Do We Still Need The Church?
S. Leonard Tyler
Mr. Malcolm Boyd wrote an article in the April, 1972 issue of McCall's Magazine under the above title. It was interesting, as well as suggestive. May I use some of his material in search for the correct answer? His question has echoed through the 1960s and 70s. We may expect to hear it repeated in future decades as traditional denominations continue to decay and decline.
Mr. Boyd suggests a growing interest in the question, "Do we still need the church?" He thinks the question is relevant and feels that many are inventing their own answers, and I agree. His approach is sectarian or denominational. Such is self-evident to any, with just a little understanding of the New Testament, who reads his article. He shows no scriptural basis for arguing the need for the church. His concept of the church, seems to me, is purely social. The soul of men and eternal life are only alluded to and the spiritual nature of the church forgotten.
Confusing Social Values With Higher Spiritual Values
Mr. Boyd has some good things to say regarding the value of the church for morals, stability in life, broader concept of man and our relationship one with the other, as well as windows of vision and "affords us punctuation marks for the rituals of our own lives - birth, love, marriage, work, study, leisure, crisis, tragedy, and death." But in all this he never gets to the point that Jesus came to seek and save lost men. If one fails to recognize the church as a spiritual institution with spiritual values and purposes, he misses the whole reason for its existence.
This should impress us because there is a growing tendency within the Lord's church to overlook its spiritual values and emphasize its social, political, and moral values. The sociological concept of the church gives way to a "social gospel" and classifies the church as a human organization rather than a divine spiritual institution.
The teaching of Christ affects man's thinking and touches every phase of human life, since it regulates his relationships within the bounds of what is right. It lifts his thoughts to higher living and nobler designs than any earthly treasure of accomplishment can offer. It not only keeps before him the mysteries of life but gives a firm basis upon faith for their solution.
The church has an inestimable impact upon the sociological relationships of man, but this is effected only as Christ's teaching seasons each individual's heart to act within its bounds sociologically, politically, or morally. However, the very purpose of the teaching of Christ is to lead men and women to accept Him by faith as both Lord and Savior. This is sustained by the great commission as well as other texts (John 8:24; Mk. 16:15-16; 1 Tim. 1:15). When men and women hear the gospel message, believe in Jesus Christ and act upon that faith in obedience to His commands, they are saved (Rom. 6:17-18). Thus they make up the church of Christ (Phil. 1:1).
The Church As Ordained By God
The Greek word ekklesia from which "church" comes means "the called out." To be the church of Christ, members are "Called out" by Christ. This call comes through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14; 1 Thess. 2:12; Eph. 1:13; 1 Cor. 15:1-3). Therefore, the church of Christ is composed of all those who are redeemed by the precious blood of the Lord and become his possession, His people (Acts 2:47; 20:28). These have obeyed the gospel being baptized into Christ and must abide in His teaching (2 John 9) to continue as His possession, His church. "Do we still need the church?" is but to ask, "Do we still need the saved?" or "Do we still need people who believe in Jesus Christ and obey Him?", for such is the church.
Christ is the head of His people, His church, with all authority both in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). His people, the church, must be subjected unto Him (Eph. 5:23-24). He loved the church and died for it "that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27). Christ is the Savior of the body, the church (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18). Do we need the church?
The people of God, His church, have a divine arrangement or organization through which to function as His people. Christ is the head, elders are to superintend under His instruction (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4), deacons to serve (1 Tim. 3:8-13), and all the saints work together with God (Phil. 1:1; Acts 14:22-23; 1 Tim. 5:1-7; Titus 1:5-13). The inspired Scriptures give the absolute standard by which the church of Christ is maintained or sustained as the true church. This is the church as revealed in the New Testament. "Do we still need the church?" Do we still need that which God ordained in His eternal mind to manifest His manifold wisdom and through which He receives glory throughout all ages, world without end (Eph. 3:10-11, 23)? Keep this in mind as we recite some-of the comments regarding the church.
Confusing The Lord's Exalted Church With Decadent Human Churches
Mr. Boyd quotes a lady in Cleveland as saying, "I don't go to any church or religious meetings now. My religion is being with God. I don't need any help with that." This lady has no concept of what the New Testament church is - much less, its purpose and need for today.
