September 1, 2001, Vol.1,
Two new articles every two weeks.
Bible Question? E-mail
THIS ISSUE: "The
Church Jeus Built" (see below)
and "A Psalm for the
Discouraged (Psalm 42)"
THE CHURCH JESUS
by Keith Sharp
Jesus promised His apostles, "I will build my church."
(Matthew 16:18). Beginning seven weeks after the Lord's resurrection
from the dead, the New Testament speaks of this church as in
existence (Acts 2:47). What is the church Jesus built?
Is It a Denomination?
Before we answer this inquiry, we need to examine the problem
negatively in order to remove misconceptions. We need to see
what most people think the church is and determine if their ideas
harmonize with the New Testament. To do this, we will go to the
dictionary, for the function of a dictionary is to give the common
usage of a word by educated people. Thus, if we look up the word
"church" in the dictionary, we will find what the majority
of educated people think the church is. The dictionary gives
"denomination" as one definition of the term church
(Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged.
404). Is the church Jesus built a denomination?
Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines
"denomination" as "a religious organization uniting
in a single legal and administrative body a number of local congregations."
The unabridged dictionary gives as one meaning of the term "church"
"a body of Christian believers holding the same creed."
(404) It recognizes a religious denomination as "a class
or society of individuals called by the same name." (602)
Thus, the various denominations have three characteristics in
common: ecclesiastical organization tying local churches together,
sectarian creeds, and party names. Does the church we find in
the New Testament have these traits?
Christ is the only Head of His church (Colossians 1:18). Since
He is in heaven, His church has neither head nor headquarters
on this earth. The only earthly organization revealed for the
church is the local congregation (1 Corinthians 1:2). Each local
church is to be governed from within by its own shepherds (1
Peter 5:1-4); thus, each congregation is independent, separate
from all other congregations, and is not a part of any ecclesiastical
machinery such as a diocese, synod, conference, convention, association,
society, or sponsoring church organization, in which a number
of local congregations do a common work through the oversight
of one sponsoring congregation. The Lord's church lacks the first
characteristic of a denomination, ecclesiastical organization
tying local churches together.
Does the church of the New Testament have a human creed to
bind on its members? Our word "creed" is derived from
a Latin word, "credo," which means "I believe."
A "creed" is "a brief authoritative doctrinal
formula .... intended to define what is held by a Christian congregation,
synod, or church to be true and essential and exclude what is
held to be false belief." (Webster's [unabridged].
533) If you just followed the Bible alone, would you join the
Catholic Church? Where do we read of the Catholic Church in the
Bible? One must follow catechism. But the same principle is true
of membership in every Protestant denomination. Each has its
own creed, written by uninspired men. The Bible only and only
the Bible produces Christians only and only Christians. One will
simply harvest Christians (Acts 11:26) if he teaches only the
word of God, the "incorruptible" seed (1 Peter 1:23).
The seed of the kingdom will no more produce the various denominations
than seed corn will produce soy beans. Both in the natural and
spiritual realms, each seed produces after its own kind (Genesis
1:11-12; 1 Peter 1:22-23; 4:16). We must neither add to nor subtract
from the Bible as the authoritative guide for God's people (Revelation
22:18-19). The only creed we may accept is the Bible. The church
Jesus built has no human creed.
Does the church we read of in the New Testament wear party
names? The apostle Paul severely rebuked the Christians in Corinth
for calling themselves by various names as a means of sectarian
identification (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). The church of the New
Testament may be called by such names as "church of God"
(1 Corinthians 1:2) and "church of Christ" (Romans
16:16), but these names are not to be used exclusively as a party
designation. Rather, they describe the allegiance of all God's
people. Individually we may be described as "members"
(1 Corinthians 12:27), "disciples" (Acts 8:4; 9:1),
or "saints" (Acts 9:13), and we should wear the proper
name "Christian." (Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16) But we
should never identify ourselves religiously by sectarian or party
names, such as Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Episcopal,
or Catholic, for these names indicate party loyalty rather than
undivided loyalty to Christ. The church Jesus built has no sectarian
The church we read about in the New Testament has no ecclesiastical
organization binding congregations to one another, no human creed,
and no sectarian name. The church Jesus built is not a denomination.
Is It Composed of Denominations?
One dictionary definition of the word "church" is
"the total body of Christians regarded as a spiritual society."
(Webster's [unabridged]. 404). This definition is good,
but most people think that this church is a "mystical body"
of which the various denominations are parts. Philip Schaff,
the great religious historian of the nineteenth century, voiced
this opinion when he penned, in his History of the Christian
Church, "Every denomination and sect has to furnish
some stones for the building of the temple of God." Billy
Graham demonstrates the same attitude when he counsels those
who respond to the "altar call" in his crusades, "Join
the church of your choice." Is the church of the Lord composed
of the various denominations which profess faith in Christ?
