Many in One, One in Many - The Message of the Figures
While a variety of figures of speech are used for the
ecclesia, a common message runs through them all -- many individuals are to be
joined into one unit.
The human body
In the body, there are many easily distinguishable parts
having a variety of abilities and functions but they are united into one working
"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these
members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one
body, and each member belongs to all the others" (Rom. 12:43 NIV). -
"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" (I Cor.
12:12). The point is stressed that there are many unique parts but only one
"For the body is not one member, but many ... But now are they
many members, yet but one body" (I Cor. 12:14,20).
God's design of the human body has been carefully conceived so
that no members should be neglected and that each member should sympathize with
and care for the other members.
"That there should be no schism in the body; but that
the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one
member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored,
all the members rejoice with it" (vs. 25-26).
There is no mistaking the intent of this analogy. We are to
apply the points to ecclesial life. No matter what is our ethnic origin,
cultural background or economic status, we are all united into one
"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether
we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free ... Now ye are the body of
Christ, and members in particular" (I Cor. 12:13,27).
A temple made of stones
"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and
prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the
building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord" (Eph.
The parts are separately identifiable and have different
functions -- corner stone, foundation stones, etc. -- but they form one unified
structure. There are many parts but one whole. While this is clearly a
characteristic of a temple made of stone, it is not true of all structures. A
tent, for instance, would not suitably represent the ecclesia as the canvas
appears as one piece rather than many separate, distinguishable
But what of the tabernacle, was not this a tent that
represented the ecclesia?
Yes, it was. In order to do so, however, the tabernacle was
constructed in a most unusual manner. . The sections of the covering curtains
were not sewn together but were coupled with loops and taches (a device, like a
buckle, for fastening two parts together). They thus retained their individual
identity while combining to form one tabernacle.
"Couple the curtains together with the taches: and it shall be
one tabernacle... and couple the tent together that it may be one" (Ex.
In like manner, the structure itself was formed of many
separate boards tied into one unit by the middle bar that reached from end to
end (Ex. 26:18). Thus, rather than contravening the principle being considered,
the peculiar construction of the tabernacle in the wilder-ness actually
reinforces the importance of the ecclesia being a community of many parts united
into one whole.
We are so accustomed to calling one another brother and
sister, we easily forget that this is really figurative language. The natural
family is a figure for the association to which we have been called in Christ.
And in this association, we, though many, are spoken of as all belonging to the
same family. The Lord emphasizes the point that there are not several divine
families, there is only one. Christ died that "he should gather together in one
the children of God that were scattered abroad" (John 11:52). And, again, the
apostle prays "unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole
family in heaven and earth is named" (Eph. 3:14-15).
The Father, the Son, the angels and the saints are all spoken
of as being included in the one family name. The point again is clear:
many separate individuals united into one.
A flock of sheep
"I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep and am known of
mine ... and other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must
bring and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one
shepherd" (John 10:14,16).
The believers are likened to a flock of sheep. Once again it
is stressed that, while several flocks might be more convenient, there "must" be
only one flock gathered under one shepherd.
The use of sheep to represent believers, rather than goats or
cattle, is significant. Of all herding animals, sheep tend to pack together and
move together in a tightly knit unit.
The Bread and the Wine
The memorial emblems speak of the unity shared among the
various members of the ecclesia.
"The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion
of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the
body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all
partakers of that one bread" 1 Cor. 10:16-17).
Bread is made of many grains being eventually formed into one
loaf. Wine comes from the juice of many grapes being crushed and distilled into
its liquid form. In both cases, the end product is a result of many distinct
parts being formed into one whole, like the ecclesia.
This similarity would not hold true if the memorial consisted,
for example, of milk and a roast of meat. The roast would be from one animal and
the milk could come from only one cow. With bread and wine, however, the
perceptive believer is again reminded of the principle that many are to be
united into one.