The church can be viewed two ways. First, it is the formation of the children of God into one body united to Christ ascended into heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the second place, it is the house or habitation of God by the Spirit. The Saviour gave Himself, not only to save completely those who believed on Him, but to “gather into one the children of God who were scattered abroad”, John 11:52. From heaven, according to His promise, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who dwells in those who believe in Jesus and has sealed us to the day of redemption - to the time when our bodies will be glorified.
In the New Testament we are told that the church is the body of Christ, and also that it is the house of God. Let us look at these separately.
The Church as the Body of Christ
It is important to get the meaning of this figure. For any person, the body is the means, the vehicle, by which that person is expressed. We say of a dead person, “He has passed away”, but the body is still there. So we can say that the body of Christ is that by which Christ is expressed on earth. He is in heaven but His body is here. Saul of Tarsus learnt that on the way to Damascus – “Why persecutest thou me?” This coloured his whole ministry.
The Lord speaking to the disciples about the coming of the Spirit says in John 14:20, “In that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you”. The “in that day” refers to the day when the Holy Spirit is received. Not only are we saved from our sins but we are in Christ and Christ is in us. We have the life of Christ in us. Consequently we are in Christ and members of His body. This teaching is unfolded extensively in Ephesians, chapters 1-3. “He gave Him to be head over all things to the church which is His body”, Ephesians 1:22. See also Colossians 1:24 - “for his body, which is the church; of which I became minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given me towards you, to complete the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but has now been made manifest”. Ephesians 3:1-7 also brings this out fully. The concept of the body also involves that it is an entity. In business affairs, a company that is incorporated is viewed as having its own identity, and is regarded as such at law. The body of Christ is a living organism, capable of being edified, built up, as is the case with the human body. What makes me a member of the body of Christ? It is the reception of the Holy Spirit consequent upon my putting my faith in Christ and owning Him as my Saviour. “For also by [in the power of] one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bondmen or free, and have all been given to drink of one Spirit”, 1 Cor. 12:13. This is not water baptism, but the reception of the Spirit. And again in Ephesians 4:4, we are told, “There is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc.” Receiving the Holy Spirit is constitutes me a member of the one body, and baptism identifies me outwardly with the Lord and the Christian faith. Therefore the body is made up of all true believers in Christ. The purpose of ministry is the edifying, or the building up of the body of Christ, Eph. 4:12. We are told in verses 15-16 that we are connected to Christ, the head, and that each of us contributes to the self-building up of the body. It is interesting to note the union involved in this figure, because Christ is never said to be king to the church. He is “King of kings”, He is King of nations and He is king of Israel, but to the church He is head. An important issue also follows - failure or corruption is never associated with the body in Scripture. This becomes important when we look at the church as the house of God.
As an aside - for the above reasons we can say that the church was not in existence until the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. It was the subject of secrecy, or mystery, “hidden in God” until revealed “to his holy apostles and prophets [Christian ones] in the power of the Spirit”, Eph. 3:5. The Old Testament prophets did not see our period, it being hidden from them. This church period is not the subject of prophecy, nor does it lend itself to the calculation of dates. After the church is taken the prophetic dates become active again. Antichrist is manifested and events on the earth are measured in days, months, years.
The Church as the House of God
In Matthew 16 we get the first direct reference to the church in the Scriptures. The Father had revealed the character of Christ to Peter, and he had confessed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God”; it was on that rock that Christ would build, not on Peter. Further, an administration was given to Peter – he was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, better translated “of the heavens”. This is not heaven, but the rule that emanates from there. Peter did not build; one does not build with keys. Nor did Peter say that he built when he refers to this in his epistles, but (1 Peter 2:3-5) the Lord is good. To whom coming, a living stone…ye also as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house”. Note also that it not a physical structure; it is not a building but a spiritual house. So we have living stones coming to a Living Stone. They come by faith and are built in. The body or membership of it does not form any part of Peter’s revelation. Nor does he ever speak of the church. It is Paul who speaks of the church as the body of Christ and he opens it up fully because it was he that was given that ministry. See Eph. 1-4, 1 Cor. 10 and 12, Romans 12, and Colossians where a large amount of instruction is given.
Paul, although viewing it differently, shows what is meant in Peter’s words when he speaks of the building being divinely built. In Ephesians 2:19-22 true believers are said be “of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the corner-stone, in whom all the body fitted together increases to a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit”. We have seen the church as the house built by no human means. Now we will see that Paul speaks of it in another way - as built by human instruments. In 1 Cor. 3:9-12, “For we are God’s fellow-workmen; ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me… I have laid the foundation, but another builds upon it.” Then in the further verses he shows the effect of faithfulness or of unfaithfulness in the work. Christ is not the builder here. Paul is the master builder and lays the foundation which is Christ; others build on it. If our work is wrong, wood hay and stubble it will be burnt up. Christ’s work never will. This gives another character to the church, different to that in Matthew 16 and 1 Peter 2, where it is only Christ’s work.
