Many cannot conceive of a church free and distinct from any sectarian affiliation, and without complicated ecclesiastical organization. Denominations are so prevalent that the masses can only think of the church in denominational terms, and speak of it only in sectarian phraseology. They cannot think of the work of the church without associating it with various denominational functions. They cannot conceive of worship free from sectarian formalism and ritualism. They cannot think of church officers without calling to mind high church dignitaries. And the common people only thinks of the church as a religious, but non¬essential, institution. But we must erase all these modern and erroneous ideas from our minds to view the church of the Lord Jesus Christ as it really is, and as the Bible defines it.
What Is The New Testament Church? The church of the New Testament is the grandest and most glorious institution in the world, and membership in it is the greatest privilege accorded to man. It is impossible for finite minds to properly define the church; only God through His Word can adequately describe His church. Let us then seek inspired definition and descriptions of the true church. The New Testament church is the spiritual body of Christ, and over this body the resurrected Lord reigns as the supreme and only Head. "And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power and might, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:19-23) Paul stated again, "And he is head of the body the church..." (Col. 1:18)
The church is also the kingdom of God. Many attempt to make the church and kingdom two separate institutions, but the Bible uses the terms interchangeably. Jesus used the terms synonymously in saying to Peter, "and I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Matt. 16:18-19) If the church and the kingdom are not the same then how can we account for the Lord's use of the two terms here as He did? By "keys of the kingdom" is meant Peter's authority to admit persons into the church, which he used on Pentecost when three thousand were added to the church. (Acts 2:41, 47) Paul stated that the Colossians had been "translated into the kingdom of his dear Son." (Col. 1:13) The Hebrews were members of the "church of the firstborn" (Heb. 12:23), and had received "a kingdom which cannot be moved." (Heb. 12:28) To be a member of the church then is to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, and to be in the kingdom is to be in the church.
The church comprises the spiritual house of God. In writing to Timothy, Paul spoke of "the house of God, which is the church of the living God." (I Tim. 3:15) Peter refers to the church as "a spiritual house." (I Peter 2:5) This being true, the family of God resides in this spiritual house, the church. Peter instructed elders of the church to "feed the flock of God" (I Peter 5:2), and Paul commanded elders to "feed the church of God." (Acts 20:28) The church then is the flock of God; it is comprised of His sheep, and He is its Good Shepherd.
The term church is from the Greek ecclesia, and means a body of persons, or a called out group. The church of the Lord then means the Lord's people; people called out of the world to serve Christ. One cannot be classified among the Lord's people without being in the Lord's church. The idea of the church being a called out body is illustrated in Paul's letter to the Romans. "Among whom are ye also called of Jesus Christ." (Rom. 1: 6) This divine calling is accomplished by the preaching of the gospel. "Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (II Thess. 2:14)
The church is spoken of under symbols and similitudes in the New Testament to illustrate its various features. When God intends to illustrate the type of government in the church, it is called a kingdom. (Matt. 16:19; Col. 1:13) It is the kingdom of Christ in that the Lord sits enthroned at the right hand of God as the "blessed and only Potentate," as Lord or Ruler of His people, and as "King of Kings." To Him is ascribed absolute authority over His people. (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:19-23) In suggesting the separateness of the Lord's people, they are called a church. (Matt. 16:18) The Lord's people constitute a church, in that they are called out of the world, and are separated from it, to serve Him. God's people are referred to as the "temple of God" when it is intended to emphasize their worship, and God's abiding presence and indwelling in and among them. (I Cor. 3:16-17; II Cor. 6:16) The people of God are holy, as the material temple under the old law was holy, in that God dwells in them and they are to worship Him continually. The figures of a vineyard, husbandry and building applied to the people of God suggest that they are to work for Him. (Matt. 20:1-16; I Cor. 3:9) The term body is used with reference to the church to suggest its unity, harmony, and fellowship, and that Christ is its divine Head. (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18) Flock is applied to the church to illustrate Christ as the
Great and Good Shepherd of our souls. (Acts 20:28; I Peter 1 25) The church is referred to as the bride of Christ to emphasize the intimate relationship between the church and the Lord. (Rom. 7:4; Eph. 5:22-27; Rev. 21:2) The church is an army, with Christ as Captain, In that it wages constant conflict and warfare against th devil and his evil forces. (Heb. 2:10; Eph. 6:13-17; II Tim. 2:3) The church or people of God are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood and holy nation in that they are God's elect, they administer to Him, and their lives are to be holy and pure. (I Peter 2:9)
Individual names applied to the children of God also illustrate their relation to Him. Members of the church are called Christians in that they are followers of Christ. (Acts 11:26) The term brethren suggest their relation to each other by the bond of mutual love that cements their hearts in the common faith. (Acts 9:30) They are termed disciples because they are learners of Christ. (Acts 11:26) They are referred to as believers because of their impregnable faith, in Christ. (Acts 5:14) They are saints because of their devout consecration to God. (Acts 9:13) Every term, therefore, applied to members of the church emphasizes their intimate relation to the Lord, and to one another. The church that causes one to sustain such a relationship to the Lord, and to fellow members, is indeed a grand and glorious institution! It would desecrate the sacredness of the Lord's church to think of it upon the same level with human institutions and denominations.
