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Correspondence School - Series 1 - Lesson 4 - Body of Christ

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What is the "church of Christ"? What do we mean by "universal church" and "particular or individual church"?

The New Testament teaching about the body of Christ has seemed mystical, but the Scriptures promise that the Spirit of Truth will guide men into all Truth, therefore nothing is beyond the comprehension of the mind of one whose understanding is quickened by Spirit.

In the 12th chapter of I Corinthians Paul describes the church of Christ or the Lord's body and explains its working in this way:

"As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body ... For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; it is not therefore not of the body. ... if the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? ... But now hath God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee: or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary ... but God tempered the body together, giving more abundant honor to that part which lacked; that there should be no schism in the body ... Now ye are the body of Christ, and severally members thereof" (I Cor 12:12).

Christ is "the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increaseth with the increase of God" (Col. 2:19).

A physical body is defined as the total organized substance of man, animal, or plant. Another definition given for body is, "a number of individuals spoken of collectively, usually united by some common tie, or organized for some purpose, as a legislative body, a clerical body, a corporate body, or the like." We also speak of a heavy-texture cloth, closely woven, as having "body," our thought being that it shows that it is organized substance and has a certain durability or staying power; it lasts or wears well, due both to the material of which it is composed and to its being closely woven. With these definitions in mind, we are able to see something of the truth which underlies the meaning of the word body.

Paul says, "If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (I Cor. 15:44). The natural body, the physical organism, is organized substance in the realm of manifestation. The spiritual body is organized substance in the invisible aspect of Being, the realm of Mind and Ideas. This distinction is made of two aspects of the one omnipresent divine substance taking a concrete form tangible to man's human senses.

"We must learn the law of expression from the abstract to the concrete -- from the formless to the formed" (Charles Fillmore Christian Healing 38).

The physical body of man outpictures the body-idea in Divine Mind according to man's thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting. The body-idea is the spiritual body. The manifest form, the natural body spoken of by Paul, is the expression and manifestation of the body-idea. The natural body and the spiritual body are interrelated, interactive, and mutually dependent, being in reality one.

All the members of the physical body -— head, heart, eye, ear, foot, hand, and the like -- are necessary to the harmonious functioning of the complete organism, yet are more or less separate in action. The same thing is true of the spiritual body, both individually and universally.

All the ideas in Divine Mind -- life, love, faith, strength, will, order, zeal, renunciation or elimination, substance, and so on -- inhere in the "church of Christ," the Lord's body, as an aggregation of spiritual ideals. These are involved in the spiritual body and must be evolved by man that he may consciously know his body to be the "temple of the living God" (II Cor. 6:16), that he may consciously be the expression and manifestation of I AM, the image-likeness of God.

God is Divine Mind. The activity of Divine Mind, as Absolute Good, created the Christ. In the last analysis all the universe is consciousness. The supreme consciousness which knows only oneness and perfection is divine consciousness -- a body of active spiritual ideas. This consciousness of oneness and absolute good, when held by man, is called "Christ consciousness." The total of this Christ consciousness in humanity has been called the Church of Christ, the church universal, the Body of Christ, the Lord's Body. It is not at all an organization in the outer realm, but is an organization of life, of love, of power, of wisdom, i.e., of divine ideas. In man it is called "Christ." The particular church, or the individual church, is the Christ consciousness in the individual. The one purpose or aim that unifies this church or body both individually and universally is that of making God manifest, bringing forth into actuality the oneness and the perfection which have been an ideal. Knowing the elements or ideas of which this body is composed, and the life and the light that are weaving it closely together, we can have no doubt of its durability, its staying power.

Paul, in writing to the Colossians, speaks of the body as "the church," thus regarding the "body of Christ" and "the church" as the same. To avoid confusion it is necessary to take the word church in its true meaning, freeing the mind from concepts that have gathered about the term through the centuries of ignorance and misunderstanding that have blinded men and prevented them from discerning the Lord's body.

What is a "sect"? What causes the forming of "sects"?

A sect is a group of people, usually with a leader, who have separated themselves from some religious denomination because of differences of opinion, either in beliefs or in forms and ceremonies. Often those forming the sect feel that the "letter" of the Scriptures is being followed by the denomination from which they have withdrawn and that they alone have the true "spirit." On the other hand, the religious denomination from which the sect has drawn away feels that the defaulting group is in error. Other sects draw away from the established denominations only because they are expanding in thought and find themselves bound by the old theologies. Viewed from a more impersonal vantage point, sects must be seen as a part of the expanding consciousness of those who cannot find their religious freedom within the framework of the existing religious organizations.

