UNITY: Organic Unity

By Roy E. Cogdill

“There is one body” (Ephesians 4:4)

The common conception among people in the religious world at large is that unity in organization-organic unity-is impossible. They talk about spiritual unity and organic division. As we have pointed out, the common idea is that all of the churches included in the broadest possible usage of “Christianity” constitute the “Church of Christ” or the “one body” of the scriptures.

One Head and One Body

The Bible usage of the term “body” as it applies to the church always carries the idea of singularity. In fact, it is even emphasized that there is “one body” and “but one body” (Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:20). This “one body” is the church of the Lord (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). This is the body which Christ has saved (Ephesians 5:23). It is the body over which He is head (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). Is there more than one head of the body? Catholics say “yes” for they believe that both Christ and the Pope are the heads of the church. This is a monstrosity; for then there would be a two-headed body. But Protestant denominationalism is just as wrong; for they contend for one head-Christ-and about three hundred bodies. This would be a greater monstrosity, if such were possible. It is just as wrong to preach “many bodies” as to preach “many heads.” Both of them deny the Word of God.

Many Members but One Body

In Romans, chapter 12, and in 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul compares the church to the physical body. He tells us that just as the physical body has many members and yet there is but one body, so the church is made up of many members but there is “but one body.” These members that constitute the body of Christ are not different denominations or churches! That would make the comparison or figure ludicrous and ridiculous. It would mean that each member of the physical body would have to be a distinct and separate unit organically with its own organization and government. This is contrary to the teaching of the Word of God. Paul points out that the “members” are so “tempered together” that there should be “no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). These members do not speak a different language, have a separate organization, worship and serve the head separately, but they are correlated under one head and authority, each with its own capacity and function, but each obligated to function for the good of the body as a whole. The very argument of the apostle in these passages is condemnatory of sectarianism and denominationalism or organic division. The members of the physical body are representative of the individual members of the body of Christ. Christians are the members and not churches.

“The Body” – Both Universal and Local

Like the word “church” in the Scriptures, “the body” sometimes designates the relationship with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit enjoyed by Christians universally, and sometimes this figure designates the relationship between the members of the church in these passages. Paul was writing to local churches and had in mind the application of the lesson to the local church with its members. ‘ He was teaching that the members of the local church do not all have the same function but that each is essential to the good of the body as a whole and that in the local church there must be complete symphony or harmony or the body as a whole is injured. This application to the local church becomes clear and plain when we consider the functions performed by the members. In Romans, chapter 12, Paul tells us that some members are “prophets,” some “ministers,” some “preachers,” some “exhorters,” some “rulers.” These “ruling” members are the elders of the church (1 Timothy 5:17). But elders in the Lord’s church are not 11 ruling members” over the church universal. The Jurisdiction of elders is over the local church and its membership only (Acts 20:17-28; 1 Peter 5:2). If the elders, or “ruling members” in this passage, refer to local elders, then the body of which they are “ruling members” must be the local church.

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul uses the word “body” as descriptive both of the universal relationship and the local church with its organization. In verse 13, for instance, he says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” This “body” into which all men are baptized by the direction of the Holy Spirit, when they obey the Lord, is the saved relationship universally of which Christ spoke in Ephesians 5:23. It is the body which the Lord has saved. But in the chapter he is dealing with dissension and division among the members of a local body, the church at Corinth, and is emphasizing that in the fellowship of the local body there must be no “schism” nor discord among its members. Each must perform his own function, whatever he may be able to do out of the ability given him, whether ordinary or extraordinary, and he must function in perfect harmony with all the other members just as the members of the physical body. The application of the principle was very definitely to the members of the local church at Corinth as the whole context shows. This does not disallow the fact that Christians universally enjoy the same faith, salvation, and relationship with the Lord but it points out that in the local church they have a unique relationship with one another.

Every Figure Demands Unity

There is not a picture of the church in the New Testament Scriptures that will allow the denominational concept of the church. When the church is compared to a bride, with Christ as bridegroom, there is but one bride! Denominationalism would picture Christ as the brideoroom with many brides and each wearing a different name (Ephesians 5:25-27; John 3:29). Then the church is described figuratively as the “household of God” or God’s family (1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 2:19). God is the father of the whole family (Ephesians 3:14-15). All of God’s children are in this family. God does not have any children outside of His family, and God does not have many families, each of them with a different family name. Denominationalism does not fit into the scriptural description of the church at any point.

The Body is One in Identity

Wherever the body of Christ, the church of the New Testament, is found, it is exactly the same in all of the salient features that identify it as the body of Christ. It does not have one name one time and another the next. It does not have a variety of organizations but always the same divine arrangement in organization. The only organization that can be found in the Scriptures is Christ the universal head, His word the divine law, and each congregation or local church with its elders, deacons and members (Philippians 1:1; Acts 14:23). There is no difference in matters of faith for the “one faith” of the Gospel must characterize all or they are not the body of Christ. They worship by the same pattern for they are guided by the same Spirit. Christ has but one body and the body of Christ is one!

Truth Magazine XX: 32, pp. 503-504
August 12, 1976