CHAPTER I: The Body, from "The Christian Ministry According to the Apostles" by Thomas Hughes Milner
As we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office; so we, the many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another, Rom. xii. 4, 5.
1. WE ARE aware that in analogical reasoning unfair inferences and unwarranted conclusions are too often drawn, and that expounders of Scripture in particular have earned for themselves a most unenviable notoriety in this course. For party ends they have alleged analogies where none exist, and attempted inferences which neither text nor context authorises. Knowing this it is ours to beware: but assured that the apostolic facts and analogies are unerringly given, it is alike safe and obligatory on us to attend to them.
2. With constant frequency and unerring aptness the apostle illustrates the constitution of the Christian church by that of the human body. He finds in it such a display of divine arrangement, such a manifest emanation from the same all-wise mind, and such a manifold analogy of design that his comparisons of it with the church of the Lord Jesus are not only most close and frequent, but he takes it as his chief illustration, and calls the ecclesia “the body of Christ,” 1 Cor. xii. 27.
3. Man is fearfully and wonderfully made. Supreme in position and power over the whole body, is placed the head. The seat of intelligence, will, and authority, there descends from it the nervous cord, which, ramifying through the entire person, carries every command to every part of every member, and returns every intimation with electric speed and accuracy. Not a moment elapses between the forth-putting of the volition and its reception and execution by the extremest member, nor an instant between the sensation felt in any part and the transmission of the intelligence to the understanding. Disobedience to the injunctions of the head is unknown; concealment from it is unheard of. Only by incapacity through disease, or the loss of vital power, does any member fail instantly to carry into effect whatever is willed. Now, what the head is to the body, Christ is to the ecclesia. He is the head of the body––the church, Col. i. 18, 24; Eph. v. 23. He is the head, that in all he might have the pre-eminence, for it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell. By virtue of this indwelling fulness he is made pre-eminent over all, so that, as head, his wisdom, will, and authority may govern the body in all things, and so that instant, constant submission to him is the one invariable duty of every member of his church.
4. As the power, wisdom, and goodness of God are seen in the organization of the human frame, so are they manifest in the constitution of the church. There are persons so infidel of God, and so void of understanding as to affect the non-perception of these divine attributes as displayed in the human constitution, and there are not wanting those whose ignorance and unfaithfulness are such that the people are actually taught from the pulpit that the Christian church has no divine organization. If to those who devoutly study the mechanism of the frame of man, the folly of such as deny any exhibition of divine contrivance in its construction appears extreme, how foolish in the eyes of the angelic principalities and powers, to whom God is shewing by the church his manifold wisdom, must be the doctrine of those teachers, who, to sustain the credit of their own humanly constituted churches, affirm that the Church of God has no divine organisation! For our part we know of nothing in the way of assertion more baseless or absurd, and we should as soon believe the infidel denial of design, as this ecclesiastical one, for in truth they are alike infidel; the only difference being, that in the one case the infidelity is directed against the wisdom of God as shewn in the human body, and in the other as displayed in the body of Christ. Dismissing this objection then, we notice that as the apostle says of the human frame, that God hath set the members, every one of them, in the body as it hath pleased him, so he affirms believers to be the body of Christ and members in particular, and that from the head, even Christ, the whole body, fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love, 1 Cor. xii. 18, 27; Eph. iv. 15, 16. In these statements it would seem as if the Holy Spirit had designed expressly to refute such licentious teaching as that just referred to. When he testifies that from the head of the whole Christian body is aptly joined together and compacted by the supply of every joint, and that according to the energy in the proportion of each particular part the increase of the body is effected, he gives us the idea, first, of its divine articulation; second, the fit and exact setting together of each member of the whole body in their conjoint organization; third, the compacting or solidifying of the whole by the due action, service, or working of every joint, as thus divinely articulated; and fourth, the increase of the body by the energy of each particular part in its due proportion.
5. Just as, in the human constitution the fit joining together of the various members is in order to their joint service, and just as their conjoined working is in order to the increase of the body, so in the body of Christ the fitting of the whole together is in order to the due service of every member, so that by the energy of each in proper proportion the increase of the body may be secured. Here we have means adapted to an end. Divine arrangement and design could not be more expressly intimated than by this argument of the apostle. And here the practical lesson to be learned unquestionably is, that by the constitution which the church holds from its Head each member has his place and work assigned him, so much so, that exactly as he operates therein does he retard or advance the growth of the whole body. The increase of the body depends on the due operation of every member.
