We Believe in the Holy Catholic Church (Continued)
Sunday, April 19, 2009 -
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen”
Last week we launched into this study of the church by comparing the uses of the word in the New Testament. It is used to describe both local congregations and the body of Christ in general. Then we studied the relationship between saving faith in Christ Jesus and participation on a specific local congregation of believers. Today we continue with point number three:
3) HOW THE CHURCH IS THE BODY OF CHRIST IN THIS WORLD
There are many pictures illustrating the nature of the church in the New Testament. The church is the Bride of Christ, the church building not made with human hands, the church is a flock over which Jesus is the Shepherd, etc. But by far the most featured and best known image is the church as the Body of Christ. The church is the Body of Christ in two different ways in the Scriptures:
1 Corinthians 12:12-18, 27 - “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose....12:27.... Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
Now look quickly with me at another mention of the church as the Body of Christ in the New Testament:
Ephesians 4:15-16 - “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
These are similar words, but importantly different. In the first picture from 1 Corinthians the whole body is comprised by the members of the church. Paul makes this clear by describing all the body parts as representing the people in the church. We are the eyes, the nose, the ears, the hands, etc. In the second picture of the church as the body of Christ from Ephesians, we make up the whole body except for the head. Paul identifies Jesus as the head. The head clearly controls everything else the body does. So what are we to make of these two different pictures of the Church as the body of Christ?
a) From the first picture in 1 Corinthians 12 we learn the key truth of our interdependence on each other for our health and growth to be complete. This is because the nose can’t see. The ears can’t smell. And the eyes can’t hear. The lesson is simple. I have needs in my Christian walk that I can’t meet apart from God’s grace and gifts and ministry through you. You and I need the ministry and help of God by His Spirit in our lives. And God has already decided how and where he will give me that help. It comes through the local church:
1 Corinthians 12:15-21 - “If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
The two key problems of inter-relating in the church are dealt with in these words from Paul. The two problems are rooted in the lies of unimportance and independence:
i) Unimportance - “....if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body”(16). This is the feeling that comes over those who feel because they don’t have an important ministry they aren’t really of significance to the church. Every church needs to resist the error or equating prominent ministries with important ministries. Just like the human body, some of the most important parts are never visible (Heart? Lungs? Liver?)
ii) Independence - “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’”(21). Given the nature of today’s society, this may be the greater of the two dangers to the modern church. Of course, we’d never say “I don’t need you” to anyone in the church. But that attitude isn’t expressed in words. It’s expressed in not showing up for church. If I truly understand I am as helpless to function without the rest of the church family as a head without feet, I won’t be staying home when the rest of the body is together.
All of this goes back to answering the first question we raised at the beginning of this message. If a person can hold a flat earth belief without ever belonging to the Flat Earth Society, why can’t I hold to Christian beliefs without belonging to the church? Because the Holy Spirit doesn’t work through the individual members of the Flat Earth Society to draw them to Jesus Christ and to heaven. But He does work that way through the members of any local church. The church isn’t just about information. It’s about the impartation of ministry and life.
b) From the second picture of the church as the body of Christ in Ephesians 4 we learn that, in order for the body of Christ to function unto maturity, Jesus Christ must control the church the way the head controls the rest of the body. In other words, if the first picture in 1 Corinthians stresses the interdependence of each member to the others, the second picture in Ephesians 4 stresses the obedient submission of each member to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
We have all seen terribly debilitating diseases where the body no longer functions under the control of the impulses of the brain. We’ve all seen cases where even the most basic bodily functions are no longer possible simply because somewhere a breakdown has occurred between the message from the brain and the response of some limb or muscle .It happens in the church all the time. And the damage is even more severe because it can be eternal. For the church to be healthy each member of the body must be totally submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Those who are led by the Spirit are the sons and daughters of God.