The Body of Christ

“No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body” (vv. 29–30).

- Ephesians 5:25–33

As we think about the emphases of the Protestant Reformation, we remember doctrines such as the final authority of Scripture, justification by faith alone, and the centrality of Christ. And as we consider these doctrines and others, it becomes clear that we can think of the Reformation as a movement to place Christian truths back in their proper place. Church tradition was not thrown away; it was placed in its rightful position as subservient to the Word of God, rather than its medieval position as equal to Scripture. Good works were not abandoned; they were restored to their proper role as the fruit of salvation, not the means of attaining righteousness. The church as an institution and community was not cast aside; its people were redirected to glory only in Christ rather than encouraged in idolatry.

Some people have criticized the Reformers and accused them of making the church superfluous, but Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other Protestant thinkers loved the church. Since they were committed to Christ and His Word, they had to, for Christ loves His church. In fact, our Savior loves His church so much that He died for her, as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:25–33. Christ loves the church because it is His own body. In the same text, the Apostle draws a parallel between the normal love we have for our bodies and the love Christ has for His church. Just as we show a proper love for our physical condition by taking care of ourselves, so Christ shows love for His own body—the church—by nourishing and cherishing it (vv. 28–30).

As we begin our study of the Reformation understanding of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, we note first of all that the church is the body of Christ. Because the church is the body of Christ, Christ loves the church. The application for us is that if our Lord loves His church, so too must we, for we are called to imitate Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). If we do not love the church, we do not love Christ.

That the church is the body of Christ also tells us something vital about how Christ works in our world. As individuals, we accomplish our goals through the use of our bodies. We use our arms, legs, minds, and other parts of our bodies to do our jobs, show love to our friends and families, and so forth. Similarly, Christ carries out His saving purposes for the world through His body, the church. We are His hands, as it were, through whom He ministers His love to the world and takes His truth to the end of the earth.

Coram Deo

If the church is the body of Christ, that has implications for how seriously we take her discipline and our membership therein. We should not leave a church for frivolous reasons, thereby dividing the body of Christ. We should also pay special heed to the elders, pastors, and leaders of the church. They have been placed in their positions for our good.

Passages for Further Study

John 15:1–17
Romans 12:4–5
1 Corinthians 12:12–31

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.