A series by evangelist Johnny Elmore from Ardmore, Oklahoma.
Part One: The Mission of the Church
What is the mission of the church? What is its reason or purpose for being in the world? Just as the church had a divine beginning, even so it has a divine mission. The mission of the church is altogether spiritual. First, I want to state what the mission of the church is not.
What Its Mission Is Not
The mission of the church is not to be a political institution. It was never the mission of the church to try to direct and control the affairs of state. Jesus taught that there is to be a separation of church and state. He said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). There is no justification for the church or any other religious organization seizing the reins of government and attempting to exercise control over men in government.
The mission of the church is not to become a social institution. There are some who evidently feel that the mission of the church is to entertain people and please men. This has led some churches to build mammoth recreational programs, complete with kitchens and fellowship halls. Some have built gymnasiums and athletic facilities in the hope of luring people to become interested in Christianity. One church that I know about has a place of worship, which will seat about 400 and a fellowship hall, which will seat 3500. Are we able to see where the emphasis is being placed?
One preacher said it was getting so that when he heard the word “fellowship” he could smell the coffee! Well, if you use the word “fellowship” in a biblical sense, you will “smell no coffee.” The recreation business should have no connection with the church. It may be the business of parents, mothers and fathers, to provide recreation, but it is not the duty or the mission of the church. When people feel they must provide recreation halls, kitchens, fellowship halls, gymnasiums, athletic facilities and what have you to induce people to come to church, they are telling the world that they do not believe that Christianity has the merit to attract the attention of serious-minded people. All of these circus-like attractions which are used to woo large numbers of people is only bribery. It is not a cut above the denominational group which recently initiated the practice of giving “trading stamps” to those who could secure the most new members for the congregation. Such is bribery! Such is not the mission of the church! What is the mission of the church?
The primary mission of the church is to preach the gospel. This is our paramount objective. Sometimes people say: “What about the poor and the unfortunate? Doesn’t the church have an obligation to them?” Yes, it is necessary to do good and relieve the afflicted, the needy and poor, but that is not the primary mission of the church.
Perhaps you remember that one of the first problems that the church faced in the first century was the complaint that the Grecian widows were being neglected, and that they were not being fed. What did the apostles do? Did they give up the preaching of the gospel and say, “Our first duty is to take care of these poor folks and feed them?” They did not. They told the disciples to choose seven men to be appointed over the business of caring for the poor. They continued with their primary mission – preaching the gospel. They said, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables” (Acts 6:2). It is a worthy thing to give a poor beggar a bath and a new suit of clothes, but how much more important that he receive the bath of regeneration and put on Christ. After all, what profit is it if you are able to relieve a man’s physical needs momentarily at the expense of letting him die without having heard and obeyed the gospel, and letting him go to an endless and Christless eternity? How much better to preach the gospel to him, and fit him and prepare him to live forever with Christ and all the redeemed.
To Preach The Gospel
Preaching the gospel is the primary mission of the church because the church is God’s agency to evangelize the world. Jesus compared the church to a householder who went out into the marketplace to hire laborers into his vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16. Jesus also compared the nature of the kingdom of heaven to a sower who went forth to sow. The seed the sower was sowing was the word of God, Matthew 13:3-23. In early days, the church was God’s agency to send preachers out to preach the word and do the work of God. The Bible says of the church at Antioch, “And when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away” (Acts 13:1-3).
The apostle Paul said in I Timothy 3:15 that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth. A pillar is a large stone colonnade or column, which supports the roof of a porch or a building, thus the church supports and upholds the truth of God. That is the mission of the church – to support and uphold the truth.
The apostle Paul also identified the church as the institution, which is to make known the wisdom of God. Ephesians 3: 10, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.” I understand therefore that the church is to be employed in the dissemination of the wisdom of God.
Paul said further: “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end” (Ephesians 3:21). It is God’s will that glory to himself shall be in the church by Christ Jesus. Men who do not consent to this are not in harmony with God’s will.
Let me also point out that local congregations of the church were the medium through which this mission of the church was to be accomplished. It was never God’s plan to have some organization bigger than the church, the local congregation to preach the gospel. It was never God’s plan to have a missionary society as an adjunct to the church in this respect.
God never intended for us to have some human society for the purpose of having rummage sales, garage sales, pie suppers, bingo games, and cake walks for the purpose of preaching the gospel. God intended for the church to do this work. Members of the church are to give their money on the first day of the week, and these funds are to be used for the mission of the church. What is the primary mission of the church? Its primary mission and central obligation is to preach the gospel.
It is said that if you go to Palestine, the Holy Land, as it is called, and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the guide will take you to a red stone beneath the great dome of the church and state: “Now right here is the center of the world, because this is where Jesus stood when he gave the great commission and said to the disciples: ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned’ (Mark 16:15,16).”
No doubt Jesus stood somewhere when he said that, but it seems unlikely that Jesus stood on that little red stone. We can’t say for sure, but I am certain of one thing. The great commission is the center of the church’s obligation even if that place is not the center of the world. Matthew stressed that same obligation but he worded it just a little differently. He recorded Jesus as saying: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:18-20)
To Teach The Saved
But you will notice another mission of the church in the last part of that great commission, as stated by Matthew. He said, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Jesus said, “Teaching them.” Who? Teaching those who are baptized, teaching the saved, teaching them to observe all things the Saviour commanded. Thus, Jesus named another mission of the church. When the church has made disciples, then it is the mission of the church to teach them what Jesus wants them to know. It is not enough to teach them the first principles and then leave them to their own devices – they must be taught to observe all things that Jesus commanded. Therefore, teaching the saved is necessary.
When sinners hear the call of the gospel and become Christians, they have faith, but there is something else to be added. Peter said, “And beside this, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity” (II Peter 1:5-7).
One of the principal things to be added to the life of a Christian is knowledge. That was essentially what the apostle Paul was talking about when he spoke of “putting on the whole armor of God.” He said: “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness: And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:14-18). All of these things are simply metaphorical references to the word of God. Many Christians are bareheaded and barefooted, so to speak, facing the enemy without defenses because they have no knowledge of the word of God.
How can the church bring about this knowledge of the word of God? First, it is the duty of preachers, teachers, and elders of the church to teach the word of God, and feed the flock. In Acts 20:28, the Ephesian elders were told: “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.” The elders are to feed the flock.
In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul told the young preacher, Timothy: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” In other words, the preacher was to teach “faithful men” and these faithful men would likewise teach others. In Titus 2:1-8, Paul charged the preacher Titus to teach aged men, aged women, young women and young men” their duties in the church.
Also, the New Testament makes it clear that each Christian has a responsibility to other Christians. Hebrews 3:12,13 warns: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.” Therefore, it is the mission of the church to teach its members, and to cause them to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.
To Provide A Spiritual Atmosphere
It is the mission of the church to provide the kind of place where spiritual life can flourish. The meetings of the church should be the kind of meetings where the spiritual man, the inner man, can be renewed. The services should be orderly and worshipful. The meetings should not be held and conducted with the end in view of simply attracting a great crowd and catering to the wishes and wants of worldly people. It is a great mistake for people to feel that they must put on a show to attract a crowd. Remember, the apostle in speaking of conduct in meetings said: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (I Corinthians 14:40).
It is not necessary to have the most eloquent speaker, or the most entertaining singing to build up the spiritual man. What does matter is to meet with a desire to worship and serve God in spirit and in truth, as Jesus instructed in John 4:23,24, and to show genuine love and concern for each other. Jesus said: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Therefore, it should be the duty and mission of every member of the church to make it a place that is warm, friendly, receptive, and encouraging, and to show love for this world, even as Jesus loved the world and gave his life that he might redeem it from sin.
