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Cornerstone Fellowship News
  Vol. I,  No. 2 November, 2002  
Building Up the Body - Part 2

It is primarily from the letters of the apostle Paul that we read most of the Biblical references to the Body of Messiah. When one realizes that, in virtually every instance, each of those epistles was directed toward a specific assembly of first-century believers, the fact that Paul's analogy of the Body must necessarily apply to the particular congregation involved becomes inescapable.

In general, most Christians are taught to think of the Body as some sort of invisible, amorphous entity, nebulous in structure, scattered in practical terms, and all somehow magically tied together by the Holy Spirit. The purpose of my writing is not to totally dismiss this concept, but to refine it the way, in fact, the Scriptures do, so that a much more clear picture of the Body emerges, one that is easily adaptable and more practical to each individual assembly of believers anywhere in the world. In other words, I am saying that it is valuable and advantageous for us to see the Body of Christ in terms of the local congregation in any one location, rather than the more common approach of a formless creature with its many parts sort of dangling somewhere in space!

Robert Banks, in his excellent book, Paul's Idea of Community, writes correctly:

"The community at Corinth is not said to be part of a wider body of Christ nor as a body of Christ along side numerous others. It is the body of Christ in that place. This suggests that wherever Christians are in relationship there is the body of Christ in its entirety, for Christ is truly and wholly present there through the Spirit-I Cor. 12:13" (p. 59).
The concept of the local church being equated to the analogy of a human body was especially helpful for the Gentile converts to whom Paul ministered. It is possible that had he been primarily addressing first-century Jews in his letters, the need for utilizing the Body metaphor might not have been quite as necessary. Remember that Paul had been raised in the synagogue system in Israel, an arrangement that was much closer to an ideal model than anything to which the Gentiles might have been accustomed. Since this was the case, Paul's use of the human anatomy to teach the lessons of unity, mutual love and support, and congregational service among the various groups of Gentile believers was quite ingenious. Nearly two thousand years later, we too are able to still profit from this great teaching.

The apostle also speaks of the spiritual gifts in the context of the local corporate Body. When I say corporate, I obviously do not mean some incorporated human religious institution, but rather the local assembly as a whole. In other words, Paul makes it clear that no one individual is granted all the gifts of the Spirit. In I Corinthians 12, he asks the rhetorical question:

"Now you (Corinthians) ARE the Body of Christ, and members in particular. And God has set some in the church, first (Gk. proton - first in time and place) apostles (special messengers), next prophets (inspired expounders), then teachers; and after that, workers of miracles, gifts of healings, various helpers, administrators, and those able to speak in diverse languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages? Do all interpret?" (I Cor. 12:27-30).

The idea conveyed in this passage is clearly that the local congregation is the Body of Christ wherever that assembly is located on the earth; that the local church is, like a human body, composed of various members, each having a specific and necessary function within the context of the group; and that no one individual is to be so gifted that he or she would throw the Body out of synch by drawing the other members' focus primarily to that one person. After all, a human body with, say, a hand capable of seeing, hearing, running, and thinking, would be perverse, and a detriment to the overall successful operation of that body.

The structure of the body, whether human or as an analogy of the local assembly of believers is absolutely divine in nature. This is the way that God has designed things to function, and function at their best. This approach has been established in such a way that the members have to cooperate with each other, recognize and appreciate the gifts of every individual, and work corporately or together, building up the Body in love. Yahshua (Jesus) placed such importance on this last point that He literally made it a new commandment as we read in John 13:34-35:

"A new commandment I give unto you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another."

The idea behind all of this teaching is that each local congregation of believers or, if you will, the Body, should operate in a manner that causes all members to be obedient to the Head (Messiah), work together as a team, support, encourage, and strengthen one another, and thus allow God the Father to receive the glory and credit for the success that is achieved. This automatically rules out the exaltation of any individual over another, for what healthy body worships its own ear or follows after its own elbow? It automatically rules out domination and control of one member over the others, for what healthy body is ruled by its nose or finger or foot?

With respect to the gifts of the Spirit, there also needs to be some additional clarification. First of all, it may well be a mistake to assume that the particular gifts listed in the New Testament are exhaustive. In other words, the possibility that the Spirit could impart other abilities is certainly not ruled out by the Bible. If this can be said to be true, then the attempts that so many have made to force the various members of the Body into specifically prescribed roles based upon one passage may not be the best or most accurate method of doing this. Indeed, the gifts listed in I Corinthians 12 or Romans 12 can certainly be utilized as guidelines, but we always have to keep in mind that the needs and the functions of the Body can and do change through time. Therefore, it is also possible that some gifts may not be necessary at one given time in history, as opposed to the first century when Paul wrote his letters.