The Importance of the Church
Modern theologians deprecate the church of Jesus Christ, regarding it as non-essential, and we would conclude from their ideas that it is of no consequence whatsoever. If they mean that modern denominations are non-essential, then we can most heartily accept their position. Modern denominations as a substitute for the New Testament church are a corruption and perversion of God's teachings of the church. They are but as a cheap imitation of any precious Stone, as compared with the divine church of our Lord!
The divine church of God is a pearl of great price, and shines forth to us from the pages of the Bible in incomparable splendor and beauty. The discerning Bible student cannot study what God has said about the church without being impressed with its greatness, grandeur and glory. To see God's evaluation of the church, and to speak of it impiously, is but blasphemy of the rankest type! We should as well speak disrespectfully of the holy Son of God, as to ridicule the church of which he is the head. We should as well speak derogatorily of His precious blood, as to deprecate the institution purchased with it! We could as well disgrace the cross upon which he died, as to reproach the body He died to reconcile to God! The vicarious sufferings of the Savior are just as useless as the kingdom made possible by them!
The magnificence and importance of the church is seen in its vital relation to God's eternal purpose. His scheme of redemption for lost mankind cannot be seen in its fullness apart from the church. At the fall of Adam, and his expulsion from Eden, God purposed to redeem man through His son. (Gen. 3:15) Through Abraham God later promised to bless all nations (Gen. 12:1-2) and through Christ this promise is fulfilled. (Gal. 3:29) God also made numerous revelations of the Kingdom through the prophets. (Dan. 2:31-44; Isaiah 2:2-3; Micah 4:1-2) During the ministry of John the Baptist the kingdom is seen in its preparatory state. John in prepared the material or subjects for the coming kingdom. (Matt. 3: 1-2) The kingdom came in perfection on Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, and converts were added to it. (Acts 2:1-4, 47) The church has therefore existed in God's scheme of redemption from the foundation of the world, in purpose, promise, prophecy, preparation and finally perfection.
The glorious gospel of Christ is the principal item in God's scheme of Redemption, and the church is God's agency to proclaim the gospel. Jesus was in God's purpose a "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." (Rev. 13:8) The gospel in substance is the Lord's death, burial and resurrection. (I Cor. 15:1-4) The gospel is "the power of God unto salvation." (Romans 1:16) All who obey not the gospel "shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power." (II Thess. 1:7-9) To see the great importance of the gospel is also to see the importance of the church, as it is God's agency through which the gospel is made available to the world. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." (Eph. 3:10) Preceding this verse, Paul had shown that the Gospel is the marvelous provision of God. (Eph. 1:1-9) He then concluded that the church is the institution of-God through which the gospel is dispensed to the world. The church, therefore, sustains a vital relation to the gospel, and hence the salvation of the world.
Many other Scriptures confirm the importance of the church of Christ. One cannot properly glorify God except in the church. "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end." (Eph. 3:21) The fact that Jesus was the builder further suggests the greatness of the church. (Matt. 16:18) Jesus is head of the church, and exalted above every principality and power. (Eph. 1:21-23) Can an institution with such a supreme Head be of little importance? Jesus likewise loved the church, as a husband loves his wife, and gave himself for It. (Eph. 5:25) Could such sacred love have been bestowed and spent upon a non¬essential agency? Jesus paid the supreme price of love for the church in that He died for it. (Eph. 5:25) Could an institution of no importance have led that Savior to die for it? Could the life of the holy Son of God have been sacrificed for naught, and wasted on a worthless institution? May God help us to see the greatness and glory of the church that was worthy of the death of His Son! Jesus is "the Savior of the body," and the body is the church. (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18) The church then is comprised of the people of God to whom the Lord is Savior. If the Lord is your Savior, my friend, it is because you are in His church! One cannot be saved and not be in the church, since the Lord adds the saved to the church. "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47) Then when the Lord returns he shall "deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father." (I Cor. 15:24) If we expect to be among those the Lord shall finally deliver to God for eternal salvation, then we must of necessity be in that kingdom, the church of the Lord.