To Reproduce The Character Of Christ
Another mission of the church is to provide in its members the kind of person that Jesus wants to see. The objective of every church is to produce the likeness of Christ in the lives of its members. Is the church doing that for you? Do you have the humility that Jesus manifested while on earth? Do you have the burning zeal and love for men’s souls that Jesus had? Can you turn the other cheek and go the second mile as Jesus did, and as Jesus taught that we should do? Do we stand for the things that Jesus taught? The apostle Paul commanded: “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
That is the purpose of all our worship and work – to reproduce in our own lives the character of Jesus Christ. I once read the story of a preacher who went deep into the interior of China, to a village so remote that they could know very little about modern life. This preacher began to tell the villagers the story of Jesus – how he went about doing good, healing the sick and feeding the hungry, how he lived such an unselfish life in the interest of others, and the people said: “We know that man! He lived in our village.” “Oh no,” the preacher said, “this man lived in Palestine, and died hundreds of years ago.” The people said, “No, this man lived among us. Come, we will show you his grave.” With these words, they led the preacher to the grave, and showed him the remaining effects of an English medical doctor, who had “thrown his life away” on this remote village. This man had so exemplified the life of the Christ that when the people heard the story of Jesus, they immediately thought of the doctor.
My friend, that is one of the purposes of the church – to reproduce the character of Jesus in its members. May it be said of every Christian, as it was once said of the apostles long ago, when they were brought in before the authorities, that they “took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” There is no argument that can answer that kind of life. If you and I live so that people can take knowledge of us, that we have been with Jesus, that will be the most powerful influence we can ever have for the advancement of truth.
To Bring Joy To Mankind
Perhaps it could be said that the all-encompassing mission and purpose of the church is to bring joy and happiness to mankind. Not as the world giveth, but as God giveth. Why is it that people attend worship? It is not because they are forced to attend. They go because they love to go. David said, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122:1). The happiest people I know anywhere are those who attend worship on Sunday morning and are found in their places on Sunday evening and Wednesday night, and at other times. These people are truly happy. Their faces radiate with the love of the Son of God. The Bible records that after the Philippian jailor had been baptized into Christ that he “rejoiced, believing in God with all his house” (Acts 16: 34). When the Ethiopian nobleman was baptized, “he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). What is the mission of the church?
Not politics, or social programs, but rather preaching the gospel, teaching the saved, providing a place where Christians can grow and flourish, reproducing the character of Jesus, and bringing true joy and happiness to mankind.
Part Two: The Unity of the Church
I have been discussing the church which Jesus promised to build in Matthew 16: 18. We have studied the establishment of the church and the mission of the church. And concerning the church, I am aware that there is a philosophy that states that a man does not have to become a member of the church to be saved.
Let me say in reply to that teaching, that if one man can be saved on the outside as well as on the inside, then two men could also be saved. If two men can be saved without being in the church, then two thousand could; and if two thousand could, why not two million? If two million could be saved without the church then why couldn’t the entire human race, and thus render the church absolutely useless? Why should Christ establish it, fill it with his Spirit, and become head of it, if the human family can be saved without it as well as with it? Surely we can see the folly of such reasoning.
I might also point out that the church of the New Testament is not simply an extension of a Jewish institution, coming down from the days of Abraham. The Jewish nation does not believe that but there are many professed followers of Christ who declare that to be the case. There is one example that ought to settle that point forever. In the third chapter of John, there is an account of a man named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, who according to birth and background, would have been a descendant of Abraham, and entitled to such benefits. However, this man came to Jesus by night and Jesus plainly told him the terms of entrance into the kingdom of God. Jesus said: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). I.e., “Even if you are a descendant of Abraham, and a ruler of your people, such relations will not allow you to enter the church I have come to establish. Except a man be born of the water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Jesus taught, therefore, that all affiliations and relationships based on the flesh are of no profit, and that one must submit to a new rite unheard of previously and unknown before that time, or else he cannot be inducted into the family of God.
Based upon that statement, I declare that every person this very day is either a servant of the kingdom of Satan, or else he is a child of God, and a member of his family. There is no middle ground. Either I am on one side or the other. If I am saved, I can rejoice that my name is written in the book of life, and therefore I am a member of the body of Christ, the church of God, the family of the first-born. Or, if my sins are unforgiven, I am a member of Satan’s family, and I stand condemned and consigned to the regions of the lost.
The Church Is Not A Denomination
Every person ought to be able to recognize just what the church of the Bible is. The church is composed of all the redeemed, the saved, all those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. What I want to stress is the unity and the oneness of the church. That very statement denies and opposes the idea of denominationalism. In fact, you can put it down in your book that when you read in the Bible about the church, you are not reading about some human denomination, because no man can read from the book of God a single, solitary statement or even a hint of anything that smacks of denominationalism. Denominationalism is modern, recent, and unknown to the book of God, and there is not a man living today who can take God’s book and find anything that looks like even a distant relation of modern denominationalism.
Let me ask you this question: When you turn to the Bible and hear the Saviour say, “Upon this rock I will build my church,” do you get the thought that Jesus was talking about some denomination? If so, which one? When the apostle Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it,” (Eph. 5:25), what denomination was that? The truth is, no man lives who can trace denominationalism any further back than the sixteenth century. Before that time, history, both sacred and profane, is as silent as the stars of heaven.
In Bible days, or in apostolic times, Christians were simply called “Christians,” and were known as members of the church. No one ever asked the inane question, “What church?” because there was only one – the one Jesus built. No one ever talked about what “branch” the apostles and disciples were members of. They were not members of any branch. They were branches themselves and members of the true vine. Until we get to that point, we can only expect confusion, infidelity, and embarrassment to confront us on every hand.
Jesus understood that full well, and Jesus prayed in John 17:20,21, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one (not two, or two hundred as we are now), but “that they all may be one, as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee.” Now note the reason Jesus gave for being one: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. “The greatest curse on the earth is religious division. The greatest hindrance to the cause of Christ is denominational rivalry. The greatest handicap and discouragement to faithful, godly men is the fact that people who claim to be members of the body of Christ are torn apart, divided and separated by human opinions and popular preference. We divide and sub-divide rather than submit to God’s will and all determine to speak the same thing, and be of one mind and judgment, even as the Lord prayed and the apostles pleaded.
If there is anything the New Testament pleads for and insists upon, it is the unity of the church. The apostle Paul said: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (I Cor. 12:12, 13). What does the apostle stress in that statement? He stresses the unity, the oneness of the body, the church! Paul argues that just as the human body is one, and has many members and all members of the body are one, so also is Christ. The apostle Paul further stated that there is only one body and that by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body. That’s the way it was in Bible times! Is that the way it is today?
How is it today? All religious organizations demand that people submit to what they call “baptism,” but into what are people being baptized? One preacher is baptizing into one body, another preacher is baptizing into another body, and a third preacher is baptizing into a third body, and so on. All the while Satan rejoices because of such an obvious departure from the Scriptures. Is that calculated to convince the world at large of the truth of Christianity? No, it does not sound like the apostle’s statement that “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body,” because today they are baptized into two, three, or two hundred, as the case may be.
Again, the apostle Paul said in Eph. 4:4: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” From that statement, do you get the idea that the apostle implied that there might be 199 others? No, when he said, “One Lord,” in that same connection, I understand that there is only one. When he said, “One God,” I understand there to be only one, and when he said, “One Spirit,” I understand him to teach there is but one. I get the impression, and you do too, that there is only one God, only one Lord, and only one Spirit. In the same connection, Paul said “There is one body,” and therefore we conclude that there is one and only one.
