An advocate of the UCD view might allege that the use of “we” in 1 Corinthians 12:13 demonstrates that Paul was claiming to be part of the same body as the Corinthians, thus validating the UCD asseveration that the body of Christ is all believers worldwide. However, there is no reason to conclude that Paul’s “we” means that the apostle was part of the same body as the Corinthian church. Paul had been water baptized into one local body, just as the Corinthians had been immersed into one local body. A Baptist pastor who holds to local-only ecclesiology can easily say to Baptist brethren from other assemblies, “we have all been baptized into one body,” because all those he addressed had indeed been immersed into the membership of the several churches in view. No implication that the various Baptist churches were truly one big church made up of all of the churches put together would follow from such a statement. Why then would Paul’s “we [are] all baptized into one body” do so? Cannot Paul identify himself with his readers in such a manner in 1 Corinthians 12:13? Does he not identify with his audience in this way with some frequency in his epistles?
Even if one did not accept the explanation above for Paul’s we in 1 Corinthians 12:13, a speaker or writer may at times employ we without including himself. A teacher in a classroom might say to his students, “If we break the rules, we will be in big trouble,” but he clearly addressed the students alone in such a situation. A fundamentalist preacher may say, “If we do not get saved, we will go to hell,” but one certainly hopes that he does not make such a statement because he is himself yet unconverted. Such a sense of we has New Testament support. The use of the first person plural pronoun in 1 Corinthians 12:13 does not prove that the verse refers to a universal, invisible church.
Paul’s use of both “we” and “body” in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 refer back to the usage of 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: “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.” The thematic connection between 1 Corinthians 12:13, a verse (as explicated below) about unity around the church ordinances, including the Supper, as expressed by “drink into one Spirit,” and 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, the previous passage about unity around the Supper that begins Paul’s discussion of this topic (as elaborated in more depth in chapter 11), is confirmed by the linguistic connection through the use of “cup” and “made drink,” the repeated “one,” “body,” “we all,” and the phrases referring to the unity of the many (ho polloi) into one. 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 provides a strong precontext for the use of “we” in 1 Corinthians 12:13. However, in 10:16-17 the singular “the cup” and “the bread” do not establish that every member of the Corinthian assembly, along with the apostle Paul, together broke only a single piece of bread into tiny pieces, and all drank out of only a single cup, when they took the Lord’s supper together (so that Paul, although not present with them, still drank from the same cup as the Corinthians and ate the same piece of bread). Rather, the words emphasize the generic category of “bread” and “cup” in connection with the generic Greek article. One who wished to deny the categorical or generic use of the articular words “bread” and “cup” would also, for consistency, also need to affirm that the assembly used the same loaf of bread every time they celebrated communion, in light of the customary present tense verbs employed in 10:16-17 to indicate the repeated, continuing action of the celebration of the Supper. It would be a wonder indeed, on this view, that the one piece of bread eaten by every member of the congregation every time the Supper was celebrated never was used up—it must have been exceedingly large to start out with and required a very large oven to bake. As “the bread” did not indicate that there was only one piece of bread—and certainly not a universal, invisible piece of bread—no more does “the body” of 1 Corinthians 12:13 indicate a solitary body, much less a universal, invisible body for Christ—the nouns “bread,” “cup,” and “body” are all generic nouns. Likewise the uses of “we” in both 10:16-17 and 12:13 are generic references indicating what typically happened in the congregation at Corinth. The “we” of 10:16 did not require that every member of the Corinthian church was present and participated every time the Supper was celebrated—some were doubtless not in the assembly on any given occasion because of sickness, travel, or other such reasons, some who were holding on to sin had no right to partake, and Paul, who wrote the “we,” was not in Corinth at all. If the “we” in 10:16-17 (and in the very closely related reference to the Supper in 12:13 in “we . . . have been made to drink”) does not even require the inclusion of every member of the Corinthian assembly, how much less does it require the inclusion of the apostle Paul? Was Paul present with the church at Corinth, and thus included in the “we . . . break . . . bread” of 10:16-17, every time that assembly celebrated communion? If not, how can the “we [are] . . . one body” of 10:17 or the “we” and “body” of 12:13 establish that Paul and the Corinthian church members were part of the same church body, a supposed universal, invisible church which cannot be exegetically established from the meaning of the word ekklesia, the clear use of the body metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12:13-27 for the particular, local assembly, and any reasonable understanding of the necessarily localized nature of a body? The we in both 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and 12:13 simply establishes that the respective actions indicated in the respective passages were going on among the Corinthians and with the apostle Paul. The word emphasizes the fellowship around the church ordinances among the members of the church at Corinth in both passages.
