By Jim McDonald
This article is a continuation of the tract written for distribution in the Philippines. The first part was in the September 19 issue of Guardian of Truth.
Is Church Membership Essential to Salvation?
Many say: “Church membership isn’t essential to salvation. One can be saved and never be a member of any church.” This is what man says. What does God say? “And the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved.” “He (Christ)) is the savior of the body (church)” (Acts 2:47; Eph 5:23). To answer this question two more questions are necessary. Is the blood of Christ essential to salvation? Can one be saved outside Christ Jesus?
Christ’s death was essential that man might have remission of his sins. Since “it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins,” “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” and “the wages of sin is death” (Heb. 10:4; Rom. 3:23; 6:23), it is evident that there must be some sacrifice offered to permanently rid man of the guilt of his sins. That sacrifice is the blood (death) of Christ. Christ’s blood was “poured out for many unto re-mission of sins” and will cleanse from sin, loose from sin, justify and redeem (Matt. 26:28; 1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; Rom. 5:9; Eph. 1:7). None who believe in Christ will say Christ’s death was needless.
Since Christ’s death was essential, membership in his church is essential. The church was purchased with his blood and those who are his church have been bought by that blood (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 6:20; Rev. 5:9). It is an insult to Christ to say membership in the church is not essential to salvation for the church is the saved ones, the result of the applied and appropriated blood of our Lord. God makes no mistakes and since he adds the saved to the church, the saved are in his church. He saves his body, the church and promises salvation to none other (Acts 2:47; Eph. 5:23).
Paul’s earnest longing was to be found in Christ. The reason for that longing was because, among other things, salvation is there. “I endure all things for the elect’s sake that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:9; 2 Tim. 2:10). In Christ we are forgiven, reconciled, redeemed, chosen, and made God’s heir (Eph. 1:4, 7, 11; 2:16) There is salvation for none outside Christ(John 15:5, 6). If none can be saved outside Christ, none can be saved outside his church for his church is his body and none can be in him who is not in his body.
Membership in a church that exists by man’s authority will not save. There are hundreds of churches which exists by the authority of men yet somewhere in the maze of all human plans and schemes Christ’s true church can be found, for of that church (kingdom) God promised that it would stand forever (Dan. 2:44).
How Can I Know Which Church Is Right?
Surely, if our God purposed his church from the foundation of the world (he did, Eph. 3:8-11), gave his only begotten Son as sacrifice for forgiveness of man’s sins, he would not so obscure that church so that man whom he loves could not find it (John 3:16). He promised that man can know what is right and find him. “If any man willeth to do his will he shall know of the teaching whether it is of God or whether I speak from myself.” “And ye shall seek for me and ye shall find me when ye shall seek for me with all your hearts” (John 7:17; Jer. 29:13). He strongly warned us that there are counterfeits and ravening wolves who seek to devour men’s souls. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man but the ends thereof are the ways of death.” The road to heaven is narrow, straitened, and found by very few (Prov. 14:12; Matt. 7:13, 14) So, man must search assured that if he searches with all his heart he can find God, but he must ever be aware that he can be deceived.
The need for a measuring rod is obvious. God gave an inerrant rod to determine which church is his. God designed it; Jesus built it according to those plans and we are urged: “See that thou make all things according to the pattern that was shown thee in the mount” (Eph. 3:8-11; Matt. 16:18; Heb. 8:5). The measuring rod is the word of Christ which we not only can but must understand (Eph. 3:4; 5:17).
Christ gave identifying features by which man can recognize his church. There are certain things essential to enter it. One must believe Jesus is the Son of God and be willing to acknowledge that faith (Rom. 10:10; Acts 8:36, 37). One must also repent of his sins and be baptized (immersed) in order that his sins might be forgiven (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:37, 38; Rom. 6:3, 4; Acts 22:16).
Jesus teaches that collectively his church was called “Church of Christ,” “Church of God,” and “Church of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 1:1; 1 Thess 2:14). His people were identified by the name “Christian” (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16). Human names are designed to divide mankind and unity will never be attained until all lay aside party names and are identified by the name Christian.
Christ’s church was organized into local congregations and they were overseen by a plurality of elders called bishops and pastors (Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). These men were assisted by deacons (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8-10). No organizational structure beyond the local level was given. Elders were to take heed to all the flock, tend the flock of God among them. Such a command is inclusive (his oversight extends to all that are part of the flock he oversees), but it is also exclusive. No one else is over that flock (apart from other elders who serve in the same flock with him); his oversight extends no further than the local flock in which he serves.
The local church has a divine mission to accomplish in this world. First, it is the pillar and support of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). It has the responsibility to build up in the faith those saved. Apostles were to teach, baptize those taught, then teach them again (Matt. 28:18). Elders are to feed the flock and may be supported in their work of feeding that flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 5:17). There is also the work of relief for needy saints that must be attended to (1 Cor. 16:1f; 1 Tim. 5:16).
The worship of this church also is outlined. Scriptural worship must be offered in spirit and truth (John 4:24). The early church “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine, in the fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The Apostles’ doctrine is the doctrine of Christ, the gospel (Matt. 28:18; 2 John 9-11; Rom. 1:16). The whole counsel of God must be taught with neither addition nor subtraction (Acts 20:26, 27; Rev. 22:18,19). The early church continued steadfastly in the “breaking of bread” a reference to the memorial supper our Lord instituted in memory of his sacrifice the night of his betrayal (Matt. 26:26-29). This supper is comprised of two elements, unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine (1 Cor. 11:25, 26). It was observed each week on that week’s first day (Acts 20:7). Disciples also gave of their resources into the general treasury on the week’s first day (1 Cor. 16:1, 2); they prayed and sang psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Their singing was vocal, for instrumental music was not introduced into worship until many centuries later. These are simple guidelines, but essential ones since they were given by the Holy Spirit’s direction.
What Must I Do to Become and Remain a Member of Christ’s Church?
It has earlier been shown what requirements must be met by him who desires to be part of our Lord’s church. Jesus said: “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. ” This is parallel to Jesus’s command to his disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved and he that believeth not shall be condemned” (John 3:5; Mark 16:15, 16). Jesus has not changed his terms. None enter his church who has not been born again and when one believes and is baptized, he is therein born again.
There is a twofold requirement of man who becomes a Christian. (1) He must put off the old man of sin, and (2) He must put on the new man of righteousness (Rom.12:1, 2; Titus 2:11, 12; 1Pet. 2:11, 12). Thus we read:
Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things’ sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience: wherein ye also once walked, when ye lived in these things; but now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth: lie not one to another: seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman: but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye: and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness (Col. 3:5-14).
A faithful life of devoted service to God, coupled with his abiding love and grace will bring to such an one these welcome words: “Come, ye blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). Such was Paul’s expectation and one he said might be mutually shared by all others who would seek to be found in Christ. He said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day: and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing ” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8).
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 19, p. 18-19
October 3, 1996