by Mark Horne
One of the Apostle Paul’s most famous descriptions of the church involves an individual human body:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, ESV)
One could easily think that Paul is arguing from the premise that every human person is a unified body. In a biological sense that seems self-evident. But the Bible can speak of people as driven or controlled by various body parts. Paul must be arguing here from the ideal human person–the one who has matured. Paul himself is a large part of the Scriptural witness that affirms that human beings are often bodies in which the parts are at war with one another. Thus:
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (Romans 6:12-19, ESV)
So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I pummel my body and make it a slave, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:26-27, ESV)
Likewise, James compares controlling one’s speech as “taming the tongue” and further compares such discipline to that of domesticating wild animals (James 3). Notably, James calls such rule or dominion over one’s tongue a form of wisdom, reminding us of Lady Wisdom’s declaration, “by me kings reign” (Proverbs 8.15).
Jesus himself warned of how one part of oneself could mislead the rest:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30, ESV)
So it seems that while the human person should function as a unity, a person can, in a sense, be a cluster of warring members. While this should not be so, it nevertheless is often true.
One way to think of what is going on is to differentiate between the de jure and the de facto–legal terms for what is officially true and what is true in reality. While we owe much to others, we are each, once we reach maturity (viewed as a legal age) de jure owners of ourselves. But are we de facto masters of ourselves? The concept of self-ownership is a foundation, but it must be used to build self-mastery–from de jure to de facto.
Furthering us in this process is one of the purposes and benefits of regular Church worship. To show how this follows from Scripture, we need to get some basic points about the worship system or sacrificial system that was given by God through Moses.
WORSHIP AS TRANSFORMATION
As we follow Paul’s admonition in Romans 6 and master ourselves into a single whole intent on serving God, we can more and more fully respond to Paul’s summons to worship in chapter 12:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1, 2; ESV)
Sacrifices were cut up by the offerer (not the priest, he simply took the pieces and fed them to the fire). All the appropriate parts had to be offered. (Some were also cut off and thrown away, just as Jesus advised. My working assumption for now is that, in the New Covenant, we are liberated from sin to an extent that we can offer all our parts. Jesus was using an analogy for struggling with sin from the Old Covenant sacrifices but didn’t want a literal application to our body parts).
I may be wrong, but I think many Evangelicals believe that the fire on the altar that consumed the sacrifices represents God’s fiery wrath on sinners. This is a mistake. The fire on God’s altar represents God himself and his glory and presence. It is true that unrepentant, unforgiven sinners find God’s presence to be torment (thus the imagery from Revelation 14.9-11). But that makes no sense for sacrificial animals that have been washed and had the unclean parts cut away. The sacrificial meat, remember, is treated as holy, not as defiled.
In the sacrificial system established under Moses, the animal takes the curse of sin for the offerer when the offerer kills it. The blood is carried near to God’s presence on the altar to display the evidence that death has taken place and there is no further judgment to come. Then the animal goes up into the altar where it is turned to smoke and goes further up into heaven–into God’s glory cloud like the cloud that came down on Mt. Sinai or that later filled the Tabernacle and still later entered Solomon’s Temple. The cloud that Ezekiel saw and, in a vision, penetrated to see God’s throne carried by Levitical angels.
This, after all, is exactly what happened to Jesus. He is killed. His blood pours out on the ground for all to see. Then he is transformed by the Spirit. He is raised from the dead and then ascends to His Father in a cloud.
One more piece of evidence that burning the sacrifice represents transformation and elevation or ascension, is that the items put in the fire with the animal (incense, cake of bread) is also what is kept inside the Holy Place. The altar was set up outside the doorway of the Tabernacle. The Holy place was the first room on the other side of the entrance where only priests could pass through. So putting the animal on the altar seems to correspond with a priest approaching God’s presence in the Tabernacle. The second room where no one could go but the high priest represented the highest heavens and there were two golden statues of angels representing the Guards in God’s own throne room. So it is no surprise that, when Jesus was taken up in a cloud, two men in white were seen as well.
And by going through this process, Jesus became to us, among other things, “wisdom from God” (First Corinthians 1.30). He was made our Greater Solomon.
Before killing the animal and then putting it through this transformation, the offerer was to place his hands on the animal to appoint it as his representative. So the animal's death and “resurrection” are supposed to apply to the worshiper. We are supposed to be transformed by God’s presence in worship. Our minds are to be renewed in wisdom and torn away from the folly of the world’s alleged “wisdom.”
SUMMONING EVERY ONE OF US & ALL OF US
Many times in the Bible God’s people are summoned to gather as one before the Lord’s presence. But what is odd is that we also see in the Bible sometimes a person summons all of himself in the same way he would summon a group of people to gather together.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits… (Psalm 103.1b, 2; ESV).
David here summons his soul, and then summons more: “all that is within me.”
When God calls us to worship, he calls us altogether (all-together) to gather as a single whole. Just as we are affirmed as one body with fellow Christians as we listen to God’s word, pray to him, sing psalms and hymns, and eat and drink bread and wine together when we “come together as a church” (First Corinthians 11.18), so we are each taken apart by the word of God (Hebrews 4.12) and put back together as new whole person, glorified by contact with the glory of God.
We are, if you will, disintegrated in worship and then re-integrated better than before. And in that transformation, you learn to rule yourself and everything else better by a true wisdom. You are renewed in your mind.
One final comment. I don’t know that we can reduce this transformation process to understanding new truths or some other intellectual process. While hearing good preaching and learning new things is important, it might not happen every week. Does that mean going to church was a waste of time? I have to say no. Even though church can be “done wrong,” we should expect that meeting with God in a special way has power that affects us even if we don’t learn anything new or feel inspired by some aspect of the service.