The Unity of the Church
One of the greatest indictments against sectarianism is that it has produced too many churches, and that no unity exists between these various bodies. There are more than five hundred different churches in the United States, and over twenty thousand in the world. All of them teach conflicting doctrines, wear different names, worship differently, function differently, and will not fellowship with one another. This is the exact reverse condition than that for which Jesus so fervently prayed. "Neither pray I for those alone, but for them also which shall believe in me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." (John 17:20-21) Some think the unity of all believers an impossibility. Did Jesus then here pray under delusion, not knowing that the unity for which He prayed was an impossibility? The fact is that there was only one church in apostolic time, and for centuries after. There were twenty-seven different local congregations mentioned in the New Testament, but they were not different denominations. This is seen in that "the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul." (Acts 4:32) They were all of the same faith, their worship was the same, and they wore the same names, and were of "one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." (Phil. 1:27) There is no similarity between modern denominations and "the churches of Christ" of the New Testament.
Paul instructed the Ephesians "to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." In the following verses he states, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Eph. 4:3-6) Here seven items are mentioned of which there is only one: body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism and God. Paul had already explained that the body is the church. (Eph. 1:22-23) Paul therefore argued that there is only one church, just as there is only one of these other items. The ripest of human wisdom and logic could not obscure this inspired passage, nor justify the existence of a thousand different churches! Denominationalism therefore stands condemned because of the divisions produced by them, and to please God we must maintain unity by belonging only to the one church—the church of the New Testament.
It is asserted that a unity of all believers cannot be attained in that all cannot "see alike." But this is contrary to inspired teaching. It is an evident fact that the early saints did see alike, and there existed only one church for centuries. While men today urge that we cannot see alike, Paul commanded that we do. To the Corinthians, he wrote, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you ... that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?" (I Cor. 1:10-13) Existing in that church was a condition precisely like that which exists in the religious world today. Men now say, "I am of Wesley; I am of Calvin; I am of Luther; I am of the pope; and I am of Joseph Smith." But what was Paul's estimate of such divisions? "For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envyings and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" (I Cor. 3:3) Such divisions are condemned as carnal, and "to be carnally minded is death." (Rom. 8:6) Such language is too plain to be misunderstood! My friend, you cannot therefore afford to be a member of a denomination, since participation in such divisions will cost your soul. Affiliate yourself with no sectarian church. Obey the simple gospel of Christ, and thereby become a member of His church today.
Is Church Membership Essential?
The subject of church membership is a controverted one, but whether it is essential to belong to the New Testament church is a vital question. If the Bible teaches that one must be a member of the Lord's church to be saved, then the question assumes the greatest of importance. Since denominational preachers freely admit that membership in their church is non-essential, they with this admission concede that theirs is not the New Testament church. Any church that does not claim to be essential, and the Lord's church, is not worthy of my confidence, efforts, support and membership. But let us permit God's Word to have free course in this matter, and accept whatever conclusions are produced by it.
We have already seen what the New Testament church is, and to see what it is determines whether membership in it is essential to salvation. The church is the spiritual body of Christ. (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18) If one can be saved out of the New Testament church, then he can be saved out of the body of Christ, and out of Christ. To be in Christ is to be "a new creature" (II Cor. 5:17), and to be in Christ is to be in His spiritual body, or church. If one can be saved out of the church, he then can be saved without becoming "a new creature." The church is the Lord's kingdom (Matt. 16:18-19), and to be in the church is to be out of the devil's kingdom. (Col. 1:13) If one can be saved out of the Lord's kingdom, the church, then he can be saved while remaining in devil's kingdom. The church is "the house of God" (I Tim. 3:15), and in that house His family dwells. (Eph. 3:14-15) If one can be saved out of the church, he then can be saved without becoming a member of the family of God. The Lord reigns at "King of Kings" over His kingdom. (Rev. 17:14) If one can be saved out of the kingdom of Christ, the church, he can be saved without becoming a subject of the King of Kings.
The church is the "flock of God," over which Chliit In thp Good Shepherd. (Acts 20:28; I Peter 2:25) If one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved without the leadership of Christ. The church (ecclesia: "called out") in the "called of Jesus Christ." (Rom. 1:6) If one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved without being "called of Jesus," and without being among the Lord's called people. The churches to whom Peter wrote were the "elect according to the foreknowledge of God." (I Peter 1:2) If one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved without being the elect, or approved, of God. Jesus died to purchase the church "with his own blood." (Acts 20:28) If one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved without being among those purchased with the blood of Christ. Jesus "loved the church, and gave him¬self for it." (Eph. 5:25) If one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved without being among those the Lord loved, and without the efficacy of His death. The disciples comprising the church at Antioch were called "Christians." (Acts 11:26) If one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved without wearing the holy name of Christ. The Lord added, and still adds, to the church daily those that are saved. (Acts 2:47) If one can go to heaven out of the church, then he can go to heaven without being saved. Those added to the Jerusalem were believers, who were added to the Lord. (Acts 5:14) If one can be saved out of the church, then he can be saved without being a believer, and without being added to the Lord. Those added to the church on Pentecost believed that Jesus was Lord and Christ, repented, and were baptized. (Acts 2:36-38) If one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved without be¬lieving that Jesus is the Christ, without repentance, and without baptism. When the Lord returns He shall deliver "up the kingdom to God." If one can reach heaven out of the church, then he will go there without being among those delivered to God at the Lord's return. My friend, we have reasoned with you from the Scriptures to show that being a member of the Lord's church is essential to your entrance into heaven. We ask, for your soul's sake, that you give "the more earnest heed" to these inalterable truths of God's Word, become a member of the Lord's church, and have assurance of eternal salvation.
