Monday, November 05, 2007

Proof-Text Perversions: 1 Corinthians 12:13 (part five)

Universal church advocates take 1 Corinthians 12:13 as their proof text. Perhaps we could say that "by one spirit of fallacy they read into this passage one numerical, universal, invisible, mystical body." They commit this hermeneutical blunder against the context of the Bible and the epistle, and now we look at the chapter.

The Context of 1 Corinthians 12

1 Corinthians 12 begins a treatise by Paul on spiritual gifts. He would not have us be ignorant (v. 1). Everyone is different spiritually---there are diversities of gifts. However, there is one Spirit. As much as everyone has a different spiritual giftedness and even a different manifestation of that giftedness, he has the same Holy Spirit (vv. 4-11). The text implies that if everyone had the same gift, a church wouldn't have unity. All of the various gifts enable one body of Christ (v. 12).

The church at Corinth fought over almost anything. Gifts were no exception. They sought after the most self-promoting gifts for themselves (v. 31). However, the gifts were not to divide, but to unify. The act that brought them into identification with the church itself pictured this unity. People of various ethnicities ("Jews and Gentiles") cultural and socioeconomical backgrounds ("bond and free") were all brought into the assembly by means of baptism. No individual would be excluded from the group based on such tangential and temporal criteria. The ordinance of baptism brought many into one (Acts 2:41). Their selfish infighting wasn't in fitting with their initiation into the Lord's body. The waters of baptism welcome anyone in Corinth who received Christ.

The Corinthian Church was dis-united over the practice of baptism (1 Cor. 1:11-17) and the "drinking" relative to the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:18-34). Not only baptism, but also the ordinance of the Lord's Table symbolized this unity. The Corinthian believers had been made "to drink into" (eis) or with reference to "the spirit of unity." The unity of the church is testified by the Lord's Supper, whether bond, free, Jew, or Gentile. We see this same concept about the Lord's Table earlier in 10:16, 17.

As you read along in 1 Corinthians 12, you'll notice that the body being described is a local entity. A hand, eye, and foot are all local and visible, not universal and mystical. They must be in one location to work together---they wouldn't work together spread out.

Verse 25 says there is to be no schism in the body. There are multiple and constant schisms, divisions, between professing believers. Divisions are required. 1 Corinthians 11:18, 19 says they're necessary. Many other places require separation from believers (2 Thess. 3:6-15). Only if the body is local could there be no schisms. God has designed the church to settle disputes and confront sin in various manners (1 Cor. 6; Matthew 18:15-18). So v. 25 makes sense only if the body is local and visible.

In v. 26, how could a fellow believer in America be suffering out of sympathy for an unknown believer in Africa? The assumption here is that these people are in the same spot, so are able to comfort one another in this close proximity. We can feel each other's pain within a local church just like in a real body. The suffering of another church member affects other church members since they are all body parts of the same body.

1 Corinthians 12:27 clinches it when Paul writes: "Ye are the body of Christ." In the context of 1 Corinthians 12, the body is the church at Corinth, which is local and visible. Believers joined that church by means of water baptism, publically identifying with Christ and His body. If the body of Christ was all believers, Paul would have written, "We are the body of Christ."

What we see occurring in 1 Corinthians 12 doesn't fit with something universal and invisible. The chapter does fit with the church of Corinth, and, therefore, any local church. Each genuine church is the body of Christ. Saints are admitted a part of His body through water baptism, unifying with that particular church.

Is Water Baptism in 1 Corinthians 12:13 a Historical Understanding?


The very early Schleitheim Confession of 1527, written by anabaptist Michael Sattler, clearly reflects this plain teaching of 1 Corinthians 12:13 in two of the articles:

II. We are agreed as follows on the ban: The ban shall be employed with all those who have given themselves to the Lord, to walk in His commandments, and with all those who are baptized into the one body of Christ and who are called brethren or sisters, and yet who slip sometimes and fall into error and sin, being inadvertently overtaken. The same shall be admonished twice in secret and the third time openly disciplined or banned according to the command of Christ. Matt. 18. But this shall be done according to the regulation of the Spirit (Matt. 5) before the breaking of bread, so that we may break and eat one bread, with one mind and in one love, and may drink of one cup.

III. In the breaking of bread we are of one mind and are agreed (as follows): All those who wish to break one bread in remembrance of the broken body of Christ, and all who wish to drink of one drink as a remembrance of the shed blood of Christ, shall be united beforehand by baptism in one body of Christ which is the church of God and whose Head is Christ. For as Paul points out, we cannot at the same time drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of the devil. That is, all those who have fellowship with the dead works of darkness have no part in the light. Therefore all who follow the devil and the world have no part with those who are called unto God out of the world. All who lie in evil have no part in the good.

Therefore it is and must be (thus): Whoever has not been called by one God to one faith, to one baptism, to one Spirit, to one body, with all the children of God's church, cannot be made (into) one bread with them, as indeed must be done if one is truly to break bread according to the command of Christ.

E. T. Hiscox in the The Standard Manual for Baptist Churches (1894, p. 22), wrote:
In the Apostolic age when there was but 'one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,' and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense,'baptism was the door into the church.'
A. W. Pink said:
[T]he "baptism" by which one enters "into" a New Testament church is water baptism, for the Holy Spirit does not "baptize" anybody into a local assembly.

What Others Say

Albert Mohler in “The Biblical Basis for the Baptist Vision of the Church (as a Body of Baptized Believers)”, (The Baptist Messenger, July 11, 2006), wrote:
[T]he common experience of believer’s baptism is central to the unity and identity of the church. In Ephesians 4:5, Paul writes of the church as constituted by “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul reminds us: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Thus baptism is presented as a necessary act of obedience to Christ that marks the believer’s incorporation into the church as the Body of Christ. Put simply, the New Testament has no concept of an unbaptized Christian, much less an unbaptized church member.
B. H. Carroll wrote:
[T]his verse has no reference whatsoever to either the Holy Spirit or Holy Spirit baptism. Paul was writing to saved persons, members of the Corinthian church who had been baptized into that church, which is the only scriptural way of entrance into any sound church.
Water baptism into a local church is a historical view of 1 Corinthians 12:13, no private interpretation.

We'll probably be done next time with some practical ramifications.


Gary Johnson said...

Please mail a copy of these 5 parts to every Baptist church across the country. This has to be the most misunderstood passage by those professing to be saved. I was taught it wrong when first saved, thankfully the Lord revealed the true interpretaion of it. Sadly I was taught in wrong in a Baptist church. Of course that is another matter to whether they really were a Baptist church or just stole the name for their opperation.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I agree bro. Johnson---this passage fires me up. I believe that the wrong view affects so much, which I'll get to in the next and perhaps last post on this.

Gary Johnson said...

The ecumenical movement, charasmatic movement, and the non-denominational movement would all collapse if they were to get this right.