Lesson 23: The Role of the Church as the Body of Christ | Biblical Foundations for Living

Lesson 23: The Role of the Church as the Body of Christ

The Greek word ekklesia, meaning “church,” is used in two ways in the New Testament. It is most often used to describe local assemblies of believers.

[This is the vast majority of uses. Only a few don’t fit this category.]

It is also used in a collective sense to describe all believers in this age. A common phrase for this second use of the word is “the body of Christ .” The body of Christ is composed of all believers in this dispensation, the church age.

[For “body of Christ” c.f. Eph 1:22-23, 5:23. While we do believe in the universal church, we also believe in the primacy of the local church. According to the NT pattern, every believer should be an active part of a local church. There is no such thing as a “free floating” Christian. All ministry should be carried out under the auspices of a local church.]

In this lesson, we will study the following aspects of the body of Christ:

1. The time of the body of Christ

2. The scope [or extent] of the body of Christ

3. The equipping of the body of Christ

I. The Time of the Body of Christ: It is Limited to the Church Age.

One approach to biblical interpretation sees no significant difference between the Old Testament nation of Israel and the New Testament church.

[This is called Covenant Theology. They emphasize a couple of covenants (works, grace), but make no real distinction between OT Israel and the NT church. We believe in Dispensational Theology, which makes a clear distinction between the two.]

According to this approach, Israel is viewed as “the church in the Old Testament,” and the church as “the new Israel.” The Bible, however, consistently views the church as separate from Israel.

A. The church is separate from Israel because of its origin .

1. The origin of Israel

The nation of Israel began when the Lord singled out Abram (later renamed Abraham) and his descendants in order to bless them. God’s call of Abram established the racial identity of Israel.

[By racial we mean ethnic. That is, the Jews are a racial group. Being Jewish for many is more than just a religion; it’s their race.]

The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.”   Genesis 12:1 2

The Lord later organized the descendants of Abraham into a nation. This took place at Mount Sinai with the giving of the Law through Moses. It was this Law that established the political identity of Israel.

[The Jews became the Israelite nation at Mt. Sinai. The Law was like their constitution–it governed almost every aspect of life. There was no “church-state” separation. Sins were transgressions against the state. Also, the word “Israel” in the Bible normally means ethnic, national Israel.]

2. The origin of the church

As learned in Lesson Twenty Two, the church began on the Day of Pentecost . Unlike Israel, the church is neither racial nor political in nature–it crosses all racial and political boundaries. [C.f. Gal 3:28]

B. The church is distinct from Israel because of its objectives . [I.e., it’s goals, purposes]

1. The objectives of Israel

God’s objectives for Israel were primarily national and political .

You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.   Exodus 19:6 (See also Deuteronomy 7:6 and 26:19.)

2. The objectives of the church

God’s objectives for the church are primarily personal and spiritual .

Instead of an emphasis on national identity, the church is described as a group of people with heavenly citizenship.

But our citizenship is in heaven.   Philippians 3:20

[Beware of something called “Christian Reconstructionism.” They seek to impose the OT moral code on civil government. Not that gov’t couldn’t use reconstructing. But the Laws of Israel applied to Israel as a nation. Further, the Law was a unit. You can’t pull out parts you like and forget the rest.]

C. The church is distinct from Israel because of its destiny .

1. The destiny of Israel

Israel is destined to become the head of the nations during the millennial kingdom. This position of preeminence among the nations will be the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and David.

I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.   Genesis 17:7 8

The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.   2 Samuel 7:11 12, 16

2. The destiny of the church

The church will participate in the millennial kingdom, but will perform a different function than Israel. The church is destined to reign with Christ in the kingdom as His co regent .

[The church will have a position above OT believers. Church saints will rule/reign with Christ during the mill. OT believers will not do this.]

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. – Revelation 3:21

Note: When the Bible refers to “the kingdom of God,” “the kingdom of heaven,” etc., it is referring to the future, earthly reign of Christ, not the present rule of Christ in the hearts of believers.

II. The Scope of the Body of Christ: It is Universal.

The body of Christ is sometimes called the universal or invisible church. A few theologians deny the reality of the universal or invisible church, believing that every reference to the church in the New Testament refers to a local assembly. Although it is true that most uses of ekklesia in the New Testament refer to local churches, there are a few occurrences of the word that cannot be limited to a local assembly.

[Or to the church in general, as an institution.]

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.   Ephesians 1:22 23 (See also Colossians 1:18, 24.)

A. It is universal because of its composition .

As previously learned, all believers in this age are united with Christ because of Spirit baptism [1 Cor 12:13] . This means that Christ’s body, the church, is composed of every believer. The New Testament uses many images to describe the relationship between Christ and the believer. These descriptions also demonstrate the universal scope of the body.

