Metaphors of The Church

By Dennis C. Abernathy

In our age when the church is thought of as some unimportant, outdated, or take-it-or-leave-it institution, it becomes very important for us to investigate what the Scriptures have to say pertaining to it. It is so important that we stress the beauty of, the wisdom behind, the importance, and essentiality of the blood-bought church of our Lord.

In the beginning, it will be good for us to define just what a metaphor is. Webster says it is “a figure of speech by which one word is employed for another of which it is the image; a method of speech, or description, which likens one object to another by referring to it as if it were the other.” So, the Bible gives us a good “description” of the church, and we shall study it as follows: (1) The Body of Christ, (2) The Kingdom of God, (3) The Household of God, (4) The Temple of God, and (5) The Vineyard of The Lord.

The Body of Christ

In Ephesians 1:22-23, we read, “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” In Colossians 1:18, we find, “And he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” Then in verse 24, “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” From these passages we establish the fact that the church is the body of Christ, or that the body of Christ is the church.

Often we hear that “one church is just as good as another” or “God is working through all of the various churches,” leaving the impression that God is pleased with all of the churches or denominations that we see. What does the Book of God say? In Ephesians 4:4, it says, “There is one body . . . .” In Romans 12:4-5 we read, “for 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.” This refers to the individual members of the body (church), showing that each has a function. But we emphasize the fact that it says one body! The apostle Paul emphasizes this same point in 1 Corinthians 12:20 when he says, “But now are they many members, yet but one body.” How many churches are there today? The Bible is plain! There is one body, hence there is one church.

But as we progress further, we find that Christ is the Head of the body, the church. What would a body be without a head? What are the accomplishments of a body with an idiotic head? It would be apt to do anything, without proper direction. So it is with the church! We see churches today with men as their founders, their heads or their presidents. They have more respect for what these men (or women) say than do the words of the Lord. How far will churches go? Just as far as the human heads direct them to go!

The Bible says that Christ is “the head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22). Think of your physical body. Your body reacts as it receives orders from your head, your mind. So it is with the church. It is “subject to Christ” (Eph. 5:24). In other words, the body of Christ or the church of Christ takes orders from its head. This leaves no room whatsoever for man to set himself up as head, president or founder of some church. Remember, too, this subjection is “in all things.” Our liberal brethren need to learn that the church is “subject unto Christ . . . in every thing.” Who would have thought that members of the church of Christ would say, “We don’t have to have authority for every thing we do”? How sad!

Christians, as members, make up the body of Christ. Just as the proper functioning of our physical body is important to the function of the whole body, so it is with the body of Christ. Every member (joint) has a work to do, or must supply his/her part (Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Cor. 12:14-19; 21-23). The body cannot function without the members. It is not the function of the hand to do the work of the leg or the eye to do the work of the foot, etc. One Christian cannot do the work of another. The church needs workers, not shirkers!

But this body not only needs to work (every joint supplying its part) but it needs to work together! Schism, discord, division, strife – none of these things – should be found in the body of Christ. There should be interest, love, and care for one another (1 Cor. 12:24-27). How sad to see churches today torn asunder by strife and discord! Oh yes, they are teaching the truth on the “issues” as well as on other things, but they just do not practice what they preach due to the bad attitude and lack of love toward and for each other.

Are you a member of the body of Christ? If not, you are lost! Does that sound hard? No more hard than the Bible. It teaches that the body is made up of the saved (Eph. 5:23). If Christ is the savior of the body, what is your condition, my friend, if you are not in the body? Think of yourself as being unreconciled to God (at odds with or in His disfavor). But learn that we are “reconciled to God in one body” (Eph. 2:16).

How do I become a member of the one body? By obedience to the gospel (Rom. 1:16). The initial steps are belief (Jn. 3.16), repentance (Lk. 13:3), confession (Rom. 10:9-10) and baptism (Acts 2:38). The final step puts one into the body, the church (1 Cor. 12:13; Acts 2:41, 47).

The Kingdom of God

This description of the church has to do with its government. It is a kingdom. First, let me say that the kingdom does exist today and it is the same as the church. Do not be deceived by the error that says Christ was unable to set up His kingdom; hence, He left the church here instead and will one day come back to set up His kingdom. That is not what the Bible teaches, but the vain imaginations of men.

The kingdom exists today because we are “translated into the kingdom of his dear son” (Col. 1:13). One could not be in something that did not exist! (Read also Rev. 1:9.) Also we note that one becomes a citizen of the kingdom in the same way that he becomes a member of the one body (John 3:5; Acts 2).

One of the problems people have with the kingdom/church designation is the failure to understand that Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, and not an earthly, material kingdom (John 18:36; Lk. 17:20-21).

When we think of a kingdom, we think of a king. Christ, of course, is king over His kingdom (Lk. 23:1-3; Jno. 18:37). He is reigning on His throne now (Lk. 1:32-33) with all authority (Matt. 28:18-20) at the right hand of God (1 Pet. 3:22); hence, He is the “blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Dear reader, if the kingdom is not here now, then Christ is not King, and He is not reigning on His throne at the right hand of God and He has no law. Who can believe it? Such a doctrine strips Christ of His authority, as well as of the glory that rightfully belongs to Him.

When we think of the church as a kingdom with Christ as the King, then we (Christians) deem ourselves as His subjects (or citizens in the kingdom). “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 1:19). As citizens, we must do the will of the Lord. God’s real spiritual kingdom, where Christ rules in the heart, must be entered by doing God’s will; all who remain as citizens in that kingdom must do His Will (Matt. 7 :21).

