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THE CHURCH ITS CONDITIONS OF MEMBERSHIP

 

Imagine having a conversation with the nearly three thousand souls who were baptized on the day of Pentecost and added to the church. If you had been present on Pentecost and you had asked those who were baptized to tell you what church they were members of, how would they have replied? Would they have identified themselves with some well-known modern day denomination?

If someone had asked those who were baptized on Pentecost, "what denomination are you a member of," the multitudes saved on that day would have been bewildered and confused by the question; there were no modern day denominations in existence at that time. There were sectarian religious groups in existence (such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees) but there were no modern day denominational churches in existence at that time. Indeed there was a church in existence at that time, but it was not a man-made denominational organization. Those who were baptized on Pentecost were added to the church of Christ, i.e., the church that belonged to Christ.

The early recipients of salvation on Pentecost did not go their separate ways and divide up into different denominational organizations. They knew nothing of the man-made names and titles that are so popular in the religious world today. They were not associated with any denominational church, but they were members of the church of Christ, not a modern day denomination known as the Church of Christ, but the actual church of Christ established on Pentecost. Consequently, when Paul wrote the Romans he said, "the churches of Christ salute you" (Rom. 16:16). He was not referring to a group of denominational churches that had chosen to identify themselves with a particular denominational name. Paul deplored religious division patterned after men and named after men (1 Cor. 1:10-13). When Paul referred to "the churches of Christ" he was referring to that group of individuals who had been called out of the world to become members of the church built and bought by Christ, the church of Christ!

The church of Christ's choice is the one body of which Jesus is the Savior. Language could not be any plainer concerning the church than that employed by the apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul wrote, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." The very first phrase of this passage is a death-knell to the "choose the church of your choice" philosophy. According to the inspired penman, Paul, "there is one body." The same apostle Paul taught that Jesus is the head of the church, "which is his body" (Eph. 1:22-23). Moreover, Jesus is "the saviour of the body" (Eph. 5:23).

The sum of this trio of passages is as follows:

There is one body;

The body is the same thing as the church;

Jesus will save only those who are in His one body, the church;

Therefore, there is only one church and only those who are in that one church will be saved.

This may sound narrow-minded in our broad-minded age, but it is what the Bible teaches and we must not shy away from this Biblical fact. The question is often asked, "must one be a member of the church of Christ in order to be saved?" More and more members of the church seem terrified by by this question. Some members even brag of how they set folks straight who mistakenly conclude that we teach that one must be a member of the church of Christ in order to be saved. But brethren, if language has any meaning at all then the teaching of Scripture is that Jesus will save only those who are in His body (Eph. 5:23). In fact, it is not nearly as difficult to get folks to admit that one must be a member of the body of Christ in order to be saved as it is to get them to admit that one must be a member of the church of Christ in order to be saved. But since the body and the church are the same thing, then if one must be a member of the body of Christ in order to be saved (and Ephesians 5:23 teaches that one must) then it is also true that one must be a member of the church of Christ in order to be saved.

It is important to emphasize that when we say that one must be a member of the church of Christ in order to be saved we are not talking about a man-made denomination. Rather, we have reference to the church of Christ about which we read on the pages of the New Testament, the church of Christ established on Pentecost and perpetuated wherever the seed of the kingdom was sown and received thereafter!

The fact that there is one body (church) eliminates any possibility of choice in the matter. If I say, "upon this podium I will lay my watch and after services you may come and take the watch of your choice," you would come to the podium and correctly say, "What do you mean choose the watch of my choice -- there is only one watch here and that doesn't leave room for any other choice." Likewise, when Jesus said, "upon this rock I will build my church," He spoke in the singular and by so doing left no room for another choice. When God told Noah to use gopher wood to build the ark, He eliminated any other choice as pleasing in His sight. When God specified the fire by which He desired to be worshipped, then there was no other choice of fire that could possibly appease Him. When God identified looking at the brass serpent as the means by which the Israelites could be saved from death, then those who wanted to be saved had no choice but to comply with God's instructions. Just as Naaman had only one river wherein he could receive the blessing of being cleansed of his leprosy, so likewise there is only one church wherein we can receive salvation and cleansing from our sins and that is the church of Christ Jesus! Just as Naaman proposed bodies of water wherein he could find cleansing, some today propose to be saved in other religious bodies other than the one specified by the Lord. However, just as Naaman could only be cleansed in the body of water known as the River Jordan, so likewise the sinner can only be saved in the body of Christ, the church of Christ. Conclusion

The conclusion is inescapable. Any church that originated after the Day of Pentecost could not possibly be the Lord's church. Please observe that we are not saying that any church established after the Day of Pentecost, but following the same apostolic pattern as the church in Jerusalem, constitutes a man-made church. We are saying that any church that originated after Pentecost, that does not follow the apostles doctrine (Acts 2:42; John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 14:37) is a man-made church, and that we should have no desire to be a part of it. Whereas man-made churches follow "the doctrines and commandments of men" (Matt. 15:8-9), the Lord's church follows "the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 9).

The first century Christians were not adherents to the Law of Moses, for Jesus had nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:14). The old covenant was replaced by a new covenant, a better covenant with better promises (Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15-17). The church of Christ in Jerusalem was guided and governed by the apostles' doctrine (Acts 2:42). The things that Paul taught the Corinthian church were said to be "the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37). The church was not then, nor should it be now, loyal to the creeds, manuals and catechisms of uninspired men. The motto of 1 Peter 4:11, if practiced consistently by the religious world, would lead to the practice of distinctive New Testament Christianity.

Man is a creature of choice, for God made him that way. However, because our choices will determine our eternal destiny, we must be meticulously careful in making the right choice. We know that the Bible teaches that there is one church and that Jesus will save those who are in that church. Yet, with so many churches in the world today, some have difficulty in determining which church in their community is the one true church. The following questions will be of some assistance in this regard. As you study your Bible, ask the following:

What church in this community has no creed but Christ? What church in this community has no manual, catechism, or book of discipline but the New Testament?

What church in this community requires the same terms of admission as did the New Testament churches?

What people in this community wear the same religious designations as those worn in New Testament times, preferring to be called Christians only?

What church in the community follows the Biblical pattern of church organization in having elders lead the flock, while the preachers, deacons and members serve under the elders, who serve under the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ?

What church in this community insists that the commandments of God be obeyed as they were in New Testament times?

What church in this community meets upon the first day of the week to study the apostles' teaching, and to fellowship by praying, singing, giving, breaking bread and drinking the fruit of the vine?

What church in this community possesses all the earmarks of a New Testament church?

If we answer these questions prayerfully, carefully, and scripturally, then the church of our choice will conform to the church of Christ's choice! ~BJ Clarke via http://www.gospelpreceptor.com/ClarkeB2.htm