In like manner, there is no Biblical basis for assuming that each individual member has exactly one gift, or that a single person cannot have multiple gifts. Clearly, certain New Testament characters manifested more than one spiritual gift, and Paul himself urged the believers in Corinth to earnestly desire and seek after the higher gifts (I Cor. 13:31), concluding his comments by saying in chapter 14:40:

"Wherefore, brethren, covet (earnestly desire) to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in languages. Let all things be done decently and in order."

It is very interesting that in his first letter to the brethren in Corinth, Paul specifies no less than 14 gifts of the Spirit, yet when he writes his epistle to the Romans, he sees fit to mention only seven, and some of them are different from one list to the other. In Ephesians 4, there are precisely 4 gifts discussed, and Peter only talks about three spiritual endowments in I Peter 4. One has to wonder if indeed, since these letters were directed to specific groups of believers, that the apostles were discussing the gifts necessary for the particular congregation to whom they were writing to fulfil their corporate mission. I would submit that this is a possibility that ought to be considered. Doing so eliminates the necessity of any group feeling that they absolutely must have all the gifts listed throughout the Bible in place and in operation, before they can be considered a complete and properly functioning Body.

In the beginning of Paul's missionary ministry, we read in the book of Acts that his preferred practice was to go to the local Jewish synagogue. Typically, these were fairly small buildings, and there could easily be several in any one town or city. The congregations almost always tended to be on the small side.

Later, when Paul began to appeal more directly to the Gentiles, the local assemblies usually convened in homes. So, in both the early and later times of his ministry, we see that the size of the various church groups were rather small. This is probably more important than meets the eye.

Ever since the onset of corporate organized religion in the 2nd & 3rd centuries A.D., the trend has been toward creating large churches. Today, there are actually single religious establishments with thousands of members, some as high as 10,000 or more, requiring numerous services each Sunday to accommodate the huge throngs of people that jam these ultra-modern cathedrals. The fact is that this sort of approach is hardly Biblical in its basis, and in virtually every instance actually works against the very purposes of God for the body of believers.

Although the Scriptures don't specifically legislate the size of any given congregation, the examples that are given with respect to the New Testament Church certainly indicate that, although many thousands were being added to the faith, the local assemblies almost always tended to be small. We can discern this just from a careful reading of I Corinthians 14:26:

"What then, brethren, is the right course? When you meet together, EACH ONE has a hymn, a teaching, a disclosure of special knowledge, an utterance in a tongue, or an interpretation of it. But let everything be constructive and for the good of all."

Can you imagine if there were 500 or 800 or 1000 members present in Corinth on the Sabbath, and each one had something to contribute? There would be no sound instruction that the apostle Paul could possibly give to keep such a situation edifying and in order! This passage alone dictates that the size of the congregation (which may have been one of the larger ones) must have been relatively small. And this is actually quite important. It's not only the way the Church started out, it's the way it ought to be structured today as well!

The Messiah once encountered a situation that, at first glance, might seem rather strange, but is really quite telling. In Matthew 12:46, we read:

"Jesus (Yahshua) was still speaking to the people when behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, Listen! Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak to You. But He replied to the man who told Him, Who is My mother, and who are My brothers? And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother!" (Matt. 12:46-50).

The concept of family is very much connected with any group of true believers. Christ defined His family as consisting of those who followed Him, who were His genuine disciples. Therefore, it can be established that the local assembly constitutes a family relationship among its various members. In reality, it is the most significant family-type association possible, higher even than one's own physical family. It is in the small, family related setting that the spiritual gifts of the Body are able to be best recognized and utilized. The special love that Yahshua said should exist among believers is probably best understood within a family context.

Del Birkey, writing in his book, The House Church, makes an excellent point in the following statement:

"The astute interpreter of the gift passages will recognize Paul's intent to push the churches away from individualistic behaviors and toward the corporate behavior that absolutely requires right relationships within the church. This kind of relationship can only be possible when the church is small enough for those relationships to thrive" (p. 104).
This is absolutely correct, and no clever approach to the contrary will really work. To have a genuine chance for success, the local assembly needs to remain relatively small, must be connected directly to the Head who is Messiah, always endeavoring to become more closely knit together, completely supportive of each member, submissive one to another, and each contributing through the gift or gifts of the Spirit to the overall good of the entire congregation and its mission. This, of course, is the ideal, but it must be the objective to keep in mind, something that a local assembly should always be seeking and striving to refine. It may be unlikely that any group fulfils these requirements completely, however, any situation less than this needs immediate and prayerful attention from its members.