In summary, we have a building that Christ builds in which living stones come and are built up as living stones, a building which grows up to a holy temple in the Lord (1Peter 2 and Eph. 2:20-22) and we also have what is called God’s building, as that which is for Him and set up by Him on the earth, but which is built by man in his responsibility as the means. In this setting, I may find bad building and even persons corrupting it. The foundation is good, but the structure is in question. It is in this way that the whole professing church – what we speak of as Christendom – stands in the position of God’s building. It is not that which Christ refers to when He said: “I will build my church”. The Roman Catholic system claims to be that church, confusing what Christ builds with what they have built. A monstrous claim because it professes that Christ is the builder of a system that has entertained every form of corruption and evil to have stained the pages of human history. See also the article “Papal Infallibility” at
The Failure of the Public Profession of Christianity
Great confusion has arisen due to identifying the body of Christ (that which is united to Him by the Holy Spirit) with the outward form of the house of God which includes all who profess Christianity and all who are baptized. This is the foundation of Roman Catholicism – the attributing the privileges of the body to every one who has been externally introduced to the outward profession of Christianity – to every baptized person. We get other denominations saying that when a person is baptized they have eternal life, become a member of the body of Christ but can be finally lost! Baptism is never said to be a symbol of receiving life. It is a symbol of our burial and death with Christ – and it may be reasoned, of our resurrection with Him. It is not even a sign of being made a member of the body of Christ. It is individual – each one is baptized for himself. It is by the Spirit – not by water - that we are baptized into one body. The Lord’s Supper is the sign of that. It is taken in fellowship with others; “Because we, being many, are one loaf, one body; for we are all partake of that one loaf”. The ascribing of vital privileges such as eternal life and membership of the body to baptized persons is error.
We have seen the wickedness of attributing that which man builds in the way of wood, hay and stubble to Christ. We have seen the difference between identifying persons with Christ’s death and burial by baptism - the admitting of persons to the area of privilege – and true membership of the body of Christ by the reception of the Holy Spirit, and between the church that Christ builds and what man builds when God’s building is entrusted to him. It has failed. Some people look around and think that all is well! Can I appeal to such, even if they have not followed or agreed with the above, “God is not the author of confusion”, 1 Cor. 14:33. None of the denominations existed in Scripture. Although early Christians were baptized, there were no Baptists; although they met together, there were no Congregationalists; though they met in an orderly manner there were no Methodists; although there were overseers [bishops] there were no Episcopalians [Anglicans]; although there were elders in some churches there were no Presbyterians. We could go on.
It is so hard to believe that people cannot see failure all around that I wish to show it from Scripture rather than by pointing to wrongs in denominations and public structures. God has put things into man’s hands first; but when he has failed in responsibility, God brings in something better afterwards, and waits to take it up perfectly under Christ, the second Man, who never fails.
Adam – he failed and is replaced by Christ, “the last Adam”.
Noah – government over others was committed to man for the first time. He forfeited the right; he could not govern himself - he got drunk. Christ will reign in righteousness.
Law – it was given to Israel but they quickly made a golden calf. When Christ comes they will have the law written on their hearts.
Priesthood – set up under Aaron; strange fire was offered and Aaron then forbidden to enter the sanctuary except on the Day of Atonement, and then without garments of glory and beauty. Christ is a merciful and faithful High Priest even now in glory.
Solomon – the son of David set up in glory here, fails, loving many strange women; the kingdom was divided and the tribes will not be united until Christ comes and He will take up the throne in unfailing glory.
Nebuchadnezzar – he was set over the nations and Judah by God, with absolute power. He made a golden image and put those faithful to God in the furnace, and became a beast in God’s disciplinary ways. Christ will reign over all the earth in perfect justice.
The church - Israel failed as a witness and refused their Messiah. God met this by setting them aside for this period and introducing the church. The church was called to glorify Christ, to represent Him here. But antichrists and a falling away are the results. Even in Paul’s time we get, “all seek their own things and not the things of Jesus Christ”; Paul also writes in Acts 20 29, “there will come in amongst you after my departure grievous wolves, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall rise up men speaking perverted things to draw away disciples after them”; to Timothy in the Second Epistle he writes that in the last days perilous times will be there, and that wicked men and juggling imposters shall advance in evil. In John’s time antichrists had gone out into the world; in Jude the objects of judgment were there. Can any right thinking Christian deny that these things are around us?
But Christ’s building will be complete and perfect and will be manifested in glory. Man’s building is badly built and corrupted and will come under severest judgment.
Other Aspects of the Church
The Church as the Bride of Christ This is another view of the church that we do not have space for in this article. This is a very rich subject for another article. We can just say that the church is precious to Christ. He loved it and gave Himself for it - redeemed at the cost of His life. It has a greater and more intimate place with Him than Israel will. Although the marriage of the Lamb has not yet taken place, the wife is being prepared for the Bridegroom. This privilege and relationship has important implications for our conduct now.
The Church as the pillar and base of the truth
This and other aspects will be treated elsewhere.
MM March 2008