One cannot affirm that Christ has both a universal, invisible body and a local, visible one, and that 1 Corinthians 12:13 speaks of the universal body but 12:27 of the local one, since the metaphor of the body of Christ is not bifurcated—Christ has but one body (Ephesians 4:4), the congregation, not two radically different types of bodies, a local, visible one and a universal, invisible one. Additionally, even if Scripture taught—which it does not—the existence of a universal body of Christ, it would be impossible to contextually support a universal reference in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Where in the flow of v. 13-27 would Paul change from speech about the allegedly universal body of Christ to the local body clearly in view in v. 27? What part of the body metaphor in v. 14-26 is local, and which universal? No acceptable answer exists. The fact that there is but one type of body of Christ, and the unity of 1 Corinthians 12:13-27, obliterates the UCD view of 1 Corinthians 12:13.
1 Corinthians 12:27 defines the body of Christ as an ecclesiological metaphor, but the UCD makes the body of Christ soteriological. The UCD view thus confuses ecclesiology and soteriology. This fits in with the historical development of the universal church doctrine; post-apostolic, proto-Popish apostasy from the faith developed the ideas of a universal or catholic church and the related idea encapsulated in the Cyprianic formulation Extra ecclesiam nulla salus, “Outside the church there is no salvation.” The Protestant movement transferred the notion of the essentiality of church membership to salvation from the visible universal (catholic) church concept of Rome to the allegedly invisible universal church, a view adopted by UCDs in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Historic Baptists, following Scripture, reject entirely the notion that there is no salvation outside of the church, maintaining rather that one must be saved before he can properly join the local, visible congregation, the only church that exists, and that salvation is not conjoined to membership in either a universal visible or invisible church since such concepts are not taught in the Bible. The confusion of ecclesiology and soteriology involved in the UCD view of 1 Corinthians 12:13, but avoided in the historic Baptist view of the text, demonstrates the superiority of the latter.
The first commentary we have on the Corinthian epistles, 1 Clement, written by the pastor of the church at Rome to the Corinthian church around the turn of the 1st century, understands the metaphor of the church as “body” in a local sense, not a universal one (37:5; 38:1; 46:7). Contrary to later patristic baptismal regeneration, universal ecclesiology, hierarchicalism, works salvation, and other grievous heresies, Clement’s epistle evidences local-only ecclesiology, congregational church government, the unity of the office of presbyter/bishop, justification by faith, and other Baptist doctrines. Thus, the earliest known historical commentary on the body metaphor, composed only decades after Paul wrote his epistle, supports the historic Baptist view of the body metaphor against the UCD position.
The fact that the church of Christ is only a local, visible institution, the fact that the body of Christ metaphor throughout the New Testament is employed for the particular congregation, the immediate context in 1 Corinthians 12, the nullification of the Scriptural doctrine of separation involved in the UCD position, the fact that there is but one type of church body, the confusion of soteriology and ecclesiology involved in the UCD doctrine, and the evidence of 1st century extra-canonical Christian understanding of the body metaphor all tell heavily against the UCD view of 1 Corinthians 12:13. Certain of these evidences, of themselves, make the UCD view of the verse entirely impossible. Furthermore, alleged proof of the UCD view from the use of we in the verse falls very short. 1 Corinthians 12:13 cannot teach that the Holy Spirit baptizes people into the universal, invisible body of Christ because there is no universal, invisible body of Christ. The UCD view does not affirm that the Spirit baptizes people into the membership of local assemblies, but the body of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is the local, visible congregation. Thus, the UCD view is not taught in 1 Corinthians 12:13. The historic Baptist understanding of the verse avoids all the problems in the UCD position and gives a satisfactory and consistent understanding of 1 Corinthians 12.
Note that this complete study, with all it parts and with additional material not reproduced on this blog in this series, is available by clicking here.