The Glorious Body of Christ I: You Are the Body of Christ - 1 Cor. 12:27

The ancient fathers of the Church said this: “Outside the Church, there is no salvation.” This conviction was repeated by men such as Luther and Calvin at the time of the Reformation, and the Westminster Confession of Faith (our church’s doctrinal standard) echoes this as well (25.2). Many of these men make the comparison between the Church and the Ark of Noah to make the point clear: if you are not on the ark, you die. If you are not in the Church, you die.

The reason for this strong statement is found in the teaching of 1 Cor. 12:27, that the Church is not something separate from Christ, but is connected to Christ the same way a body is connected to a head. The Church is important and necessary for Christians because the Church is the body of Christ.

And so there are two sides to what the Bible says about the Church: If you are not a part of the Church, there is no salvation for you. That’s the negative side. But the positive side is this: if you are part of Christ’s body, not only do you escape judgment, but you also share in glory! So why should you join a Church? Why should you love the Church? Why should you prioritize the Church? Here’s the answer: because the Church is the glorious body of Christ.

So who is the ‘you’ that Jesus (speaking through Paul) is talking to when He says “You are the body of Christ”? Is it everyone who has ever been baptized? Is it everyone who has ever been listed on a Church roll? Is it everyone who’s ever prayed the sinner’s prayer or claimed to believe in Jesus? Who is this ‘you’ that is the Church?

This question is extremely important, because if outside the Church there is no salvation, then you need to know who and where the Church is, and whether you’re included! You need an answer for this eternal life or death question!

Jesus warns us that some people will get the answer wrong. Some will come to Him and say, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we do this for you, didn’t we do that for you.” And Jesus will say to them, “Depart from me; I never knew you.” People can say things and do things that make it look like they love and follow Jesus, but appearances can be deceiving.

That’s why the WCF, in chapter 25 on the Church, distinguishes between two aspects of the church, two angles for looking at the Church. One the one hand, the invisible Church is made up of all the elect gathered into one body. This Church is invisible not only because of the realities of time and space, but also because God’s eternal choice of election isn’t something we can see.

But thankfully, there’s more to it than that. The WCF also speaks of the visible church, that aspect of the church that we can see, worship with, and identify. Even though we don’t have perfect knowledge of the invisible Church, we still have access to the Church through its visible manifestation. We can see the Church, and we know we’ve found it when we see the glory of Christ.

So what glories do we see that show us where Christ is? These glories are called the marks of the Church, and historically, there are two: Word and Sacrament. Christ’s glory shines through His Word, preached, read, sung, and obeyed, and through the Sacraments that Jesus has given to His Church: baptism, the beginning ritual, and the Lord’s Supper, the sustaining ritual. When you find a people led by God’s Word and identified by these Sacraments, you’ve found the Church! And because the Church is the body and Christ is the head, where these marks are found, Christ is Himself is found, head and body.

That’s why the Church is so important. When you’ve found a Church ministering Christ through Word and Sacrament, you’ve found Jesus. The body of Christ is made visible through Word and Sacrament, which is where Jesus has promised to be.

So how can you know that you individually are a member of the body? By hearing and believing in Jesus when He speaks through the Word, and by receiving Jesus through His gifts of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. When Jesus the Head gives Himself to you, you can know that you as an individual are a member of His body.

And because you are the body of Christ, be the body of Christ. Love and cherish Christ’s body by attending, serving, prioritizing, and enjoying life in Christ’s Church, and calling others to do the same, so that the glory of Christ may be manifested in His body, the Church.

Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 by CJ Bowen