By Daniel Malakowsky
"And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." ~ Ephesians 1:22-23
To understand the specific nuances of a faith, you have to understand the symbols which that faith employs to give expression to what it believes. Within the history of the nation of Israel one of the most significant symbol of its faith was that of the temple. It was in this temple that the sacrifices and offerings of the people of God were to be made and it was the temple that would house the actual presence of YHWH among his people. For Israel religion was the practice of purifying self for the intent purpose of entering into the presence of God, and the temple is where this divine encounter occurred. Central to all of this was the Law of Moses in the Torah, but the temple would be the place that housed the actual presence of God in the holy of holies within the central chamber of the temple complex itself.
With the coming of Christ the living Torah became incarnate among men and a fuller understanding of this indwelling reality of God's presence was made known. While Ezekiel records in the 6th century B.C. that the glory of God in the temple would depart, in Christ the temple would manifest in the uniqueness of his own flesh. The apostle John records in his Gospel that when Jesus was cleansing the temple in Jerusalem that he was asked to give a sign to reveal the authority that would allow for such actions. Jesus responded to the question by stating that he would destroy the temple in 3 days, but would then raise it again. This response confused even his disciples until the resurrection, as in it he was speaking of his own body now as the temple. In Christ the temple was finding its fulfillment in that the one who is the fullness of God now dwelt among men, and by his death would impart his Spirit to those who would become his through faith in him.
This did not mean that Jesus, or those early followers of him, would see the temple within Jerusalem as no longer holy and sacred, but that they would find its fulfillment now in a person and a people. What left in the 6th century had now returned in the person of Jesus and would inhabit a people now known in the church.
For the apostle Paul this had a profound effect on his personal understanding of the nature of how God was at work in the world and how his presence would be made known and encountered. While often the analogy of the body is employed by Paul, it has to be understood not simply in terms of interdependence (which he utilizes explicitly in 1st Corinthians), but in terms of the manifest presence of God in the world. In Paul's understanding Jesus was the summing up of all things for the purpose of once more bringing union with God (c.f. Ephesians 1:9). This heading up, or headship, of Jesus was now given to the church which, through the power of the incarnation, would now act on earth as the body of the Messiah himself.
This union in Christ thus calls forth a union with one another. Later in Ephesians, after unpacking how the hostilities of men were now removed in Christ (a topic I will pick up in the next blog), Paul returns to this temple analogy. The body of Christ, the church, through the imparting presence of God's Spirit within it had in itself become the sacred chamber of God's temple. The holy of holies was now found in the hearts of men and in the corporate communion of the saints.
"Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
~ Ephesians 2:20-22
Within the Greek language there were two possible ways of speaking of the temple. One of these was to speak of it in its entirety, meaning the total temple complex. The other, and the word which Paul employs here, was to speak of the temple more specifically as the inner sanctum of the temple, being in this case the holy of holies. What Paul then is saying is that in the person of Christ, which we who are in him now stand as his body, are being built together as the holy of holies and as a dwelling place for God by the work of the Spirit.
This then for Paul had a profound impact on his understanding of the oneness and unity of the Gospel, and it should for us as well. He states this work is presently being done and it is possible for it to grow, implying more of God's presence can inhabit it as our union is made whole in Christ and in one another. The picture then is that the inner sanctum of God's presence, being again us who are in Christ, can either expand or shrink through our ability to live in reconciled union with each other, or through our divisions and inability to receive one another.
To bring division within the body of Christ is to tarnish the inner sanctum and holy of holies of God's temple. It is to miss the fact that in the Messiah we are now his body actively at work in the world to bring the reconciling reality of the Gospel to the world. This is the means by which God has employed himself and us as bearers of a new humanity found only in the person of Jesus.
It would be nearly impossible for Paul to think of the holy of holies as divided and equally should be for us. Our present divides reveal our loss of what is sacred and how that sacredness is encountered and known in the world. Paul in another epistle would describe a world outside of Christ as a 'perverse and crooked generation' that those who are in Christ should shine as lights within and towards. This light is the radiating presence of God within body of his Son, now known in the church. Our divisions have dulled that light, but our union and restoration to one another will manifest the fullness of that presence to a world in desperate need for the hope that this union brings.
Reconciliation and unity are not options in this reality, but means by which it is encountered, known and manifest. Just as Ezekiel saw the glory of God depart from the temple, our divisions give vision to a similar truth. The Gospel calls us not to settle for such limitations, but beckons us forward in union of the fullness of him who fills all in all.