The Church Compared To The Human Body
But again, the apostle compares the body of Christ to the human body when he says: “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Rom. 12:4,5). Thus, Paul argues that just as the human body has different members some to see, to taste, to smell, to hear, and to feel, and so on, and yet when they are brought together they compose this one body, even so in Jesus Christ every child of God on earth is a member, and the sum total thereof makes up but one body, of which Christ is the head.
But, look at Paul’s statement in I Cor. 12:1820, “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were are they all one member, where were the body? But now many members, yet but one body.” Note: the members were not set in by popular vote, but by God as it pleased him. But did you see also, that Paul first said, “There is one body,” but now he says: “yet but one body.” Not only does the Bible teach that there is one body, but it also says that there is “but one,” or “only one.” While Jesus was on earth, he had only one head, and one body, composed of different members. Today, Jesus is at God’s right hand, but he still has only one body, over which he is the one head, with many members in that one body.
What is that body, which is spoken of so many times? Turn to Eph. 1:22,23, where the apostle Paul was speaking about the glorious resurrection of Christ, and his triumphant ascension: “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him (Christ) to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” Therefore, Paul states that the church is the body of Christ.
The Church Is The Bride Of Christ
But there is more. The apostle Paul continues: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:23). Here the church is represented as married to a husband. Just as a husband here on earth is the head of the wife, even so Christ is the head of the church, and he is the saviour of the body.
Now we believe it is wrong for a man to practice polygamy – that is, to have more than one wife at a time. If a man is found guilty of that, he is judged rather severely. But some who are so strict with reference to polygamy in the physical sense, wink at and permit, at least in theory – they permit Jesus to be married to two hundred different bodies on the earth. What would that be called? It would be polygamy (spiritually). True to every illustration with which we are familiar, Christ is the husband, the church is the wife – one husband, one wife; one head, one body; one Father, one family. The man does not live on earth today who can find support for anything except the unity of the church and oneness in the church.
But there is another passage. In Col. 1:18, the apostle said: “And he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.” Just as there is one body, and but one, and just as that body is the church, then it follows that there is only one church, which is recognized by God.
Unity Is The Answer To Infidelity
And I wonder what we can say in the face of the skeptics and infidels? What will be our defense in standing up for God and for the Bible, yet all the while hanging on to organizations which are absolutely unknown to God’s book?
Suppose a skeptic who argues that the Bible is only a fairy tale, and who denies many of the things that you and I hold sacred confronts us. Suppose he steps up, with Bible in hand, to a preacher and says: “Sir, I am here to tell you that you do not believe the Bible.” “Oh, yes I do,” states the preacher. “You believe the Bible?” “You are governed by it in all things?” “You propose to stand for it against all forces of destruction?” “Well, I want you to take that Bible and show me on the inside thereof any place where God ever made mention of any kind of organization in which you claim membership and to which you give your time, talent and money. Now that’s your Bible – just turn to it, and read it, and I’ll hush up.”
Suppose that preacher has to say, “Well, I am bound to admit that I can’t turn to the Bible and read the name of the institution in which I claim membership, and which I ask others to be members of.” You talk about a victory for infidelity! Here he claims membership in something, which is foreign, and unknown to God’s book – he can’t even read the name in the Bible, yet he claims to support the word of God. The infidel would have every right to say: “Either come back and take a firm footing on the Bible, and claim membership in only that which you can read, or else join hands with me and let’s march hand in hand denying it.”
Every Biblical Figure Stresses Oneness
But sometimes dear friends will say: “Brother, let me tell you how it is. There is really only one body – we are all one – we just have different heads.” Then he begins to tell me who the head of his order is, and who the head of mine is, and so on. Well, what a picture! One great body of all professing Christians and yet from that one body projecting in different directions, two hundred heads! What a monstrosity! I try to be patient and kind toward anyone who advances such a thought, but I can’t accept it. Reason and logic forbid it!
Then I have had them to justify denominationalism from a different angle. They say: “This is the way it is – all of us have one common head, that is, Christ, the Lord, but we are just different bodies of people. Over there is one body, and here is one body, and so on.” Again I say: “What a monstrosity.” Did you ever in all the world see a head with two hundred different bodies? Did you ever see such a thing, even in the animal world? If I ever see such a thing, I am not going to wait around for it to be identified!
Every illustration in the Bible emphasizes the oneness of the church. Look at the lesson of the vine and the branches. Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit . . .I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15:1-5). There is a close relationship between the vine and its branches. Every branch is identical in character, in kind, in fruit and in prospect to every other branch. There never was a vine that bore several different kinds of fruit, and yet people would have us believe that the parable of the vine and the branches illustrates the condition of denominationalism today. There never was a vine from which there sprang out branches differing in origin, doctrine, and practice. That simply cannot and does not happen.
When Jesus compared the church to the fold, or the flock of Christ, he said, with reference to the Gentile world: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; (now get this) and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). When Cornelius and his family were invited into the church of Christ, that passage was fulfilled. The Lord never did plan to have two flocks – one with Gentile sheep, the other with Jewish sheep. He said: “There shall be one fold and one shepherd.” We would not think of asking professing Christians, “Which shepherd are you following?” But men think it not strange when men ask: “What fold or flock are you a member of?”
I say again that oneness, unity, is a characteristic of the church of the Lord. It is also characteristic of every page of teaching in the New Testament. Wouldn’t it be wonderful today if every professed follower of Jesus Christ were content to have only the Bible as his rule of faith, his discipline, his church manual, his church directory throughout life?
I want the foundation upon which we rest to be based upon God’s word. I cannot conscientiously, consistently, or scripturally accept a human name unknown to the Bible. I cannot subscribe to any rule of faith except the Bible. I cannot bear any name other than the name mentioned in the pages of God’s word. I cannot become identified with any religious order whose name is not found in God’s book.
Part Three: The Work of the Church
Jesus said in Mark 13:34, “For the Son of man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch.” From this statement of Jesus, we learn that the Son of man (Jesus) has taken a far journey (into heaven), leaving his house (the church), “and to every man his work.” This teaches me that there is work to be done in the church.
What is the church? Paul said in I Corinthians 12:27, “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” The church is not some artificial body from which we are separate and distinct. It is not some cold-blooded corporation. Every person in this world who has heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, and has obeyed the Lord’s commandments, having been baptized for the remission of sins with the right preparation of heart, has been added to the Lord’s church. The church, therefore, is made up of repentant believers who have been baptized into Christ.
The church is no stronger than the sum of men and women who compose and make up its membership. The church has no more influence than the sum total of its members. The church has no more money than the sum of that which its members possess. And the church has a purpose and a work to do in the world. Surely God would not build the church, and allow his only Son to shed his blood, and bring something into existence that has no reason for existing. The church has a work to do. I cannot claim membership in the church and do no work. The Lord has not called us into the church to be idlers, loafers, and parasites. He has a work for us to do. Therefore, we need to find out what God’s will is for the church, and be up and about our Father’s business.
I fear that many people have a misconception of the church. The church is a place of work. The apostle Paul compared the church to a race track, in which we “strive” for mastery, in order that we may receive the crown (II Timothy 2:5; 1 Timothy 6:12). Jesus said in John 9:4, “1 must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” And the apostle Peter said that Jesus left us “an example, that ye should follow in his steps” (I Pet. 2:21).
