Watchman Nee wonderfully explains the significance of the Church in his book The Body of Christ: a Reality. He begins by explaining the life that we receive when we have been converted from our old way of selfishness to the new way of Christ. When we are born again, we have a new life in Christ and a new life consciousness. Nee explains this consciousness as having two facets: consciousness of our relationship to God and consciousness of our relationship to the body of believers. Having this God consciousness, we are aware when something arises in our lives to keep us from fellowship with God. We are aware of sin and of our relationship to God. With the body consciousness, we in a sense have a pulse on the group of believers around us. We will be aware of hurt and joy in the body just as all the member of a true body are aware when the hand is blissfully typing or throbbing from the whack of a hammer. This is more than just a teaching for us. When we have truly become aware of the body, we do not need to be reminded to love or keep others in mind. It is natural for us to do so.
This consciousness of the body brings about many changes in our lives. We love the brethren, which is not a duty but a natural love, like a father loves a son. All divisions through sex, race, physical differences, and such cease. Furthermore, we do not create divisions amongst ourselves but seek unity and wholeness. We are delivered from an independent viewpoint in our work—the type of thinking that focuses on how I may be made great by my work. We live to serve each other with our work. We see the need to fellowship, realizing that we are not all sufficient. We learn to be members in the body, serving in our specific role and seeking to supply life to the body. We also submit to authority, realizing that it does not come from man, but from Christ.
The physical body is the perfect metaphor for the group of believers that comprise the Church. Just as in a real body, where the head is the most essential to its operation, so too in the Body of Christ the head is of utmost importance. In the Body of Christ, Jesus Christ is the head. Nee uses the phrase “hold fast the head” to describe how we must be in submission and recognition to the head if we are to function in the body. First, all authority comes from the head. We must see that as all our life comes from Christ, so too the authority in the body. If we have trouble with authority, we are not having trouble with a member but with the head. Our fellowship also stems from the head. We are not together because we come from common backgrounds or interests. We are united in the life shared from Christ. This must be the basis of our fellowship. It is important for us to realize that, in a similar manner to authority, if we have a problem with a brother, it stems from a problem with the head, in whom we have our fellowship. Watchman Nee writes that the key to holding fast the head is to let the cross deal with our selfish flesh and learn to walk according to the Spirit’s direction. Without holding fast the head, we cannot be the Body of Christ.
The greatest hindrance to our living in and being conscious of the body is individualism. The only remedy for this is service. Life in the body of Christ is a life of service. Many people fear that getting rid of individualism means getting rid of one’s individuality, like some sort of eastern zen. This is not the case. It is through the obliteration of our individualism that we can truly be free to live as the individuals that God intended us to be. We are free to be unique and open with each other, all the while living for others interests rather than just our own. Nee explains that all service in the body comes from the life that is in us from Christ. The real, specific experience we have with Christ manifests itself in a function in the body. It is impossible to not have a function and be a true member of the Body of Christ. Service and function are interchangeable, and if we have a true consciousness of the body we will seek to serve.
Watchman Nee points out two key points that form the law of the body from Paul’s conversion experience. First Jesus asked why Paul was persecuting Him, not his followers. Nee explains that this shows the unity between the body and Christ. Christ and the body are one. The Body of Christ is a body of unity. The second principle comes from Paul having to be taught and aided by Ananias. Nee points out how Paul, a man used greatly by God later, still needed the supply of another person to grow and work for the Lord. The point here is that none of us act alone, even a great apostle like Paul. We all act as one facet of a body and do nothing of our own ability.
As the book comes to an end, Nee sums up the body in three manners the body of Christ affects us. First, there is the covering of the body. If we do not let the body of Christ cover us, we will only know defeat in our spiritual battles. Satan’s goal is to get us to face him by ourselves, thinking we alone are sufficient. Nothing could be further from the truth. Only by seeking the covering of the body and sharing our struggles can we hope to overcome. Second, Nee explains the restraint of the body. This is the function of the body that smooths our rough edges and works out the selfish and individualistic tendencies in our personalities. By being part of the body, we are pulled along when we feel like slacking and are constrained to our own function when we feel like over-reaching. We are kept in the right place by the other members. Third, Nee talks about the supply of the body, which is the fellowship of the members. This life must flow mutually between the members. If it does not, we bring only death to the body.
In the last chapter, Nee summarizes with the three cardinal principles of living in the Body of Christ. The first is each person’s relationship to the head. We must be in subjection to Christ, giving Him full control, else the body will be dead and lifeless. Second, is each person’s relationship to the body. We must be in fellowship with one another, receiving the covering of the body and not living in individualistic independence. Lastly, there is each persons place as a member, manifested through service. It is not enough for each to receive life through fellowship. He must also bring life to the body or risk becoming a blight on the body that only drains.
By adhering to these three cardinal principles we can live as the Body of Christ. The world is full of strong individualistic men and women living for their own glory and prosperity. As the body of Christ we witness to the new Kingdom’s presence on earth and the age to come, in which Christ will rule as head, not only of the Church, but of all creation.
The uniform understanding of the Body of Christ as laid out by Watchman Nee has solidified a lot of what was only vague understanding for me. I loved his emphasis on the experiential nature of the Body of Christ. It is easy to put things into a merely academic perspective, but Watchman Nee makes sure we understand that this is more than just doctrine. It is a real life. It has real tangible manifestations in how we live and relate, keeping truth grounded in the practical instead of merely intellectual. Nowhere is this more important than in the Body of Christ, the very centerpiece of Christianity.
One principle put forth by Nee that has changed my perspective was the relationship of all things in the body to the head. I have never thought that my problems with authority or with individuals stems from an underlying problem with the Head itself. I have often focused on the obvious physical aspects of my frustration, but I see how often these struggles were rooted in un-surrendered rights. Since Christ’s life flows in all of us, inter-relational problems are in a sense a relational problem with Christ as well. It gives me much more pause and gravity when working through relationships when I truly understand Christ as the head of everything in our lives as His Body.
Another very insightful point Nee made was the covering of the body. I see how many of my problems have come when I have tried to face them alone. They stem from a desire for individualistic glory or hiddeness that will not let me share my struggles with others. As a member of the body of Christ, I am weak by myself. However, it is in this weakness that I find great strength through the covering of the body. As I continue to grow spiritually, I will continue to be more open and accepting of the body’s covering rather than facing things on my own.
Watchman Nee’s book has helped me see our fellowship here in a new way that is inspiring. Our fellowship is a beautiful thing that I intend understand more and serve in as I grow. This wonderful body is truly the work of God, and it is something I look forward to witnessing to and sharing with those who are seeking.