What Makes a Sound Church?

By Jim Gunter

Quite frequently, nowadays, because of the host of things that have divided God’s people, we hear such expressions as “sound Christian,” “sound preacher,” and “sound church.” I believe these expressions to lie warranted, not simply because they might have impressive tones, but because Christ through His apostles tells us to be such.

Often times we may hear the term “conservative”‘ used, and has been employed., by this author on a great number of occasions. While this term may be all right, and I am not being critical of those who use it, it seems to me, by the language of the New Testament, that “sound” would be the more appropriate.

This term is employed as an adjective in the New Testament, a great number of times; sometimes having to do with one’s physical health and sometimes dealing with teaching or doctrine. The Greek word for the adjective is hugies and for the verb is hugiaino (W. E. Vine). With regard to physical health, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon states: “of a man who is sound in body; to make one whole i.e. restore him to health.” Concerning teaching or doctrine, he states: “teaching which does not deviate from the truth; wholesome, fit, wise.” Vine says, “true and incorrupt.”

Therefore, a “sound” church is a local body of God’s people that does not deviate from the teaching (doctrine) of “truth”; it does not teach false or corrupt doctrine.

Now it’s only logical to reason, that for a church of Christ to be “sound,” its members must be “sound.” Thus when a group of baptized believers practice those “things which become sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1), they would of necessity be a “sound” church. But then, on the other hand, when those same people begin to teach and practice things that are not “sound, ” things that are not found in the New Testament, then they begin to lose that “soundness.” Let us now examine two such churches of the first century that are mentioned in the word of God.

The Church At Ephesus

The apostle Paul had much to do with the work at Ephesus. On his return trip to Antioch from his second journey, he preached the gospel there for the first time. This was only a brief stay (Acts 18:19-22). However, when he made his third journey, he spent considerable time at Ephesus, in fact a period of well over two years (Acts 19:8, 10, 22).

According to Acts 19:20, the work there in Ephesus prospered greatly. There were also various others laboring with the apostle, two of which were Timothy and Erastus (Acts 19:22). All together, the amount of time that Paul spent at Ephesus was at least three years (Acts 20:31). In addition to this, Timothy also had spent a lot of time there while Paul was elsewhere. During this time, he received letters from Paul to warn the brethren there not to teach any other doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3).

Surely, these brethren in Ephesus had been established in the “Faith,” since Paul had personally worked with them for at least three years and had left Timothy with them for some time. In Eph. 1:15, 16, Paul even speaks of their faith in the Lord and love for the saints. However, as he was on his way to Jerusalem from his third journey, he stopped at Miletus and sent for the elders of that church to come to him (Acts 20:17). His discourse to them is found in vv. 18-35. Notice some of the words of warning to them: (vs. 28), “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all, the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Perhaps the saddest words are the ones that follow in vv. 29-31, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”

Now, one would have to think that this church, with both Paul and Timothy working with them for as long as they did, would remain a faithful or “sound” church. Without a doubt, Paul and Timothy had certainly done all that they possibly could to establish and ground them in the truth. However, the very thing that Paul had so earnestly warned them of in Acts 20:29-31 happened. A number o f years later, that church had lost its “sound-ness and the Lord Jesus spoke against it. In Rev. 2:4, 5, Jesus said, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Today, that church no longer exists in Ephesus.

The Church At Rome

The church at Rome had its beginning perhaps not too long after Pentecost in 33 A. D. In Acts 2:10, we learn that on the day of Pentecost, there were Jews and proselytes there from Rome, who had come to Jerusalem for this great annual event. Thus, they heard the gospel of Christ, as it was preached for the first time. It is highly probable, that some of these Romans were among the three thousand that obeyed the gospel on that day (Acts 2:41), and shortly after Pentecost, returned to Rome and met as a church of the Lord thereafter.

From the language that Paul uses, it would certainly seem that this church at Rome was a very strong church and “sound” in the “Faith.” In Rom. 1:8 he said, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the.whole world.” It was further said to their credit in Rom. 6:17, 18 that they had “obeyed from the heart;” they were very earnest and sincere in their obedience to the Saviour. However, even though their faith and sincerity warranted commendation from Paul, he saw fit to warn them in this same letter of the threat to their “soundness.” In Rom. 16:17-19 he said, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary -to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad. therefore on your behalf:’but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.”

In the last years of Paul’s life, he sailed to Rome to stand trial before Augustus Caesar. Exactly how many years Paul spent in Rome before he was put to death, we are not told. However, we are told in Acts 28:30, “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him . . . .”

What became of that church, you say? Well, you and I today are eye-witnesses of what became of her. The church there began to teach and practice things unbecoming to “sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1). It is my firm conviction, that the church at Rome had to be an integral part of the “Mystery of Iniquity” that had already begun to work in Paul’s lifetime (2 Thess. 2:7). It is also my earnest conviction, that Roman Catholicism, followed by Denominationalism, is the inception and outgrowth of the great apostasy or ‘Falling Away” described by Paul in vs. 3.

I was brought up in the labyrinth of Denominationalism and was content in being enslaved by it for the first 31 years of my life. However, I will be ever grateful to The God of Heaven, that through His Word, I was able to find my way out. But, at the same time, does it not follow that if I depart from His Word (sound doctrine), that I will find myself right back within its throes again? As members of the Lord’s Body, we do not engage in the use of mechanical instruments of music in our worship to the Father, for only one reason-we do not find authority in the New Testament for its use. To be consistent, should we not judge all our teaching and practices on the same basis?

May we, as we strive to please God in this life, learn the lesson of obedience to God, from what happened to these two churches. May we also keep ever before us, the words of the apostle John (2 Jn. 9), “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” Surely, this must be the doctrine that Paul spoke of as “sound” doctrine (Tit. 2:1). Thus, it would only follow, that a church which taught this doctrine, would be a “sound” church.

Truth Magazine XIX: 46, pp. 729-730
October 2, 1975