Too many people think of the church as “the old ship of Zion” for which one may purchase a ticket, get on board, sit down, and be transported into heaven. If the church is like any kind of transportation, it is more like a rowboat, which does not move or make any progress unless we actively apply the oars. Too many think of the church as a Pullman car, but it is more like the handcar, which must be propelled by the activity of those on board. The apostle Paul said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2: 12). He also said, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6). He said, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58). He said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Corinthians 5:10). He said that God “will render to every man according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6). Make no mistake about it, Christian friends, the Bible abundantly declares that our acceptance by God will be based upon our activity as a member of the church, because we show our faith by our works.
A working church would solve many of the problems in the church today. It would eliminate much of the quarreling, strife, backbiting, jealousy, and envy found in some circles today. It would solve the problem of worldliness, because idleness and inactivity cause that. If every member of the church worked, it would solve the problems of Christians being found in the wrong places. Too much idle time causes talebearers, meddlers, busybodies and occasions of stumbling. Christian work and activity would be the remedy for all that.
What The Work Of The Church Is Not
What is the work of the church? It is not the work of the church to try to run the government. Members of the church have no business trying to form political blocs to enforce the law. Jesus and his disciples were never political activists. Jesus stated his position toward government in trumpet tones when he said: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).
It is not the work of the church to try to adjust labor problems or improve social conditions. I believe that when Christianity is actively practiced it will ameliorate or perhaps abolish labor problems. It will invariably diminish social problems. It will eliminate racial strife. It will cause wars and battles to cease. But this is the result of Christianity in the hearts of men and women, and not the chief aim of Christianity. These things are not primarily the work of the church.
The work of the church is not to furnish entertainment for its members. There is a great area of misunderstanding in the world today along this line. It cheapens and belittles the gospel of Christ to see churches subscribing to the gimmicks and fads of the world in order to attract a large crowd. All you have to do to see that such is the practice is to pick up the newspaper ads and read of churches offering everything from hamburgers to helicopter rides in order to build their growth and attendance. That may succeed for a while, but the growth is not lasting. When a church is built on entertainment and the spectacular, it will always have to start doing something different, because after a time even the spectacular loses its appeal. Today some churches are constantly building modern, air-conditioned “church plants” with plush carpets and cushioned pews. Not content with that, they build fellowship halls, gymnasiums, and recreation rooms. Every self-respecting church has clergy, buildings, budgets, programs, and machines. In the eyes of some, the church is an entity, which holds services, recruits members, sponsors Scout troops, and holds fellowship suppers.
But we need to recognize that the church can exist without even a building to meet in. Brick and masonry have nothing to do with God’s presence in the world. The apostle Paul said that “God . . . dwelleth not in temples made with hand” (Acts 17:24). Temples and buildings are not theologically essential to the church’s work in the world. In Christianity, there are “no holy places, but only holy people.”
The Lord’s church has no liberal arts colleges or universities. It has no business owning or operating such. The church is not to determine their teaching staff or general operation. The church is not to finance such. The church existed before there were any schools or colleges. Giving children a secular education is the duty of parents, but it is not the work of the church. The church of Christ, as planned by divinity, has no youth camps. It does not own them or operate them. Camping is not the work of the church. There is nothing wrong with camping or with Christian parents providing such for their children, but it is not the work of the church. The church has no ball teams. The church is not in the entertainment and recreation business. Individuals have a right to play ball or do anything else that is morally right, but the church can operate only in those areas divinely approved. The church has no skating parties or any other kind of parties. Skating parties may be all right in themselves, if morally right, and we are happy to see young people enjoy recreation that is morally right, but that is not the work of the church. Parents bear the responsibility of furnishing recreation for their children. Remember that in all of these areas the thing is not wrong in itself, but attempting to make such things the work of the church or to do such things in the name of the church, or to finance them through the church is something for which we have no authority.
The church cannot engage in fund-raising projects for its work. The funds of the church come only from the free-will gifts of its members, according to I Corinthians 16:1-3; 11 Corinthians 9:7. The church is not authorized to sell products or services. It is not to ask the world for help in financing the church’s work. Whatever we do for others, we are to do without charge. The church has no weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, or funerals. These are social activities of Christians, and we do not offer criticism of such, but they are to be carried on by Christian families or individuals, and not by the church. In fact, nothing can be a scriptural work of the church unless it is authorized in the New Testament. Individual Christians may do any number of good works, but nothing can be the work of the church that God did not ordain. Even the weak and wavering prophet Balaam understood this principle. He said, “I cannot go beyond the commandment of the Lord, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what the Lord saith, that will I speak” (Numbers 24:13). Well, what is the work of the church?
What The Work Of The Church Is
The church has an exclusive work on earth, that is, the bringing of the lost to God through Christ. Jesus described his work in the world in these words: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The church is to do in Jesus’ absence what Jesus would do if he were here in person. This is accomplished through three avenues: evangelism, edification, and benevolence. Let us look briefly at these three:
Jesus said to the disciples: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). Then what? “Teaching them.” Teaching whom? Teaching those whom you have baptized. “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20
Therefore, I learn that every member of the church is to be built up. We are born into the family of God, according to John 3:5. We enter the family or church as babes, weak and frail. What is our first duty? What is the work of the church? To strengthen members of the family. When our children are born into our physical families, we want to see them grow, and ,they will grow if they receive three things: (1) The proper food. (2) Freedom from disease. And (3), the proper exercise. One of the works of the church is to provide a place where the child of God can grow spiritually. It needs the same three things to grow: (1) Proper food. What is that? The word of God. The apostle Paul said, “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). (2) The child of God needs freedom from disease, therefore the church must have the proper atmosphere of spirituality and devotion. (3) The child of God needs exercise. He needs some work to do.
There are some things that we receive only from close contact with the service of God and from the King himself. It is the work of the church to provide these things for its members, that they may grow and be edified. Paul reproved the church at Corinth in these words: “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church” (I Corinthians 14:12). Many in Paul’s time wanted spiritual gifts but Paul said, “seek to excel.” In what? In edifying the church. But what else is the work of the church?
Paul said: “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth” (Eph. 4:28). He said again: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). James said: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
According to the book of Acts, at one time during the days of Claudius Caesar there was a great famine throughout the land of Judea, and the disciples, members of the church, at Antioch, determined to send relief to the saints in Judea, and they did, “every man according to his ability.” They sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Paul, according to Acts 11:27-30, not by some receiver, some worldly organization, treasurer or board, but to the elders of the church.
The church is to practice benevolence, and in this way to bear one another’s burdens, but the church is not to be reduced to a purely charitable institution. Remember that there were thousands in Jerusalem in the valley of Jehoshaphat and in the valley of Hinnom in the dirt and filth who were poor and underprivileged, but Jesus and the apostles did not engage primarily in that sort of work of relieving their poverty. But what else is the work of the church?
The noblest work of the church is preaching the gospel to the lost. It is wonderful to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give shelter to the unfortunate, but if we fail to teach them the gospel, they will die and land in hell at last. The church is God’s missionary society. The great commission is our marching orders. Jesus said, “Go preach the gospel to every creature.” Jesus said, “Go . . . and teach all nations” (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19). We are to preach the old time gospel. We are to I know nothing but Christ and him crucified. The Lord did not commission us to preach our philosophies, our theories, or the wild speculations of men. We are not to preach on any theme except the gospel of Christ.
The church is a divine institution. It is to be always engaged in the spiritual business that God has appointed. Let us devote our strength to preaching the gospel to the lost of the earth. The church is the only institution that is divinely authorized to do so. Let us be actively involved in edifying the members of the spiritual family. Let us be diligent in ministering to the needs of the poor and the suffering about us. Let us never be distracted from these holy, God-ordained pursuits for any other work, no matter how good or worthwhile we might deem it to be.
