"Just So You Are a Christian"
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit" (Col. 2:8). Shallow human reasoning has kept many a person from learning the truth. Here is a sample: "If one is a Christian he will be saved regardless of the church." Another: "Water does not save, neither does church membership; Christ saves.
Such reasoning betrays a woeful ignorance of what makes one a Christian or what a Christian is.
1. Many think one is a Christian merely because he is good or moral. Some years ago a lady told us in all seriousness that her Persian cat was a Christian. She meant nothing more than that the cat was a nice, good-natured animal. While it is true that one cannot be a Christian without being moral, one can be moral and not be a Christian. Cornelius was moral, yet he had to contact Peter to learn what to do to be saved (Acts 10: 1-6; 11-13,14). Our own righteousness cannot save us (Phil. 3:9; Tit 3:5).
2. Many think that all who are religious, especially all who believe in Jesus, are Christians. But some believers do not go far enough to be acceptable to God (John 12: 42,43). Belief alone does not save (Jas. 2:20-26). Many believers never become disciples indeed by continuing in Christ's words (John 8:31, 32). People who make and believe the statements quoted above have one or both of these false notions of what a Christian is.
Just here let us consider the expression, "It doesn't matter whether you are baptized or not, just so you are a Christian." Here is the error of that statement. One cannot be a Christian until he is in Christ, that is, until he is in spiritual union with Christ. The Bible teaches that this union takes place in baptism (Gal. 3:26, 27; Rom. 6:3-53.) One must prepare, of course, for union with Christ before he can be baptized into that union. He does this by hearing the gospel, believing in Christ as the Son of God, repenting and confessing his faith (Rom. 10:17; Matt. 13:15; Rom. 10:10; Acts 2:38). But the uniting ceremony is baptism.
Let's have an illustration: A couple planning to be married must be prepared for marriage by mutual faith and love; but they are not married until the ceremony is said. Here is another illustration. A Russian citizen may love the United States and believe in our way of life. He may hate Russia and freely confess his faith in our system. But he does not become an American citizen merely by such sentiments and confessions. He must leave Russia and come over and comply with our laws of naturalization. Just so, God has said, "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27).
What about those who have not been baptized into Him? If language conveys a true thought, Gal. 3: 27 teaches that they have not put Him on. They are not united with Him.
Furthermore, one cannot be a Christian while still unforgiven of his alien sins. The Bible teaches that one must be baptized to be forgiven of them (Acts 2:38; 22: 16; Mark 16: 16). Thus we again see that baptism is a part of the process of becoming a Christian. To say, "It does not matter about baptism, just so one is a Christian" is like saying, "It does not matter whether one is married or not just as long as he is a husband."
Let us consider this expression: "It does not matter whether one is in the church, just so he is a Christian." This statement reveals a sad ignorance of the Bible on the subject of the church. Such persons think the church is merely a good organization in which to do good work and to help one live a better life. It does serve both of these functions, but it is vastly more. It is THE BODY of CHRIST (Col. 1:18,24; Eph. 1: 22, 23). There can be no spiritual union with Christ outside of His church, for His church is His body. All spiritual blessings are IN Him (Eph. 1:3). It is IN Him-- in His kingdom--that we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:13,14; Eph. 1:6, 7). Apart from His spiritual body, the church, one cannot receive these things.
Besides, you can't stay out of His church if you are saved. The Lord ADDS such as should be saved to the church (Acts 2:47). He does not consult the saved one any more than a newly born infant is consulted about joining the family.
"But I mean one does not have to be a member of the visible church to be saved," says one. If you mean by "visible church" a denomination, you are one hundred percent right. A denomination is not a part, a branch, or anything that pertains to the Lord's church. It is simply an unauthorized, unscriptural organization built by sinful erring men. Denominations are unknown to the word of God. They are schisms or sects and are condemned in no uncertain terms in the New Testament (I Cor. 1: 10-13; 11: 19; 12:25, Gal. 5:19-21). There is ONE body (Eph. 4:3-6; Col. 3:15; I Cor. 2:12, 13, 20). However, the Lord's people must assemble for worship (Heb. 10:25). But they do not have to form parties or sects to do this. Wherever the Lord's people live they can assemble as plain, unsectarianized Christians, in the name of Christ.
In the United States we have two major political parties. This is all right in politics. One may be a Republican American or a Democrat American, or he may be a good American and not be a member of either party. But parties among professing Christians are condemned in the New Testament. Our major political parties represent two op posing principles of government; there would be no cause for their existence if they didn't have different political doctrines. But Christians are taught to "speak the same thing" (I Cor. 1:10), have the same mind (I Cor. 1:10; Phil. 2:2,3). There is but one faith for which they must contend (Eph.4: 5; Jude 3). There is but one lawgiver-- Christ (Jas. 4:12). Since conflicting doctrines are not tolerated by the Head of the church, different parties are not needed to propagate differing doctrines, and such parties are contrary to God's will. What need could there be for parties except to teach peculiar doctrines? But God gave His doctrine and warned us against teaching any other (Gal. 1:6-9; I Tim 1:3, 6:3-5). So parties are excluded from the divine plan.
In fact, denominations are truly in existence to preach different doctrines. They were born of strife over religious doctrines. Each one has its own creed, made by men. We know they are preaching doctrines contrary to the New Testament by the fact that they must have little books different from the New Testament in which to write their doctrines. Any church that is satisfied with New Testament teaching and is teaching nothing else, will find the New Testament itself sufficient for expressing it. Their human creeds indeed condemn them.
Truth Magazine IX: 11, pp. 11-12