This emphasis must remain strong and constant, because it has everything to do with being able to actually achieve God's purpose for the Body. So many believers take a far too casual approach to the local congregation of which they are a part. In fact, there are a sizable number of brethren who simply do not recognize themselves as members of any body. They may attend from time to time wherever they pick and choose, sort of drifting around the church scene; or they may meet on a regular basis with a particular group, but they do so primarily to have someone with whom to fellowship, and really do not consider themselves to be an active and fruitful part of the assembly itself. In addition, you have some who are determined to cause disagreement, disharmony, disruption, and division, and almost always over the least of issues. Thus, instead of building up the Body, they and those they influence actually contribute to the dissolution of the local church, often resulting in hurt feelings, severed friendships, and local groups irreparably split asunder. And then, of course, there is a significant segment of believers who indeed are part of a local church, but who simply are not encouraged or, in many cases, not even allowed, to fully participate; so they just sit and become something of a fixture, almost inanimate objects occupying space for a couple of hours, shaking a few hands, and then off to home and back to the real world!

These observations may sound overly harsh, however, believe me, they are not based on guesswork, but on absolute first-hand hard evidence. It is, in fact, rather rare today to find a small Sabbath-observant congregation that is truly following the right principles of love and unity and concerted successful effort to reach out to others. This, brethren, simply should not be. Granted, many local church situations are far less than perfect, and some may indeed be beyond salvaging; but before any of us make the decision not to be a part of this congregation or that, let us ask ourselves the hard questions-Are we truly desirous of functioning as a part of a body of believers? Are we willing to apply the principles of love, cooperation, hard work, patience, understanding, and tolerance? Are we content to operate in accordance with the spiritual gift or gifts we have been given, and allowing others to make their equally important contribution as well? Are we willing to sacrifice, pray, and labor to help build up the body of which we are a part?

Until we can answer an unqualified YES to all those questions, there is a dynamic missing in our lives. It is not enough to simply believe, or to gain some knowledge, or even to be a strong, well-gifted, productive worker. These qualities are all fine and good, and should be present or being developed in all of God's children, but the key issues are: What are you going to do with the advantages God has granted you? And, are you willing to join with your brethren, so that a genuinely successful GROUP effort can be effected?

Our calling is not one to individual greatness in this life, but rather to humble submission under the mighty hand of God; to see all true saints as integral parts of the whole divine operation; and to actively supply the Body with the contribution that only we as individuals can make through the Spirit.

It is a sad spectacle to review Christian religious history, because it is a fact that most of the innumerable churches down through the ages have revolved around some charismatic individual or a small elite group of influential leaders. The right kind of inspired operation of the Body has seldom been successfully achieved. This is not to say that no good has been accomplished, for some good can be found in almost any endeavor, if one looks long enough. But the dictates of the Scriptures have usually gathered the dust of disuse or misuse!

The apostles and early disciples had the same kind of problems each of us faces-that great human question: Who's in charge here? Some of them desired to have preeminence above the others in the band, but the Messiah would have none of it! He did not permit the very identical behavior that has been present and so prevalent in the churches since the first century. I think one of the best statements He ever made on the subject is found in Matthew 23, where Christ told the disciples:

"The scribes and Pharisees (the religious LEADERS) sit in Moses seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not you after their works, for they say and do not. For they BIND HEAVY BURDENS and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be SEEN OF MEN: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the UPPERMOST ROOMS AT FEASTS, and the CHIEF SEATS in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be CALLED OF MEN, RABBI, RABBI. But be you NOT CALLED RABBI: for ONE IS YOUR MASTER, EVEN MESSIAH, and all YOU ARE BRETHREN" (Matt. 23:2-8).

Isn't it utterly amazing that the very things to which the Son of God was adamantly opposed and which He absolutely forbad His disciples to embrace, are indeed the identical sins of which the vast majority of religious leaders throughout the centuries of time have been so guilty! For those whose minds have been warped by the hierarchical pyramid of power in the churches, the Messiah has given you the answer you've been searching for-the true divine hierarchy - The Father, The Son, and then all the believers on earth. Nothing more, nothing less! Any other hierarchy is not of the Almighty, but of mere men, and ought to be rejected out of hand!

Just like we modern saints, the early disciples experienced strife and contention among themselves. We read in Luke 22:24:

"And there was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest. And He said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority are called benefactors. But it SHALL NOT BE SO WITH YOU : rather he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is CHIEF, as he that does SERVE. For who is greater, he that sits eating at the table, or he that serves? Is it not he that sits at meat? But I AM AMONG YOU AS HE THAT SERVES" (Lk. 22:24-27).

