Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 20, 1964
NUMBER 15, PAGE 8,12b

The Body And Its Members

Robert C. Welch

What is the difference between the body and its members? This question is raised by those who reason that the church does whatever its members do. Many of those who try to get church action in Galatians 6:10 argue that there is no difference between the action of the church and that of its members. It is supposed by such contention that since the church is described as the body of Christ and Christians are members of that body that the members do not function without its being function of the body as a whole. They cannot conceive of a Christian's having a right or duty that does not belong to the church as a whole.

The Sommers and those of similar persuasion have thought that there is no difference between church action and action of its members. They, however, arrived at the conclusion that Christians could do nothing but that which was given the church to do. Hence they reasoned that Christians have no scriptural right to establish and operate eleemosynary institutions or schools in which the Bible is taught. They were correct in contending that the church is not authorized to establish, operate or support such institutions. The weakness of their contention was in the assumption that Christians cannot do this because of the absence of authority for the church to do so.

Brethren who want church supported institutions have the same basic fallacious assumption. They are just headed in the opposite direction. They also assume that there is no difference, but that the church may do anything which the Christians may do as individuals.

"But now they are many members, but one body." (I Cor. 12:20). That there is a difference between the body and its members is declared; "If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?" (I Cor. 12:17). Some think our language unscriptural when we speak of the function of the church as a unit or as a whole. Such thoughts show that they have not considered this passage of Scripture. Not all of the members of the natural body can do what the other members can do. Neither do all members of the body of Christ have the ability to do what others can do. A Christian with abundance may help a poor man. This is something which the poor man cannot do. Hence it is something which the whole body has not done. If it be argued that this is only considering one Christian and that we are afraid to speak of such action by a plurality they need to think again. What one eye can do another eye can do. Human beings have two while other creatures have many more. When that plurality of eyes sees an object the whole body does not exercise this sense of sight. Even so. when a plurality of Christians perform an act of which they personally are capable it does not necessarily imply that the whole church or church as a whole has acted or can perform that action.

The word church is a collective noun. So is the word body. Any good grammar or dictionary will point out the fact that a collective noun may sometimes designate the features of the whole. On the other hand, it frequently designates the features of each part of the whole. When a speaker addresses an assembly he may not one time refer to the features of the assembly as a unit or as a whole, but speak entirely of things which concern the persons who make up the assembly. In the same manner a speech or a letter may be addressed to a church in some place but everything in that speech or letter be applicable to the members distributively or individually rather than to the whole church. A failure of many people to recognize this common feature of language has led them to conclude that when an inspired letter is addressed to the church at such and such a place the precepts in the letter must be applicable to the church as a whole rather than to the individuals.

When Peter addressed a command to all the house of Israel, he certainly did not signify that they as a whole, as a race, as a house, were to obey; instead, it was intended that each of them had the obligation to know assuredly that Jesus was Lord and Christ and that they individually were to repent and be baptized. Brethren readily see this. Why is it, then, that they cannot see the same rule where churches and Christians are involved?

When Paul wrote to the church of God at Corinth he said; "Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate." (2 Cor. 6:17). Is that instruction for the whole church or for each member? The context shows whether the whole or its members are designated; "And I will be to you a Father, and ye shall be to me sons and daughters." The members individually are under consideration.

When Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, he said; "So then, as we have opportunity, let us work that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of faith." Is he talking of churches' working or do the pronouns apply to the members of the churches? Let us observe the context which relates to this passage by the connective words, "so then." "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not." Who is going to do the reaping, the church as a whole or the Christians, or members? These two verses which have been quoted are tied in with the preceding two by the connective word, and. The subject is; "For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." He is talking about men, not churches, in that connected statement of Galatians 6:7-10. The man who lifts the tenth verse from its paragraph and gives it some other meaning is violating all rules of language, common sense and the Scriptures. That is true even though brother Foy E. Wallace, Jr. and his followers will not admit that he is just too stubborn to admit that an unguarded statement he once made about the passage was in error.

When Paul wrote to Timothy he made some clear cut distinctions between church action and individual action. He named specific religious, hospitable, charitable acts which are to characterize some Christians, some of which definitely do not belong to the church as a whole (see I Tim. 5:9, 10). Then in verse 16 he specifically says that certain individuals have obligations in order that it not be a burden upon the church. In direct contradiction to this, the institutional brethren argue that because these individuals have the obligation the church must have it It is indeed hard, yea impossible, for men to devise a doctrine or practice which the Bible does not authorize without specifically contradicting and violating some passage of Scripture.

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