Issues that Divide Us (III): Understanding the Church
Again we want to encourage you to get your Bible and study with us, with an open mind, and I recognize also that I am just a man. I have made mistakes and I have had to correct those mistakes. This is the reason I want you to bring to my mind anything that you feel like I have taught that is out of harmony with the will of God. I will assure you that I will make the proper correction. Even in our study, if you disagree with what has been written, we can disagree without being disagreeable. Our main purpose is to come back to the Bible, and be as God would have us to be.
We are studying issues that divide us. In our last article I brought to your mind that one of the first principles that causes division is a lack of respect and a lack of understanding of Authority. I tried to instill into your heart to respect Jesus Christ as the Son of the living God, to respect Jesus Christ as the One Who is the Head of the church, and to remember that "all authority" has been given unto Him, and that Jesus emphasized the fact that "if you reject my word, that you have rejected me." There are some people that labor under the impression that they can believe in Christ, and then turn right around and deny His word. This is impossible. If you deny His word, you deny Christ. And so then, you need to be concerned about Bible authority.
Bible authority is identified by either a generic command or a specific command, which come under three headings: that is, by direct command, a necessary inference, or an approved example. Now, either in a generic sense or a specific sense, you will find these three commandments; and thus we must observe this in our authority in religion. This is the reason that Christians make the plea: We speak where the Bible speaks, and we are silent where the Bible is silent. And thus, they united upon the cause of Christ. They stand as one for the teaching of God's word, and there is no division within their ranks.
But, secondly, we need to study another issue that divides us in the body of Christ, and that is, not having the proper understanding of what is the church. Now first of all, the question that I am going to present to you is: What is the Church? And let me emphasize the word the-What is the church of Christ? A lot of people today talk about "the Church of Christ," and yet a lot of people fail to understand and recognize what is the church of Christ. So then, we are concerned right at this present time with what does the Bible have to say? What is the revelation of Christ in regard to the church of Christ?
In order to find the answer to this, let us turn to Matthew 16. You remember, beginning at about verse 13, when Christ came to His disciples and asked them the question, "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?" It was then that Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered and said unto him, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father, which is in Heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." Now stop for just a moment and get this: He said that "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Now then, this is the Church. Christ said, "I will build my church," the church. So then, the church is the body of Christ. The church is the church of Christ. It is the church of the Lord, the one that you read about in the teachings of God's revelation.
But, now in Matthew 16, when Christ said, "I will build my church," or the church, He was talking about the church in the universal sense, which includes all of God's people all over this earth. Now this is not like what some people have in mind. In John 15, some people turn and say that the Lord said, "I am the vine and ye are the branches and the branches represent churches. You just pick out any branch or any church that you want to join, and that will be pleasing with God." But that, my friends, is perverting the word of God. In John 15, when Jesus said, "I am the vine and ye are the branches," you will observe that He did not say that the branches are churches. He identified the branches as men. He said, "If any man abide not in me." And so then, He was talking about individuals there, and not churches.
So then, we have the church in the universal sense that makes up all of God's people everywhere, and they are people who are separated, called out from the world. That is exactly what the word church means, the called out people of God. They are separated from other people. Jesus said, "I will build my church." They are separated from others, they are called out from others.
First of all, the church is composed of people who have been separated by the blood of Jesus Christ. Now, without the blood of Christ, there would not have been the church! Jesus died for the church, and paid for the church with His own precious blood. The apostle Paul emphasized this in Acts 20:28 when he was talking with the elders of Ephesus over at Miletus. He spoke in regards to "the church of God that he has purchased with his own blood," and so the church is composed of blood-bought people, people who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now then, when we talk about being redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ, how were they redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ? My friend, they were redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ when they obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ, they could not be redeemed by the blood of Christ. I challenge you to find one time in the word of God where there was ever a man redeemed by the blood of Christ without first obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ! You cannot find it. In every case of conversion, before a man was added to the kingdom of God, the family of God. the bony of Christ, the church-before he is pictured as one of God's called-out people, this man obeyed the commandments of God. Now this is where a lot of people miss it. Some people have the idea that they can be a member of the church by just believing in God, saying that there is a God. But this is not so. In order to be a member of the church, they must be sanctified, separated by the blood of Christ; and they cannot be sanctified and separated by the blood of Christ until they have obeyed what God said.