Let us not be ashamed to declare the whole counsel of God. Men’s souls are at stake. Human lives are precious. Upon whose shoulders does this responsibility rest? It rests upon the shoulders of those who claim membership in the church of the Lord. These things and these alone are the work of the church.
Part Four: The Worship of the Church
All over the land and country, churches will come together to worship. Will all of it be right? Will God accept the worship of every individual, and will it meet with his approval? Can we know what it takes to constitute acceptable worship? What does it mean to worship? And what is the worship of the church? The term “worship,” as a verb is defined “to adore, bow down to, deify, exalt, honor, idolize, pray to, and revere.” As a noun, it is “an act, or acts of homage, adoration, exaltation and reverence, offered by an individual to one whom he recognizes as his superior.”
I suggest that not everybody worships the right object. Not everybody who does worship the right object does it in the right spirit and in the right way, Let us study briefly on these three points: (1) the right object; (2) the right spirit; (3) the right way.
The Right Object Of Worship
Jesus taught us most effectively who the right object of worship is. When Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would fall down and worship him, Jesus said, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10). Satan is not the right object of our worship.
Do you remember also when Peter took the gospel to the first Gentile converts, they fell at the feet of the apostle to worship him, but Peter forbade it. The Bible says, “But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:26). There are some men on the earth today who would not refuse to be the objects of worship, but no man is a worthy object of worship. The Bible plainly states: “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).
I am not surprised when ordinary men try to worship something other than God, but it is surprising that the dear old apostle John tried on at least one occasion to worship an angel. The angel appeared to John when he was in exile on the Isle of Patmos, and brought before him in panoramic view the ages of time and the unending vastness of eternity. When John had viewed the celestial city, he was so enraptured and so moved by the grandeur and glory of the home of the redeemed souls that he said: “I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which showed me these things.” But the angel quickly said: “See thou do it not . . . worship God” (Revelation 22:8,9). God is the only right object of worship.
We may read in the history books of nations whose civilizations have perished that worshipped idols made of gold, silver, wood and marble, bowing down unto those images created by their own fancy. But let us not forget that we are not so far removed from idolatry as we sometimes imagine.
Thousands and millions of people today worship the great goddess of pleasure. Never in the history of man have more people been ready to bow down at her feet than there are today. We are so anxious for the gratification of our physical passions, lusts and desires that we are willing to pay almost any price in order that the goddess of pleasure may smile upon us
Millions of others are willing to worship the great goddess of fashion. When the goddess of fashion dictates, you and I must bow down and do her bidding or else be ostracized from what the world considers the best element of society. At tremendous cost and terrible expense, we must buy and spend and then discard every article of clothing, which is soon out of date. The influence of the goddess of fashion is even seen in the meeting houses and places of worship in the lives of those who ought to be simple and humble worshippers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today the god of mammon wields his influence and authority over thousands, and even millions of the sons and daughters of men. Some of us are willing to pay any price and make any sacrifice – truthfulness, honesty, uprightness, purity, chastity, even the virtues of manhood and womanhood – in order to receive the blessings of the god of mammon. Therefore, I say that it is not enough merely to worship. We should recognize that only the true God of heaven, Jehovah God, is to be the object of our worship.
Let me also remind you that it is not enough to worship the true God of heaven. I must also know and be assured that the very act of worship rendered is the one demanded by Jehovah God, because I recall that the Saviour stated that the Pharisees of his day were worshipping God in vain. The Pharisees found fault with the disciples of Jesus because they sat down and ate without washing their hands. The Pharisees never did that. They washed their hands as a religious rite and ceremony. Jesus said of the Pharisees: “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8,9).
Jesus said the Pharisees worshipped the right object, but what kind of worship was it? Jesus said it was “vain” worship. What does the word “vain” mean? It means “empty, unsuccessful, fruitless; of no value or merit.” Therefore, their worship was empty and fruitless and without the approval of God. Why? Because they taught “for doctrines the commandments of men.” It is possible to worship the right object, and yet that worship be empty, fruitless, and unacceptable.
Let me remind you that it is also possible to worship the true God, the right object ignorantly. Do you remember that when Paul went to the city of Athens, a city noted for its scholars, the classical center of the world, where lived the students of Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, he said to them: “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious”? (Acts 17:22). Why did he say that? “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you” (Acts 17:23).
Think about it! Here were some of the greatest scholars and philosophers of the day, and yet they were worshipping God ignorantly. That certainly shows that a man might be a scholar of the classics, and might have a dozen degrees from the highest institutions of learning in the land and still be ignorant about how to worship the true God of heaven. It is not unlikely that a humble farmer could explain how to worship God acceptably better than a great scholar or professor! If it were possible to worship God ignorantly back then, don’t you think it is possible today?
In the book of John, Jesus stated in the plainest terms possible what it takes to constitute worship that is acceptable to God. He said: “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23,24).
The Right Spirit Of Worship
If you intend to worship God today, how do you know that worship will be right? How do you know that God will accept it, and how do you know it will meet with his approval? Jesus stated that we must have the right object – God. Jesus stated that we must have the right motive – in spirit. And Jesus stated that we must do it in the right way – in truth. Let us examine the motive, the right spirit.
I am certain that we can see the importance of the right spirit. It is entirely possible that a person might offer any act of worship that God demands, and it might be absolutely in truth; he might offer that worship to the right object, the God of heaven, but if he does not offer it in the right spirit, that is, with the proper motive and prompting of heart, it is only an empty form – a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. I am convinced that a congregation of worshippers might have the Lord’s table, arranged exactly as God has commanded in his word, but the apostle Paul said: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (I Corinthians 11:29). Therefore, Jesus said it is absolutely obligatory that we worship God “in spirit.”
The Right Way Of Worship
But Jesus stated another requirement of acceptable worship when he said our worship must be “in truth” (John 4:24). Even if we have the right object, and have the right spirit, and the right motive back of it, unless it is in harmony with God’s truth, it is not acceptable worship. That leads me to say this: There can be no act of worship acceptable to the God of heaven, unless he has commanded that specific act to be done. The thing that we offer to God may seem all right to us. It might be that the thing is harmless in itself, but unless God authorizes it, you and I have no right to offer it to him, because he would be insulted by our presumption.
It all goes back to the question: Who is to be pleased in our worship? If I am the one to be pleased, then whatever meets my approval will be acceptable, but if God is to be pleased, then we must find out what God has commanded along this line. If man in general is to be pleased, then anything that meets with popular approval would be proper. But, since my object is to worship God, then I want to find out what will please him, and merit his approval. It is not a question of what I would like and what meets my approval, but what will meet the approval of God. What does God want? How do we know what God wants? How do I know whether God wants me to sing or not? How do I know that God wants prayer offered as an act of worship? The only way I know what God wants in worship, is by what he has told me in his word. When God has said, “I want this, or that,” then that is the end of all controversy. What has God commanded?
We know that one act of Christian worship is prayer. How do I know that? When we investigate the worship of the early church, which is our example, we learn that they offered prayers (Acts 2:42). The New Testament states further: “I will therefore than men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (I Timothy 2:8). Again: “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also” (I Corinthians 14:15). Jesus said: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7). Therefore, when the church comes together to worship, men are to lead the prayers, speaking one at a time, with the women keeping silent, and with every heart attuned to God’s throne.
