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.

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