1. The church is a body , of which Christ is the head .

And he is the head of the body, the church.   Colossians 1:18

2. The church is a building , of which Christ is the cornerstone .

[You are] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.   Ephesians 2:20 21

3. The church is a bride , of whom Christ is the groom .

For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.   Revelation 19:7

4. The church is a flock , of which Christ is the shepherd .

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers . . . being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.   1 Peter 5:2 4

5. The church is the branches , of which Christ is the vine .

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.   John 15:5

B. It is universal because of its objectives .

The objectives of the church are given in the Great Commission .

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”   Matthew 28:18 20

This commission gives three objectives for the church:

1. Edification of the saved (“teaching,” verse 20)

2. Evangelization of the lost (“make disciples,” verse 19)

3. Expansion throughout the world (“all nations,” verse 19)

Note: Though these are universal objectives, they are to be carried out through local churches. This topic will be dealt with more fully in future lessons.

III. The Equipping of the Body of Christ: It is Equipped for Ministry.

A. The church is equipped for ministry because of its message .

Being the recipient of God’s revelation in its entirety, the New Testament church has all it needs to meet all of its objectives.

All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

[Unlike previous dispensations, in the church age believers have the whole revelation. More information means more responsibility.]

B. The church is equipped for ministry because of its membership .

God in His sovereignty has formed a body of believers, each one of whom has individual abilities . Thus, each member of the body of Christ complements the other members, enabling the body to function efficiently.

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.   Romans 12:4 5

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.   1 Peter 4:10 11

Note: It is important to remember that the function of these various members is legitimate only through the context of local churches .

Learning to Live It

1. Some theologians claim that the church began in the Old Testament. Is this the case? no

Why or why not?

The church did not begin until the Day of Pentecost in the New Testament (Acts 2).

2. Many Christian leaders have recently advocated the idea that the church is obligated to be politically active. Is political activism one of the objectives of the church? no

Should churches be involved in the political process?

no, not as churches. The leadership of churches can and should inform their people and urge them to be active, but the church as an organization has different goals/purposes than political activism.

Should individual Christians?

yes, by virtue of their being citizens Christians ought to be good citizens. They should vote, be informed, lobby, etc.

Lesson 22: The Place of the Church in History | Biblical Foundations for Living

Why am I here? I am here to bring glory to God through the ministry of His Word.

Introduction to the Purpose of the Church

The church of Jesus Christ has been adversely affected by the values of the culture in which it exists. As a result, many local churches barely resemble the pattern for the church Christ and the apostles established in the New Testament. Though most believers are part of a local church, few understand its true nature. Many view the church as a welfare organization, an entertainment center, or a social club. With such confusion among God’s people, it is no wonder the world considers the church irrelevant. As long as believers are in such a confused state, they cannot correctly answer the question, “Why am I here?” The believer’s purpose in life is inseparably linked to the purpose of the church. Therefore, Christians must embrace a biblical philosophy of the church. This study of the doctrine of the church (or Ecclesiology) will present such a philosophy, beginning with the purpose of the New Testament church.

Lesson 22: The Place of the Church in History

God has revealed information about Himself to mankind throughout history. This information is contained in the Bible. In the present age, God is using the church as the means of proclaiming His revelation to man. Lessons Twenty Two through Twenty Four will examine the purpose of the church, beginning with this foundational lesson focusing on:

1. The nature of history

2. The development of history

3. The present age of history

I. The Nature of History

A. History has a definite plan .

Some teach that history is the product of chance , that is, things just happen without explanation or reason. Such thinking often leads to pessimism and a sense of meaninglessness .

[Why would this be true? Nothing would really make any difference. If everything was mere chance and random circumstances, then there would be no real meaning to anything. This would lead to a very dismal, depressed attitude.]

The Bible, however, presents a very different view of history.

Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.   Isaiah 46:9 11

From this passage we see that:

  1. History is already established in the mind of God.

[God knows all things at once. There is no “future” with God–He is timeless. Thus, events which have not yet occurred are sure to do so exactly as God has planned them to occur.]

  1. History is the outworking of God’s plan.

[Events occur because they are part of God’s plan. Everything that happens, down to the most mundane, minute detail is part of that plan. Cf. Eph 1:11.]

B. History has an ultimate goal: the kingdom of Christ.

[That is, history will culminate/conclude with the Millennial reign of Christ. That is the goal toward which history is moving.]

Some religious groups believe that history is cyclical. That is, they believe that the same historical patterns repeat themselves over and over in unending cycles. Such thinking denies that there is a goal to be reached in human history. The biblical view of history, however, is linear. These two views can be visualized as follows:


1. Historical events are moving in a planned and orderly fashion toward an established goal.

And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment  to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.   Ephesians 1:9 10

2. The goal of history is the kingdom of Christ .

When Christ came the first time, He proclaimed a kingdom message. He presented Himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies regarding the perfect prophet, priest, and king. That message was rejected by the Jews in keeping with God’s plan. Even at His Ascension, the disciples still expected Christ to set-up His kingdom (Acts 1:6). Christ will do so when He comes again.