I learn also that the Lord’s supper is to be observed on the first day of the week, because the early disciples “came together” for this purpose (Acts 20:7). It was something in which they “continued steadfastly,” (Acts 2:42). The “breaking of bread” was the communion (I Corinthians 10:16). What are the elements of the Lord’s supper? When Jesus instituted it, he took a loaf of unleavened bread, according t6 Matthew 26:26 (ASV), commanding the disciples: “Take, eat; this is my body.” Since Jesus had only one body, he took only one loaf of bread.
Jesus also took “a cup,” (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:23), and commanded: “Drink ye all of it” (Matthew 26:27). They obeyed, for the Bible says: “He gave it to them: and they all drank of it” (Mark 14:23). This cup contained the fruit of the vine, (Matthew 26:29). The apostle Paul praised the Corinthians for keeping the ordinances “as I delivered them to you” (I Corinthians 11:2). We cannot set aside the divine pattern and employ a multiplicity of loaves and cups on the Lord’s table. We must worship “in truth,” and that means according to the divine pattern in God’s word.
But I also learn that the fellowship or the contribution is an act of worship to God. According to Acts 2:42, this was another act of worship in which the early church “continued stedfastly.” What about our giving, or contributions? What does God command? Of course it must be directed toward God. It must be done with a cheerful heart and with the right spirit. But what has God specified as to the time and the amount? The Bible says: “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come” (I Corinthians 16:1,2). We are to contribute on the first day of the week, and as we have been prospered.
But, again, no one questions the fact that singing is to be a part of Christian worship. The reason is because God has commanded it in his word. Nine times in the New Testament, I can read singing in connection with the worship of God, however, the New Testament nowhere mentions instrumental music in the worship of the church. The songs we sing are to be “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” according to Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Therefore, when we sing spiritual songs with the spirit and understanding, we have the assurance that we have met the approval of God.
So far, we have paid attention to prayers, the communion, the contribution, and the singing, but I learn that another thing characterized the worship of the early church, and that was the “apostles’ doctrine,” (Acts 2:42). That means the teaching of the apostles. Part of our time in worship is to be occupied in teaching the word of God. But, how should it be taught?
Some people have the opinion that the church was not given any method of teaching, and that we are at liberty to use any method, but let us look again into the divine will for the truth. The apostle Paul delivered instructions for us to obtain “when ye come together” (I Corinthians 14:26). These instructions were to apply whenever and wherever the church came together. (1) Those who spoke in foreign languages were to speak by course. Paul said, “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course” (I Corinthians 14:27). (2) The prophets were to speak “one by one, that all may learn and all may be comforted.” (I Corinthians 14:31).
The reasons given for having one speak at a time were: (1) that all may learn and be comforted, (I Corinthians 14:31), and (2) God is not the author of confusion, (I Corinthians 14:33). There was no dividing into classes for the teaching in the New Testament church, because this was the whole church having “come together into one place” (I Corinthians 14:23). When Jesus taught the word of God, they did not divide into classes, for the Bible tells us of his teaching on one occasion. “He went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read” (Luke 4:16), and “the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him” (Luke 4:20). Out of 100 references to teaching in the first five books of the New Testament, not one teaches classifying according to age, sex, or I. Q. by either command, example, inference, or statement.
Who should teach? Paul placed this responsibility upon “faithful men” (II Timothy 2:2). On the other hand, the women are to “learn in silence with all subjection” (I Timothy 2:11).’Paul said: “But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (I Timothy 2:12). The woman is forbidden to occupy the office of a teacher, for Paul said: “It is a shame for women to speak in the church” (I Corinthians 14:35).
Why can’t we just do those things that the Bible demands? Why does any man or woman want to argue or take a chance or presume that some other thing or some other way will do?
Part Five: Christ and the Church
The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:23-32, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies -He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
In this passage, we ought to be able to see and appreciate the close relationship that exists between Christ and the church. The close affinity between Christ and the church is suggested by the figure of the relationship between husband and wife.
It was predicted by Isaiah that God would give in his house “a place and a name” better than that of “sons and of daughters” (Isaiah 56:5). We are told in I Tim. 3:15 that God’s house is the “church of the living God.” The term “wife” is suggestive of a closer tie and a more divine union than “sons and daughters.” As the husband is the head of the wife, Paul said that even so Christ is the head of the church.
Therefore, the apostle Paul suggests in Ephesians 5: 23 that the husband is Christ, and the wife is the church. Just as a husband and a wife become one, and forsake all and any others, and blend their lives into a oneness and unity, in the same way a Christian is to forsake everything else, divorce himself from everything that would hinder, and blend his life into the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. The husband is Christ, and we, as members of the church, make up the wife, or the bride of Christ. The marriage relationship that results is the church of Christ, under the headship of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
I also believe there is an analogy between the first woman who ever lived on the earth, Mother Eve, and her husband, Adam, and the church of Christ in its relationship to Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The Bible relates, in the second chapter of Genesis, that after all the things of the earth had been created, the beasts of the field, the fish of the sea, and the fowls of the air, all these various things were brought to Adam to see by what name he would call them. When Adam had named all the beasts of the field, and all the fowls of the air, the Creator was conscious of the fact that every animal and every fowl had its respective mate, and
then God looked at man, and said, “It is not good.” Up until that moment, God’s pronouncement had been not only that things were good, but that they were very good. But now God came to a point in the development of creation in which he said, “It is not good.” What was it that was “not good”? He said: “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Probably there are a number of women, young and old, who would agree with that statement, and they are right.
God said that it was not good for man to be alone, and he said: “I will make an help meet for him.” I might point out that the term “help meet” means “suitable companion.” In accord with God’s determination to make an help meet for Adam, the last, greatest and highest of all creation was brought into existence when God created Mother Eve.
I want to show that the means God used in bringing about the creation of Adam’s wife form a fitting analogy to the establishment, creation, and formation of the church of Christ, which was to be the bride of the second Adam, Jesus Christ. What did God do? The Bible says: “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept” (Genesis 2:21).
After God had caused Adam to sleep, he opened his side, and what a wonderful thing that suggests. The woman was not taken from Adam’s head, that she might rule over him, nor from his feet, that he might trample upon her, but from out of his side, that she might be a partner and companion along the pathway of life. Then what happened?
The Bible says, “And he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof ” (Genesis 2:21). That which was to form the woman was taken from Adam’s side – a rib. Therefore, Adam paid the price, the price of his flesh and bone for the one who was to be his companion and help meet.
The woman was then created out of the material taken from his side. The Bible states: “And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman” (Genesis 2:22).
The woman was then given to Adam to be his wife, to take upon herself his name, to be married to him. The Bible says that God “brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:22,23).
As a natural result of that union, children began to be born of that first pair, and the earth was to be replenished as a result. Rehearsing that account just briefly, we can say that Adam was at first alone, but God said that was not good. God determined to make a help meet, a suitable companion, for him. Therefore, Adam was put to sleep, his side was opened and the rib was taken from his side, the woman was created, and became Adam’s wife, and as a result children would be born and replenish the earth.
I believe that from that very simple story concerning the creation of woman, the first woman, we can draw a very beautiful analogy to the creation of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. God planned in his great wisdom that at the proper time, when man was ready to receive the truth, the church was to be formed. And just as Adam was the head of the woman, or the wife, so Christ was to be the head of the church. Therefore, we may expect to find a fitting parallel in the establishment of the church.
Do you remember what God did first in creating the woman? He caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam. Now look at the first thing he did in forming the spiritual wife, the Lamb’s bride.
