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14 Anatomy Metaphors for the Church to Reach the World

The following article is a chapter that was removed from my book, From Eternity to Here. It was removed because it couldn’t fit into the page count. I’m publishing it electronically for the first time. Feel free to share it with others if you find it of help.

Test yourselves . . . (2 Corinthians 13:5, NLT)

If I can sum up the message of this book in a sentence it would be this: Your God is after a people who live for one purpose—His ultimate passion. But He’s also after a people who do not feel that they are special or elite in any sense. And that particular stance takes away every tool of the natural soul.

The Lord Jesus Christ is multi-splendid in His awe and beauty. He is so vast that one image or title cannot adequately present Him. Consider the many images and titles that Scripture employs to describe Christ: Son of God. King of kings. Prince of peace. Heavenly Bridegroom. Lord. Master. Savior. Lamb of God. Bright and Morning Star. Good Shepherd. Great High Priest. Light of the world. Root of David. The Righteous Branch, etc.

We have seen that the church is inseparable from Christ. This being so, the church is also multi-splendid in her awe and beauty. Like her Lord, the church is too rich to be defined. She is too vast to be depicted by just one image. For this reason, the New Testament paints fourteen different images to present the church.

In this chapter, we will examine each image. As we do, I invite you to consider the church to which you belong. After each image is presented, ponder this question: Does my church fit the image that the New Testament paints for the church?

All of these images have two key elements in common.

First, every image is intensely corporate. All of them teach us that the church is a close-knit, intimate community of people. As Westerners, we are profoundly individualistic. By contrast, the early church embodied a togetherness-in-community. Each image makes this abundantly clear.

Second, each image teaches us that Jesus Christ, and not a human being, is the Head, the Leader, and the glue that cements the members of the church together.

The Bible is a genetic codebook. It decodes the church’s DNA from God’s standpoint. All fourteen images give us insight into the anatomy of the church. They show us how her DNA naturally expresses itself in the earth.

I trust that after you finish this chapter, you will be pressed to see the church in a fresh light. So let’s dutifully walk through these Biblical images together and do our best to explicate them. Ac­cording to the New Testament, the church is . . .

A New Race

(Gal. 6; Eph. 2; 1 Pet. 2). We are “a new humanity,” “a chosen generation,” “one new man,” and “a new creation.” When Jesus Christ made His entrance into human history, He was an endangered species on this planet. He was the first of a new kind of man. Jesus was God’s original thought for humanity, but God’s original intent for humanity became corrupt with the Fall. In His death and resurrection, Christ introduced a new species – or new creation – on this earth. He is the Firstborn and the Head of this new species. The church is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, but “a new human” altogether.

Test 1: Do the members of your church see themselves as part of a new humanity, a new species, and a new race? Or do they relate to their fellow brethren based on the natural distinctions of physical race, nationality, gender, and social class?

Beyond a new race, the church is . . .

A Family

(Gal. 6; Eph. 2; 1 John 2). This is one of the most striking images presented in all the New Testament. Visions of family dominate Paul’s writings. All throughout his letters, Paul speaks off-handedly of brethren, children, fathers and mothers. We are “regenerated” or “born anew” into the blameless Family of God. God becomes our Father and Jesus our elder Brother. Fellow Christians become our sisters and brothers. The writings of John and Peter are also sprinkled with the language and imagery of family.

Test 2: Do the members of your church treat one another as part of the same family? Do they know one another intimately? Do they experience themselves as members of an extended house­hold? Do they take care of one another just as the members of a healthy family do?

Beyond the family, the church is . . .

A Body

(Rom 12; 1 Cor. 12). We are members of the Body of Christ and members of one another. Jesus Christ is the Head as well as the life of the Body. The church is inseparable from Christ. Just as one’s physical body is inseparable from one’s head.

Does not nature teach us that the members of the Body of Christ are subject to the Head and dependent upon one another? For example, the disease of Multiple Sclerosis appears when the physical members of a physical body act independent of the body’s head. The disease of cancer appears when a human cell acts independent from the other cells.

Test 3: Do the members of your church see themselves as part of the same organism? Does the church submit to the Headship of Christ in its meetings? Do the members of the Body function when the church gathers together? Do the members depend on one another, or do they live independently and in­dividualistically?

Beyond the Body, the church is . . .

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FRANK VIOLA has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ and enter into a more vibrant and authentic experience of church. His mission is to help serious followers of Jesus know their Lord more deeply, gain fresh perspectives on old or ignored subjects, and make the Bible come alive. Viola has written many books on these themes, including God's Favorite Place on Earth and From Eternity to Here. His blog, Beyond Evangelical, is rated as one of the most popular in Christian circles today.