The New Testament Church
A Local Body
False Notions About the Church
Introduction. In this discussion the author proposes to discuss five thoughts: (1) False notions about the church; (2) The meaning of the word "church" proves it is a local institution; (3) The churches in the Bible were local assemblies or congregations; and (4) The Bible tells of churches, plural; and (5) The bride of Christ a local assembly.
Paul writing to the church at Ephesus by inspiration of God said, "Unto him (that is unto God) be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end" (Eph. 3:21).
Surely that in which God is to be glorified in every age or generation and throughout the age eternal should be a matter of utmost importance to us. The eternal purpose of God in man is that God should be glorified in him. And every child of God is commanded that whatsoever he eats, drinks or does, he is to do all to the glory of God. Since this is true, it is impossible for one to fully glorify God and be well pleasing unto Him, unless he does it through the church of our Lord and Savior. All this makes it plain that we cannot take our Lordís church lightly. If we miss the true church, we shall miss the earthly means through which God says we shall glorify Him.
There is no other Bible subject that men so completely disregard as that of the church. Many say that one is as good as another. People organize every kind of religious institution and call it a church. They seem to think they can do as well as the Lord and what they set up is as good in the sight of God as the church Christ established. For that reason we have all sorts of churches with different laws, different governments and different teachings, all claiming to be the Lordís church. If we had no Bible to tell us better, if we would do a little common sense thinking, we would realize that such a condition cannot represent the facts. For our Lord set up only one church, and every church which can rightly claim to be of the Lord must be patterned after the one He established.
Another mistaken idea is the notion that the church is a sort of invisible, spiritual something that all of Godís children are automatically in the moment they are saved. Perhaps more people have this idea than any other. People talk about all of Godís children being in "The Big Church," or, "The Spiritual Church," and they try to explain all the different kinds of churches by saying they are just branches of the "Big Church." Some call it "The Invisible Church," and others call it "The Universal Church." The truth is there is no such idea in the Bible. Therefore such an idea is of the mind or notion of man. He just gets the notion fixed in his mind, and once a false notion becomes fixed, no matter how wrong it is, it is hard for one to get rid of it.
False Notion Based on Ignorance
This false notion of the universal or invisible church, no doubt, had its beginning with the Catholic Church. The word Catholic means universal. The reason they adopted this name was to deceive the unlearned and make them believe that they had to be in, or a member of, the Catholic or universal church to be saved. We must remember that when the Catholic Church was established there were very few people who could read. There were no Bibles then except a few hand-written copies, because there were no printing presses, and no printed books or newspapers of any kind. All this was before the printing press was invented.
That made it easy for the Catholics to deceive the people, for all the people knew was what they were told by word of mouth. Rome was in power and burned almost all the Bibles the true church had and killed millions of true Christians in order to establish her false system. She forced many people, through fear and persecution to come to this false church. For more than a thousand years Rome almost succeeded, but there were a few people who kept the truth alive, while this false church, with its false notion spread over the world.
The Reformation Churches
After the Bible was translated into the English language, and after the printing press was invented and the common people came to read and understand the Scriptures, people soon saw that many teachings of the Catholic Church were wrong. They began to try to reform it. This is called "The Age of Reformation." A lot of men honestly thought they could reform the Catholic Church. But every one of them, and all who followed them, were excluded from the Catholic Church, and their reformation movements came to be new churches. They did not reform the Catholic Church at all, but they were just turned out and set up new churches.
The Wesley Brothers tried to reform the Anglican Church, but they were turned out and started the Methodist Church. Knox and Calvin tried to reform the Catholic Church, but were turned out and started the Presbyterian Church. Luther tried to reform the Catholic Church in Germany, but he was turned out and started the Lutheran Church. The King of England and all the Catholic Church of England were turned out because the king wanted to divorce the queen. They started the Church of England. In the United States, the Church of England became the Episcopalian Church. Alexander Campbell and others tried to reform the Presbyterian and Baptist Churches, but they were turned out and started the Campbellite Church, sometimes called Christian Church, sometimes called Disciples of Christ, and sometimes called the Church of Christ.
All these reformation churches held to some of the teachings of their mother, the Catholic Church. Most of them held to the doctrine of salvation by works. Most of them held to the doctrine of infant baptism and the practice of sprinkling or pouring instead of the Bible way of immersion, and every one of them held to the doctrine of the universal, invisible church. Since that time many new churches, too many to mention here, have started, and almost all of them have this same false notion of a universal, invisible church. This shows how a false idea can fasten itself in the minds of people and influence them.
When the King James Version (Authorized Version, and this is the Bible which most of us have in our homes) was translated or written in the English language, those who wrote it were commanded by the king not to translate it or write it in such a way as to destroy the established doctrines of the Church of England. Since the Church of England believed in the universal or invisible church doctrine, the translators had to find a word for church that would keep its real meaning covered up. If they had translated its real meaning, every time you find the word church, it would not be church at all, but it would be assembly. Who ever heard of a universal assembly? Who ever heard of an invisible assembly? That is why so many people are deceived today. They do not know that the word church means assembly.
The Church Not the Family of God
Some people have the idea that the family of God and the church of Christ are the same. They think when one is saved and becomes a child of God, he is in the church because he is saved. This is another false notion and nothing can be further from the truth. When one is saved, he is born into the family of God. We get into a family by birth or adoption. Every believer is born of God. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1).
But every believer is not in the church. One gets into a church by obeying the commandments laid down in Godís Word and this is by openly acknowledging Christ (receiving the Word), and after he is baptized he is added to the church. "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there added unto them about three thousand souls" (Acts 2:41).
Notice that they received the Word first, after that they were baptized, then, they were added to the church. This verse tells us the results of Peterís sermon. He preached Christ and told them to repent. When they received the Word, they believed on Jesus, trusting Him for salvation. When they believed, they were born into the family of God. Then they were baptized and added to the church. They were added to the church at Jerusalem. Therefore we see that we are born into the family of God, but we are added to the church of Christ.
There are two facts that almost all Christians agree upon that forever settle the question and prove that the family of God is not the church. (1) The family began in the garden of Eden and God has had children ever since that time. (2) The New Testament Church was founded by Christ and belongs to Him. God has had a family for six thousand years; Christ has had His church a little less than two thousand years. Therefore the family of God is four thousand years older than the church of Christ. And they cannot possibly be the same. There is another thing to consider: unsaved people can get into the church, but unsaved people cannot get into the family. Judas was in the church, but Jesus knew that he was a devil.
We should be glad that people can be saved without being in the church, for there are many false churches, and many people who are led into false churches would be lost if one had to be in the true church to be saved. But some will ask, "If I do not have to be in the church to be saved, then why worry about the church? What difference does it make?" The answer is simple. The Bible says, "Unto him be glory in the church"-not out of it. If he glorifies God, he must do it Godís way. Therefore one should do his best to find the true church of our Lord and get in it for service, and for the glory of God.