Metaphors of the Church
John Griffiths, Port Talbot, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The Dispensational Aspect
(The Church which is His Body)
The Local Aspect
(The Church of God)
Col. 1. 18; Eph. 1. 22, 23 THE BODY 1 Cor. 12. 14-27
Matt. 16. 18 THE BUILDING 1 Cor. 3. 9
Eph. 5. 24, 25, 32THE BRIDE 2 Cor. 11. 2
John 10. 16 THE FLOCK OF GOD Acts 20. 28, 29; 1 Pet. 5. 2
Eph. 2. 21 THE TEMPLE OF GOD 1 Cor. 3. 16; 2 Cor. 6. 16
Eph. 2. 15 THE NEW MAN 1 Cor. 10. 32
THE CITY - Rev. 21. 2, 10 THE HOUSE OF GOD - 1 Tim. 3. 15
THE PEARL - Matt.13. 45, 46THE PILLAR/GROUND - 1 Tim. 3. 15
THE LAMPSTAND - Rev. 1. 12, 20
THE FIELD - 1 Cor. 3. 9
THE EPISTLE - 2 Cor. 3. 2, 3
As to its functions, the local church may also be considered as a hospital, Gal. 6. 1, 2; 1 Thess. 2. 7, and a school, 1 Cor. 14. 9, 26; Gal. 6. 6. However, these designations are not in the text.
The local church is described as:
the church of God/churches of God their proprietor is God
churches of Christtheir purchaser is Christ
churches of the saintstheir composition spiritually
churches of the Gentiles their composition ethnically
churches of Galatia province where located
the church in (at) Ephesus city where located
the church which is in his house house where located
Local Church Metaphors
The Assembly as the Body – Its Unity, Variety and Diversity of Gift
‘Now ye are (the) body of Christ and members in particular’, 1 Cor. 12. 27. This is not the material, physical body of Christ. This is the local church at Corinth likened to the human body. The assembly is a living, vibrant organism, not a man-made organization such as a club. The body illustrates the truth of unity; it is an organic whole. It also displays variety, inasmuch as it has many members, for example, foot, hand, ear, eye. Diversity is seen in the differing functions of the members, as they exercise their Spirit-given gifts in the context of the assembly.
Unity and diversity are seen together in harmony; they are not mutually exclusive. That this reference is local and not dispensational is supported by verse 27. The absence of the article indicates that the Corinthian assembly is ‘body of Christ’ in character, though patently not the body of Christ, the church of the dispensation. Further, when the church of the dispensation is in view, the body equates to the church whilst the Head is Christ. Here, the body and head are both used to illustrate facets of the Corinthian church. Are we maintaining the unity of the Spirit and exercising the diverse gifts for the good of the assembly and the glory of God?
The Assembly as the Building – Its Unity and Quality of Teaching
The Ongoing Development of an Assembly, 1 Cor. 3. 9-15. The foundation of any local assembly is Jesus Christ, that is, a ministry of Christ. ‘We preach Christ crucified’, 1 Cor. 1. 23. Matthew chapter 7 verse 24 says, ’Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock’. Here, the sayings of Jesus, His teachings, are the rock-foundation.
The assembly at Corinth was the result of Paul’s gospel preaching over a period of time. Once the foundation was in place, Paul moved on and others were responsible for raising the superstructure of the building. The quality of the materials used is emphasized. Crucial to its growth is the quality of preaching and teaching, as the testing by fire reveals. Quality and not volume will be rewarded at the Judgement Seat of Christ. It is not how much but how well I have built for God that will count.
We are challenged to build quality people, principles and preaching into the local gathering.