As we enter the kingdom (through the new brith), we must unite under the banner of our King (Lk. 11:17) and go forth to do battle against His enemies, realizing that we will be victorious in the end (2 Thess. 1:5-10).

The Household of God

This is a metaphor describing the church as the family of God. “But in case I am delayed, I write so that you nay know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15 see also Heb. 3:6). God is the Father of His household (Matt. 23:9) and Christ is a Son over the House of God. “But Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Heb. 3:6). Then, further in Hebrews 2:11-12, we see that we, as Christians, are His brethren.

What are we talking about? God’s family, the church! Those who have been obedient to the truth are God’s children (Gal. 3:26-27), His household, His famly, His church. God has no children outside His family; hence, those outside the church are not members of the family of God. Ephesians 2:19 says, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”

Think, for a moment, of the family relationship or tie. The well-ordered or close-knit family is one that has respect for the family name, they would do nothing to damage it in any way. So it is with God’s children. Our life should always be in keeping with that royal family name we wear (Eph. 5:6; 1 Peter 1:14). Also think of the love that holds the family together. Love will cause us to work for a brother or sister to the uttermost and to see past the faults to the good. We are to love our brethren (1 Jno. 4:7); this love is explained to us in the thirteenth chapter of the First Corinthian letter. How sad it is to see families torn asunder; but what a sad spectacle indeed to see the household of God torn asunder with division, strife and confusion! On and on we could go with comparisons of the human family with God’s spiritual family or house – the church of God.

The Temple of God

When we think of the temple, our minds go back to the temple built by Solomon for the purpose of God meeting and communing with His people. The church of the Lord is the antitype of Solomon’s temple. It would be good.for the reader to go back and study the temple; its construct”bn (the materials and the pattern) and then make the proper analogies.

Suffice it to say that the temple of God (the church of the Living God) must be built according to the pattern given. Does anyone believe that God has not given a pattern by which the temple (or church) is to be built? (Read Ex. 25:40 and Heb. 8:1-5.) This is the problem in the religious world today. Men have built churches according to thier own pattern and it is all in vain. “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. . .” (Psa. 127:1). The pattern for denominational bodies may be found in their various creed books and manuals, but the pattern fox the NeN Testament church is found in the New Testament!

In Ephesians 2:20-22, we read: “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 a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.” In I Corinthians 3:11, Paul said, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Put these together and we have Christ as the foundation and chief corner stone which the apostles and prophets laid and upon which they themselves rest. We know that a building is just as strong as its foundation. The temple of God has Christ as the foundation and is built thereupon. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). Of course, those who become “living stones” in this house or temple are those who are obedient (he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded, v. 6). Those who are disobedient (or who stumble at his word, v. 8) are no part of this magnificent building!

When you build a house, you must build upon the foundation with the blocks being cemented together in their proper place. So it is with the temple of God. “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). If you began to pull stones out of the wall, the building will be weakened and will eventually crumble. So it is in the church. Every “lively stone” or “joint” has a work to do or must supply its part toward the building up of the body of Christ and not toward the tearing it down! When we think of the temple we think of worship. Christians are a royal priesthood who offer up spiritual sacrifices in worship unto God (1 Pet. 2:5).

The Vineyard of the Lord

When we think of a vineyard, we think of fruit-bearing as well as a place of labor. We, as Christians, are workers in God’s vineyard. God has given us a work to do (Eph. 2:10); we, as the sons of God, are to work in our Father’s vineyard (Matt. 21:28-31).

Let me emphasize to you the need to “work in His vineyard.” It is not enough just to work; we must work in His Vineyard! Eph. 3:21 says, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.” Many religious people today are working at many endeavors, but God is not receiving the glory because they are not working in His vineyard. Brethren today are working through various institutions, and enterprizes (outside His vineyard) all the while claiming to work for the Master.

Also, we need to realize the need to be faithful laborers in His vineyard. This involves fruit-bearing. “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4). “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (Jn. 15:8).

There is little doubt that there are many stragglers (the indifferent and lukewarm) who are wandering around in the vineyard, but they are not faithful laborers! What about them? (Read Jno. 15:2, 6.) But let us pray as the Lord instructed, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest” (Lk. 10:2). The reward or wages will be well worth it. “Say not ye, there are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together” (Jn. 4:35-36). (Read also 1 Cor. 15:58.)


In summation of these metaphors or descriptive phrases, we find the “fellowship feature” set forth in the body of Christ, the “government feature” in the kingdom of God, the “family feature” in the household of God, the “worship feature” in the temple of God, and the “fruit-bearing” or “laboring” feature in the vineyard of the Lord. There are other metaphors of the church, but we do not have the space to comment upon them. It is our prayer that this article has helped you in some small way to understand better the descriptions of the church given in the gospel.


  1. What is a metaphor?
  2. Describe the body of Christ by comparing it to the human body.
  3. Comment upon the one body in comparison with the many churches today!
  4. How does one enter the one body (church)?
  5. How does we know that the kingdom exists today and that the church and kingdom are the same?
  6. If the kingdom does not exist today, is Christ King? Is He reigning? Does He have all authority?
  7. Discuss briefly the doctrine of premillennialism.
  8. Does God have children outside His family or household?
  9. Who is the foundation of the temple of God?
  10. What kind of workers are we to be in the vineyard of the lord?
  11. Study further and see how many more metaphors of the church you can find in the Bible.

Truth Magazine XXIV: 1, pp. 6-9
January 3, 1980