment to become a member?!]; and
- For an
ecclesia to follow such a definition in practice (ie, in the breaking of bread)
would probably result in its being disfellowshiped by Central. Thus the
(idealistic) decision to "fellowship" all true believers would lead to the
(practical) result of NOT "fellowshipping" the great majority of them! And a
commendable desire for the greater unity would inevitably contribute to a
Furthermore, the Bible teaching of the One Body emphasizes
that every believer has responsibilities and obligations to other believers --
and to his own local ecclesia, which are outlined in such passages as Rom 12:16;
2Co 13:11; Eph 5:21; 1Pe 3:8; and 1Pe 5:5; and may be summarized in the words:
"Submit to one another" and "All of you be subject to one another." In practical
terms, this must mean that -- where first principles are not at stake -- every
believer is duty-bound to abide by the will of the majority of his ecclesia, and
not to foment unrest and discontent and division, but rather to seek what is
positive and upbuilding for the ecclesia as a whole. Is this easy? Not
necessarily, human pride being what it is. But it is, nevertheless, the
To carry this one step further, Bible teaching about the One
Body also emphasizes that every ecclesia has responsibilities and obligations to
all ecclesias within the One Body. Just as the individual is a single "part" of
the local ecclesial "body", so the individual ecclesia is a single "part" of the
whole worldwide "Body". Historically, we have tended to think first of the
"ecclesia" in terms of the local group of believers. But there is also Biblical
precedent -- quite a number of passages, actually -- for seeing the whole of the
worldwide community of believers as THE "ecclesia" (1Co 15:9; Gal 1:13; Eph
1:22; 3:10,21; 5:23,24...; Col 1:18,24; Heb 12:23; etc.). It is to THIS
"ecclesia" -- so long as the fundamentals of the gospel are maintained by it as
a whole -- that every individual, and every ecclesia, owes some degree of
allegiance and submission and subjection.
If we are, individually or ecclesially, to belong to the One
Body (nearly all of whom work together in the Central Fellowship of
Christadelphians worldwide), then -- it is humbly but firmly suggested -- we
cannot have it both ways: we cannot claim we are part of the One Body, and (a)
expect or insist that other believers or ecclesias in the Central Fellowship
recognize us as such, in the breaking of bread, and then (b) the next week take
ourselves away to a mountaintop, or a private place of retreat from the Central
Fellowship, and contend that we are separate from that Body, and free to pursue
our objectives (e.g., "fellowship practice") in a manner that our would-be
"brothers" in Central would find objectionable or confusing or
The Bible teaching of the One Body, examined carefully, yields
two points of view which ought to be balanced against one another. For one, the
teaching reminds us of the blessings and privileges we should share in common
with all members in that Body. But it also reminds us of the shared duties and
responsibilities that go along with membership in that One Body.
Also see Lesson, Belonging