The Church of Christ as an organism is very little understood today, and the idea is appreciated, I fear, even less. We do not live in the consciousness that the Church is an organism. Consequently, many of the beautiful truths bound up in this concept make no impact upon our lives. I believe that if we appropriate this biblical concept and from the heart live out of it, our church life will be greatly enriched.
The concept of the Church of Christ as an organism is directly related to the idea of the Church as institute. Scripture plainly shows this relationship and, in fact, by implication demands that the Church of Christ as organism become instituted in the world. In this connection, and by way of introduction, how often do you, believer, give account before the face of God for your present church membership? Some who claim to be believers have to give account to God for the lack of membership in the church instituted in the world. Do we as individual members of the instituted Church ever ask ourselves the questions which follow? Is it my responsibility to preach the Word? What does it mean to be the Church of Christ in this world of sin and rebellion? Believers, you claim you are the Church. Do you know what it means to be the Church, and do you actively seek to fulfill that calling?
In order to later discuss the Church as an institution in the world, we must first discuss the truth that the Church is a living spiritual organism. For it is out of the organism of the Church that the institutional church arises. We have to lay a foundation for future discussion.
Brethren, it is undoubtedly a most beautiful happening and experience when a few persons or families, who have come to conscious faith in God and His Son through the preaching of the gospel on the mission field, say: “We want to be organized as the institutional church in this place because we know through faith that we are the Church and we desire obedience to Christ to manifest His Church and serve Him through it.” That’s what the brethren in Houston, Texas wanted to do. In a somewhat different context our fathers in 1924 also saw the need for a new institution of the Church of Christ. They had been cast out of their ecclesiastical home. Our fathers understood, in part at least, what hardships and trials would necessarily attend the reorganization and establishment of a new institution of the Church of Christ. But in the knowledge that they could not for conscience sake continue in what had been their home, they accepted ostracism and scorn in order to fulfill the demand of Christ to be obedient to the Word, and, thus, they re-instituted as the truly Reformed Church. This is what our brethren recently did in Edmonton Canada. This is what believers have done again and again.
But we, who are third and fount generation members of an institutional Church, possibly have no intellectual understanding of such a desire and possible cannot identify with those who desire, at all costs, to be the church in the world. This lack of ability to identify with those who desire to be the church is indicative of our spiritual degeneration and to our own hurt as churches.
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The Church of Christ is an organism. By the term Church in the preceding sentence we mean all believers, who have been regenerated or quickened (Eph. 4:23) by the Holy Spirit, and who walk in repentance and faith. The Church of Christ as organism is the number of the elect as they are gathered and preserved by the Son of God and finally presented as His Bride clothed in the fine linen garments of the righteousness of Christ. The Church of Christ as organism is holy by virtue of the redeeming blood of Christ and by virtue of the sanctifying presence of the work of the Spirit of Christ in her. The Church as organism has no unbelieving, carnal, reprobate members. She is the one glorious number of the elect in Christ, redeemed by Him, called irresistibly by His Spirit, preserved by Him from sin and death, and brought to final glory by Him according to the will of His Father, who chose the Church in Christ to be that one living organism…the people of God, and who gave and entrusted the Church to His loving care.
That Church is an organism. What is meant by the term organism? Let me answer by way of example first; a tree is an organism. A wooden chair is not! A cow is a living organism. Your rawhide belt is not. An organism is a living thing. It possesses life. A car, boat, or house are not organisms, but are dead things mechanically bolted, glued or hammered together. The constituent parts of the car, boat, or house are forms of various different natural resources forced together without any other unity than that necessary to serve the functional purpose conceived of by the builder. But a tree is an organism. It is a living something. It grows from within; it has a seed form beginning. The whole oak tree (branch, bark, leaves, and roots) has its beginning in the seed and has coursing through its fibers, the organic life of an oak tree.
From this we may and do conclude that an organism is that which has “a common life principle” of which (or in which) all the members of this organism share. More succinctly I cannot express the idea of an “organism.” The one common life principle of the oak tree and of all its various aspects is that of the “life” of this particular tree. So also for the human person and the many members of one’s body. So also for the rose plant with its leaves, stems, root, thorns, and lovely fragrant buds. Each specific kind of organism had its own unique ‘‘life principle” which is common to all the members of that one organism. Consequently, and in summation, we repeat, an organism is that which has “a common life principle” of which all the members of this organism share. To speak of an organism is to speak of “life,” living unity wherein all the members of the one organism serve the purpose and life of this one organism. The living tree is served by every leaf, every inch of bark, every stem, and every root. An organism is that one living, vibrant, active whole or entity wherein all the members of the one whole share a “one common life principle.”
