By Dennis C. Abernathy
Almost every one we talk with about the salvation of their soul will agree that Christ is essential to our salvation. Especially, is this so with anyone who believes the Bible. But when we ask the question: “Is the church essential to our salvation?” or “Is it necessary to be a member of the church to please Almighty God, or to do what He expects of you?”, we begin to get various answers. The reason for this is because so many have an improper understanding of what the Bible says about the church! They feel they can be saved separate and apart from the church, that it is non-essential (it is a good organization, and perhaps you would be better off if you were a member, but it is not necessary) to our pleasing God. What about you my friend or brother? Do you believe that Christ is necessary to your salvation, but that the church plays no vital part in your soul’s destiny? In other words, do you believe (as so many do) that membership in the church is of no eternal value? In this article we wish to affirm (in as simple a way as we know how) that both Christ and the church are essential to our salvation. Follow in your Bibles, and let us see!
1. Christ and the Church -A Very Close Relationship: If we can just come to realize and appreciate the very close relationship between Christ and the church, then I am convinced that we would never be guilty of thinking, much less saying, “I can be saved without ever being a member of the church.”
Take your Bible right now and read Ephesians 5:22-33. One thing we learn from these very beautiful passages is that the church is referred to as the “bride of Christ.” This certainly depicts the close affinity between the Lord and the church! Really, what I am saying is this: to belong to Christ is to belong to the church. Paul also stated in the same reading that Christ would “sanctify, cleanse, and present the church to Himself.” The record also states that Christ “gave Himself for the church.” I now ask this simple, but pertinent, question: “Did our Lord suffer the’ agony of death to bring into existence a non-essential institution?” Did the only begotten Son of God offer himself on a Roman cross (think of the suffering, shame, ridicule, etc.) in order to present something that we can either take or leave, accept or reject? Did he?
My Christian friend, and brother, before you are too hasty to cry out in righteous indignation against the poor soul who thinks little of the church, why not make an examination of self! Does your action (attending all the services, giving of your money, time, encouragement) depict this “take it or leave it” attitude? Is the church essential to you in “word only”? Let us strengthen and undergird our teaching by living consistently with it.
In Acts 20:28, we read: “Take heed unto yourselves and all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of the Lord which He hath purchased with His own blood.” Here we have the apostle Paul sending for the Ephesian elders to come and meet him in Miletus and he speaks fervently to them. Among the things he said was that the church was bought or purchased with Christ’s blood. Did Christ shed His blood in vain? The church must be very important. It must be worth every bit of Christ’s blood. Do you believe the Lord overpaid? Certainly not! The purchase price equals the value of the thing purchased (church), which shows that the church is just as important to our salvation as is Christ’s precious blood. Who can deny that the church is essential? If the blood of Christ is essential, then the church is essential.
But before we pass, we as Christians should go and read Hebrews 10:26-29. Let us beware lest we count the blood of the covenant (Christ’s blood) an unholy thing, by committing wilful acts of sin. But not only do we learn that Christ shed His blood to purchase the church, we also learn that his blood was “for the remission of sins.” “For this is my blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Is this unmistakable relationship between salvation from sin, the blood of Christ, and the church becoming clearer and clearer? In Acts chapter two, we read of those who received “remission of sins” by repenting and being baptized (Acts 2:38). What does that have to do with the church you ask? Read verses 41 and 47. The saved were added to the church! Those Jews on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 benefitted by the blood of Christ, by being in what the blood bought or purchased, that is, the church! What have we said? Notice: Christ shed His blood for the remission of sins (Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:7), but He also shed His blood to purchase or buy the church (Acts 20:28) We benefit from His blood by being in the church or the purchased possession!
This very close relationship between Christ and the church is further seen in Acts $:l-5. This, of course, is talking of Saul of Tarsus, who was a leader of the Pharisees, and who, the record says, “made havoc of the church.” He was one of the leaders in the persecution of the church. You may be asking just what this has to do with the point we are making? Just this! In Acts 9:4, Jesus asked Saul, “Saul, Saul, why persecuteth thou me?” To persecute the church is to persecute Christ! Why? Because Christ and the church are one (Eph. 5:32).
Turn in your Bible now and read Colossians 1:18,24. From these words we learn that the church is the spiritual body of Christ over which He rules as head. Therefore, to try to be saved by Christ but apart from the church is to separate the head from the body! The very fact that the Bible teaches us that Christ is the head of the church, which is His body, proves conclusively that the church is essential. Who can imagine or visualize the perfect Son of God as the head of a non-essential organism?
We now go to Ephesians 2:13-16. Read it before you go on with me. These verses talk about reconciliation. To reconcile means to bring us back in harmony with God. Man has sinned (Rom. 3:23), estranged himself from God (Isa. 59:1-2), but he can be brought back on friendly terms with God. But this reconciliation is only to be had in the body, the church, by the blood of Christ. May I illustrate (See chart below):
|Verse 13: In Christ||Made nigh||By the blood of Christ|
|Verse 16: In one body||Reconciled||By the cross|
Is the Church Essential?
Last of all we come to Ephesians 5:23, which says, “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, and he is the savior of the body.” Now, dear reader, if you think the church is non-essential, you shall have to get another Savior, for Christ is the Savior of the body, the church, over which He rules as head!
I think just here, it would be good to point out something that is very simple, yet unique, that being this: one enters into Christ and the church the same way and at the same time. Rom. 6:3-4 and Galatians 3:26-27 show us that baptism is the step that puts one into Christ. Take time to read them! But woe and behold in 1 Corinthians 12:13 we read that it is baptism which puts one into the church. Can you recall ever reading of any other way to enter “into Christ” or “into one body” (or church)? It would seem that the aforementioned passages would be enough to show the reasonable person the importance of being a member of the church, but let me go one step more.
2. The Close Relationship And Love Between Brethren: The church is spoken of as God’s family (1 Tim. 3:15). Therefore, to be in the church is to be a part of God’s family. That. means God is our Father and His family or household is composed or made up of his children.
To be a member of the church means we enjoy the “love of brethren” (Rom. 12:10; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 Pet. 2:17). I, for one, believe these warm associations and friendships are reasons for becoming a member of the church. The care we have, the joy we share, the esteem in which we hold one another is truly a marvelous thing. The song we so often sing expresses what I am trying to say:
“Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.
We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows, the sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part it gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.”
Are you a member of the church? Christ gave Himself for the church, shed His blood to purchase it, rules over it as head, will save the church one day, and has given you the opportunity to be reconciled therein. We, of course, are speaking of Christ’s church, not just any church, not some denominational body that is not even mentioned in the Word of God, but the church Jesus built and that you can read of in the Bible. Why not obey the Lord now and become a member of the church, the body of the redeemed?
Truth Magazine XXII: 49, pp. 794-795
December 14, 1978