One Body In Christ – 8
Chapter 8: The Essential Nature of the Ekklesia
The Ekklesia is the Body of Christ, and its Head is Christ Himself. This Body is a spiritual organism. The Head and the members are actually connected spiritually, and because of this connection there is true fellowship with Christ, each member loving Him in heart, mind and spirit.
This fellowship is faith in its purest sense. To have faith is to rely upon Christ, the Person, with the whole heart. It is not the understanding of the mind, not theological opinion, not creed, nor organization, nor ritual. It is the koinonia, or communion, of the whole personality with God and Christ which is itself the continuation of the real attitude of dependence on the Savior, which we call faith.
Where there is this fellowship there is the Ekklesia, because there is the real Body of Christ. Where there is not this fellowship, there is no Ekklesia, though there may be baptism, the Lord’s Supper, institutions, church offices, good works or anything else. Human activities and devices cannot make or form the Ekklesia, and it does not exist outside of this fellowship of Christians with Christ.
Because it is a spiritual relationship, fellowship with God and Christ cannot be seen with human eyes. However, the reality of this relationship reveals itself in the life of the believer by his confession of faith in Jesus Christ, by his Christian love towards others and by his obedience to God as demonstrated in his conduct. Also, when one is truly a Christian, he is sensitive to this faith-fellowship in fellow Christians and this results in the growth of Christian friendship.
If we could know conclusively whether one is a Christian or not simply by whether or not he is baptized it would be very convenient. But unfortunately, as is so obvious here in Japan, the churches are impatient to make baptized members, often trying to induce, sometimes even to compel, seekers of the Gospel to be baptized. The consequence of this premature baptism is that many of them fall away afterwards, not even attending the church meetings, much less evidencing real faith. No one would say that these people are Christians because they were once baptized.
Then, is holding the right doctrine the real mark of a Christian? Yes, actually. However, there are some who later doubt the teachings they once accepted, perhaps because it was more of a mental acceptance than a heart faith. Others make a confession of faith from emotional feeling, while some are not completely sincere when they make confession. Consequently, this also, cannot be a certain means of distinguishing true Christians.
Likewise, the acceptance of the creeds should not be taken as a proof of one’s being a real Christian, for such acceptance does not necessarily imply full understanding and experience of these statements. There is a big difference between the acceptance of doctrines or creeds and fellowship with God. The former is a question of reason and knowledge, while the latter is a question of the Spirit’s giving life.
It is obvious that no human means exists for distinguishing clearly between believers and unbelievers in borderline cases. The methods of distinction upon which the churches and the Christian groups are based can only result–as experience continually proves–in including some who do not really know Christ and excluding some who have His life. In this sense, the existing churches cannot be considered to be the same as the Ekklesia, or true Body of Christ. Serious confusion has resulted when churches have assumed attitudes or prerogatives proper only to the Body. We must always clearly distinguish between the churches of men and the Ekklesia of Christ–the Body in which He lives.
At this point perhaps you are thinking, “If we cannot perfectly distinguish between Christians and non-Christians, how are we able to have fellowship with Christians?” To those who are used to the practice of churches this is a normal question, for it is confusing for them to think of Christian fellowship outside the outward distinction propagated by their church group.
Such anxiety is unnecessary, however, for God who purposed and created this fellowship has provided a very real and practical foundation for its realization. Our problem lies in the fact that we have come to doubt that the spiritual relationship God has given us to Himself and one another is sufficient as the basis of true and full fellowship. This doubt exists only because such free and simple fellowship has been so long hindered and hidden by the bonds of institutionalism. We must let the life-giving power of the Spirit set us free from this false ecclesiasticism if we are ever to realize true Christian fellowship.
The new life which we are given at our new birth, though spiritual, is a real life and will express itself in practical living. The Christian’s daily life reveals his faith in both words and deeds. For example, he witnesses to his faith in the Lord Jesus without being ashamed. These who are having fellowship with the Lord will not find it difficult to locate their fellow believers. All who are “looking to Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith,” will readily recognize each other as having the same characteristic of life. This might be called an instinct of the new life. The stronger the faith, the keener this sense; for those who are having the most vital fellowship with Christ in this new life can most easily identify those who have the same life.
Another important point to grasp is that in the light of the true Ekklesia it is not necessary to circumscribe the Body of Christ.
Churches find it necessary to do this in order to carry out their organizational activities and functions, but Christ said, ’When two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Even when there is no church building or official leadership, still Christ will be in the midst of those who are gathered in His name. This is the essence of the real Ekklesia, even though there may be no “church,” as such.
When those confessing Christ are really living a life of fellowship with the Lord, they will realize in practice the true fellowship of the Ekklesia with all other Christians as a matter of course. That is, if all other elements, such as creeds, rituals, institutions and understanding of the Bible are secondary, their fellowship with each other is then entirely the result of their fellowship with Christ, thus this koinonia with Him is truly their center. When united on this simple New Testament basis, Christians will be tolerant of differences of opinion and practice in secondary matters. They will love each other with the love of Christ, and in this love we see the hope of that oneness of all Christians for which we yearn.
“Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32).
“Man believes with his heart and so is justified; and he confesses with his lips and so is saved” (Rom. 10: 10).
“Whosoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.” (I John 4:15).
Thus one’s confession of faith, unless belied by his life, is proof that he has living koinonia with God and has become a member of the Body of Christ, the Ekklesia. But “if anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar” (I John 4:20); so we can generally tell by the conduct and the attitude of a person’s daily life whether his confession is sincere or not. Moreover, those who really have fellowship with Christ cannot but propagate the Gospel. Among non-believers they will witness to the truth, not only by word of mouth but by doing good works and by not fearing persecution from the enemies of God. Those to whom spiritual gifts are given, especially gifts of teaching or preaching, will be using this ability. In this way God will cause the Ekklesia to grow from faith to faith.
Church (Ekklesia) Life
This koinonia-living in fellowship with God and Christ, having access to God and meeting Him in love and faith–is the real Ekklesia. In such experience of life, Christians will meet together, worship God together, help one another and do various good works in cooperation. As is natural in human society so in the Ekklesia, there will be division of labor according to the varieties of gifts (I Cor. 1 2:27-28). Everything will be controlled by the Head, Christ and each member will do his own part in obedience to the will of the Head. No human institutions, rituals or ceremonies are necessary to realize this. The Ekklesia cannot be formed by human knowledge and human activities. Indeed, it was of these products that the tower of Babel was built. The institutional church may have some outward likeness to the Ekklesia, but spiritual fellowship with God and Christ is more stifled than helped by the formalities of the church.
The legal unity of human organization, which is so often governed by men appointed by human methods is substitute for spiritual unity. By its very nature-being an institution–the organized church is prone to become fleshly rather than spiritual. Also, the existing sectarianism is itself a proof of fleshly-mindedness. “For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving like ordinary men?” (I Cor. 3:3). The Ekklesia, on the other hand, is a product of the Spirit. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary that spiritual means be employed in its government and edification.
If we do not give the rightful pre-eminence to koinonia with God through Christ as the center of Christian faith we cannot but fail, for there are only two courses before us. Aside from secular atheism and the materialistic concept, if we do not find satisfaction through communion with God–for which we were created–then, invariably, we will try to find reality and satisfaction in the “Churchianity” of institution, forms and doctrines. Lacking spiritual “life,” we turn to “religion”–the lifeless corpse.