"And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16 NASB).(1)
According to E. W. Bullinger,(2) there are three basic areas of knowledge (doctrine) from the Pauline epistles the born-again Christian must become familiar with. These three areas can be described as 1.) eschatology, 2.) the identification truths and 3.) the great mystery. Without the full knowledge of these three areas, the Christian is destined to remain worldly, immature and unstable in his/her faith. We can readily see the result of this lack of knowledge within the visible churches today. Denominationalism is just one example of this. Each denomination has its particular and often peculiar dogma that keeps it separate and divided from the true body of Christ. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6 NASB). "Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; And their honorable men are famished, And their multitude is parched with thirst" (Isaiah 5:13 NASB). There is no need for the body of Christ to remain "famished" nor "parched" if we will but become as the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15).
Eschatology is the first area of coming to the full knowledge of Christ. Eschatology is simply the study of end-time things leading up the return of Jesus: the restoration of Israel, the testing and rapture of the church and the wrath of God upon the world. Without eschatology, the church has no hope. The promise of our redemption is tied-up in the return of Jesus Christ. If fact, this is why it is often referred to as our blessed hope (Titus 2:13)! "And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (1 John 3:3 NASB). My web site primarily deals with this topic (The Saints Home Page: http://www.flash.net/~saints/). It covers the dispensational, premillennial, pre-wrath view as described by Paul in First and Second Thessalonians. The failure to correctly understand the doctrine of eschatology is to be confused in our ultimate hope in our consummated redemption. Thus, we will remain worldly by placing our hopes in this temporal world rather than in the eternal. The fact is, the major theme consistently in the New Testament is eschatology and nearly one quarter of the Old Testament deals with this subject as well.
The identification truths are summarized in chapters six and seven of Paul's letter to the Romans. "...Our old self was crucified with Him,...we have been buried with Him through baptism into death...in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4, 6 NASB). Here is greatest liberating doctrine for the Christian that few really understand. Legally, that is as far as God is concerned, we have truly been crucified "in Christ," buried "in Christ" and resurrected "in Christ." Our old self(ish) nature is therefore dead and we are born-again with a new nature "in Christ's" resurrection! We can now live truly free in this reality. (Note how numerous this term, "in Christ," is used throughout the Pauline epistles.) We now have this new life legally-it's in the bank. Experientially, however, we still struggle between our old and new natures. But, this need not be nearly so difficult if we understand our position as being identified "in Christ." "Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God" (Rom. 7:4 NASB). For a further and much more detailed explanation of this doctrine read, "The Complete Green Letters," by Miles J. Stanford.(3)
The great mystery (Eph. 5:32; G3173. megas, a prim. word; great; G3466. mustayrion; a mystery or secret doctrine.(4)) is elegantly presented in Paul's letter to the Ephesians: "For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups (Israel and Gentiles) into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity" (Eph. 2:14-16 NASB). The great mystery is the new creation-the body of Christ. The body of Christ is the church within this dispensation of grace--similarly referred to as the church age. It is neither Jew nor Gentile, but a new creation (Gal. 6:15). Understanding this doctrine of the body of Christ, is to understand our relationship to Christ and His unique plan for us. This knowledge is indispensable to the Christian.
There are two "churches" and two programs God has with dispensational teachings. Remember "church" simple means assembly and there is nothing spiritual about the term in and of itself--it's the traditional connotations that are put on it that has prejudiced the body of Christ as to its truer meaning (identity). Israel is a church. They were a church in the desert (i.e., wilderness) and when they conquered Canaan-truly, a great assembly of God. The promises from God were given them as a church/assembly that they would be priests and bring the gospel to the Gentiles (a light unto the Gentiles, i.e., nations), but they failed by rejecting their Messiah--Jesus. First, God turned to the Gentiles to provoke jealousy with the Jews, but still they continued to reject Him. So God finally introduces His "mystery" plan, "hidden" in the O.T. This mystery is the "new creation"--"the body of Christ." This "church" now is not the same as Israel--is it? It also involves a separate program than the one for Israel. Therefore, there are two "churches," Israel (from God's promise to Abraham--to make a great nation; i.e., a great assembly) and God's new creation--the body of Christ, previously a mystery. And, God has a different program for each of these two "churches." "Displacement" theology is still largely taught and in part within the body of Christ's thinking--too much is taken from Israel and wrongly applied to the body of Christ. What ultradispensationalism attempts to do is to discern and distinguish God's separate programs--what truly belongs to Israel as the (a) church and what truly is the church's as the body of Christ.
A final note: In comparing the concepts of the body of Christ in Ephesians with the body in Corinthians. First, I believe the mention of the body with it's members in Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:15; cf.; 1 Cor. 1:13) is simply an allegorical reference to explain the unity of it's members as a body as the local, visible church. Here, Paul isn't saying that this is the body of Christ, but is simple saying that-- like one would not separate the members of Christ's body, neither then should we be separate one from another as a body (i.e., church/assembly); nor should we, as members, associate ourselves with a harlot. On the other hand, the concept of the body of Christ in Ephesians, Paul is introducing us for the first time to the "great mystery" (Eph. 5:32). This "body of Christ" here is the invisible, mystical, universal church of saints (i.e., true believers). It is the "new creation" and the "one new man" (Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:15). Therefore, I do not believe Paul is speaking of the "body" in the same way with the same meaning in Corinthians and Ephesians; nor, do I believe, should they be compared as if the were one and the same in concept.
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB).
1. Foundation Press Pub., "All scripture references are from the NASB," The New American Standard Bible, Ref. Ed. 1973c.
2. "The Inter-Relation of the Seven Church Epistles as Shown by the Structure as a Whole", E. W. Bullinger, "The Authorized Version of 1611 with Notes," The Companion Bible, Kregel Pub., 1990c. ed.: p. 1660.
3. Miles J. Stanford, The Complete Green Letters (Zondervan Publishing House, 1983).
4. NAS Concordance Dictionary with Strong's numbers.