How Can One Belong To The Lord's Church?
But the question may arise, "Can one be a member of the New Testament church now without any denominational affiliation?" To argue that one could not would be to argue that the New Testament church does not exist today, and that God's Word concerning the perpetuity of the church has failed. But what does the Bible say about the continued existence of the kingdom? Daniel prophesied that God would "set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed," and "it shall stand forever." (Daniel 2:44) Jesus said that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against" the church. (Matt. 16:18) The church is "a kingdom which cannot be moved." (Heb. 12:28) The kingdom shall exist until the Lord returns, at which time He shall deliver it up to God. (I Cor. 15:24) To assert that the kingdom of God is not in existence today is to argue that God's word has failed! Since His church exists today, persons can belong to it without denominational affiliation, just as members did in apostolic time.
But how can one become a member of the New Testament church today? In precisely the same manner as people became members of the church, or entered the kingdom, in apostolic time. The Word of God is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11), and when that seed is implanted in the sincere heart, it will produce the same fruit now as then. Does the seed of wheat produce different fruit of those two thousand years ago? On Pentecost the Apostle Peter preached the Word of God, his hearers received it, believed, repented and were baptized. (Acts 2:36-38) They were then added to the church. (Acts 2:47) This one must do today to become a member of the Lord's church, and it alone.
How Different Is The Church of Christ?
In all probability there is a church of Christ in your community. Do you know the things for which the church of Christ stands, and the plea it makes to the world? Our purpose is not to proselyte from one denomination to another, but rather to persuade all to free themselves from denominationalism, take their stand with us as Christians only, and contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 3) We shall list some ways in which the church of Christ differs from sectarian churches.
The church of Christ accepts the Bible alone as its rule of faith and practice, and rejects all human creeds, disciplines, confessions of faith and church manuals. The church Christ possesses every mark of identity of the Testament church, and believes, teaches and practices only what churches of the New Testament did. The church of Christ accepts the simple New Testament order of worship, and rejects all denominational rites, ceremonies and innovations. The church of Christ pleads for the unity of all believers, which the Bible demands. The church of Christ recognizes only the New Testament conditions of salvation of belief, repentance and baptism. The church of Christ meets on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, to observe the Lord's Supper. (Acts 20: 7) The church of Christ has no ecclesiastical organizations, such as associations, conferences, conventions, general assemblies or councils, and has no officers but those pre¬scribed by the New Testament of elders and deacons.
The church of Christ rejects all human names, and wears only the name of Christ. (Acts 11: 26; Romans 16: 16) The church of Christ preaches the gospel exactly as inspired preachers of the New Testament. The church of Christ requires divine authority, not human speculations, assumptions or opinions; for all that it believes, teaches or practices. The church of Christ claims Christ as its builder (Matt. 16: 18), and Christ as its only Head. (Col. 1: 18) The church of Christ is not a human denomination, but is the spiritual body of Christ. (Eph. 1:22-23) The church of Christ accepts God's Word as final and sole authority in all religious matters. (II Tim. 3: 16-17; II Peter 1:3)
To the best of our ability, and with the sustaining help of God, we have striven to present to you God's Word concerning the glorious church and kingdom of Christ. Will you not accept the invitation of Christ, obey His gospel, become a member of His church and a citizen of His kingdom, and thereby receive His assurance of eternal salvation.
"I love thy kingdom Lord, the house of Thine abode; The church our blessed Redeemer saved, with His own precious blood.
I love thy church O God! Her walls before Thee stand, Dear as the apple of Thine eye, and graven on Thy hand!
"For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend; To her my cares and toils be given, 'till toils and shall end. Beyond my highest joy, I prize her heavenly ways, Her sweet communion, solemn vows, her hymns of love and praise!"
Edited by Reuben Emperado For the 21st Christian Messenger From his book: Why I left the Nazarene Church
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