By Jimmy Tuten
As we view the unusual things that are taking place in the Lord’s church, we are apt to conclude that they are new features. The fact is that the various phenomena have been around a long, long time. The numerous denominational trends that are popping up among God’s people can be traced back to the early apostasies of the first century church. The expressions of those trends can be found in the period known as the Reformation. What is taking place in the church today is simply history repeating itself. We simply have not learned its lessons. We have not listened to what history was telling us.
But there is more. National trends have made inroads within the brotherhood. One of them is the social emphasis which has weakened our appeal to Scripture for faith and practice. More and more brethren are heaping unto themselves “teachers, having itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3) and like a raging flood many “turn away their ears from the truth.” The desire to please the listening car is taking the distinctiveness out of our preaching. In its place.is the “don’t tell them who you are, you might scare them” philosophy. The result is a new language whose vocabulary is void of book, chapter, and verse. The blind lead the blind (Matt. 15:14).
The “eliminate the negative” approach to preaching “the man and not the plan” has already resulted in what some call the “church preacher” vs. the “Christ preacher.” In 1970, Go Magazine reported that one of the fifteen things changing emphasis was “church emphasis to Christ emphasis” (“Campus Evangelism”). No wonder, as one brother put it: “There is a denominational aura hovering like a lowering cloud over many of our congregations clamoring for appeasement rather than atonement, for self-satisfaction rather than for self-sacrifice” and where the order of the day “is to be served rather than be used in service to others.” The nothing is to focus upon the sin in one’s life has given way to feel good about yourself. Its no wonder that so few today know so little about the necessity of the church in the salvation of man. We are witnessing the fruit of “our preachers” departing from biblically oriented, unadulterated doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9). It’s time we preachers started “shelling corn” instead of throwing out husks as we step into the pulpits. If one is not a “for hire” preacher then he had better start “firing from the hip” (Hos. 4:6; 2 Tim. 4:2). Denominationalism is getting the draw on us. Many in the body of Christ now believe that our high “mortality rate” is due to over-emphasis of indoctrination on such things as the one church, etc.
Too much emphasis on the church? Not as long as brethren apologize to the religious world for being sectarian (Restoration Review, February 1984), or publications among our brethren like The Worldly Church (Allen, Hughes and Week, Abilene Christian University Press), The Examiner (Charles Holt), Free in Christ, (Cecil Hook), etc. send forth their venomous slander against God’s people today, and not as long as brethren continue to believe that the New Testament church is a “dissenting, or schismatic religious body.” We must keep stressing that:
The Church Is Not a Sect
The church is undenominational and is not sect because it is made up of all the saved (Acts 2:47). It is not a fraction df the body, for it is the body. It’s not a part of the kingdom; it is the kingdom. It is wrong to refer to the primitive church as a sect and its members as sectarian. This must be stressed again and again. It is not a time for silence on the matter.
Salvation Is in the Church
We must continue to emphasize that salvation is in the church. The shedding of the blood of Christ confirmed and ratified the New Testament (Heb. 9:15-22; Gal. 3:15). In it we are told that salvation is in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 1:3; 2 Tim. 2:10). What does this have to do with salvation in the church? Simply this: the church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:18,24; Eph. 1:22-23; 5:23). When one is in Christ, he is in the body. If not, why? Can one be in Christ and not be in the body? Christ purchased the church with his blood (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5). If one is saved out of the church, he is saved out of the body and without the blood of Christ. Those saved by the blood are in the church (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:13). Here’s why:
(1) Sinners are redeemed and saved by the blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).
(2) That which justifies lost sinners (the blood) also sanctifies the church (Eph. 5:26-27).
(3) Therefore people saved are in the church (Acts 2:47). They were added to it. How can one be saved outside of something that the Bible says the “Lord adds him to” when he saves him? Furthermore, since Christ and the church are one (Eph. 5:31-32), can we be “in Christ and not be in that which is one with Christ?” Apparently we have not stressed this enough.
The Church Is the Family of God
The church you read about in the New Testament is the family of God (Eph. 3:14-15). The inspired apostle referred to it as “the house of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15). A man’s house is his family (Acts 16:31). Noah’s “house” was his family (Heb. 11:7). Since the church is God’s family, how can one be a child of God and not be in his family? Does God have illegitimate children, children outside of his family?
The “It” of Ephesians 5
We need to emphasize that the “it” referred to in Ephesians 5 is the same “it” that we need to belong to. The “it” of the context is the church. Hence, Jesus:
(1) Loved the church (v. 25).
(2) Sanctified and cleansed the church (v. 26).
(3) Presented it to himself a glorious church (v. 27).
Now if we want to be a part of that described in Ephesians 5:22-32, we will have to be in the church so described. If not, why not? Do you belong to it? – The “it” that was loved, sanctified, etc.?
We need more stress and emphasis on all the features of the church. When we do, we can expect two charges from those who “are ever learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7).
(1) “You are preaching churchianity instead of Christianity because you are saying the church saves.” The charge is false for the simple reason that the church does not save, but rather it is the body to which we are added when the Lord saves us. We are added to the church because it is the body (Col. 1:18) and it is into this body that we are baptized (I Cor. 12:13). It is baptism that saves the sinner (1 Pet. 3:21) through the blood of Christ.
(2) “Your primary concern is what you call ‘the church,’ and its reproduction and maintenance. You are a preacher and defender of ‘the church,’ not Christ, not the preaching of the gospel . . . not the truth” (The Messenger, Charles Holt, February 21, 1979). While it is admitted that some do abuse the word “church,” this too, is a false charge. A more complete discussion does not fall within the purview of this writing. But it should be noted that one cannot speak of Christ and not speak of his body, the church (they are the same, Col. 1:18). His body of saved people, in its universal sense, includes all the redeemed in Christ who jointly share all the blessings that are in him (Eph. 1:3,22-23). Sometimes it, i.e., church, refers to the redeemed within a limited designation such as Corinth, etc. (1 Cor. 12:27; 1:1-2). Improper emphasis of this scriptural use of the word “church” can result in denominationalizing it. But it should be remembered that ekkiesia, regardless of how it is translated, always means “a body of people.” In the context of this writing it is a body of saved people who are in Christ and because they are in Christ, they are saved. I preach Christ and the fact that the obedient are added to his body, the church, when saved in him. The charge under consideration is a false accusation, pure and simple! It is false because a person can be a member of the New Testament church without being a member of something other than the church (“now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular,” i.e., individually, 1 Cor. 12:27). The church cannot exist apart from its members (body of Christ). Too, one disciple is not the church. All the members together are the church!
Has the fear of such charges caused us to back off from stressing the church? Brethren, this is not a time for silence. God’s purpose is not served when we remain silent regarding the church. These are great times of danger for the kingdom and we can offset the spirit of sectarianism therein only by speaking out boldly. Fulfilling the desire for “smooth things” (Isa. 30:8-13) among God’s people today can only result in drinking from “broken cisterns” (Jer. 2:13), as in days of old. “Preach the word. ” This includes what the Word says about the New Testament church. Let’s get back to emphasizing the church.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 9, pp. 259-260
May 4, 1989