A Chicago woman, wife of a former Catholic priest, said, "The church as an organized institution is dead for both of us. We don't care about its renewal or its failures. However, we have decided to join a commune. That's where Christ is - in the inner city or out in the country, in poverty and service to other people." These remarks confuse Christianity with Catholicism, which has very little resemblance to the Lord's church. No one should be amazed as to why such people are down on the church. They know only the highest order of ecclesiastical organization and biggest "religio-politico" institution on earth. The Pope claims personal infallibility when speaking ex cathedra. The Roman Catholic Church holds the same Claim. but her history is one of war, persecution of dissenters, and blunders of every sort. It should come as no surprise when such people become disappointed and discouraged. They come to recognize the uselessness of such a monstrosity claiming to be the simple church of Christ revealed in the Bible.
One should never allow this to drive him away from the New Testament church. Why go to a commune? Why not meet with the redeemed people of the Lord? Why not search the Scriptures and examine the gospel as originally preached? This is what so many people longing for God did in the first century. And when your faith becomes strong enough, obey the Word of the Lord and become a child of God - such made up the church then and such makes the church today. The word is the seed of the kingdom (Luke 8:11). A commune is only a group of people discussing, talking together. The church is a group of saved people studying, worshiping and working together 'according to God's instructions.
A Protestant clergymen told Mr. Boyd, "I don't know what I believe right now about church doctrine. The main thing is that I have to support a wife, a kid in high school, and a girl in college. So I have to stand up on Sunday mornings and preach a sermon that won't get too many people too mad. I have to go on being the `man of God' even though I don't have any clear idea what it means. I can't stand doing it much longer. My wife and I both want out. But how can I earn a living? This is all I'm trained to do.
Woe Unto Me If I Preach Not The Gospel
This is a terrible blight in which to live. And, think! What an ungodly impact it has upon the hearts of men and women, boys and girls, from a spiritual standpoint. But the problem, it seems to me, in back of it all is the idea of a professional ministry. Schools for the ministry are among us and are manufacturing professional ministers to the destruction of the Lord's church.
Do you mean to say, "It is wrong for a person who wants to preach to go to college?" No, a thousand times no! But when one goes in search of professional training to make a preacher, it would be better for him to make a lion trainer or politician. This would save the church many problems and open the door for true preachers of the gospel of Christ. The truth of the matter is that God did not establish the college to make preachers. He established the church. One should be a Christian and love the truth enough to want to preach it regardless of college or no college. He should preach to save his own soul as well as saving others.
Paul said, ". . . necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16). He brought His body under subjection, he said, "lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27). This attitude gives the right disposition toward preaching. Listen, "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus sake" (2 Cor. 4:5). Paul was not a "professional minister" promoting his own career. One must be firmly convinced within his own heart first and then he is ready to tell the glad tidings of good things to others - yes, preach the glorious gospel of Jesus and His love!
It would not be right to close without giving Mr. Boyd's last paragraph, "The church is not simply a building on the corner of Second and Elm, although that building may house a bit of it. The church expresses a thunderous shout of joy, a lamentation so loud that it fills valleys, a restless Christ who roams the earth. The church is bigger than any of us or our attempts to make it conform to our own image. Yet it is an intimate community - wherever two or three are gathered together - that links us to judgment, healing and love."
He forgot one essential in his gathering. Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). They must gather "in the name of Christ." This means by His authority or according to His instructions. Therefore, it is not just a commune of people with whom Jesus meets, but rather two or three gathered in His name.
The Church: The Everlasting Kingdom
The church of Christ is needed today just as it was when Jesus established it upon the earth. It has the same origin, doctrine, name, organization, worship, work, and eternal destiny. This is the everlasting kingdom which cannot be moved (Heb. 12:22-29). Time and timely things pass but the everlasting word of God endures forever and such sustains the everlasting kingdom or church of our Lord. It shall not pass away.
The church is the pillar and support of truth. She proclaims the gospel of Christ and serves to please God, for her design is to give God glory throughout all ages (1 Tim. 3:15; Rom. 12:1-3; Heb. 12:1-3; Eph. 3:21). In the final great day, Christ will deliver her to His Father (1 Cor. 15:22-28). If God be for us, who can conquer us?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 28, pp.459, 460-461