The Church Described As “a Building” and “a Body”

By Garreth L. Clair

In this article our attention is directed to two figures of speech used to describe the church. The first to be discussed is the “building” analogy found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. The New Testament contains a number of figures by which the church of Christ is described, each figure used describing at least one characteristic of the church of Christ. When all of the figures by which the church is described in the New Testament are put together, we have a beautiful picture of the glory, majesty, beauty, and greatness of the divine institution.

In reality the only complete term is the church of Christ; all the other figures point out characteristics but the term “church of Christ” is inclusive of all the figures in the Scripture. Where the terms “body,” “building,” “bride,” “family,” “kingdom,” “the called out,” etc. all describe a feature or features about the church of Christ, the term “church of Christ” includes all the features. From this point of view we will discuss the two figures in our present study.

The “Building”

In the first place the nature of the building in the context of 1 Peter 2:5 is a “spiritual house,” meaning a house not constructed of material substance of any sort but built of “living stones.” The “living stones” are those that Peter is addressing in the beginning of the epistle, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (v. 2). The building feature here is simply the idea that the spiritual house (the church of Christ) is made up of saved people.

In the second place from that contained in 1 Peter 2:7,8 no disobedient person or unbeliever may become a part of the “spiritual house” (building). Since those who would be a part of the spiritual house are the saved ones it follows that the living stones are those who have complied with Christ’s conditions of pardon. They have:

1. Heard God’s Word (Rom. 10:17).

2. Believed in God (Heb. 11:6).

3. Believed in Christ (Jn. 8:24).

4. Repented of past sins (Acts 17:30).

5. Confessed faith in Christ (Rom. 10:9, 10; Acts 8:37).

6. Been baptized (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38).

Through immersion (Rom. 6:3,4).

For remission of sins (Acts 2:38).

7. Are steadfastly abiding in Christ, doing his will from the heart (1 Cor. 15:58; Jn. 15:4; Eph. 6:6; Rev. 2: 10; 2 Tim. 4:7,8; 1 Jn. 2:28).

From these facts it is apparent, no one may be a “living stone” in God’s “spiritual house” if he has not met the conditions of pardon, regardless of how sincere he may be.

The “Body”

The “body” analogy is one of the most interesting figures of the church of Christ for a number of reasons; in the first place the human body is a unit of many different parts, each part playing an important role for the human condition as a whole. This is how the church of Christ is to function. This figure points out a fact that is so important to the success of the ekk1esia of Christ in its local function.

There are at least two ways to look at the “body” analogy. One is from the concept contained in the statement of Acts 2:47 and that in Ephesians 5:23, etc. As we look at this concept (figure), we learn that Christ is the head of the body (the body being made up of all the saved ones), which body functions without an earthly organizational structure.

The second concept is a consideration of the church (ekklesia) in its local sense (i.e., Jerusalem – Acts 6:1-7; Antioch – Acts 13: 1; other local churches – Acts 16:5); one can hardly deny the existence of local congregations in the face of such scriptural evidence. To this concept the idea in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 may be best utilized. The idea of all the parts of the human body fitting the nature of the local congregation and its members is interesting as we look at the text. The context may well apply to the spiritual gifts and the attitude of the whole church toward their use and the individual’s attitude toward his particular gift. That the concept is in the text surely none would deny, but the ideal function of each local church is similar, that all the parts of the local ekklesia function as instructed from Christ (Heb. 5:8,9). There may be no unity, peace, joy, order, etc., where the individual members in a local congregation struggle for positions against the divine order; there is an office established by Christ in local churches (Acts 11: 30; 14:23; 15:2-6; 20:17; 1 Tim. 5:17-19; Tit. 1:5; 1 Pet. 5:1; etc.). This office ought to be respected not only by the members but by those who occupy it. The role of each member is needed; without the proper function in the congregation of each member the church will not function properly as the human body will not function properly if some of its members are malfunctioning.

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 11, p. 325
June 2, 1988