What is the basis of real unity, and why?

All unity is in Spirit. This is an important truth, worthy of prayerful consideration. The benefits of unity are so generally recognized that men everywhere, in every department of life -- business, social, and religious -- band themselves together for mutual help. Differences appear between manmade organizations and the unity of Spirit, and these differences are manifest in results. A measure of success and benefit often seems to attend the efforts of men of the world to cooperate, even though these efforts are not based on the unity of Spirit; but there is always something lacking, and discord is ever likely to spring up until such time as men find the unity of Spirit within. Seeing this lack we look back to the cause, and find that it is fear (and sometimes selfishness), expressed through unenlightened personalities.

The statement made before that all unity is in Spirit comes with greater force when it is taken in connection with this declaration: "There can be no true union in personality alone." When we find our true unity in Spirit, then every avenue of man's life can be unified. We who seek the real unity, understanding that it is found primarily in Spirit, should stand ready to give up all limited and negative personal desires and opinions. These interfere with our entrance into the consciousness of divine unity, which should operate on every level of man's experience. The one real unity is the body of Christ, His church, the God consciousness which is spiritual unity with all good. For the privilege of entering into it we should put aside every thought, feeling, word, and act below the Christ standard.

In contrast to the limited personal expression of life there is the universal, the Christ expression. When Jesus talked about forsaking all for Him, He meant simply that everything that was unlike the Christ, that was not Godlike in thought, word, or deed, should be given up for the universal Spirit of All-Good, the Christ. This is not a sacrifice but a privilege that is valued the more as it is accepted.

Why are the members of the "church of Christ" referred to in some translations of the Bible as a "peculiar people"?

Of the Greek words for church, ekklesia gives the clearest understanding. It means "called-out ones," and this is what the "body of Christ," His church, consists of. The people of His church are called out of darkness into light; out of bondage into liberty; out of death into life. These "called-out ones" are referred to as a "peculiar people" in some translations of the Bible. Peter describes them as "a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession" (I Pet. 2:9).

What is the purpose of the "church of Christ"?

Today those who might come under the heading of "peculiar people" do not necessarily attempt to attract attention to themselves. Rather their "peculiarity" comes from the new ideals and standards that they accept when they are God-possessed; when they come "out of darkness into his marvellous light" (I Pet. 2:9). They no longer pray in the old way. Their prayers are directed to the indwelling Presence of God within themselves. They learn to look first to the Great Physician, the living Christ within themselves, when they have need of healing, for themselves or others, so they turn to doctors and medicine only as guided by this indwelling Christ Spirit. They do not limit themselves to the methods of the world in obtaining supply; they seek God directly, knowing that He will open up outer channels of expression for the desired good. They are not in bondage to customs of the world but seek to live, eat, dress, with simplicity. They are "God's own possession" because they order their conversation aright, speaking of goodness and Truth, health and life, rather than of evil, sickness, and death.

Explain the meaning of the word restoration as used in this lesson.

This "church of Christ" has a work to do. That work is the "restoration of all things, whereof God spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old" (Acts 3:21). It is true that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain" (Rom. 8:22), waiting for "the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:19). The sons of God make up His church, and upon their development and revelation as members of the "body" depend the restoration and the deliverance of the whole earth from pain and suffering and sorrow.

What are the two phases of growth which the members of the "church of Christ" experience?

It is of the utmost importance, then, that every son be about his Father's business, diligently seeking Truth and obeying it, that he may be saved and may be able to do his work as a member of the "body." He finds his growth proceeds along two lines:

  • First, his individual development;
  • Second, his relation to other members of the "body."

What place has thought in the restoration to divine perfection?

The work of restoration begins in him; he aspires to realize consciously his unity with the Father and to establish his sonship; and his own progress toward the divine occupies his mind. Gradually his thoughts begin to shape themselves aright and as he acquires the true perspective, he becomes conscious of others who are working along the same way, having the same aspirations. He perceives his oneness with others who have consecrated themselves unto the Lord, and his sense of brotherhood becomes deepened.

The fact of restoration indicates that there is a reparation to be made. Man was made in the image and after the likeness of God, but he lost sight of this image and likeness and substituted the "likeness of sinful flesh" (Rom. 8:3). Thus, man grew into the image that he held in his mind. It is a law that we grow to be like that which we see in mind and dwell on in our thoughts. In this regard restoration means, primarily, that man is to be restored to the divine image, after the divine likeness -- to the mastery and dominion that were given to him in the beginning.

