Don Styles
Principles of Ecclesial Life

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 whole.

"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 body.

"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 body.

"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. 2:20-21).

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 pieces.

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. 26:6,11).

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.

A family

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.

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