If any truth is clearly taught in the New Testament, it is
that God wants believers in His Son to be one. Jesus prayed for
the unity of those who believe in Him (John 17:20-21). Paul revealed
to us a practical plan whereby we may "keep the unity of
the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-6) In spite
of these plain passages, denominational preachers tell us that
the existence of some three thousand or so separate religious
bodies in America, most of them claiming to be part of the body
of Christ, is according to God's will. They continue to thank
God for their sinful divisions and to exhort trusting, misguided
souls to help foster sectarianism.
Furthermore, the doctrine of Christ scathingly condemns sectarianism
as a damnable sin. Among the "works of the flesh,"
of which the apostle Paul warns, "those who practice such
things will not inherit the kingdom of God," are "dissensions"
and "heresies." (Galatians 5:19-21) Dissensions are
a standing apart ... indicating division" (W.E. Vine, An
Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. 1:329), whereas
"heresies denotes: an opinion, especially a self-willed
opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of
truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects...."
Sectarianism is a sin which will cost one his soul. How then
can denominationalism, the fruit of sectarianism, be considered
acceptable to God?
The church Jesus built is not composed of denominations, nor
is it sectarian in any way. We must turn away from all religious
denominations, sects, and parties and have an undivided loyalty
to Christ. My friend, don't let loyalty to a denomination stand
between you and salvation in Christ.
Body of Christ
The True scriptural concept of the church is quite simple.
The inspired apostle Paul described the church in its relationship
to Christ as "His body, the fullness of Him who fills all
in all." (Ephesians 1:22-23) The church is the spiritual
body of Christ, and Christ is the spiritual Head of His church.
Just as Christ is the Christian's fullness, the One who supplies
all our spiritual needs (Colossians 1:19; 2:8-10), even so the
church is the fullness of Christ. Anyone in Christ is in His
church, and anyone in His church is in Christ. Any blessing in
Christ, and in Him are all spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3),
is in His church. One can no more be in Christ and not be in
His church than he could be in a bathtub full of water and not
be in the water.
How many bodies does the Lord have? Paul affirms, "There
is one body." (Ephesians 4:4) If there is one body, and
the body is the church, how many churches does Jesus have?
Since the church is the fullness of Christ, and salvation
is in Him (2 Timothy 2:10), all saved people are members of this
church. Does this mean the church saves us? No, Christ is the
only Savior (John 14:6). But whom does Jesus Christ save? "For
the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the
church; and He is the Savior of the body." (Ephesians 5:23)
The Lord saves His body, the church. The church is the saved,
not the savior.
Must one then join the church to be saved? No, one cannot
join the church Jesus built. The Lord adds the saved to the church
This does not mean that the church of the New Testament is
some exclusive club that only lets select people in. We invite
all to come to Christ and be saved (Matthew 11:28-30; Revelation
It just means the church of the Lord is not a denomination.
Denominations have man made membership requirements, and men
determine who may join. But the church Jesus built is composed
of all who have accepted Christ by the obedience of faith and
have been saved by the gospel (Romans 1:5,16-17). No man or group
of men determine its membership. There is no official roll of
members on earth. The Lord adds people to His church, the body
of the saved, as He saves them, and their names are enrolled
in heaven (Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:15).
Definition of Church
The church Jesus built, then, is simply the assembly of
people called out of the world into fellowship with God.
The church is the spiritual assembly of God's people (Hebrews
12:23), composed of those who have responded to the gospel call
(2 Thessalonians 2:14), have forsaken the fellowship of the world
and its sin (2 Corinthians 6:17-18), and have been brought into
fellowship with God (1 John 1:3,7).
Members of this church are called certain things as individuals.
Saul of Tarsus "made havoc of the church." (Acts 8:3)
In doing this, he persecuted the "disciples of the Lord."
(Acts 9:1). A "disciple" follows his master and learns
his teaching. We are disciples, and Jesus is our Master (Teacher).
Further, Saul did harm to the "saints." (Acts 9:13).
"Saints" are people separated from sin and consecrated
to God. Relative to God and sin, we are saints. The "disciples
were called Christians." (Acts 11:26). This means "those
belonging to Christ," and is the proper name we wear individually
to honor Christ.
I do not ask anyone to join a denomination, accept a human
creed, or wear a sectarian name. I plead with people to avoid
all these sinful practices. I simply implore all people to believe
and obey the gospel, that the Lord might add them to His body,
the church, for only in Christ, in His body, the church, is salvation
found. Have you done this? If not, why not?
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