C. History has a singular purpose : the glory of God.

Some hold a linear view of history that is not biblical. They depart from the biblical view when it comes to purpose . All inferior explanations of history suffer from the same flaw–they have a man centered purpose for all things. A biblical view of history is always God centered in its purpose. Theologians call this the doxological view of history (from the Greek word doxa, meaning “ glory “). This is the belief that God works in history to make His character known to His creatures so that He will receive their praise .

1. The universe is to bring glory to God.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.   Romans 11:36

2. All activities of men are to bring glory to God.

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.   1 Corinthians 10:31

3. The work of salvation is to bring glory to God.

He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will  to the praise of his glorious grace.   Ephesians 1:5 6 (See also Ephesians 1:11-12.)

Note: Some might argue that God’s desire to be glorified is selfish and, thus, improper. However, God, unlike us, is infinitely worthy of such praise. Because He is worthy, God’s justice demands that He seek His own glory.

[Remember that justice demands that good be rewarded. Since there is no higher thing to seek, God seeks his own glory. ]

In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”   Revelation 5:12

[What is the “glory of God”? Basically, it is the sum total of God’s attributes. Since there is no higher good than God Himself, God can seek nothing higher than His own glory. For Him to seek anything else would be wrong.]

II. The Development of History

God has used different means to accomplish His plan. These differing means are known as “ dispensations .” A dispensation is a stewardship arrangement . The biblical word contains the idea of administration or management .

[A steward is a manager, like Joseph was in Potiphar’s house. A dispensation is a description of how God dealt with people at different stages. For example, God dealt with Adam and Eve differently than He did with Abraham, and God dealt with King David differently than He does with us. There are different requirements and different blessings based on what dispensation you are talking about.]

The features of a stewardship arrangement are illustrated in a parable that Christ told in Luke 12:42 48: [read text]

• It is an arrangement between two parties .

• The steward is given responsibilities .

• The steward is held accountable .

Changes can be made in the arrangement.

A. The relationship between God’s revelation and the dispensations

1. God’s will has been revealed progressively .

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.   Hebrews 1:1

God’s will for mankind (His Word) was not revealed all at once. Instead, He revealed it little by little throughout history. This fact accounts for the diversity of human responsibilities given by God throughout time. For example, the nation of Israel worshiped differently than Adam and Eve did; believers today worship differently than Israel did.

[Dispensationalism is really based upon the idea of progressive revelation. God revealed very little to Adam and Eve, and thus their level of knowledge and level of responsibility was much different than today. Each dispensation is characterized by new/additional revelation.]

2. God’s revealed will has contained both eternal principles and temporary programs.

For example, the principle of capital punishment was taught early in human history and was repeated in later dispensations (compare Genesis 9:6 with Romans 13:4). It is, therefore, a continuing principle. On the other hand, animal sacrifices were intended to be temporary.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming  not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.   Hebrews 10:1 2

[Thus an idea or principle from one dispensation, like capital punishment (Gen 9:6) or the need for civil government, carries forward into the next dispensations. This is why the OT is valuable today even tho much of it does not apply directly to us. Other principles, like the dietary laws, were temporary and for a certain group of people.]

  1. The various dispensations

Dispensationalists generally see seven distinct dispensations in the Bible based upon significant new revelation from God that changes or adds to man’s responsibility. Since the revelation in each dispensation builds upon previous revelation, the relationship between the dispensations can be visualized as follows:


III. The Present Age of History

Paul referred to the present age as the age of “ grace ” (Ephesians 3:2). It is also known as the “ church age.”

[The church is God’s program for today. All ministry should be centered around the church. The life of the believer is closely linked to the church. Church should be a very important part of your life. Also, the fact that this is the age of grace does not imply that no grace was available previous to this. But c.f. John 1:17.]

A. The meaning of “church”

1. Generally speaking, the word “church” referred to a “ called out body ” or an “ assembly .”

2. Technically speaking, the New Testament applied the word to believers in this age.

a. It can refer to all believers (the universal church).

[You may hear of it called the “catholic” (with a little “c”) church. This is not the Roman Catholic Church. The word “catholic” simply means “universal.” This is how it’s used in some of the creeds and confessions. The universal church is also called the body of Christ or the invisible church.]

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body  whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free  and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.   1 Corinthians 12:13

We will study the universal church in Lesson Twenty Three.

b. It can refer to a local assembly of believers (the local church).

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ  their Lord and ours.   1 Corinthians 1:2

We will study the local church in Lesson Twenty Four.

