the church as the body of christ: part I
The Holy Universal Catholic Apostolic Church.
RC Sproul uses this most helpful description when talking about the invisible church (full treatment here). What comes to my mind when I hear these words is a large Medieval European Cathedral like the Sistine Chapel or St. Peter’s Basilica perhaps? Most people think of a fixed and perhaps out-dated institution associated with priests, angles, saints and all things sacred. I may be wrong but I believe that this is what most people have in view when it comes to church. What is kind of shocking is to read the New Testament and find something completely different. Christ used several different images to describe His church; a bride, a body, a flock of sheep, and an assembly to name a few. These pictures are very distant from a large cathedral made of stone, brick and glass. Christ saw His church as a living, breathing and vibrant organism of which He the head. He is the groom, the head, and the chief shepherd. And I would like to discuss in a bit more detail this New Testament idea of the church as the body of Christ.
This is the first in a series of posts about the church as the body of Christ and the first we need to talk about is what is the church? There are many definitions and rightfully so since it has been around for over two thousand years and has many nicknames and many enemies as well who have their own ideas about what the church is and is not. I started this post with the title The Universal Catholic Apostolic Church. Each one of these titles describes something about the church.
Firstly, the title Holy refers to the fact that God’s church has been sanctified or set apart for holy or sacred purposes. This of course, is not an inherent holiness but a foreign and imputed holiness that is derived from Christ its head. We as the people of God are holy just as Christ is Holy because we are found in Him and His blood purchased our inheritance into the Kingdom of God. We in one place in the NT are referred to as “Holy, blameless and without spot or wrinkle.” And this is all because of the fact that Christ is our righteousness and we are in Him.
Secondly, the church is Universal or Catholic. This means that the church of Jesus Christ cannot be bound by geographic or political borders. It also cannot be bound by a specific time period. Universal refers to the idea that the church includes all the peoples of God who have believed in Jesus Christ as the Messiah (God’s sent one), God in the flesh, and Lord of all.
Thirdly, the church is Apostolic. This perhaps is the least known description of the church as explained by the greatest theologians over the centuries. Apostolic simply means referring to the Apostles. This implies that the church has historically followed the teachings of the Apostles who were appointed personally by Christ Himself. “But I thought the church was founded on the teachings of Christ” you might say. And you would be absolutely correct! But what we know of the teachings of Christ has come to us through his Apostles. As surprising as this might sound Christ never wrote anything down (Unless you count his writing in the sand in which case we still don;t know what exactly He wrote). This is not uncommon in the ancient world. In fact, everything we know about Socrates, Homer, Buddha and Mohamed we know because their disciples wrote down what they said. The authority of the Apostles is once again (like our righteousness) is derived from Christ Himself. It’s not the these men were any holier, better, or even wiser than the people who make up the church today. It’s the fact that Christ chose to commission his disciples with the privileged task of spreading the truth of his Gospel, namely that Christ, God very God, became a man, lived a perfect life, died a vicarious death in which he paid for the sins of all those who believe on him, rose from dead to defeat death itself, and ascended to heaven after which we look forward to his promised second coming. Lord come quickly!
So there is my first post. The church is Holy, Universal, and Apostolic. Next time I want to get into the New Testament and examine more closely how Christ describes His church, namely as His very own body. Until then, may Christ indwell you richly and fill you will all knowledge so that you may enjoy His love, protection, and full hope that he offers all freely.
He is risen!