First Years of Christianity: No. 7

Romans 12:4‑5  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 6
We have seen in the Acts that the church, or assembly of God, as distinct from the Jew and the Gentile, and yet composed of both, began on the day of Pentecost by the descent of the Holy Ghost; and that all through the Acts, all that were converted were added to that one and only church. Every local assembly, as Jerusalem, Antioch, Thessalonica, &e, formed the one assembly of God. These were gathered out of the world from Judaism or heathenism—they were not of the world, but formed a new company, by the Holy Ghost. And there never had been such a company before. There had been individual believers, as Noah, Abraham, &c. There had been a nation, in a certain relation to Jehovah, as Israel. But the church was not a nation, but all the saved ones out of the nations.
What, then, is this new company thus formed by the Holy Ghost? In the Romans there is very little said on this: the church is not its theme, but the righteousness of God is the great subject of that epistle; man before God, and how God is righteous in justifying them that believe. We do however learn this, that "as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." (Rom, xii. 4, 5.) And then all gifts, service, and work, is in accord with this entirely new position. This " one body " is IN Christ—every member of the one body is in Christ.
Now this could not be, as He tells us, until the grain of wheat had died. Until His death and resurrection He must remain alone. (John 12:2424Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. (John 12:24).) The believer is in Christ, who has died and forever put away his sins, and condemned his sin; and is now risen from the dead, and ascended on high. The one body of Christ is in Christ as risen from the dead. We are to minister to one another as members of the glorified Christ in heaven, We are to walk on earth as those who are risen with, and now in Christ, on high. We shall see more of this one body in other epistles. What a subject! And yet men can despise, and even deride it. Such seem to be given up to judicial blindness.
We are also told that the mystery was kept secret since the world began. (Rom. 16:2525Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, (Romans 16:25).) And this is a fact, that there is not one word in the Old Testament about this " one body in Christ." Now it is revealed in the New Testament scriptures, we may see figures of it in the Old, as Eve was the one wife of Adam. And it would seem that since the first days of the church until these last days the mystery of the " one body in Christ" has been almost lost. And many believers even now have no idea what the church, the one body, is.
Many have a strange thought, that all sects form the one true church. But are all sects in Christ? Are all the millions of the Greek, Roman, and Protestant sects in Christ, risen from the dead and glorified? Are all these without condemnation, in Christ? No man would venture to say so.
But may there not be some individuals in all Beets, or divisions, of Christendom in Christ? purely this may be so. Then are not those individuals, if in Christ, justified from all things? Do not they form the one body in Christ? They do; that is the very thing I want to show clearer. Thus, if the reader is in Christ, risen from the dead, he is a member of the one body, in Christ. But though he may be a pope, cardinal, archbishop, clergyman, or minister of any so-called church, yet if he is not in Christ risen, he has no more to say to the one body of Christ, or the true church of God, than a Mahomedan. But if that be so, it is of very little value to belong to any of the so-called churches—Greek, Roman, &c. Just so. The question is this, not are you in the Church of Rome, or the Church of England, but are you in Christ?
And it does seem to me an important question, Does the Lord approve of my belonging to any division of Christendom? We shall find an answer to that question in 1 Cor. 1—iii. You will notice this epistle is addressed to the true church of God, and also shows the responsibility of all who profess the name of Christ. And do not forget the test, the only test, in Christ " Unto the church of God which is at Corinth to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints [or, saints by calling], with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, both theirs and ours." (1 Cor. 1:22Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:2).) The church of God is composed, then, of those who are separated from the world, sanctified in Christ Jesus; and all who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus are responsible to hear. If, then, you are not sanctified in Christ Jesus, if you are not holy as in. Him by calling, you have no part in the church of God, the one body, in Christ.
God permitted sectarianism to begin in those first years, so that He might speak His mind by the Holy Ghost on the subject. " Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [or schisms] among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.... And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ... for ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men Τ (1 Cor. 1:10; 3:110Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)
1And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:1)
, S. See the whole context.) Thus we may even boast that we do the very thing that God in His word condemns. Did you never meet a man that boasted that he belonged to the Church of Rome, or of England, or some other division? God says, I beseech you that you do not.
