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Vital Church Truths
by R.J. Anderson
I want to open this booklet by saying with all the emphasis at my command EVERY CHRISTIAN SHOULD BE A CHURCH MEMBER and also say with equal emphasis EVERY CHURCH MEMBER SHOULD BE A CHRISTIAN.
To even suggest one can be as good a Christian and remain outside of church membership as he can by being a church member, is an insult to human intelligence and a gross insult to God. Sane reasoning forces us to admit that every Christian should be a church member or else everyone of them should refuse to be a church member. God certainly does not put it into the heart of one to be a church member and into the heart of another to refuse church membership. Logic forces us to conclude that it is Satanic influence that causes anyone who claims to be a Christian to long remain outside of church membership.
Surely it is an insult to God to refuse membership in the church which Christ founded. If the church is of no value and church membership of no importance then God placed a valueless institution in the world and all the Apostles and early Christians, who affiliated with the church and went about establishing churches, were guilty of supreme folly.
If being a church member is so vital a matter, it is certainly of great importance that we be members of a true Scriptural church. Reason forces everyone to admit that Christ did not found a variety of churches with conflicting ideas or with ideas conflicting with the Scriptures. It behooves us to study carefully and prayerfully lest we become affiliated with some unscriptural organization that poses as a true church of Christ.
It might be well at this point to ascertain the meaning of the word "church" as used in the New Testament and note the various ways it is used. The Greek word from which the word "church" is translated means a called out and assembled together group. This Greek word had been used to designate secular assemblies long before Christ applied it to His church. Just to be called out did not constitute a church, they also had to be assembled together.
The church Christ founded is a called out people. He taught that even though His followers are in the world "they are not of the world" (John 17:14). They are indeed a called out and separated people having become new creatures in Christ Jesus by the new birth, but to be a Scriptural church they must be united together as an assembly on the conditions Christ has prescribed. We shall discuss these conditions in the following chapters.
Now let us note the various ways the word "church" is used in the New Testament. The word "church" which means a called out and assembled together group of people is used in four ways and I shall give a Scripture reference for each.
1. The word is applied to Israel in the wilderness (Acts 7:38).
2. It is used several times of non-Christian assemblies (Acts 19:32,39,41). The translators translated it assembly in these verses, but it is the same word they have translated church more than 100 times.
3. The word is used in the institutional sense as we might say "the school is a great institution," by that statement we would mean any school but not all schools assembled together in one great assembly. Or as we might say "the dog is manâ€™s best friend," by that statement we would not mean all the dogs formed into one mammoth dog, but we would refer to the dog family meaning any dog. When Christ says "My church" in Matthew 16:18 He means any New Testament church and not all the churches gathered together in one great assembly in this world, for such is not possible.
4. The word church is used most frequently in the New Testament to designate some specific local body, as the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2). "The seven churches that are in Asia" (Rev. 1:11).
When I use the word church in this book, I will use it in one of the when we refer earthly ministry, these are the only two ways it is ever referred to in the Scriptures during its earthly sojourn.
A very dangerous theory that is widely taught and believed is that the church consists of all believers in ages past, present and future. Those who so teach, use such last two ways mentioned. I am sure that to the church Christ founded during His terms as universal or invisible church or some kindred term. I have already pointed out that the very meaning of the word "church" requires the assembling together in one group and it would be impossible to assemble the group mentioned above at anytime or place in this world. we are not discussing what shall happen to the church after the resurrection of the saved. I am discussing the church from the time Christ founded it until the time He will come again for it or during its earthly sojourn.
This so-called universal or invisible imaginary church is not only contrary to the very meaning of the word "church" but such a monstrosity could not function. It could not be the custodian of the church ordinances or administer them. It could not receive and dismiss members. It could not administer church discipline. It could not carry out the evangelistic, missionary, benevolent, educational program Christ has set up for His churches. The only churches we find in the New Testament are local organizations.
Another dangerous error is to assume that all organizations that call themselves churches are equally Scriptural and therefore all we need to do is to find the one that suits us best and join it. This could not be true for it makes God the author of confusion and accuses the Holy Spirit of establishing churches that conflict with each other and also with the word of God. God is not the author of confusion.
A third erroneous view we possibly should give a little attention to is: There is no true Scriptural church in the world today. The trouble with this view is that it contradicts the words of Christ in His very first reference to the church for He said, "The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." If the true church has disappeared from earth then surely the gates of Hell have prevailed against it.
I am sure that a true church is a body of baptized believers with the Holy Spirit as its administrator and the Bible as its guide in all things. If it is not according to the Scriptural pattern, we know it is a man made institution rather than a true church.
It is only natural that the various so-called churches, that sprang into existence hundreds of years after Christ founded His church, should argue the universal church idea or that true churches disappeared from the earth or that all are equally Scriptural or that the Scripture does not give us any definite pattern for church organization and operation. That is the only way they can justify their existence, organization and methods, for if they admit that there has been a true Scriptural church founded by Christ and existing continuously since that time, they would be admitting they had no right to start another.
Let us also consider briefly the meaning the term "denomination" has come to have in the minds of many. This may not be the definition you find in your dictionary, but we believe the following definition is the meaning commonly accepted by most people, namely: A denomination is a group of churches of similar views who have organized themselves into one centralized organization and this organization formulates the policies and programs for the churches affiliated with it, also exercising authority over them, sometimes a great degree of authority, sometimes very little, nevertheless, affiliated churches are expected to look to this organization as something over and above local churches. In other words many think of this large unscriptural organization as the denomination, its officers as leaders of the denomination and its offices as headquarters of the denomination.
Apparently many Baptist churches have traveled a long way in that direction, nevertheless, it is unscriptural and true Baptist churches are each of them an independent local democracy with the Holy Spirit as the administrator of all their affairs and the Bible which the Holy Spirit has given them as their guide. Therefore it is not right to use the terminology "The great Baptist Church" meaning the aggregate of all Baptist churches united in one organization and terming it "The Baptist Denomination." Let us think and speak in Scriptural terms, recognizing each church as complete and independent, then we will speak of them as "The Baptist churches" and not "The Baptist Church."
I believe in a regenerated, enlightened church membership, members who have firm convictions founded on the clear teachings of Godâ€™s Word, members who know what the church they are a part of believes and teaches and why they arc a member of it.
I believe that careful and prayerful study will prove that true Baptist churches are true Scriptural churches, both history and Scripture giving abundant evidence of this fact. In as much as the church is such a grand institution of Divine origin and in as much as every Christian should be not only willing but anxious to be a member of it, I believe they should be anxious to be the best possible member.
The following chapters are written with the hope they will help Christians to better understand a few vital truths that should help them to select a Scriptural church home and take their proper place in church life. I realize I am touching but a few points of this vital subject, but as a pastor for twenty-five years, I have found much confusion on these points. It is my firm conviction that when you have grasped the truths treated in the following chapters you will not find it very difficult to grasp most of the other Scriptural teachings about the church.
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