[It’s interesting to note that some people deny the existence of the universal church. They say that all references to the church in the NT refer either to a specific local church or to the local church generically or as an institution (e.g., “the American home”). This view is known as “local only.” One problem with this view is that there are a few references and/or implications of references that indicate that all believers are part of the “body of Christ” and thus of the universal church. Another problem is that if you are not a member of a local church, you are not a part of the Body of Christ.]

B. The time of the church

The concept of the church and the teachings regarding it are unique to this age.

1. The church was not revealed in the Old Testament.

Paul indicates that the church was a concept unknown to the Old Testament prophets, but later revealed and explained through the New Testament apostles. Because it was previously unknown, Paul called it a mystery .

In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.   Ephesians 3:4 6

[Note that a “mystery” in the NT is not something spooky or mystical. It is simply something not yet revealed. God did not reveal the idea that Jews and Gentiles would be part of the same organization (the church) in the OT.]

It is important to note that the church is distinct from Israel . It is a new entity created to proclaim a new message, the gospel.

[Those who see little or no distinction between OT Israel and the NT church endorse what is called “covenant” theology. We endorse “dispensational” theology.]

2. The church began on the Day of Pentecost .

“But in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” – Acts 1:5

According to 1 Corinthians 12:13, one becomes a member of the church by being baptized by the Holy Spirit. The initial instance of Holy Spirit baptism took place on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

The fact that the church began at this time underscores the truth that the church is not Israel. Christ initiated the church; it is unique to this age; it has unique objectives as outlined in Matthew 28:19 20 and Acts 1:8.

C. The purpose of the church

We have already learned that the purpose of history is to glorify God. The purpose of the church is the same.

To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.   Ephesians 3:21

How does the church glorify God?

1. The church glorifies God as the guardian of truth .

If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.   1 Timothy 3:15

The church guards the truth through careful exposition of God’s Word and consistent exposure of falsehood.

[An elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.   Titus 1:9

2. The church glorifies God by fulfilling its mission to pass on the truth to future generations .

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.   2 Timothy 2:2

Observe the progression of thought in this verse:


The fulfillment of this mission demands that doctrine be the focal point of all church ministry.

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage  with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.   2 Timothy 4:2 3

Recap & Review

In this lesson, we have learned:

1. History has a definite plan, an ultimate goal (Christ’s kingdom), and a singular purpose (God’s glory).

2. God has accomplished His plan through various dispensations. A dispensation is a stewardship arrangement in which God reveals His will to men who are then responsible to obey that revelation.

3. The present dispensation is known as the church age. The church has both a universal and local aspect. It began on the Day of Pentecost. Its purpose is to glorify God through the ministry of His Word.

Learning to Live It

1. A popular seminar teacher [Bill Gothard, among others] often takes Old Testament teachings and directly applies them to the New Testament church. He promotes the observance of Old Testament dietary laws and teaches that obedience to God guarantees good health based upon the promises God made to Moses. To whom were these Old Testament laws and promises written?

Old Testament Israel

What light do passages such as Acts 10:9 15 and 2 Corinthians 12:7 10 shed on the above issues?

Acts 10:9-15–Old Testament dietary laws are no longer in effect.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10–Paul must have been a disobedient believer if OT promises of health and prosperity were still in force.

How does dispensationalism help one correctly interpret Old Testament passages?

1. It helps one understand that certain things God required of some people at some time He may not require of other people at other times. 2. It helps us separate out principles from the OT that apply to us today. 3. By recognizing the differences between the testaments and allowing one to more readily distinguish between eternal principles and temporary programs

2. A speaker at camp preaches a sermon from Psalm 126:5 6 entitled: “The Mission of the Church.” What fundamental error has he made in his interpretation of this passage?

The church was not revealed until the New Testament. The OT has nothing to say about the church directly.

3. A church in your community plans an evangelistic crusade. In order to draw crowds, the guests include a rock band and a magician. In addition, a new car is to be awarded to the person who brings the most visitors. When questioned as to the appropriateness of the above methods, the pastor replies, “Our purpose is to get the gospel to as many people as possible. These methods are good because they pack the pews!” What does this pastor’s statement indicate concerning his view of the church?

He believes that the purpose of the church is to win souls (a “soteriological” purpose). The purpose of the church, however, is to glorify God (a “doxological” purpose). Winning souls is an objective of the church (i.e., one of the ways by which the church fulfills its purpose of bringing glory to God). But evangelism must be limited by thinking about what does and does not honor or glorify God. Thus, we do evangelism only in a way that is God-centered and God-honoring.

How do the methods used in this crusade fail to reflect the true purpose of the church?

1. They do not glorify God (Remember, the means, as well as the end, must be consistent with God’s character in order for something to be glorifying to Him.). Instead, the question should be, “Is what we are doing pleasing and acceptable to God?” 2. The main objective is not to pack the pews. The main objective is to obey and honor God.