If we really know what the one body of Christ is, and that we are in Christ, in the one body, we really could not belong to any other body, be it Roman, or Protestant. The Lord restore this great truth to our souls more clearly. If the fact of divisions proves even Christians to be in a carnal or natural state, acting as men of the world, and forming schools of philosophy; and, as we have seen, all this is thoroughly disapproved of by the Holy Ghost, then, for the comfort of every believer in Christ, does the same word of God settle the question—that each and all believers in Christ form the one body in Christ. •To put. it still a little plainer, as God disapproves of all divisions, they cannot, as supposed, form the true church, or one body in Christ. Can I, then, if I am in the risen Christ, be assured that I am a member of the one only true body of Christ?
Let us hear the answer. " For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit," &c. (1 Cor. 12:1212For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12) to end.) If, then, you are in Christ risen and glorified, you are baptized by the Holy Ghost into the one body of Christ. This is a stupendous truth, and if known, error will drop off like autumn leaves.
Let us now pass on to the epistle to the Ephesians. In chapter 1: 1-18 we have the purpose of God; chapter 1:19 to end, and chapter ii., how that purpose has been accomplished. In chapter iii. the administration of that mystery committed to Paul; chapter iv., the church, the body of Christ; chapter v., the church as the bride of Christ.
But mark again how all this is limited to those only in Christ, to the faithful in Christ. (Chap, 1:1.) They are blest with every spiritual blessing in Christ. They were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. (Ver. 4.) God predestinated them unto the adoption of children unto Himself. It was His good pleasure, His delight, to have them to Himself. In Christ, the beloved, they are brought into favor. God said, as it were, I will have them in the same favor as my beloved Son. In Him they have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. Yes, this was our God's eternal purpose, and such is every saint in Christ. God accomplished this purpose by raising up His beloved Son from among the dead, and set Him, as Son of man, the new risen Man, at His own right hand in the heavenlies. Not now as Messiah on earth, but far above all principality and power. And all this as Head over all things to the church, which is His body: " the fullness of him that filleth all in all." (Chap. 1:18-23.)
Then is revealed to us the riches of His grace in taking us poor sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, and, in pure love, grace, free favor, giving to us, whether Jews or Gentiles, the very same place as His beloved Son, " And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." All this is far beyond anything ever made known or promised before. Thus in the church, all distinction between Jew and Gentile was broken down; peace was made by the blood of the cross, and peace preached to all both far and near. Oh, the depths of His mercy, the riches of His grace!
The assembly—all who are in Christ—are the true saints of God, " And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone; in whom all the building, fitly framed together, groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." Have we been raised from the dead with Christ? If not, we are not stones in this heavenly building. Thus it is nothing to be members of man's churches, but everything to be in Christ.
Now the administration and revelation of this mystery was given to Paul. (Chap, iii.) It was hid from ages, and never made known: " That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the joint body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel."
This did sorely perplex the Jews, and fill them with hatred to Paul. It perplexed them, because every promise in the Old Testament, the word of God, gave them a distinct place in the time of the kingdom; the coming time of this earth's blessedness. They knew not of this period of mystery whilst their Messiah is cut off and has nothing.
Every word to them, as a nation, shall surely be fulfilled, but in its time, not now. It wounded their pride to hear that there was no distinction—that in the boundless grace of God, beyond al thought, Jew and Gentile formed the one new joint body of Christ. " To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the assembly the manifold wisdom of God. According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." What must the church be in the sight of God, and in the sight of all angelic hosts.! Is there any wonder that Satan should seek to deface it with all the divisions of Christendom?
Now Paul had very fully put before them what it is to be in Christ risen from the dead. Without this no soul is a member of u the one body in Christ." But there is another thing equally important, and without which we cannot comprehend this wondrous purpose of God. For this he prays.