Now let me give you an example. In Romans 6:3,5, Paul said, "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" Now notice they were baptized "into his death." Now when they are baptized into his death, they're baptized where they reach the blood of Christ--not the literal blood that was shed upon the cross of Calvary. Had you been standing there the day they killed the Son of God and a drop of the blood of Christ would have hit you on the head, it would not have sanctified you in any sense of the word. The blood of Christ meant that He gave His life. Now then, you have got to contact that blood, you have got to contact His life; and this is in obedience, and Paul says you do so when you are baptized into Christ. So you can see that the Church is composed of people who are separated by blood.
But also they are separated by living. They are called out of darkness into light. They are called out of the kingdom of the devil, into the kingdom of God. And when you talk about "What is the church?", you need to understand that the church is composed of people-people who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, people who are separated in their living, people who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ, people who have enough humility and love and faith to simply say, "Lord, you speak and I'll obey." And when Jesus said, "I will build my church," He was talking about "I will call my people out;" and the people who make up the church of Christ are the people who have obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And I will tell you something else, my beloved friend, with the love of God within my heart. When you obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, you will not be added to any other church other than the church of the Lord, the church of Christ.
So then, when you ask the question, "What is the church?", we are not talking about the church building. We are not talking about some church built and established by man. We are talking about the church of Christ, the people of God who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. And, as a result of not understanding this, we have division within our own ranks.
But now, this leads up to the second important question, and that is: What is a church of Christ? Now then, keep in mind we have established what is the church of Christ. The church of Christ is the universal church, the body of Christ, without any earthly organization whatsoever-just the blood-brought people of God, people who have obeyed and responded to the invitation of Christ. Now then, the second question: What is a church of Christ?
Now a church of Christ is a local church of Christ. You read about this in the revelation of Christ in Romans 16:16. The Bible says, "The churches of Christ salute you." Now some people have in mind when it talks about "churches" that he is talking about man-made churches. That is not what he is talking about. He is talking about local churches. For example, in Galatians 1, "the churches of Galatia." In the book of Revelation, "the seven churches of Asia." Now then, you can find local churches of Christ. A good example is in the book of Phillipians, chapter 1, when Paul was writing to the "church which is in Philippi," as he did in Corinthians 1, "to the church which is in Corinth." So then, when we ask, What is a local church?, we are talking about a local church of Christ.
Now a local church of Christ is composed of Christians who come together in a specific locality. It was called the church at Corinth because it was at Corinth. Now the church at Twin Oaks is made up of people in a specific locality where they have joined together as the saints of God, meeting together in a specific locality and identified as the Twin Oaks Church of Christ. That is what a local church of Christ really is.
But now, secondly, the local church of Christ is organized. It has an organization. Now this organization has been revealed-the arrangement made by the God of Heaven. Let me give you the scripture. In Acts 14:23, "they ordained elders in every city." So then, they had to have elders in every congregation. But these men must be qualified, as 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 bring out the qualifications of the men who serve as elders in the local church.
But now, let me establish one thing here that we want to come back to further in our study. In 1 Pet. 5, he said that elders have the oversight of "the flock of God which is among you." Now then, when you talk about "What is a church of Christ?", you have got elders to oversee it. But they only oversee the flock of God which is "among" them. They have no oversight of another church. They have no jurisdiction outside of the local congregation. They only have the oversight of the flock of God which is "among them." As a result of misunderstanding this, and abusing this principle, we have division within our own ranks. We will have more to say about this later, but keep in mind that a local church is a congregation in a specific locality with elders to oversee it.
But also, they have deacons. If you have your Bibles, you might read of the deacons in the congregation, as we read about deacons in the church in Philippians 1:1. We read about deacons in the body of Christ, the local congregation. They are the special servants, and they must be qualified to serve in this capacity (1 Timothy 3).
But then, when you have a local church, you have a need to be met. There is a work to be performed: the preaching of the gospel of Christ, the edifying of the saints of God, the doing of the work of benevolence and taking care of their own poor. Then there must be money raised to take care of this. How is the local church to raise its money? Well, according to the teaching of God's word in 1 Corinthians 16, a local church raised its money by the saints of God giving upon the first day of the week-no pie suppers, no rummage sales-just the saints of God giving.
So, what is the church? The church is the universal body of Christ with no earthly organization. A local church of Christ is organized with elders, saints of God giving and doing what God told it to do. So then, you are identified with a local church and where they stand for the truth.
Truth Magazine XXI: 14, pp. 216-218