6. Self-edification, up-building, growth, or development, is by this divine arrangement the immediate object. “The edifying of itself in love” is given as the principal purpose of the specified organization of the body. It is not edification by one or two members that is submitted as the law of development, but the self-up-building of the whole by the effectual contribution of every part. It is alike a most detrimental and monstrous conception of ministry which assumes the growth of the whole by the contributing agency of only one or a few of the members. What a miserable monstrosity the human person would become under the operation of such a fallacy! Let but one or two members fail in their functions, and how greatly the development of the whole is retarded! What deformity and helplessness often accrue from no greater retarding cause than this! Equally so in the body of Christ. The divine law of development cannot be broken with impunity in the reign of grace, any more than in the kingdom of nature.
7. Since self-edification is the law of this development, and since this implies the co-operation of every part, the double necessity of every member to the body, and of every one filling his place, is put beyond question. For, says the apostle, the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body: is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body: is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now God hath set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now God hath set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body; and the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again, the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more, those members of the body which seem to be feeble are necessary, 1 Cor. xii. 14-23. This argumentation is applied to the church of God, when in the immediate context the apostle says, Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And it is in view of this that he proceeds to say, “And God hath set in the church” the various members and ministries. No Christian then is at liberty to withhold from use, or to despise either his own gifts, or those of any of the brethren. The feebleness of the member neither renders it despicable nor unnecessary. All the parts are needful to the whole.
8. And it is in the realisation of this that the unity, sympathy, and communion of the body are to be maintained. Let the opposite sentiment arise––let it be held that all the members and their functions, as God has ordained them, are not necessary––that the eye may say to the hand, I have no need of thee; and the hands to the feet, We have no need of you, and where shall we look for the union, regard, and fellowship of the body? They are gone. To all this extent of mischief then must the disrespect of the divine constitution of the church operate. A mere bagatelle may some be disposed to consider the recognition of the co-operative ministry of all the membership of the body of Christ, but where there is respect for the will of God, and regard to the argument of the apostle when he says, Those members which seem to be feeble are necessary, it will be admitted that the oneness, and concord, as well as the increase of the church of God, are dependent upon this recognition.
9. As to union, Paul says, There is one body, as there is one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, and in saying this, he beseeches the brethren to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This shews the possibility of breaking up the unity, and the need-be of endeavour in order to its preservation. That the ministry of the body has largely to do with its unity appears both from the context of this passage in Ephesians, and the one previously quoted from First Corinthians. Here, after enjoining this endeavour, the apostle adds that when the Messiah ascended he gave gifts to men, enumerates these gifts, as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, states them to have been bestowed for the adapting of the saints for the work of the ministry, in order to the edifying of the body of Christ, till all come into the unity of the faith. So that the coming into the unity of the faith depends upon the edifying of the body, and the edifying of the body upon the adaptation of the saints for the work of the ministry, while, again, this adaptation depends upon the gifts of apostleship, &c., enumerated. And this is fully confirmed in ecclesiastical history, for no single question has so rent the church as that ministry; and never can there be union otherwise than by an unqualified return to that united service which the word of God shews the head of the church has ordained for the growth of the body. That humanly established ministries will ever secure the union of the body in the unity of the faith it is ridiculous to hope, for every one of them is confessedly sectarian, each is established on the false and unapostolic hypothesis that the body is not one, that divisions are beneficial, and separate communions to be gloried in, and that such union as is exhibited in the letters of the apostles is not to be expected. Denominationalism bids for division, lives and thrives upon it, and must die without it. For “the ministers of the various denominations” to lead all into the unity of the faith would be to unchurch themselves, and throw away their living. With a sectarian ministry Christian union is impossible. The doctrine of the former is that there are many bodies; of the latter there is but one. As soon shall grapes be gathered of thistles, and figs of thorns, as will those all speak the same thing, and be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, who are already divisioned off by the party cries, I am of Paul! I am of Cephas! I am of Apollos! I am of Calvin! I am of Knox! I am of Wesley! We do not say that those who utter such cries will always be so foolish, but we do say that their coming into the unity of the faith must be preceded by the entire renunciation of party names, whether of men, opinions, or countries, and their being called by the name of the one Lord of the one body his bride, the church. If as 1 Cor. xii. 25 intimates, God has so arranged and constituted the members of the natural body as that by their joint operation there should be no schism, division, or rent, the apostle has stated this, that the body of Christ might learn thereby that all its members are so set, joined together and compacted in one co-operative ministry as to secure that union which otherwise were impossible.
