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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 12:12-27).
"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 someone else:

"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 15,16).
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 needed:

"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).

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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 follows.

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"?

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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 entities?

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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 Gospel:

"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 4-6).

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!

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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.

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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 organize themselves.

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:

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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 requirement.

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 inconsistent.

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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.

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Also see Lesson, Belonging .

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