By Cecil Willis
The average man is badly confused in his thinking about the New Testament church. Preachers professing to declare the whole counsel of God when actually they are not, and man’s failure to study the Scriptures privately, are largely responsible for this misunderstanding. However hazy one’s view may be of the nature of the New Testament church, most of us make an effort to become a part of what we believe to be the Lord’s church. If the church of which we are a part does not conform in any particular to what we have learned that the Bible says about the divine church, we therefore know that “our” church lacks that much being the divine church. So if the rules of admission of the church to which we belong should differ from the laws of entrance into the divine church, we know something is wrong with our religious affiliation. We need to learn God’s divine laws of admission into His divine church.
As Shown By Figurative Language
A number of different figures are attached to the church in the Bible. As we study these figures, we can learn what the rules of admission into the church are. The church is called the family of God. Paul says: “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” (1 Tim. 3:14, 15). The church is the, house of God. The word “house” probably here means family. Several times we read about a certain “household” being baptized. This means the family was baptized. Paul speaks of the “household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). But when we think of the church as God’s family, we learn how one gets into this family of God. Paul further says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). The Spirit of God gave the revelation that we have and know as the Bible; so those that are led by the teaching of the Bible become members of the family of God.
While we think about our own family, let us ask, “how did I enter my family?” Of course, we can give but one answer. We were born into it. That is the same way that one enters the family of God. He is born into it. This birth is not a natural birth from the womb, but is spiritual. In John 3:5, Jesus spoke to Nicodemus and said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” One is born into the kingdom of God, which is the church. Virtually all commentators take this birth of water to refer to baptism; other passages inform us as to what the birth of the Spirit is. But as we look at these passages, remember that Jesus said the birth of water and the Spirit makes one a member of the kingdom. Paul said, “For though ye have ten thousand tutors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I begat you through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). They were begotten through the gospel. The gospel is the product of the Spirit. And the Apostle Peter adds: “having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth” (1 Pet. 1:23). So to enter the church, one must be begotten by the word of the Spirit, and be baptized. He must believe according to the teaching of the Spirit, and be baptized. This is how one enters the family of God. He who has not done this is not a child of God He is not a member of the church of God
As Shown By The Definition of “Church”
We have seen that God’s rules of admission are shown by speaking of the church, figuratively, as the family of God. The terms of admission of the church are also shown by adequately defining the church. What is the church? (1) The church is a body of baptized believers. Neither an unbeliever nor an unbaptized believer can be a member of the church. Paul shows that one becomes a son of God, enters Christ, by believing and being baptized. He says, “For ye are all sons of God, through faith, is Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26, 27). The Galatian church consisted of baptized believers. Faith must precede one’s baptism. One must believe with all his heart, repent, confess his faith, and then he is a suitable subject for baptism. Seeing that the church consists of baptized believers, one understands immediately that faith and baptism are prerequisites to church membership.
(2) We can further define the church as “the saved.” All the saved are in the church. Luke says in Acts 2:47 that the “Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Who were added to the church? The saved! The Lord did not overlook any either. He adds every saved person to the church. All one has to do to become a member of the Lord’s church is become one of the saved. If you want to become a part of the Lord’s church, look in your Bible, find out what Jesus said to do to be saved, do it, and the Lord will add you to the church It is as simple as that. Salvation is the only condition of church membership. But whom did the Lord say would be saved? Listen to Him: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16). Baptized believers are saved, so the church consists of the saved: baptized believers.
All one has to do to become a member of the church is to obey God’s word. James says, “Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas. 1:21). The word will save your souls. Saved souls will be added, by the Lord, to the church. This fits perfectly with Paul’s statement recorded in Rom. 1:16. He said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” How does one get into the church? Become obedient to the word, obey the gospel. (Rom. 6:17, 18) To do this one must become a baptized believer, and baptized believers are saved, and saved people are added by the Lord to the church.
As Shown By Example
We can also learn God’s divine rules of admission into the church by studying some New Testament churches. Thus we will be learning by example. There was a church of Christ in the city of Corinth. Paul wrote two books of the New Testament to this church. To please the Lord, we must become members of the same body, the same church, to which the Corinthians belonged. But for us to follow the example of the Corinthians in becoming members of the church, we must be able to know what they did. Paul started the Corinthian church. He went into the city and preached to them the gospel. Here is the result: “And many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). People heard, believed, and were baptized, and this put them in the church.
We can study another New Testament example. Take the church in Jerusalem. This was the first church. How did it begin? How did the people of Jerusalem become members of this church? In the first part of Acts 2 we read that a preacher spoke to them. The gospel was preached. By the preaching of the gospel, the people were cut to the heart. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They were guilty of crucifying God’s Son. They were sinners! What could they do about it? They believed what Peter had just told them about Jesus being. the Christ, the Son of God. So, “Peter said unto them, Repent ye, and be baptized everyone 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). He told these believers to repent and be baptized. Let us read a little more: “They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls” (2:41). And one more verse. We read that the disciples were “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). So with this reading fresh in. our minds, what did these people do to become members of the Lord’s church? (1) They heard the gospel preached; (2) Gladly received it; (3) Believed; (4) Repented; (5) Were baptized; (6) Were added by the Lord to the church. These things put them into the Lord’s church.
Man-made Laws of Entrance
Man has perverted virtually everything God did in making the divine church. Man has changed the form of government, the name, mission and worship in the church. These things have been divinely given, and man should not alter them. Men have also felt that the Lord left it up to them to establish the terms of admission into the church. I suppose men have a right to legislate as to the terms of admission into man-made churches, but men do not have the right to make the laws of admission to the divine church. The Lord alone has that right. In order to show you the audacity of men, let me cite now a statement showing that men think they can establish the terms of admission to the church. “Every church (is–C.W.) possessed of the positive power to declare its own terms of communion. `Every Christian Church, or union or association of particular churches is entitled to declare the terms of admission into its communion, and the qualifications of its ministers and members.’ ” (Manual of Presbyterian Law, p. 40.) So said one group of men. But God alone has the power to establish the laws of admission to His church.
In order to get into some human institutions, one has to relate his experience of grace. One must tell some mystical, miraculous happening in his life, in order to be granted entrance. But you read of nothing of the sort being required of one wanting to be a member of the divine church. This experience must be very persuasively told for after the person seeking admission to this particular denomination has finished with his story, the people take a vote as to whether they will accept or reject him as a member of that denomination. You never read of a person being “voted” into the church of which one reads in the New Testament. One does not enter the divine church by the vote of men. If you entered a church by being voted in, you can be confident that you entered the wrong one. Following the laws of men does not make one a member of the church of God. It just so happens that the Lord did not leave it up to men to decide who gets into His church and who does not. The Bible says “the Lord added to the church daily,” the Lord puts one in.
Some denominations require that a person confess that God for Christ sake has pardoned his sins. And if you can persuade them that God has pardoned your sins, you are then entitled to be baptized, not to be saved as the Bible teaches you should be, but man says it is to show you are saved. No Bible instance is on record of one confessing he was already saved in order to be permitted to become a member of the church. The same steps that save a man also put him into the church.
The divine church has divine rules of entrance; not human ones. They are God-given, not man-made. One is born of water and the Spirit into the family of God. One must be a baptized believer to be added to the body. One must be saved before the Lord puts him in His church. The Corinthians heard, believed and were baptized. So did the people of Jerusalem. And so must you! Obey the gospel, believe on the Lord, repent of your sins, be baptized for the remission of your sins, and surely, the Lord will add you to His church. There is no other way to enter the church which belongs to Christ, and of which He is the Head.
Truth Magazine XIX: 11, pp. 163-165
January 23, 1975