Within the Bible the words, “body of Christ”, carry two connotations. It signifies the physical human body which suffered and died at a point in human history. Then in a corporate or collective sense, the body of Christ signifies the corporate or collective group known as the church. The mission of the collective church body was to carry and maintain the narrative about the physical Christ body.
Christian theology has attempted to perpetuate the NT church, suggesting that its mission is incomplete. But assuming an incompleteness to what Christ already accomplished 2000 years ago and then adding human agency in the form of a new religious institution standing between God and mankind has wreaked havoc on the idea of a collective body as defined by Paul.
Unending arguments over role and theology have subdivided the church described by Paul as the body of Christ into what is now called the local church or individual congregation and the church universal. This distinction has generated the partisan fragmentation which has developed within the total framework of Christendom over the centuries. Denominationalism and multiple post NT “reawakenings to the real truth” have destroyed Paul’s concept of the role of a vital NT collective body of Christ within the plan of redemption.
Back in the mid fifties, a controversial theologian by the name of John A.T. Robinson wrote a small book on the subject of the word, “Body”, in the Bible. He explored all of Paul’s writings in an attempt to glean all that he meant by that term. He considered the word “body” the most significant one in Paul’s theology of Christ. This is interesting because, according to Robinson, Paul is the only NT writer who uses this word in a corporate sense.
Robinson’s book prompted me to rethink these two concepts of “the body”. In both cases it seems that we have representative body, one that functions on the behalf of a larger group. In the dying of the human Christ body, all died at the same time (I Corinthians 15:22). It was a death which effectively served as a collective death. This collective, representative death served to transform and revive the collective body of Christ, which represented the entire human race (I Corinthians 15:29). The 1st Century “body” acted on behalf of all those who were dead, which was everyone, everywhere.
The present day church recognizes that audience, to which the story of the death of the two interrelated “bodies” was directed, was all of mankind. What they miss, however, is the reality that the 1st Century body/church accomplished its mission to reach all humanity by being representative of all humanity, not just those who believed (I Timothy 4:10).
What has guaranteed the misrepresentation of the collective body is the unchallenged notion that the church as we know it today corresponds to the collective body of Paul’s day. Somehow that body, which served as representative of all humanity, became a sectarian, eternal human agency, standing between God and the human race. Instead of being the historical group that died with Christ to bring to completion God’s intention to redeem universally, the church became just another religious institution, no different from all other religions. It served to sustain the alienation between God and man by insisting everyone was still alienated despite the death of Christ, in all his bodily forms.
The church, as we know it, is merely a relic of OT Judaic thinking which in turn springs from the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Telling the world they all have to repeat what the NT church did in their representative death as the NT body is contrary to what Paul said- “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead”. II Corinthians 5:14.
One body, both individual and collective, died on the behalf of all men. One death freed mankind from the law of sin and death. One unified and unifying death destroyed death itself. No more deaths are required. No more need for anyone to sacrifice themselves on the altar of religion.