One Body In Christ – 7
Chapter 7: Paul, John and Peter
None can question the fact that Paul had the deepest insight into the nature of the Ekklesia. He taught that Christ is the Head of the Ekklesia and we believers, being joined to Him as members, are therefore one Body–His Body6. When we believe, we are united to Christ by the Spirit. By faith alone are we in His Body. And by “faith” Paul meant the same thing as Jesus Himself–that is, wholehearted love for, and koinonia with, Christ. He made this clear by citing Abraham as the great example of faith, though Abraham had no “doctrine” of redemption. Without this living faith, this life-union with Jesus Christ, we are not Christians even though we technically believe every Bible doctrine, are baptized a hundred times, or join a magnificent institution which has world-wide renown.
Then, Paul insisted repeatedly that believers in Christ should be of one mind and live in harmony with one another7. He pointed out that just as the various members of the physical body are very different, the gifts and functions of Christians are so different that they may have some difficulty in believing that other members are united to the same Head and compose the same Body.
Thus Paul warns the “ear” not to say to the “eye” that it does not belong to the body, just because it is not like the ear. And like he warns the hand not to say to the foot that there is no need of it (I Cor. 12:21). All the members with their different gifts and functions should act in harmony, for each is united to Christ, the Head.
It is true that Paul was very quick to condemn any tampering with the fundamental points of the Gospel. But this was not because technicalities or sectarian interests, but because the vital question of union with Christ was in danger. If, for example, someone questioned the resurrection of Christ, Paul rose to battle. Why? Because union with a dead man cannot create life. We live in Christ because He lives in His resurrection life.
But in matters of secondary importance, Paul teaches us to be very tolerant with differences in opinion. He gives perfect freedom, often hardly bothering to point out whom he feels is right.
Take for example the questions of whether one should eat only vegetables or everything, or whether or not one day should be esteemed above the other (Rom. 14). He teaches that no one should pass judgment on another’s (i.e. God’s) servant, but should rather search his own heart and life, resolving never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. Leaving unimportant matters as the personal responsibility of each believer to God, we should live in harmony with one another in the love of Christ, and together, with one voice, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:5, 6; 1 Cor. 1: 10).
Paul is said to have been the first theologian of Christianity. This is true in a certain sense, but not in the modern sense of the word. He explained the Gospel quite clearly and systematically out of his experience and revelation, but he never thought of establishing a system of dogma by which to judge whether people are Christians or not. He only wished to lead sinners to God through Christ, and thus tried to explain the great principles of God’s grace in giving us His only-begotten Son.
Paul proclaimed that through Christ’s death in our place we can stand before God. Being justified by faith, he affirmed that we have peace with God through Jesus Christ, and thus have access by faith into all of His grace. Thus Paul would lead us to the living God and His Son Jesus Christ by the Spirit, and not to lifeless, theological dogmas by our human understanding. The important thing is coming into union with God through Jesus Christ our Lord, not coming to understand or profess any of Paul’s personal expressions of truth. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Paul insisted, just as did the Lord Jesus (8), that men who become slaves of
the literal terms of the Bible are killed rather than given life. How much more will they remain lifeless when they become bound within the walls of institution, dogma and regulation.
In the case of John the point is even more clear. To him there was no salvation except through faith in Jesus Christ (9). John makes a clear-cut distinction between those who believe in Jesus Christ and those who do not. According to John, to believe is to be in (en) Him. “I am in my Father, and ye in Me, and I in you” ( 14:20), “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? (14:10). By many such expressions John put great emphasis upon koinonia, or the meeting with God and Christ.
John did not give us any system of doctrine about theological questions, much less any kind of dogmas. His writings are so different from Paul’s systematic and logical way of teaching that one is often at a loss to find out the main point of discussion or how he is to develop his argument. He seems always to be endeavoring simply to describe the “Life of God, and in God” in its living status-to catch the Life as it is working. Life in Christ is a continual experience of Christ and not a theory or a dogma.
While I was compiling the Greek-Japanese Concordance, I found a very interesting fact about the Johannine writings. The noun “faith” pistis was to be found only four times in Revelation and once in I John. But John uses the verb “believe” pisteuo abundantly. In his Gospel he uses it about three times as often as all the Synoptic Gospels put together.
Also, John never us the word “pray” or “prayer” in his writings (except when the word erotao which really means “asking” is translated pray in the A.V.). I do not think this was an accident. John saw “faith,” not as a formal concept to be formulated into some theological expression or dogma, but always a living and moving experience, more fitly expressed with a verb.
John was interested only in Christ, the object of faith, not in “faith” as a thing in itself. For John, the life of a Christian was a life with God in Christ. Prayer is talking to God and can never be done apart from koinonia with Him. Since koinonia is fellowship with God, the life of koinonia is itself a life of prayer. When John did not use the word “pray” or “prayer,” he did not mean that there be no such thing in the Christian life. Quite the contrary. The Christian life itself should be nothing but prayer, or a praying life.
In just the same way, though John never uses the word “Ekklesia,” except in Revelation, he clearly understood the true meaning. The believer shares the life of Christ as a living part of Christ Himself just as a branch shares the life of the vine. This means, just as Paul taught, that Christ is the Head and the Ekklesia is His Body.
In I John 1:3, John points out that the life of fellowship with Christ and the Father is a life of fellowship with one another. Only in the one who loves others does God abide ( I John 4:12, 16). He states firmly that only those who have the Son have life and that he who has this life lives in a relationship of love with other Christians (I John 3:14). Thus, it is indisputable that John, although he understood the true Ekklesia, never conceived of an institutional church or a union of Christians on any other basis than life.
Peter does not say a great deal about the Ekklesia. However, a close reading of his epistles reveals the same principles we have seen in Paul and John’s writings. He exhorts believers to be holy in their lives–both as Christians and as fellow-citizens of a heavenly nation–to be of one mind, having compassion and humility and to love one another earnestly from the heart (I Pet. 1:16, 22; 3:8). This was for Peter the basic principle of the unity of the Ekklesia-the spiritual house made of living stones of which Christ himself was the cornerstone (I Pet. 2:4-7). He had no idea of establishing an organized church upon Christ as its foundation.
The foregoing has been but a brief outline of the concept of the Ekklesia as taught in the Holy Scriptures. If you study further, you will find that the principles hold throughout. There is no idea of institution, of legal authority and offices, nor of definite sacramentalism, at least as of central importance.
6 Ephesians 5:23; col. : 18; 1 Cor. 12:1-31.
7 Romans 12:16; 15:5,6; Phil. 2:2; 4:2; 2 Cor. 13:11 82 Corinthians 3:6; John 6:63: John 1:12-18; 3:16-18; 10:9; 14:6; 1John 5:5