The Church the Fulness of Christ
A. E. Long, Nutley
The pleroma (the fulness which is Christ's as being fully God), together with truths associated with it, provided a theme in which Paul gloried. Some words in common use today, such as plenary, plethora, plenty, plenitude, plenipotentiary, derive from it. Even the word pleroma itself has passed into our use - it signifies fulness, abundance. The key verses for this paper are Ephesians i. 22, 23; God "gave him (Christ) to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all". We shall consider these truths more particularly.
"Him that filleth all in all" Part of Christ's exaltation is that God "gave him to be the head over all things to the church", v. 22. Not only is Christ supreme Head over the Church, but also Head over creation. In Colossians 1, Christ is twice referred to as "the firstborn", thereby establishing His absolute "pre-eminence", firstly, as "the firstborn of every creature", v. 15 ("all creation" R.v.); secondly, as "the firstborn from the dead", v. 18, in connection with the body, the Church. Compare "Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's . . .",1 Cor. 15. 23.
As used of Christ, there is no thought of generation in the word "firstborn"; it signifies His absolute priority in the sphere in question; for example, "firstborn among many brethren", Rom. 8. 29. Moreover, "firstborn of all creation" does not mean that Christ is part of creation; His absolute priority in it is as the Creator, in which capacity He stands apart from it. John wrote, "all things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made", John 1. 3. And Paul added "he is before all things", Col. 1, 17. In Colossians 1.16 Paul amplified John's brief statement with the thoughts, "by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by him". It is in this sense, as Creator, that Christ is "the first born of all creation". And not only so, for from its inception the universe did not become self-existent; its ordered continuance also devolved upon the Creator, "by him all things consist", v. 17, ("hold together" r.v. marg.). Christ is the great cohesive and integrating Force in creation; else cosmos would revert to chaos.
In Ephesians 1. 23 Paul wrote that Christ "filleth all in all". Conybeare renders this as "Him who fills all things everywhere with Himself". In fact, what Paul affirmed to be true as between God and men, "in him we live, and move, and have our being". Acts 17. 28, is equally true in the universal scale and indeed in every part of it. There would be no universe without Christ, for He both created and sustains it. We must be careful, however, not to read into this verse any support for pantheism, namely, that teaching which identifies God with the universe and allows Him no separate existence apart from it. Such teaching asserts that God is immanent in creation, indwelling, pervading, inherent in, as part of it but not separate from it, that God is in every leaf, twig, animal, bird, reptile, fish, but has no being apart from them. Such is the nature of so-called "South Bank theology", which alleges that God is not to be thought of as "up there", but only as "within" us. Ephesians 4. 10 restates the truth of chapter 1. 23, He "ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things". Christ is, therefore, the king-pin of creation, for everything, everywhere, without exception, depends upon Him. The evolutionary theory postulates a double absurdity, that of a self-generating and self-sustaining universe! The Bible ascribes both its generation and continuance to Christ alone.
"The church, which is his body, the fulness of him" Taken at its face value, it seems incredible to suppose that the Church, in any sense, could possibly be "the fulness" of Christ, who Himself fills the universe. Yet Paul affirms the former to be as true as the latter. If this is indeed Paul's thought, and support is found for it elsewhere in Scripture, what did he mean? He wrote "the church, which is his (Christ's) body". If "the fulness" was one of Paul's great themes, that of "the body" was another, for he used this metaphor to depict the Church in the Epistles to the Romans, 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and Colossians. In Ephesians, Paul affirmed "there is one body", 4. 4; he wrote of "the edifying of the body of Christ", v. 12, "the whole body", "increase of the body", v. 16; "Christ the saviour of the body", 5. 23, "members of his body", v. 30. It is in the sense that the Church is viewed as the body of Christ that it is said to be His fulness, since it complements and completes Him as His body. Christ is "the head" of that body, for it is from Him as the Head that "the whole body" is built up, 4. 15, 16. In nature, a head without a body would be as monstrous as a headless body. The Church would be useless without its living Head and Christ would be incomplete without the members of His body. In a footnote to Ephesians 1. 23, Weymouth states, "without Christ the universe would be incomplete, and Christ would be incomplete without His church".
In 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul developed the truth of the "one body" more fully than elsewhere in the New Testament, he wrote, "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ", v. 12, literally "the Christ". This suggests that Paul is not thinking of Christ alone, but Christ plus the members of His body, the whole "Christ", that is, as completed by the Church. May not this also be Paul's thought in the words "till we all come. . . unto a perfect (full-grown) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ", Eph. 4. 13? We are the members of His body—His hands, His feet. A head without its members would be impotent, lacking means to translate thought and decision into action.
When God made Eve, He did so that she might be "an help meet for" Adam, Gen. 2.18, that is, as "answering to" him in every respect. To this union with Adam were brought qualities complementary to his own, as were his to hers. Similarly, the Church complements, or fills up, Christ. We speak of a ship's complement, meaning its crew, its officers, all who are needed to man it. Without them, the ship, however well appointed, would be condemned to idleness and uselessness. And a crew without a ship would be a crew in name only and not in fact.
So it is that from Paul's statement in Ephesians 1. 23 the amazing truth emerges that just as Christ is absolutely essential to the universe, so that it could neither have come into being nor continue without Him, so the Church as the mystical body of Christ is essential to Him, in order that its members here on earth might perform these functions assigned to them by their Head in heaven and be the instruments of His purpose.
We commend the following article to the exercise and consideration of our readers, since it contains an interpretation that may be new to many.