What church should I join? What church is right? Why are there so many different kinds of churches or denominations? Why don’t they all believe the same thing? The questions could go on and on. The answer often given is “Just join the church of your choice.” A better question could be, “What does the Scripture teach about the Church?” We can be sure we have the right source for an answer in the Scripture. What we do with the Truth is our responsibility to God. This section of Written For Our Learning will pursue and present a “what saith the Scripture” means of helping answer our questions.
We should begin by defining our terms. What does the word “church” mean as presented in Scripture? It means in its simplest definition, “a called out group.” Examples are abundant in the Old Testament, but Israel, as a nation, is the most outstanding. For example, Israel was “called out” from the rest of the nations to be God’s peculiar people for His purpose. This first occurred at the call of Abraham, (Genesis 12:1-3) and later developed through Jacob and Isaac (Genesis 26:24; 28:1-4). Later Jacob’s name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28). Israel’s primary calling was to worship and glorify the Lord in all that He intended for them. As they would congregate to worship the Lord, they were called a “congregation.” Later they congregated in specific places to worship. However, it was not the place that was called “church,” but the people who were gathered of God. Even when they journeyed in the wilderness, they were called a “church.”
“This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall you hear. This is he that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel, which spake to him in Mt. Sinai, and with our fathers; who received the lively oracles to give to us.” (Acts 7:37-38)
This very brief “calling out” of His chosen nation to be a church or congregation does help us see the meaning of the word “church.” A careful reading of Acts 7 will give us a condensed version of God’s dealing with Israel. However, this is only a start in defining and describing our subject, especially as used in the New Testament, and particularly in the Epistles of Paul. All who make a study of the Greek language in which most of the New Testament was written, agree that the word “ekklesia” simply implies a “called out group” and is used some 115 times in the New Testament. However, we must understand that God does the calling when the word is used in worship of Him. We must understand that there is a great difference between His calling out of Israel as a Nation, and His calling out people today to be members of the Church, which is His body (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18; I Corinthians 12:13).
In view of what has been presented, let’s concentrate upon what God is doing today, especially as revealed to and through the Apostle Paul. In this manner, the questions often asked can be given clarification.
First, we must see that only those people who have been saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), justified by the faith of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16), are in the body of Christ. It is not up to a person to say, “I want to join God’s church, this is my choice.” A poor lost, dead sinner cannot make a choice. Trying to do this is one reason why there are so many unsaved people in “churches.” A person must acknowledge that he is a sinner and that he is hopeless and helpless to save himself. Then, he should trust the Lord Jesus Christ who loves sinners and died on the cross in his behalf (I Corinthians 15:3-4). God does all the work in saving, justifying, sealing, and adding that believing person to His Church. This is all by the faith and operation of God (Colossians 2:12). The Holy Spirit baptizes the believing one into the church which is the Body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:13). This Church of God is called a “Body” because it is made up of living members just like our human bodies (I Corinthians 12). It is a living organism, not a dead organization. This is the church that is right.
Since God’s church is composed of only saved people, He sees it as perfect “in Christ.” Ephesians 5:25-26 tells us that it will be presented to Him without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be “holy and without blemish.” Having seen this most important truth concerning the Church, we still must consider the fact of the saved person’s imperfectness. Also, what about worship here on earth, and the many questions about churches? Let’s now consider “what church is right,” and our relationship to other believers today.
We have seen from God’s Word that the only “church” that is perfect is the Church which is the Body of Christ (Eph. 5:25-26; Eph. 1:22-23). This is true because God sees every believer as being “in Christ.” It must be remembered, however, that as long as we remain on earth in fleshly bodies, imperfections will be seen.
On what basis then can believers worship and work together? It must be acknowledged that fellowship on earth is based on heavenly principles. Also, that relationships on earth must be based on heavenly truths. In I John 1:3-7, we are given the basis for fellowship. Briefly, this passage teaches that fellowship is “with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.” Also, that “we walk in the light as He is in the light” in order to have this fellowship. We must be aware and also beware of groups, or organizations, that go under the heading of “church” and don’t even believe in the Bible or God’s Word or the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. I John 4:1-4 warns:
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the spirit of God; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God and this is that spirit of Anti-Christ, whereof you have heard that it should come; And even now already is it in the world.”
The word “church” is used so loosely and broadly as to refer to every cult or religious group that desires to use the name. Others have drifted so far from their original position on spiritual truths, that they no longer represent the Lord or His Word. Churches are only “Right” as they remain true to the Scriptures, rightly divided. (II Timothy 2:15). The apostle Paul wrote to his son in the faith, Timothy:
“Preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lust shall they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears: and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (II Timothy 4:2-4)
A very pointed and important warning is given in 2 Cor. 11:13-15. It behooves every believer to consider this passage carefully. It informs us that false apostles will change themselves into apostles of Christ; that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light; and that Satan has “ministers” who pose as ministers of righteousness. Believers must keep their mind, heart, and eyes upon the Lord and His Word. Personalities come and go, but the Person of Christ is permanent.
In spite of all the falseness in the world of religion, we must always thank God that believers can come together and worship the Lord. The Word admonishes and encourages believers to assemble together, pray, study the Scriptures, and love one another. Where we worship and with whom we worship should be a very definite matter of prayer, and reflection. If our priorities and values are spiritually correct, we most likely will worship correctly. If we give the preeminence or first place to the Body of Christ, God’s true church, then we are more likely to make a right choice for worship on earth. The Scripture in Colossians 3:1-3 is so appropriate and meaningful to every occasion. It reads:
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with Him in glory.”