After Jesus had lived for thirty-three years upon the earth, and had fulfilled the prophecies concerning him, he was taken at last and nailed to the cross. While suspended upon the cross from the third hour of the day until the ninth hour, during the last three hours a great darkness fell upon the face of the earth. It seems to me that God himself veiled his face and refused to look upon the greatest tragedy of all ages, which was being carried out. The record says that finally the sinless Son of God bowed his head upon his guileless bosom and yielded up the ghost, declaring: “It is finished.” While Jesus slept the deep sleep of death, a Roman soldier pierced his side with a spear, opening up the literal flesh of the body of Jesus, and in harmony with the creation of woman, there came forth from the side of Jesus that which was to purchase the church of Christ. The Bible says: “And forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). Therefore, Christ shed his blood, and with that made the sacrifice and gave his blood that he might purchase and buy the institution that was to be his spiritual bride, or the wife of the Son of God.
The apostle Paul said: “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” (Acts 20:28).
Look at what happened in the formation of the church. God caused the sleep of death to fall upon Jesus. The material to build the church was taken from his side. Jesus paid his blood. The church, the Lamb’s bride was to be brought into existence and made a living reality. It was proper to characterize the church as the wife, since she was married to Christ, and it was natural that spiritual children should be born of that union and into the family. Just as it was impossible for woman to have been created before the opening of Adam’s side when that which formed her was taken out, even so it is equally impossible for the church to have been brought into existence previous to the shedding of the blood of the Son of God.
But someone might say: “The Bible says that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, therefore it must have been in existence, or else he could not have given himself for it.
Well, it is true that Jesus had some followers, but they were not known or called his wife, and they did not become such until Christ died, made the sacrifice, and gave himself for them. Then they became his bride, or his wife. When a young man falls in love with a young lady, he is willing to forsake his father and mother and all things and give himself to her and for her, because he loves her. But was she his wife previous to the time that he gave himself for her? She was in existence as a young lady, but not as his wife, and she did not become a wife until he forsook all others, pledged his life, and gave himself for her.
So it was with the church of Christ. Human beings were in existence before they were known as a church, but they were not in existence as a bride, or as the wife of Jesus, until he purchased them and the marriage was consummated. Then they are joined unto him as a bride, over which he becomes the head, and in which his Spirit dwells, and they blend into one.
Paul said, in Rom. 7:1-4, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
What is Paul talking about? So long as the law of Moses was in existence, the Israelites were married to that law as their husband. If during its effectiveness, they had been married to another law, they would have been guilty of spiritual adultery, but if the ‘first law was blotted out, then they are loosed from it, and are not adulterers, though they be married to another law, or another man. Paul said: “You brethren are become dead to the law by the body of Christ that you should be married to another.”
What other? Unto him. What him? Unto him who is raised from the dead. Not the one who walked over the hills of Judea, and the plains of Samaria in his personal ministry – not married unto him until he tasted death, but married unto him that is raised from the dead. The man does not live who can find the marriage consummated between Christ and the church previous to the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead.
But what is the object of this marriage, Paul? “That ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”
Now when he says fruit here, we do not understand it to mean the good works, which are to result from our union with Christ, but men and women born as the result of the marriage of Christ and the church. Let me point out that children born outside of that wedlock and relationship would be illegal in their state.
We said all of that in order to say this: The church, having become married to Christ, has the right to take upon itself the name of the husband, and the children that will result from that union, have the right to take the name of the husband or the head of the household, and become members of the family of God. They will also become heirs of all that Jesus has because they are born into the family of God, and are therefore heirs of God, and joint-heirs, with Jesus Christ.
Since the church is described as the bride of Christ, doesn’t it seem to you that the church should wear his name? Does it seem reasonable that Jesus would come to earth, sorrow, suffer, bleed and die to establish the church, and then the church would dishonor Christ by refusing to wear his name, but would instead wear the name of some man? Also, we can see that since Jesus shed his blood to purchase the church, (Acts 20:28), that if we are saved by his blood, we must be in the church.
Is the church essential to salvation? In reply to that question, I ask: Is Jesus’ blood essential to salvation? Remember, he purchased the church with his blood. If he gave his blood for the church, and it is only by the blood that we can be saved, then it would seem that the church should be worth what Jesus paid for it.
If I paid 100 dollars for a suit of clothes, the only way I would get any benefit out of the 100 dollars that I paid would be to wear the suit of clothes. In the same way, Jesus gave himself for the church, (Ephesians 5:25), and purchased it with his blood, (Acts 20:28), therefore I must be in the church to receive any benefit from his purchase price.
We may see how Jesus looks at the church from another thought in the New Testament. In Acts 8:3, it is said that Saul made havoc of the church. But in Acts 9:4, Jesus asked Saul: “Why persecutest thou me?” Therefore, to persecute the church is to persecute Christ. I do not believe people can honor Christ and glorify him, and at the same time downgrade and belittle the bride of Christ, which is the church.
The Bible says that Christ is the head of the church, (Ephesians 5:23), and in Colossians 1:18, and Colossians 1:24 that the body of Christ is the church. To separate the head from the body would be to destroy both. That proves that the church is essential.
Sometimes people say: “Oh, I don’t believe the church is essential to salvation.” Let me ask: Do you believe that Jesus would be the head of something that is non-essential? And the Bible also states that Christ is the saviour of the body (Ephesians 5:23). If you think that the church is non-essential, you will have to get another Saviour, for Christ is said to be the saviour of the body over which he rules as head, that is, the church.
Are you a member of the church that Jesus built?
Part Six: What Membership In The Church Means
For the past few weeks, I have been speaking about the church that Jesus promised to build. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” From time to time, I have shown that the church which Jesus promised to build was established on the first Pentecost day after Jesus’ resurrection, and how all of those who were saved through their obedience to the gospel were added to the church by the Lord. I believe that since that time all of those who have done the same things those people did on the day of Pentecost have been added to the same church. But, today I want to raise the question, “What does membership in the church of Christ mean?
To be a member of the church of the Lord means to be a member of the body of which he is the head. The apostle Paul said: “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” In verse 20, he said: “But now are they many members, yet but one body.” In verse 27, he said: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” In Ephesians 1: 22,23, the apostle Paul identified the body as the church. He said: “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
To be a member of the church means to be a worker in the vineyard of the Lord. The Saviour taught: “For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard” (Matthew 20:1). If you are a member of the church, you are to be a laborer, or worker in his vineyard.
To be a member of the church is also to be a stone in the spiritual temple of God. The apostle Peter said, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (I Peter 2:5).
To be a member of the church means to be married to Christ, for Paul told his brethren they were “dead to the law . . . that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead” (Romans 7:4). It means to be a citizen in Christ’s kingdom, according to Colossians 1: 12; 13, and a child in God’s family, Galatians 3:26,27.
To be a member of the church of the New Testament means the enjoyment of many rich spiritual blessings. (1) We have a father who watches over us. I Peter 3: 12, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers, but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” (2) The Father has promised to supply our every need. Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto YOU.” (3) Sometimes it means fatherly correction and chastisement, according to Hebrews 12:5-13. (4) It means that we have a right, as children of God, and members of God’s family, to appeal to God as a father. Jesus taught: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven . . . ” (Matthew 6:9). It means that we have fellowship with the saints, according to Philippians 2:1-4. (5) It means that we have fellowship with the saints, according to Philippians 2:1-4. (6) It means that we have a hope of an eternal inheritance. Peter promised that we have “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4).
