Pages From the Past

The Church

H. Leo Boles

No one should be interested in any church except the one that is revealed in the New Testament. Everyone should be interested in the church that Christ built. Jesus said: "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18.) This church was established before the New Testament was written; hence, it is older than the New Testament. It is a part of the great gospel scheme for the salvation of sinful man. "To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph. 3 :10, 11.) The church is the greatest institution in the world, and membership in it is the greatest privilege accorded to man.

What Is the Church?

We must let the New Testament answer this question. Man can define human institutions, but only God through the Holy Spirit can tell us what this divine institution is. Since Christ built this church and purchased it with his own blood, he can, through the Holy Spirit, define his church. The New Testament declares that this church is the body of Christ: "And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1:22, 23.) Here we have the Holy Spirit through Paul saying that "the church" "is his body." Again: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). So here we have the Holy Spirit calling the body of Christ "the church." Hence, the church "is the body of Christ," and "the body of Christ" is "the church." Moreover, the church is "the kingdom of God." Jesus said: "Upon this rock I will build my church; . . . I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:18, 19.) Here Jesus in one sentence calls this institution "my church," and in the next sentence he calls the same institution, "the kingdom of heaven." Again, the Holy Spirit said: "Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love" (Col. 1:13.) Here these people had been translated "out of the power of darkness," or the world, "into the kingdom of the Son of his love." These Colossians also constituted the church at Colosse (Col. 1:2.) The Holy Spirit said through John that Christians were made "to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father" (Rev. 1:6.) So the church is "the kingdom of heaven."

The church is also said to be "the house of God": These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15, 16.) The family of God dwells in "the house of God." "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph. 3:14, 15.) Furthermore, it is called "the church of God." Eight times the church is called "the church of God" in the New Testament (1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15: 9 ; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 3:5, 15. ) One time it is called "the church of the Lord" (Acts 20:28.) The plural is used three times as "churches of God" (1 Cor. 11:16; 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:4.) One time we have the expression "churches of Christ" (Rom. 16:16.) Here the term "church" is used in the local or congregational sense. One time we have the expression "church of the firstborn" (Heb. 12:23.) The term "firstborn" is in the plural in the original; and the expression means "the church of the firstborn." Again, the church is called "a spiritual house": "Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifice, acceptable to God through Jesus" (1 Pet. 2:5.) These and other Scriptures teach us what the church is. No institution but the church of our Lord answers these statements of the Holy Spirit.

How Many Churches?

The New Testament answers this question also. It may be clearly seen that the term "church" is used in a general sense and in a local sense. All Christians constitute the church in the general sense, and the different congregations of Christians compose the churches in the local sense. There is but one church, over which Christ presides as head. There is but one kingdom of God on earth, and but one body of Christ: "But now they are many members, but one body" (1 Cor. 12:20.) "For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another" (Rom. 12 :4, 5.) The New Testament- frequently declares that there is but one body, and that this one body is the church: "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all" (Eph. 4:4-6.) All Christians are instructed to give "diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:3.)

"Church" when used in the plural has reference to the different groups of Christians meeting for worship at different places. We have "the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1:2) , "the churches of Galatia" (Gal. 1:2) , "the church of the Thessalonians in God" (1 Thess. 1:1), "the church which was in Jerusalem" (Acts 11:22), "the church of the Laodiceans" (Col. 4:16), and church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17). There are twenty-seven different churches mentioned in the New' Testament. All of these churches had the same faith, wore the same name, and practiced the same things. Their form of worship was the same. These were not different denominations as we now have them. The New Testament does not teach anything about the different denominations as constituting "the church of God." Each member of the denomination wears the peculiar name of that denomination, believes certain tenets of faith as prescribed by that denomination, and practices different forms of worship as may be outlined by the denomination. There is little or no resemblance between the different denominations today and "the churches of Christ" of New Testament times.