Explain fully the meaning of the word blessing.

The whole earth, the whole creation, suffers because of man's loss of consciousness of his dominion. When man comes back consciously into the knowledge of what he is and what his power is as the offspring of God, he will exercise his power and dominion in wisdom and love and the whole earth will be blessed. It will have its part in the restoration even as it now shares in the sorrow and the blight of man's fall from the consciousness of his high estate. The Psalmist says, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" (Psalms 8:4). Then he goes on to recite the wonderful powers and possibilities of man, and we know that he was talking of man as the offspring of God, made in His image and after His likeness.

What was Jesus' mission on earth?

Jesus revealed to men the Christ within them which would lift and restore them. He made men to see that they are the sons of God, thus taking away the burden and bondage of sin. He revealed to men God as Father, and showed them how to demonstrate their sonship. The work of spreading the truth about man falls on all as fast as they come into the light. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12); "Ye are the light of the world ... let your light shine" (Matt. 5:14, 16).

What is meant by forsaking all for Christ's sake?

When the Truth comes into consciousness it upsets the old errors that have become fixed in mind; for some, the immediate change is so great that it causes a mental revolution. With others the work goes on more slowly, and they may scarcely realize the changes that are being made in them. But there is no reason for being elated and no reason for being discouraged. Restitution in each individual must be complete, and no one can compare himself with another at any stage of the process. We have all lost consciousness of the divine image and we must all be restored to its likeness. We cannot hasten the restoration work except "by patience in well-doing" (Rom. 2:7), holding fast to the saving grace and power of Jesus Christ to help us on the way.

In the church of Christ or Lord's body, each individual has a particular work to do, and a particular talent, described by Paul as a gift. "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal" (I Cor. 2:7). "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit" (I Cor. 2:4). These gifts Spirit divides "to each one severally even as he will" (I Cor. 2:11). One's gift and place as a member of the body cannot be bestowed or filled by any other man. Each one receives directly from God the place he is to fill and the work he is to do.

Of all the gifts, that of healing seems to be more fully desired, developed, and manifested than any of the others. There is a greater realization of its need and greater understanding of how to use it.

Explain how baptism and the Lord's Supper are the means by which man becomes a conscious member of the "church of Christ."

As no one organization of men is the "church of Christ" -- because its members are everywhere -- a question arises about the so-called "sacraments" that the different organizations observe. Are baptism and the Lord's Supper part of the true church? Yes, but only when practiced in the spirit and not in the letter alone. All symbols are useful, to the extent that they serve to point man to the realities for which they stand.

Explain why and when the use of symbols becomes unnecessary.

When understanding and realization of Truth are attained, the symbol is seen in its true light. The child in the kindergarten leaves his blocks and goes on to an understanding of principles. If he persisted in keeping up his kindergarten play after he had learned the lesson of it, he would stop his development. So men arrest their growth when they continue to rely on symbols that were given to help them to understanding in their spiritual childhood. They should get hold of the reality and see beyond the symbol.

Water baptism is a symbol of the cleansing, purifying work of Spirit in the consciousness of men. A cleansing of the mind from all erroneous thoughts, emotions, and beliefs precedes the descent of Truth into the consciousness, and this we term "denial." There is but one true baptism: the total immersion of the individual in the Christ Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit baptism that one becomes a conscious member of the true "church of Christ."

The Lord's Supper consists of two symbols -- bread and wine. Bread represents the substance of Spirit; wine represents the life of Spirit. We are saved by the blood of Christ -- that is, by His life. Jesus came to bring to the race the knowledge of abundant, omnipresent life. "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Paul, writing to the Corinthians about the Lord's Supper, told them that because they did not discern the Lord's body, many among them were weak and sickly, holding fast to the symbol without discerning the reality, and many were asleep, or dead.

The mind "eats," or appropriates the Lord's body or the Christ substance and life, by affirming the omnipresence of substance and life, and claiming union with it. This is the true sacrament, and the body is vitalized and renewed when the whole sacrament is partaken of. There are three phases of our discernment of the Lord's body:

  • First, the recognition that it is substance and life;
  • Second, discernment of the Lord's body or the Christ within ourself;
  • Third, understanding that this body is made up of many members, or "called-out" ones.

In the first phase, we realize that omnipresence, God consciousness, works in man and in the universe to bring forth the good, the divine and perfect. This is Spirit substance in which we live and move and have being, and which lives and moves and has expression in and through us.