To be a member of the church or the body of Christ means that we have been called to live a life of holiness, sanctification, and justification. Paul described a number of gross sins and said: “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11). The apostle Paul also said to the Corinthians that they were “called to be saints” (I Corinthians 1:2). Thus, they were not merely candidates for sainthood, but they were called to be saints. He said that the Christian life is a “holy calling” (Ephesians 4: 1), and that all who “name the name of Christ” are to “depart from iniquity” (II Timothy 2:19).
Membership in the Lord’s church also involves responsibilities. Since membership involves the highest and holiest privileges, it also involves some great and serious responsibilities. The idea that some seem to have, that is, that they will let others do all of the work of evangelism, benevolence, and edification, and that they will let others work to build up God’s kingdom here, and then that they will share in the rewards at the end of the way, is an idea that is foreign and unknown to the Scriptures. We have a duty and a responsibility.
The only unit of organization known in the New Testament for carrying forth the work of the church is the local congregation. Therefore, it follows that in order for a Christian to be in full fellowship with the church, he must be associated with, be a part of, and answerable to a local congregation of the church. There is no such principle in the New Testament as a person saying: “Well, I have obeyed the gospel and I have been added to the church, and there is nothing more for me to do. I will let someone else worry about building up the local congregation.” There is no such thing in the New Testament described by some as “membership at large” in the church of God. Paul always in his work associated himself with a congregation of Christians, as we could abundantly show by the Scriptures. My friend, if you are pleasing to God, you will not only have obeyed the gospel, but you will be a working member of a local congregation that can be identified as a faithful church of Christ. That means then that you will do these things:
(1) You will submit yourself to the elders of a local congregation, or its duly appointed leaders, for Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” A person who is a “member-at-large,” or thinks that he is cannot obey this scripture.
(2) You will also have fellowship or participation in the work of the local congregation. Paul taught: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities, and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work” (Tit. 3:1,2). Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit, (Luke 6:44).
(3) You will do your best to preserve the peace, unity and harmony of the body. The apostle Paul besought the Corinthians that there be “no divisions among you” (I Corinthians 1:10). He commanded that there be “no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another” (I Corinthians 12:25). He warned the Romans to avoid “them which cause divisions and of fences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned” (Romans 16:17). He told the Ephesians to endeavor, that is, make some definite effort, “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
(4) As a member of the church, you will attempt to preserve and maintain the purity of the church. Remember, Christ died to establish the purity of the church, for Paul said: “Christ . . . loved the church, and gave himself for it . . . that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). Paul also called upon members of the church to maintain the purity of the church. II Timothy 2:19, “Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Also, II Timothy 2:22, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” And, I Timothy 5:22, “Keep thyself pure.”
(5) Finally, as a member of the church, you will seek to bear fruit. Jesus taught the essentiality of being, and abiding in the true vine (John 15:6,7). But he also taught that those branches on the true vine, i. e., disciples, which do not bear fruit will be cut off, and cast into the fire, (John 15:6). He said that the proof of discipleship is fruitbearing, (John 15:8). Fruitbearing means saving other souls, and reaching the lost.
What about church membership? Is it absolutely necessary? Remember that God does the saving. Salvation is simply the forgiveness of God, or the blotting out of our sins. So, the church does not do the saving. But the question is, “Can one enjoy the salvation that God has provided without being in the church that Jesus built?” To answer that question, let us consider this:
(1) Jesus thought the church was important. He purchased it with his own precious blood, (Acts 20:28). He gave himself for the church, (Ephesians 5:25). Paul said: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). If we have the mind of Christ toward the church, how will we regard it?
(2) One cannot be “in Christ” without being “in the church.” As we have already shown, Christ is the head, the church is his body, every Christian is a member. Now one cannot be joined to the head without being a member of the body, which is the church. Also, Christ is the king, the church is his kingdom, (I Timothy 6:15). One cannot be a subject of the king without being a citizen of his kingdom. But, again, Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is his bride, (Ephesians 5:23-32). The two are one, true to the analogy of a husband and wife. One cannot be related to Christ, therefore, without being equally related to the church. A child belongs by the same birth to both the families of his father and mother. To be in Christ is to be in his body, which is the church.
(3) All spiritual blessings are in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 1:3), therefore, one must be in Christ to have access to those blessings.
(4) To be a member of the church of Christ means to have your name enrolled in heaven, (Hebrews 12:22,23). To not have your name enrolled in heaven means to be eternally lost at the judgment, (Revelation 20:15).
(5) The same process and conditions that save from sin, make one a Christian and add him to the church. What conditions save from sin? Please note: (a) Faith and baptism brings salvation, (Mark 16:15, 16). (b) Faith and baptism puts one into Christ, (Galatians 3:27). (c) Faith and baptism adds one to the church, (Acts 2:41). Therefore, the same thing that causes one to be saved, causes the Lord to add him to the church. There is no such thing taught in the New Testament as being saved by one process and then joining the church of your choice by another process.
How do we become members of the church? Here I am not talking about joining denominations built by men, but I am asking: How do we become members of the church that we read about in the Bible?
Consider first the testimony of Christ. Jesus taught: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Jesus also taught: “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Jesus gave the terms of salvation in what is called “the great commission.” He said that the apostles should go and teach or preach the gospel to every creature, living in all nations; that those who were thus taught should believe, repent and be baptized, to be saved or for the remission of sins, Mark 16:15,16; Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:44-49.
Consider also the testimony of the apostles. They taught that we are saved “by the foolishness of preaching, (I Corinthians 1:21). They taught that “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). They taught that “without faith it is it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6); that one must “repent . . . and be converted” (Acts 3:19); that one must confess Christ before men in order to be confessed before the Father in heaven, (Matthew 10:32); and that by faith one must be baptized into Christ, (Galatians 3:26,27).
The way to become members of the church is also taught by figures. We are said to be “born again,” that is, “of water and of the Spirit” (John 3:3-5). We are said to be “born again,” that is, begotten of “incorruptible seed,” which is the word of God, (I Peter 1:23). We understand that we did not become members of our natural family the moment we were begotten or conceived, but rather when we were born. In the same way, we are conceived or begotten by the word of God, and when this results in obedience to the Lord in baptism, we are then born of water and of the Spirit, (John 3:5).
We are also said to be married to Christ, (Ephesians 5:23-30; Romans 7:4). In any marriage, there is first an acquaintanceship, followed by love and finally a ceremony. It is no different spiritually. We become acquainted with Christ when drawn by the gospel. Jesus said, “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me” (John 6: 44,45). This acquaintanceship is followed by love. John said: “We love him, because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). The ceremony that unites us with Christ is mentioned by Paul: “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
Finally, the way we become members of the church is exemplified by the cases conversion in the Acts of the Apostles. (I)In the case of the Pentecostians in Acts 2, they first heard the gospel as preached by Peter, that is that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and arose, (Acts 2:22-34). They were then told to do something, as believers, for Peter said: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). They obeyed. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). According to Acts 2:38, 47, the Pentecostians received at baptism the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and were added to the church.
(2) The way to become members of the church is also exemplified by the Samaritans. The record says: “But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).
(3) Finally, the way to become members of the church is exemplified by the Corinthians. The Bible says: “And many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). In fact, every conversion in the book of Acts is but a repetition of this same story. The plan was to hear, believe, repent, confess faith in Christ, and be baptized into Christ.
When men obey the will of God, their sins are pardoned and God recognizes them and accepts them as saved, and they enjoy the privileges and responsibilities of that relationship. There is no such thing taught in God’s word as being saved by one process and joining the church by another.
Can you claim membership in the church of the New Testament? Have you obeyed the gospel and been added to the church? Are you living a faithful, Christian life? If so, go on your way rejoicing. If not, perhaps you would like to do so while time and opportunity affords you the privilege.