How to Enter the Church

The New Testament answers this question. The New Testament teaches how to get into the church of God; it does not teach, how to get into any other church. Hence, if one joins one of the denominations, the New Testament does not teach to do so. The one who goes into a denomination must go without any divine instruction, without any word of God; and since faith, or belief, "cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17 ), where the word of God does not give instructions, there can be no faith. So those who go into a denomination or become members of a denomination do so without faith in the word of God on that point. However, many of them claim to be saved "by faith only,'," but they do not have scriptural faith.

The New Testament teaches clearly and definitely how to enter the New Testament church. Surely Christ would not establish a church on earth and not tell people how to enter it. Since the church is a divine institution, we must have divine instructions as to how to enter it. Human instruction may guide one into a denomination, but it takes divine instruction to guide one into the divine institution, the church. People are added to the church. The Lord adds them to the church: "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved" (Acts 2:47.) Here at the close of the day of Pentecost, the day on which the church was established, about three thousand were added by the Lord to the church: "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both, of men and women" (Acts 5:14.) Here we learn that only believers are added to the Lord; babies or infants are not believers and cannot be added to the church. Again, we have the statement: "And much people was added unto the Lord" (Acts 11:24.) So the evidence is clear that the Lord adds people to his church; he does not add anyone to any other church.

How does the Lord add to his church? Whom does he add to it? These are important questions. Jesus said to Nicodemus: "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5.) What is it to "be born of water and the Spirit?" That which puts one into the kingdom of God puts one into the body of Christ, into the church of God. One must have faith in Christ. Those who hear the gospel and believe it have one qualification of a. citizen of the kingdom of God. Without faiths it is impossible to please God (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 11:6). Those who had heard the gospel preached by Peter on the day of Pentecost and who were convinced that Jesus is the Son of God asked what they must do-that is, those who believed in Christ asked what they should do to be saved. Peter, speaking by the Holy Spirit, answered them by saying: "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38.) They did what Peter commanded them to do, and they were added to, the church by this process. Hence, the Lord adds to his church those who believe on the Lord, who are penitent of their sins, and who are baptized into Christ. The only way that people enter Christ is by baptism: "Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3, 4.) Again: "For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ" (Gal. 3:26, 27.) When one has been baptized into Christ, he is a new creature: "Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17.) Hence, one has been born of water and the Spirit who has been baptized into Christ, for he is "a new creature." This is the way that one enters the church. One cannot be in Christ and not be in his church; neither can one be in his church without being in Christ. The church is his body.

Can One Be Saved Out of the Church?

The question is not, "Can one be saved out of a denomination?" but, "Can one be saved out of the church of the Lord?" Many attempt to evade a direct answer to this question by saying: "The church does not save one." It is true that the church does not save one, but God through Christ saves. But where does God save one, in the church or out of the church? God is in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:19.) God saves people in Christ-that is, he saves people in the church. If people can be saved out of the church, then they can be saved out of Christ, out of the kingdom of God, out of the house of God, out of the family of God, out of the body of Christ, out of the building of God, and without their becoming living stones in the spiritual house of God. The New Testament declares the church to be all of these things; and if one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved out of that which the church is called. Again, if one can be saved out of the church, one can be saved without being redeemed. All spiritual blessings are in Christ (Eph. 1:3.) Redemption and forgiveness of sin are in Christ (Eph. 1:6, 7.) Hence, if one, 'can be saved out of the church, one can be saved without redemption and forgiveness. Moreover, the blood of Christ is in the church, which is his body. If people can be saved out of the church, then they can be saved without coming in contact with the blood of Christ. All Christians are in the church. We know this, because the same process that makes one a Christian is the process by which the Lord adds one to the church. We are saved from our sins, but not in our sins: If salvation is out of the church, there was no use for Christ to establish his church. Christ paid too much for the church when he purchased it with his blood if people can be saved out of it.

Truth Magazine, V:12; pp. 13-15
September 15, 1961