Selected Biblical Images of the Church
a. A Body
The first image of the church that we will look at is the image of the church as a body. Ephesians 1:22-23 teaches that the church is like a body which has Christ as its head. This imagery is one of the most common images used in the New Testament, and it emphasizes several important aspects about the church:
- The imagery of the Church as a body emphasizes the church’s subjection to Christ. Christ is the Head of the church, and the church must be subject to Him (Ephesians 5:25).
- The imagery of the Church as a body emphasizes the church’s role as the servants of Christ. Just as Christ used his own body to minister during His earthly ministry He now uses the church as His body to minister during His physical absence from this world. The body of Christ, the church, is an extension of Christ’s ministry.
- The imagery of the church as a body emphasizes the interconnectedness of each individual within the church. The church is a unified body made up of individuals who have each been gifted in a unique way to serve the purposes of the church. 1 Corinthians 12 explains this in detail.
Much more could be said concerning the church as a body, but it is clear that this illustration for the church does not work unless we are a part of the local church. If we are not a part of a local church then we are not obey what God’s word says, which means we are body not obeying its own head [The Spiritual version of Parkinson’s Disease]. If we are not a part of the local church then we can be used as an extension of Christ’s ministry, which means we are a body that doesn’t do anything. Finally, if we are not a part of the local church then we are a body part without any other body parts. The imagery of the church as a body only works if we are a faithful part of the local church.
b. A Building
Another illustration the New Testament uses for the church is the imagery of the church as a building. Ephesians 2:19-22 explains this imagery to us. In this illustration Jesus is the cornerstone of the building, the teaching of the apostles is the foundation, and each individual believer is a stone in the building. This imagery is made even more impactful by the fact that the building is the dwelling place of the Spirit of God. This is a powerful illustration for the church, but it is only effective if we—as stones in the building—attach ourselves to a local church. Charles Spurgeon put it this way:
I know there are some who say, “well, I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to the church.”
Now why not?
“Because I can be a Christian without it.”
Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient. What is a brick made for? To help build a house. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick.
In the illustration of the church as a building, if you are not faithful to a local church then you are a “good-for-nothing” brick. This is a far cry from 1 Corinthians 3:9 which says the church is the “building of God.”
Another illustration the New Testament uses for the church is the imagery of the church as the family of God. We saw this in passing in Ephesians 2:19, but I want to turn to Galatians 4:4-9 to look at it a little closer. This passage outlines the work of Christ in redemption. This is how we are saved. When we look at this passage our tendency is to think individually about how God saved us—which is certainly something that the passage teaches. However, we must not forget that we are not alone in being adopted into God’s family. We have been brought into God’s household along with other believers.
For us to neglect our brothers and sisters in God’s family would be totally contrary to the picture the New Testament paints. Think of it this way, you might fight with your family or get just get frustrated with them, but at the end of the day they are still your family. You are not going to the miss Thanksgiving dinner because they bug you, or because its inconvenient (at least I hope not). The same should be true of the church. Sure, there are going to be people who are a part of your local church that get on your nerves, but they are your family (plus you probably get on their nerves too!)
d. Holy Temple
The last illustration of the church that I want to look at today is the imagery of the church as the Temple of God. 1 Corinthians 3:16, and 6:19 make it clear that as individual believers we are a temple of God because we are possessed by the Holy Spirit. Additionally, 1 Peter 2:4 combines this imagery with the imagery of the building to teach that the church is a “spiritual house” for worship. In the Old Testament the Temple was the place where God’s presence dwelt in a special way, additionally it was where all the people of God would come together for worship. Now, Peter teaches us that the church is the new “spiritual house” for worship. Donald Whitney explains it this way,
God will manifest His presence in congregational worship in ways that you can never know even in the most glorious secret worship. That’s because you are not only a temple of God as an individual, but the Bible also says that Christians collectively are God’s temple….
Josh Harris adds that
This is why gathering to worship with other believers in a local church is so irreplaceable. It can’t be substituted with a great personal devotional time, a lively Bible study with friends, a meditative nature hike, or a live TV church service. When the church is together to worship and hear God’s word preached, nourishment and encouragement occur that can’t happen quite the same anywhere else. Our corporate worship edifies and strengthens us and glorifies God in ways nothing else can.
When we come together as the Temple of God for corporate worship God is glorified in a unique way, and we are affected in a equally unique way. However, when we separate ourselves from the people of God then we loose this all together.
As we see what God’s word says about the church it is becoming more and more clear that we cannot live out the Christian life, or do ministry apart from the church. To do so would violate God’s plan as laid out in the New Testament, and it would do us harm as we seek to Grow in Christ. The universal church has been created by Christ’s work, and the local church is the necessary embodiment of the universal church. Through the church God’s sanctifies us and grows His kingdom.