10. And as to sympathy, as well might we expect it from the bleeding dismembered pieces of the dying soldier on the gory field of strife as from rival religious factions. That there is no sympathy between individual members of so-called Christian churches we do not affirm: we rejoice to know and acknowledge the opposite. But we unhesitatingly declare that denominationalism is utterly unsympathizing. Its reign has proved it so. Happily it is falling, and with it the rancor of its spirit. (Editor’s note: bear in mind the time—nineteenth century England—in which the author lived.) As it falls it will be seen that there is no good in it. The truly pious are fast discovering that their sectarism (Editor’s note: or, sectarianism) has simply divided them without blessing themselves or others one whit. As they recede from it, they discover that Christ is one, that he is not divided, that his body is one, and his faith one. And as this union in him is realized, then only is that sympathy which alone deserves his name experienced. The unity of the body––the union of the many members in one body is absolutely essential to that feeling which is peculiar to the closest of relationships. Thus to the fact that God has tempered the body together that there may be no schism in it, the apostle adds the further consideration, but that the members may have the same care one for another; so that whether one member suffer all the members sympathise or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice together. But it is the direct opposite in sectarianism; for consisting in a rivalry forbidden in Scripture, and ignoring the union which is the glory of the ecclesia of Christ, there is instead of this sympathy which a union of membership in one body produces, that cold feeling of pride and jealousy with which rival establishments or powers ever contemplate themselves in contrast with neighbors, or foes.
11. Christian concord is an impossibility with denominationalism. Wherever various denominations exist there are just as many spirits. Each sect has its own spirit. Each regiment is characterised by the esprit de corps. And who does not know that it is quite “a taking illustration” with “popular preachers” to represent “the different bodies“ under the military idea, and speak of their “regimental colours” as if the Prince of Peace had constituted his church on the model of modern military tactics, or as if the articles of war were copied from the faith in Christ! The gaping, applauding multitude do not perceive that the despots of Europe have divided their forces into distinctive regiments, while the King Immortal has formed his into one body, that while regimentalism is the law of the former, sectarianism is a violation of the law of Christ. The injunction to the disciples, to endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit, is given in view of there being but “one body.” Denominationalism reigned both among Jews and Gentiles when the Christian faith was established, and one capital object of it was to “make the two one new man” under Christ, and to “reconcile both to God in one body by the Cross.” But, alas! through the perversity of men, he who is “the God of peace” has been worshipped rather as the God of war, that gospel which is the good news of peace has been tortured into a preaching of strife, and that cross through which the enmity of man to man, and man to God is slain, has been carried and emblazoned as a symbol of diabolic fight. Yet the repose which Jesus left in legacy to his disciples was his own unbroken, ineffable peace: My peace I give unto you. That perfect peace he had in the undisturbed serenity of his union with the Father was what he gave to them. His last prayer for them was that they all might be one, as he and the Father are one, John xvii. 20, 21. But how entirely unrealised has this been amid the wars and fightings of denominational Christianity! How utterly unrealisable is it till parties and party names are as entirely discarded by Christians as they are reprobated by the apostles, 1 Cor. iii. 1-5.
12. Yet, who has not gloried in “his church,” “his minister,” “his denomination?” And what preacher does not boast of “his people.” It is verily so; more truly so, indeed, than is imagined; for nothing is more certain than that these things are not of the Lord––be whose they may, they are not his. He never established them, he never authorised them. They have been founded by men in contradiction of his laws, and they exist without his license; they are perpetrated under his condemnation; they are outlawed in Scripture. In regard to but a comparatively small amount of this vain glorying, Paul said to the Corinthian believers, Brethren, I could not speak to you as spiritual, but as carnal. For, whereas there is among you envying and strife and division, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? While every one of you saith, I am of Paul, or I am of Apollos! are ye not carnal? And so he charged them to glory not in men, but in the Lord. But denominationalism always glories in men.