Oh, if only all brethren would recognize how applicable these passages are to the Church today, what an astounding difference it would make!

On the occasion of His final supper before the crucifixion, Yahshua (Jesus) spoke a prayer that is recorded in John 17. Although we read this passage around the Passover season each year, it is good to always remember what He said. Referring to the initial disciples, we read:

"These words spoke Jesus (Yahshua), and lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: Father, the hour is come; glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You...I have manifested Your name unto the men which You have given me out of the world...I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which You have given me...Holy Father, keep through Your own name those whom You have given Me, that THEY MAY BE ONE, AS ARE WE...Neither pray I for these alone, but for THEM WHICH SHALL BELIEVE ON ME through their word; that they ALL MAY BE ONE, as You Father are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in us, THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME" (Jn. 17:1, 6, 9, 11, 20-21).

How interesting that Christ's final prayer with His earliest followers was a plea to the Father for ONENESS among these brethren. Today we would simply call it UNITY! Can we modern believers accept the fact that just before the Savior of this world was to endure His torture in Gethsemane, be arrested, falsely accused, illegally tried, scourged till His flesh hung in pieces from the bones, and condemned to death on a tree, that His main focus was on the absolute importance and necessity for UNITY among the brethren-and, praise God, Christ was very specific to include not just the original apostles, but all those who believed according to their testimony-and that means every single one of us today!!

Let's just pose the real question of the moment: How important is the unity of believers to you right now? Can you honestly say that you are in complete agreement with Yahshua (Jesus) on this point? Does it have your most deserving and unqualified focus, even as it commanded Christ's as He faced certain death? The Body, whether you view it from a wider or more narrow perspective, is fractured today, and in desperate need of repair and healing and recovery. Disunity, not the oneness for which our Savior prayed, is the rule of the day in which we live. It seems that the modern Church has found every conceivable excuse to argue, bicker, disagree, disrespect, and divide among its members! Large religious organizations either attempt to enforce a form of man-made unity, or they will try to hide their disunity, until they decide to simply rid themselves of anyone they perceive as a problem. Smaller groups may try to hang together for a while, but so often they just split asunder, with each splinter forming yet another even smaller entity, until the Church today looks like it was hit by a Tomahawk missile!!

Furthermore, we cannot afford to merely declare that we are one in Spirit. That's simply not good enough. We must, like our Savior, demonstrate that oneness in this life! And remember that we are commanded to be one, AS THE FATHER AND SON ARE ONE! Christ was visibly in unity with God. Anyone who knew Him or heard Him was fully aware of that oneness. He bore witness to the world through the genuine unity that existed between Himself and His Father. So, I would submit, must we!

Also, please note the reason Jesus (Yahshua) gave for this unity among the disciples-"that the world may believe that You (the Father) has sent Me." Herein is the significance of and necessity for this oneness, and it is as true today as it was in the first century! The unity of the Spirit is thus outward and obvious supernatural proof that Yahshua is the Messiah, sent from God (Yahweh), and that He is alive and well and active today, living in and through His people!

The oneness of the Messiah and the Father exists because the Son is in the Father and vice versa. Think about that. They are one in purpose, one in character, one in attitude. They are on each other's side. When Christ walked the earth, He constantly refused to glorify Himself, but rather did everything possible to honor His Father. Can you imagine Yahshua (Jesus) arguing with His Father? How about showing disrespect, or an intolerant, judgmental attitude? Do you suppose that He would get peeved at God, separate Himself, and establish the opposing Church of Jesus Christ? It is certainly not my intention to be purely negative in this discussion, but yet the evidence is clear that many believers are guilty of all these kinds of actions and feelings toward each other.

We are also described in the Bible as being in Christ, and He as being in us. This relationship, therefore, must be the sole basis for the right kind of unity in the Church, and thus needs to be carefully considered by all believers, even to the point as to whether or not such an association is actually present. It is ever so easy for anyone to carelessly assume that they are okay with God. If so, then that is where the search for oneness must begin.

