By Philip A. Owens
One church is as good as another” and “one doesn’t have to be a member of the church to be saved” are statements made by good, honest, sincere people. If indeed these statements be true, there is little need in preaching and writing about the church, for it becomes immaterial to the salvation of our souls. On the other hand, if the Bible discusses that relationship the matter is settled, whether we believe it or not.
The first mention of the word “church” is found in Matthew 16:18. Jesus Christ said, “And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Therefore, the church Jesus said He would build was not in existence at that time, but He called His disciples’ attention to the fact that He would build it and that Hades (death and the grave) would not prevent Him from so doing. If I did not believe anything else in God’s Word, I would know from this Scripture that there is something special and sacred about the church.
As we continue to read the New Testament, we find that after Christ died, was buried, then raised from the dead, the apostles were gathered in the city of Jerusalem as Christ had commanded. The second of three annual Jewish feasts was being observed. Upon this occasion, Christ sent the Holy Spirit upon the apostles as He previously said He would (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 24:4). By the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostles preached the gospel for the first time in its fulness. Peter, being the chief spokesman as he convinced those gathered that they had crucified the Son of God instead of an imposture, called on the people to know assuredly that God had “made Him both Lord and Christ.” When they believed this great fact, they were “pricked in their hearts” just as honest people are when they believe the gospel. They then “said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said unto them, 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 2:37,38). What was the result? Those who “gladly received the word were baptized” (v. 41). What happened? “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (v. 47). From this we learn that gospel preaching, salvation, and the church are related.
You may read your Bible from cover to cover and you will never read where anyone “joined” any church. The truth is that, when a person is saved, the Lord automatically “adds” him to His church. I have never joined any church and do not plan on it. But someone says, “I don’t believe you have to be a member of a church to be saved.” If such a person means one doesn’t have to be a member of a denomination to be saved, I would agree. God Almighty did not send His Son to earth to suffer, agonize, sorrow, bleed, and die for something that did not matter if one joined or not, that originated with men, and taught and practiced different things. But God did send Him to earth and Christ died for the church, and there is a vast difference between the church of the New Testament and denominations.
Some say, “One church is as good as another.” Again, if such a person means a denomination, he is right. One denomination is just as good as another because none of them has anything to do with our salvation. But when a person believes and is baptized he is saved (Mark 16:16) and the Lord adds such a person to the church, not a denomination.
One asks, “If you didn’t join the church, how did you become a member?” In the same manner I became a member of my earthly family. When you understand how I became a member of my earthly family without joining it, then you will understand how I became a member of the church without joining it. “Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5). When a person believes the teaching of the Spirit the facts of the gospel – and obeys through being baptized in water, he enters the kingdom of family of God. He becomes an “addition” to God’s family – a member of the Lord’s church.
“But I believe one can be saved outside the church,” says one. You can then be saved without the blood of Christ, because the only institution that touches His blood is the church (Acts 20:28). But it is impossible to have remission of sins except by Christ’s blood (Heb. 9:22; 10:4-10). Therefore, it is impossible to be saved except by being in that which has been cleansed by blood – the church. “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). If Christ saves the body and the body is the church (Col. 1:18), and the Lord adds those who are saved to the church, what can you deduce about those outside the church? The church and eternal salvation are inseparable!
The church of the New Testament is simply the group of baptized believers who have been called by the gospel out of the world of sin and who work and worship together according to the words of its head – Jesus Christ. Have you obeyed the gospel and thereby become a member of the church Christ purchased with His blood? Or are you in something completely foreign to the New Testament? “And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 12, p. 357
June 21, 1984