The Occupying Deity of an Assembly, Eph. 2. 22. The Ephesian letter is primarily about the church of the dispensation. However, chapter 2 verse 22 is the exception. The design and purpose of a local church is emphasized. It is marked by the unity of Jew and Gentile – ‘builded together’. Its purpose is to be the place where God dwells among His people in the person of the Holy Spirit. It is worth noticing the comparison and contrast between verses 21 and 22:
v. 21: The Dispensational Church
v. 22: The Local Church
‘In whom’ (Jesus Christ)
‘In whom’ (the Lord)
‘all the building’
‘ye also are builded’
‘habitation of God’
‘in the Lord’
‘through the Spirit’
The Assembly as the Bride – Its Unity and Purity of Intention
The Folly of Boasting: ‘bear with me’, v. 1
The Father of the Bride: ‘betrothed to one husband’, v. 2
The Fear of Beguilement: ‘as the serpent . . . so your minds’, v. 3
In verse 2 we are left in no doubt as to Paul’s love for the Corinthian assembly. His jealousy (zeal) is clearly expressed. Paul’s love is translated into his labour on behalf of the saints, ’I have espoused (betrothed) you to one husband’. He is seen as the father of the church giving her away to her Beloved. His longing is, ‘That I may
present you as a chaste virgin to Christ’. Paul does not want the assembly to be defiled in any way but is concerned that her purity of intention is maintained until the day when she is presented to her heavenly Bridegroom. There is always the fear of satanic attack and Paul thinks of Eve and her seduction and sin in Eden. May God enable us to remain pure. Satan seeks to destroy the unity of the body, the sanctity of the building and the purity of the bride.
The Assembly as the Flock of God – Its Responsibility
Paul Cautions the Elders, Acts 20. 28. Sheep need shepherds. So the assembly needs spiritual shepherds, also called elders, over-seers, bishops. The work of the shepherd is twofold: pastoral/ to tend, Acts 20. 28, and protective/to defend, Acts 20. 29, 30.
Sheep must have their needs met. They require leadership and feeding. The ‘little flock’ also needs protection from enemies without and within. There are predators that enter in to devour, due, at least in part, to the lack of the scriptural practice of reception, and the carnal party leaders who rise up within to divide the assembly causing schisms.
Peter Challenges the Elders,
1 Peter 5. 2.
Peter was once exhorted by the Lord, ‘Feed my lambs’, and, ‘Feed my sheep’. Now, he exhorts his fellowelders to tend or pastor the flock. The role is to be engaged in without pressure or payment. They are to shepherd the flock, not by the principle of enforcement but rather by positive example, remembering that they are under-shepherds awaiting the advent of the chief Shepherd with His reward.
The Assembly as Temple of God – Its Sanctity
Sanctification from False Teachings and their Effects, 1 Cor. 3. 16. The expression ‘temple of God’ would have significance for both Jew and Gentile. Though their ideas would be dissimilar, the themes of sacredness and deity would stand out along with that of the functioning priests.
The local assembly is indwelt by a divine Person, the Holy Spirit. False teachers who by their teaching would defile the assembly and its divine Occupant thus come under God’s punitive judgement. The assembly is to be marked by consecration, not desecration. It is the sphere of God’s dwelling with His people. Here, He is worshipped, praised and adored. This is where holy priests function in offering spiritual sacrifices.
Separation from False Temples and their Evils, 2 Cor. 6. 16. ‘What agreement hath the temple of God with idols?’
How incongruous to seek the fellowship of pagan temples and that of the present-day temple, the assembly. Our intimacy with God in verse 16 is followed by the instruction, ‘Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord’. If Gentiles are called to separate from religious associations here, Jewish believers are called to sever their links with Judaism in Hebrews chapter 13 verse 13, and we are enjoined to separation from religious systems in Revelation chapter 18 verse 4. Our call to ‘come out’ is from the present system of sectarianism that will soon become the apostate church, religious Babylon, Rome and her daughters.
The Assembly as the New Man – Its Harmony
The dispensational aspect is portrayed in Ephesians chapter 2 verse 15, ‘to make of twain (two) one new man’.
The distinctions, Jew and Gentile, are lost in the church of the dispensation. The local expression of the church is likewise seen to be without national or ethnic differences. When a Jewish or Gentile believer at Corinth enters into fellowship with the local assembly, such distinctions recognized by the world are dispensed with in the assembly. Prior to the existence of the local church there had been only Jew and Gentile; the new community, the church of God, does not recognize such differences in its midst. National identities count for nothing as, by God’s grace, Jew and Gentile are harmoniously integrated into the living organism. There should be no ethnic or racial discrimination in the assembly. We are all saints, believers, disciples.