When I was in college I read Body Life, by Ray Stedman, a book about how the Bible teaches that the church should function as a body, with each member having the freedom to listening to and obey the Head — the living, resurrected Jesus Christ. Body Life made a big impact on me and confirmed the participatory, interactive way of meeting for worship that I was a privileged to be a part of on my campus. Here are some quotes from the book and some Scriptures that support it.
“Most Christians are tragically unaware of the biblical pattern for the church.” –Ray Stedman
“In the physical body, the hand moves when the brain says to. So too the members of Jesus’ spiritual body takes direction from Him as our Head. Jesus gives each member gifts and talents, making himself alive within his church. He equips his people to love one another, and to serve in unity his kingdom. This is Body Life.” –Ray Stedman
Here’s the book’s summary of the New Testament pattern for church:
A pervasive spirit of love and unity, resulting in an attractive, persuasive evangelistic witness to the world (see John 13:35; Ephesians 4:3)
A celebration of spiritual gifts; all members of the body are encouraged to discover and use their gifts.
A horizontal rather than vertical ‘command’ church structure; a recognition that Christ alone is the ‘Head’ of the church; while the leadership and pastoral gifts are respected and acknowledged; the gifts, creativity, and initiative of all the people are utilized and all members of the body are honored (see I Corinthians 12).
A recognition, drawn from Ephesians 4 that all believers are ministers, not just the pastor-teachers; those with the gift of ruling elder or pastor-teacher are to build up and equip the entire body of believers to be ministers in the church and in the world.
An emphasis on scriptural truth rather than human wisdom, social expectations, or religious traditions.
Frequent opportunities for believers to confess their sins and hurts, to share one another’s burdens, to care for one another in Koinonia-fellowship and agape love, and to speak the truth in love.
Here are some Scriptures that teach the body life concept of full participation in church meetings along with a paraphrase of each Scripture:
“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” –Ephesians 4:15-16 (We build ourselves and one another, up in love as we speak the truth in love and as each member is free to share his/her part of speaking the truth, and gradually we grow into the mature body of Christ.)
“You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” –1 Peter 2:5 (God’s building materials are living human beings who are being united into a spiritual unity, a group of people who all serve as priests before God and before one another; and who sacrifice their individual ego and personal needs in order to obey what Jesus tells them to do.)
“Whoever acknowledges Me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in Heaven.” –Matthew 10:32 (If we listen to Jesus and then say and/or do what He tells us to, He will speak to the Father about us.)
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. ” –1 Corinthians 12:4-6 (When the body of Christ meets together, the Holy Spirit uses each member of His body in a unique way. He gives each person a “gift,” a “service” and/or a “working;” not just to benefit the individual, but for the good of everybody present.)
“In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” –Romans 12:5-8 (When Christ-followers meet, we all belong to each other. God has given us different things to share and/or do in the meeting. We should be faithful to say and/or do whatever Christ tells us to.”)
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” –Philippians 2:1-4 (If we have received blessings from Christ, we should be united in love and avoid seeking our own interests, but seek what is good for others. In a meeting this means that we should not share out of self-promotion, but limit what we share so that others can have the opportunity to share as well.)