According to the Scriptures, it is God's will that there be unity and love and harmony among His children, and this is simply not the case across the board today. According to the Scriptures also, such oneness is indeed achievable, but it does not and will not come naturally or easily. It has to be an genuine endeavor on the part of we believers. Paul put it this way:

"I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the VOCATION wherewith you are called, with all LOWLINESS and MEEKNESS, with PATIENCE, FORBEARING one another in love; ENDEAVORING to keep the UNITY of the Spirit in the bond of PEACE...And unto EVERYONE of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ...He that descended is the same also who ascended up far above all heavens...And He gifted some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His intention is the perfecting of the SAINTS, fully equipping THEM to do the work of the MINISTRY, of BUILDING UP THE BODY OF CHRIST, until we ALL attain ONENESS in the faith and in the full understanding of the knowledge of the Son of God; that we might arrive at the completeness of personality which is NOTHING LESS than the standard height of CHRIST'S own PERFECTION. So that we may no longer be children, tossed like ships to and fro by every wind of doctrine, or become the prey of cunning and unscrupulous men engaged in every form of trickery and attempts to mislead. RATHER, let our lives lovingly express the truth in all things. Enfolded in love, let us grow up in every way unto Him Who is the Head of the Body, even Christ. For because of Him the whole Body, joined and knit together by the joints and ligaments with which it is supplied, when EACH PART is working properly in ALL its FUNCTIONS, grows to full maturity, building itself up in love" (Eph. 4:1-3, 10-16).

I honestly do not know how it can possibly be said any better than this! This graphic description of the saints demonstrates with crystal clarity what a premium God puts on His people being together, of one accord, in harmony, loving each other, and building each other up through the spiritual gifts with which we all have been equipped. Surely we must be compelled to acknowledge these facts, and begin to actively and earnestly endeavor to acquire these characteristics.

The Bible reveals a mystery to those who believe. Paul expresses that mystery as CHRIST IN US (Col. 1:27). In other words, we are to fully accept that Yahshua (Jesus) LIVES IN HIS BODY!! How could it be any other way? We dare not be guilty of taking this for granted, or of relegating if by our attitudes and actions to a place of unimportance! John writes:

"No man has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us, and His love is perfected in us. Hereby do we know that we dwell in Him, and He is us, because He has given us of His Spirit, and we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son the Savior of this world" (I Jn. 4:12-14).

Note that no man has seen God. Of course not, He is invisible. But the divine expectation is that He will dwell in us, and that because of this spiritual state, others will be able to discern His presence, power, and plan.

The apostle Paul once issued a great challenge to believers everywhere of all time. In II Corinthians 13:5, he said:

"Put yourselves on trial as to whether you are truly in the faith. Test your own selves, or do you not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you, unless you are rejected."

To recognize the Messiah in us is a test of whether or not we are genuinely in the faith. The literal indwelling of Christ is the very proof of our authenticity.

When Paul was writing his first letter to the Corinthian brethren, he had to address the fact that there was divisiveness and disharmony in that congregation. In doing so, he posed one of the great questions of the ages: Is Christ divided? Well, that question still remains for us to answer today, and that answer might not be precisely what we assume. Here's what I mean.

It is unequivocally true that in the Spirit the Messiah is not divided, but the flesh is another issue entirely. It is altogether possible, yes even probably, and indeed in many instances absolutely true, that in the flesh Christ can be and is divided! Consider the fact that His physical body during His sojourn upon the earth was without question twisted, torn, beaten, and rent asunder. If His spiritual Body is walking after the flesh, then the very same thing can and will happen. In fact, it is happening right at this very moment!

When Paul wrote those problem-plagued Corinthians about this situation, he said the following:

"And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual people, but rather as unto CARNAL...For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you ENVYING, and STRIFE, and DIVISIONS, are you not CARNAL, and walk as MEN?" (I Cor. 3:1, 3).

God's Word declares that when there is division, strife, and envying among His people, carnality is on the throne! Carnality simply means walking after the flesh, according to the natural mind; and the Bible tells us that the carnal mind is the enemy of God and cannot be subject to His Law.

I feel strongly that not only has the Church been operating carnally much of the time, we all must admit and confess that this is so. The evidence is too convincing, too overwhelming, too convicting. This is one of the great reasons why everything seems to be coming apart; why there is so much confusion and spiritual drift today; why there is strife and division within the Body; and why the Church as we know it in this time is not and indeed cannot make a truly divine impact upon this sin-sick, dark, and dying world! SOMEWHERE, SOMEHOW, SOMETHING HAS GOT TO CHANGE!!

Now is the time for those truly converted people of God to awaken to higher and greater realities with respect to the Body of Christ, and the part that each of us plays in the makeup and operation of that Body. Now is the time for real, substantive change to take place among believers, putting aside those petty things that divide us, and embracing one another in Christ, that He might live and show Himself forth through us.

We cannot rest on the laurels of the past, and we dare not continue on the course men have set for us today. WE must raise the banner of ONENESS NOW, and go forward in that authentic divine power that is truly not our own!


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