THE CORPORATE CHRIST
By David Orton
"…the church, which is his body the fullness of him…" Eph 1:23
Unity is not what we think it is! And, for that matter, neither is the church. We think that if we have cooperation between the churches we have unity. Or, if we tolerate the
differences of the other group we are making great strides. But the unity of the Spirit is so much more than mere cooperation or tolerance (as good as they are).
When Jesus prayed for the unity of those who would believe in him he said to the Father, "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me... (Jn 17:22,23). The
'oneness' that Jesus is interested in is totally impossible, and therefore, fully supernatural. It flows out of the glory of the Father and the Son, is experienced in the heart of the believer, expressed through the redeemed
community, and manifest to the world.
In considering this unity, do the Father and the Son merely tolerate each other, or cooperate 'for the sake of the kids' – for the salvation of the world? Of course not! They have been
'getting it on' from eternity – they delight in each other. In fact, Proverbs shows us that the pre-incarnate Christ was constantly 'rejoicing' in the Father's presence (see 8:30). It is significant that the Hebrew for 'rejoicing'
in this text means, "to laugh in pleasure, to play, or to sport".
What an awesome unveiling of the nature of God. God is love. This necessitates a unity – the unity of a lover (the Father), a beloved (the Son),
and a spirit of love (the Holy Spirit). He is not utilitarian – he doesn't just use people and processes to get a job done. Unity is who God is – not some strategy to save the world. He is a person – a social being, in whose image
we are made, who enjoys intimacy and relationships.
My point is this: unity is not a humanly organised process or event. Nor is it the means of getting mission done. Rather, it is the overflow of the glory of God himself –
of his own being and nature. When Christ ascended he returned to the Father and to the glory they enjoyed before the world began (see Jn 17:5). It is this glory, the oneness of the Father and the Son, that was poured out on the Day
of Pentecost and in every subsequent visitation of the Spirit to the church. We just happen to be the fortunate bystanders who have enjoyed some of the splash-over of their partying. But more than 'bystanders' – we have been called
to be actual "partakers of the divine nature" (see 2 Pet 1:4).
And so, unity is not discovered in our puny programming, but in being filled with the very fullness of God himself. This is what marks the
church – it's not our systems and our structures. The church is "his body…the fullness of him…" (Eph 1:23).
Therefore, the church you now see is not the church that will be. A currently underground, but
emerging church is being prepared in the wings. It does not yet enjoy the plaudits of men and positions of honour on the world stage. You don't read about it in the denominational magazines, nor is it promoted by the Christian
media. Why? Because it is largely invisible. The natural man looks for human organisation and systems – for an edifice, and for leadership structures – for visible evidences of worldly success. But the thing God is doing is of a
different spirit. Its nature is spiritual and supernatural. All over the world God has his people, both inside and outside the visible institutional church. No man will be able to get a handle on the thing that God is about to do.
It will be so extensive in reach and intensive in power that no one leader or organisation will be able to lay claim to it. The credit will all be God's.
So, what is the secret to this emerging church – to what I call the "corporate Christ"? It is, "Christ in you the hope of glory" (Col 1:27). This may sound just too simplistic for some. I can hear them
now, "Come on! Look at the incredible complexities of contemporary church life – at the massive failure of the church to influence the culture – we've got to understand church health and the principles of church planting –
we've got to discover the new technology of cityreaching, if we're to succeed ".
But the greatest breakthroughs of science, art, and technology are usually 'simple' at the core. I'm convinced it is the same in the
spirit. All our 'church technology' will amount to nothing, in fact, be found to be "wood, hay, and stubble" if we do not recover the foundational principle. And there is only one foundation that can be laid,
according to the apostle, and that is Christ (see 1 Cor 3:11). And we're not talking here about the doctrine of Christ, of his person and work, but about the indwelling presence of Christ by the Spirit.
Again, in the
high-priestly prayer of Christ he brings it down to this. He has given us the 'glory' that we may be one as they are one. But what is this 'glory'? It is "Christ in you" – or in Jesus' words, "I in them and you in
It comes down to the subjective and the personal. There is nothing abstract about this – it is the concrete reality of your relationship with God. But I'm not talking about having your 'quiet-time' (as crucial as
that is), or fulfilling some unwritten rule of what a relationship with God might look like. I'm talking about the actual invasion of your inner-man by the Spirit of God filling you with all the fullness of who he is. This is the
true apostolic burden: "that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being
rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of
God" (Eph 3:16-19).
Without being filled with the fullness of God any 'unity' we experience will be a sham and a lie. It will not be the product of the Spirit of God. And will inevitably have at its core the
dynamics of Babel. It will have a human hand on it and will serve to enhance someone's profile.
Now, while the fullness of God, at its heart, is personal and individual it is also corporate. The 'you' of "Christ in you
the hope of glory" is plural in the Greek. What does this mean? It implies that the revelation of the indwelling Christ in the heart of the individual believer is the fountainhead of corporate unity. Because God is a 'unity'
(the oneness of the Father and the Son), to be filled with the fullness of God is to be filled with unity himself. This is why every outpouring of the Spirit in renewal and revival always produces an overwhelming sense of unity and
And so, unity and love is not a means to an end. It is not the methodology of some cityreaching strategy – it is the by-product of a meeting with God. Only in this way will we truly become "…the church, which is
his body the fullness of him…".
Church, it is time to let go and let God.