13. And of course it seeks to justify itself, and in this attempt it has made a mere myth of the body of Christ! Unable to deny that his body is one, and as unable to deny that its own name is legion, it seeks to cover the discrepancy by talking of “the invisible church.” But who ever saw this invisible church, and who ever read of it in Scripture? None. It is a figment of modern mythology. The Christian body is one as we have seen, and its characteristics are all stated in the apostolic writings. Many assemblies in different parts it had when these Scriptures were written, as they shew, and these together formed the one body, but it was not an invisible church; it consisted of living men and women united together in the bonds of the gospel, and there was no difficulty in recognizing them as the body of Christ, and members in particular. Their conduct and character shewed what they were. A disciple was a disciple, and recognized as such everywhere; membership in Jerusalem gave membership in Rome. The body was one, visible and ascertainable. And still with the guidance of the New Testament Scriptures a Christian church is as easily discoverable as are the cities, lakes, and mountains of Scotland by the help of a tourist’s guide-book. But it is very convenient for the ministers of sects to tell the anxious enquirer after the way to Zion that the descriptions of the church he has been reading in the New Testament refers to the invisible church, a thing not to be found on earth; no, nor in heaven. But this keeps restless members in their seats.
14. But, says an objector, “Physician, heal thyself;” you are a member of a sect as well as others. Unquestionably. For all men are sectaries. Infidels, philosophers, worldlings, and religionists, are all sectaries. And we plead guilty to being one of “that sect everywhere spoken against.” Nor shall any rob us of this boasting. And if any replies, Then, do not you rob others, we answer, We do not rob them; they rob themselves, or they allow others to do it; ours is not their boast; they are not content with the name of Christ; they call themselves by other names; they do not confine themselves to the epithets of Scripture; they tell us they are Romanists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Independents, Baptists, or something else which the Saviour never called his people; they talk of their church being that of Rome, England, or Scotland, and themselves as Calvinists, Arminians, or anything rather than Christians. But, says one, Can a man not be a Christian and a Baptist? Certainly he can, if, as a Christian, he baptizes those whom the Lord authorizes to be baptized. A baptist is one who baptizes: one who does not baptize is not a baptist: John was a baptist simply because he baptized; had he not baptized any he would not have been John the Baptist; those whom he baptized are not called Baptists. But to take this name in an unscriptural acceptation, or to take any other in the way of denominational distinction, is to contravene the law of Christ, and to violate the unity of his body. What would the husband think, who, on taking home his bride, found she was not content with his name, but would have one or other that could not mark her out as his wife? And is not the Church the bride of Christ? the Lamb’s wife? is she not married to him, and become dead to the law by his body? Why, then, play the harlot by taking the name of another?
15. Nor was it only that the Messiah prayed for his body’s sake that all his disciples might be one, but also for the conversion of the world: Neither pray I for these alone, but for all who shall believe on me through their word, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. A divided church makes an unbelieving world. Sectarianism is no fair representation of Christianity, but the uninformed take it as such, and turn away in unbelief and disgust. But give us the union of Messiah’s petition–the unity of the faith–the one body, animated by the one Spirit, gladdened by the one hope, submissive to the one Lord, defending the one faith, practising the one baptism, worshipping the one God and Father, and soon the knowledge of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters overflow the channels of the deep; then would the church appear in moonlike beauty, in sunlike brilliancy, and in the terribleness of a bannered host, and then in the Shiloh would all the nations be blessed, and all pronounce him blessed.
16. It is one thing to have increase, and quite another to have “the increase of God.” Throughout all the lands of the apostacy, churches have increased to the engrossing of the world. But this is the very opposite of that divine increase which Col. ii. 19 shews to arise from firmly holding the head, by whom the whole body, served and compacted through the joints and ligaments, increases with the increase of God. The upward growth of Eph. iv.–the growing into him who is the head–the coming into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, by the firm holding of the head and the compacting and serving of every member, is a consummation to be attained alone by obedience to the prescriptions which the apostle there lays down––the individual endeavour of the faithful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, by each filling up his place in the body of Christ.