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Now let us apply this to the Church of Christ. The Church, the totality of elect believers, is an organism. A spiritual organism to be sure, but an organism nonetheless. That is, the Church has a “one common life principle.” The Church of Christ has many members. These members are the saints of all ages who have been gathered from all nations and who shall be gathered. There are many accidental or peripheral differences to be found among these many members. Differences of disposition, temperament race, color, language, knowledge and understanding, physical appearance, etc. But all these members of the Church have one thing in common, i.e., they have a common life principle and, therefore, the Church is said to be an organism. The identity of this “one common life principle” of the Church is the life of Christ Jesus our resurrected Lord. His life is the life of His Church. Jesus’ resurrection life is imparted to every member of the Church elect in Him. This resurrection life of Christ is given in regeneration. This life is eternal life. It is sinless (I John 3:9). This life is the intimate knowledge of love towards God (John 17:3). This life is faith in God and obedience to His Word. This life is the unity of the many members of the Church. The Church is not a crowd of people who have no internal unity or essential oneness. The Church is one, i.e., all the members are inseparably united as one whole motivated by love towards God as each member of the Church partakes of the life of Christ. This life is given us now in principle to be fully manifested in the day of Christ’s coming again, when we shall be delivered completely from sin, the old man, and Satan. In the day of Christ’s coming again we shall be given our resurrection bodies in order that we, The Church, may serve our God in Christ in perfect obedience.
Christ Jesus clearly points the way to understanding the Church as an organism when He specifies the relationship of all believers to Himself as being one harmonious to that of the vine and its branches. “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” (John 15:1-5). The branches live out of the vine. The branches that bear fruit share one common life principle with the vine. Thus, believers living out of Christ by faith in Him bear the fruits of His life in them. The Church is an organism. She has “a common life principle” and that one life is the life of our resurrected Lord. In God’s Word the Church is frequently called the body of Christ. This term too obviously points toward the organic character of the nature of the Church. Ephesians 1:22-23 reads: “And hath put all things under his feet and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body….” The Church of Christ is depicted as an organism also in Romans 12:5: “So we (believers. MK) being many, are one body in Christ….” This organic relationship which exists between Christ and the Church is also the underlying concept in the oft repeated expression, “people” of God as in II Peter 2:9. As a people, a spiritual organism, believers have one faith, one hope, one baptism, one God and Father of all, One Savior, one life…the life of Christ Jesus. (Eph. 4:4). The Church of Christ as an organic whole is able through the many differences of its member (peripheral and accidental though they are) to manifest a wide spectrum of spiritual gifts and diversity, all of which one way or another manifest the one common life principle of the Church as the living body of Jesus Christ. (Cf. I Cor 12:12ff.) In parenthesis let me state that this manifestation of a wide spectrum of spiritual gifts and diversity in the one organism of the Church is what has been termed the multiformity of the Church of Christ. This truth of multiformity is possible only because the Church is an organism. Again this idea of multiformity is corrupted to mean that the Church is composed of persons of varying “faiths” and “hope” as represented by all institutions of the church. But true multiformity is based on the fact that the Church is one in faith and hope because it lives in and out of Christ Jesus.
Life is activity. The life of Christ is the activity of obedience to the Word, faith in God. It also includes prayer, love of the brother. This spiritual activity is the life of the Church, for it is the life of Christ Jesus. The Church in all ages and in all nations ever manifested that one life, that one beautiful, irrepressible activity of which the many facets bear the spiritual names…obedience to the Word, faith towards God, love, kindness and compassion for the neighbor, repentance, sorrow for sin, a holding fast to the truth of Christ, etc. Life is activity and this activity of the Church of Christ is the fruit the grace of God wrought irresistibly in the hearts of the elect in Christ to the praise of the glory of God’s grace (Eph. 1:6). The Church of Christ is inexpressibly beautiful! She radiates with the beauty of God’s grace as a clear, brilliant diamond. She radiates forth as a living organism, the body of Christ the wondrous beauty of Him who conceived of her in His eternal will, who has begotten her by His Spirit, and who dwells in her and with her forever! The life of Christ is the life of the Church.
The Church of Christ is an organism! The Church as organism lives eternally in the mind and will of God. The Church as organism will live forever in the new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells. The Church as organism can never be destroyed…the gates of Hell cannot prevail against her, for her life and head is the eternal Son of God in our flesh, Jesus Christ of the city of Nazareth, who is now set at the right hand of God, i.e., “Far above all principality and power and might, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come….” (Eph. 1:21).
On the basis of Scripture we hold fast to the truth that the Church is an organism. The Church is the spiritual organism of the body of Christ! Of this Church you and I are members now and we may be assured that we ever shall be living members thereof.