The second phase applies to our own bodies. We usually see and think of them as they appear: flesh and blood. But this is not their true estate. "My little children ... I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you" (Gal. 4:19). This "form" is His body, and it is pure Spirit, substance and life. When we know this and appropriate substance and life by declaring the Christ Mind and its body of divine ideas to be ours, the body that seems material will begin to manifest the truth that it is made of finer essences than flesh and blood, and in this way it will be transformed and will become "conformed to the body of his glory" (Phil. 3:21). This is a change that comes, not by death, but by our daily feeding upon substance and life in meditation, prayer, and the silence.

The third phase is understanding that all those who have discerned the Christ Spirit within them and are bringing it forth, and in addition are helping others into this knowledge of divinity in all, are also the "Christ body."

"As often as ye eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye proclaim the Lord's death till he come" (I Cor. 11:26). His "second coming" has been a matter of much controversy, because the letter was read instead of the spirit. All the symbols that are given in the description of His "second coming" have a spiritual application. He comes when He is received into our consciousness and revealed to us as our own Lord. It is only the childish state of mind that clings to the outer forms and ignores the substance that they represent.

What relation is there between food and the redemption of the body?

Charles Fillmore - As To Meat Eating

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). The substance and life of Spirit are appropriated and assimilated, and become a conscious part of the soul and body by holding in mind words of Truth. We should exercise great wisdom and judgment in selecting the food we eat, even as we do in selecting the thoughts and words that we allow to find place in our mind. As men become more and more quickened by Spirit and lifted up into the Christ consciousness, a change goes on in their choice of food.

Every degree of consciousness has its corresponding degree of vibration in the physical realm. If the flesh body becomes low in vibration, it requires the work of consciousness in continued contemplation of Truth to raise the vibrations of the body.

The body automatically raises the vibration of a certain quantity and a certain quality of food to a consciousness that allows assimilation by the body. When the quantity or the quality of food is such that the automatic action of the body is not sufficient to do its work properly, body troubles follow and the consciousness must work to erase the trouble. The same energy cannot be used for two purposes at the same time. If energy did not have to be used to raise the body vibrations, it would be free to raise the mind or consciousness, and this raising of the consciousness would automatically raise the vibrations of an already normal body. The continued repetition of this cycle of rising vibrations would mean a longer span of life for the body, in which the proper food would play its part.

Many would have much less to overcome if they ate that which is nourishing and upbuilding. Overeating could be entirely eliminated If man would partake of food with the idea of building and vitalizing a spiritual body rather than satisfying the false appetites of a flesh body.

Unity considers a vegetarian diet preferable because it considers the proposition from the standpoint of love and mercy, believing that the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" (Exod. 20:13) applies not only to man but to all God's creatures.

While vegetables, berries, fruits, and nuts have life, substance, and intelligence, they do not have consciousness in the same degree that animals have consciousness. Meat eating may eventually cease as man's consciousness becomes wiser and purer. Even now the race is being educated to know that a vegetarian diet is wholesome and completely nourishing when well-balanced, and followed with wisdom and good judgment.

"And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food" (Gen. 1:29).

However, abstaining from eating meat is a matter for individual guidance, according to the inner convictions. Undoubtedly the race will eventually come to use an entirely different type of food, as we grow and develop spiritually. Just to abstain from the outer act of eating meat does not guarantee spirituality. If the abstinence is the result of an inner desire and conviction, then it is a part of spiritual unfoldment. Otherwise, it should not be forced. In regard to vegetarianism, Unity leaves the individual free to think and act from his own level of growth and unfoldment. If an individual is guided in prayer to try a vegetarian diet, he should do so.

The restored earth will have in it no death and no sorrow. This is the kingdom of God expressed in the earth, and its outward manifestation depends upon individual realization of the kingdom within. The kingdom is mercy, righteousness, peace, and justice expressed by man to man and by all men toward the rest of creation. The crowning demonstration in restoration is the overcoming of death, attainment of eternal life -- God manifest in the flesh.

Explain the "Sabbath."

The "church of Christ" works; it also rests. Our Sunday is a symbol of the true Sabbath, a time when men turn away from business to seek a day of quiet and rest. The great Sabbath, the rest of God, is for all who will enter it. As Mind continually rests in action, then man, as the Christ idea, must be forever expressing righteous activity. The Christ body does not observe days, times, and seasons, but makes every day holy to the Lord, and rests by entering into the secret place of the Most High. One seeking spiritual leading does his work impersonally and to the glory of the whole, thus lightening the great sense of burden and toil in proportion to his uplifting thought.

(Bible references used in this course of study are taken from the American Standard Version.)