The Body of Christ, Focus 9

The Body of Christ

By Charles Colson

Christians, from the earliest creeds onward, have confessed to being part of “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church.” This is the body of Christ in the world. But only by belonging to a visible community of faith can individuals truly make visible the reality of the church.

From the beginning it was clearly God’s plan that the Body would be made manifest to the world by gathering into confessing communities to fulfill His mission—that is, to administer the sacraments, preach the Word, and make disciples. Thus, immediately after Pentecost, He established the pattern: Individual believers were to gather into particular communities.

When Christians in the early centuries gathered together, they became known as the communio sanctorum,  meaning “the communion of saints.” And they were indeed that, bound together as only men and women could be who were surrounded by an angry, hostile society ready to feed them to the lions. But by manifesting the church, they made visible the mystery of God’s salvation, and this witness changed the world….

Membership in a confessing body is fundamental to the faithful Christian life. Failure to do so defies the explicit warning not to forsake “our assembling together” (Hebrews 10:19-25). His understanding of this prompted Martin Luther to say, “Apart from the church, salvation is impossible.” Not that the church provides salvation; God does. But because the “saved” one can’t fulfill what it means to be a Christian apart from the church, membership becomes the indispensable mark of salvation.

There is, as Richard John Neuhaus puts it, “no Christianity apart from the historical community that bears its truth.” Therefore, our understanding of this community shapes our view of ministry, accountability, and Christian duty.

–By Charles Colson (1931-2012), founder of Prison Fellowship. For the first time in 34 years, Colson was unable to spend last Easter Sunday in prison. The famously converted Watergate-era “hatchet man” spent each Easter ministering to prisoners. This year, he was recovering from a surgery to remove blood clots. He met his Savior face to face on April 21.

This devotional was excerpted from his book The Body. Brother Chuck, R.I.P.


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