The church of which one reads in the New Testament (Matt. 16:18), often identified by the sacred writers as the "body of Christ" (Col. 1:18), and whose membership is the sum of all the saved who have lived since its formation on the first Pentecost day following our Lord's resurrection (Acts 2:47), is not a denomination!
This conclusion is immediately apparent on determining what the church is, what a denomination is, and by comparison of the definitions.
The Greek word translated "church" in the New Testament -- ekklesia -- pronounced ek-klay-see'-ah, and formulated from the proposition ek, "out of," and the verb kaleo, "to call," thus, the called out, denotes, in its widest and broadest signification that institution which the Lord purchased withHis own precious blood (Acts 20:28), the membership of which is the total number of the children of God in the Christian dispensation and whose character is a spiritual communion of which Christ is Head (Eph. 1:19-23). For definitive purposes we may regard it as the body of Christ whose membership embraces all baptized believers who have been called out of the world, and who acknowledge the Lord as Head thereof and the Holy Spirit as its director and guide, through the written Word of God, the New Testament. Derived usages, such as the church of God "which is at Corinth" (2 Cor. 1:1), conform to the basic signification fo the term in indicating the sum of the saints within the geographical area indicated. Whether applied to an assembly (1 Cor. 14:34,35), to the church in a local area (1 Cor. 1:2), or in the aggregate, it can never include less than the whole number of Christians within the limits designated. It is precisely equated to the saved contemplated in the territory it embraces; indeed, the church and the saved are phrases which may be freely exchanged, insofar as the individuals included in each are concerned. This, the Holy Spirit affirmed in Luke's chronicle of Pentecost: "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47).
The noun denomination is derived from the verb denominate to give a name to, to entitle; and, when used with religious significance, designates that which is less than the whole, a special, distinctive, ecclesiastical category excluding all not characteristic of it. The term is thus the opposite of that which is general, universal, common. Webster defines the word "denomination," as "a class, or society of individuals, called by the same name; a sect." A class is "a division, grouping, or distinction based on grade or quality";and a "sect" is "a party," a special group constituting a category which separates it from others.
It will be seen, therefore, that a communion which is inclusive of the whole may not be properly identified with that which, by its special name and cassification, seeks to identify itself as a party, sect, and special group. The church, regarded in the aggregate (Matt. 16:18), can never embrace less than the whole; a denomination exists for the purpose of designating a limited number; hence, the church of the Lord, as found in the New Testament, is not a denomination!
There are those who seek to avoid this obvious and irresistible conclusion with the allegation that the church of the New Testament is an invisible organization of Christians today. It is a sufficient refutation of this obvious and untenable theory to point out that the words visible and invisible are never applied to the church by the inspired writers and the idea intended to be conveyed by such present-day usage is in conflict with clear concepts set out therein. We have earlier seen that the church is composed of baptized believers; baptized believers are visible; it follows therefore that the church is as visible as that which composes it. Visible and invisible churches are concepts which were coined to convey impressions to justify modern denominationalism and wre unknown to the sacred writers of the first century.
It is most significant that no denomination, however aggress ive and ambitious for success it may be, would dare to identify itself with the church of which one reads in the Bible. Denominational devotees unhesitatingly concede that their respective communions do not include the whole of Christendom; it is freely admitted by them all that no one denomination, or all of them combined, represents the total number of the saved of this generation. Yet, it is this particular characteristic of the church which Jesus established (Matt. 16:18), that reveals its universal scope. The Lord adds to the church those whom He saves (Acts 2:47). That is, in the process of saving people He also adds them to the church which He built. It follows, therefore, that all the saved are in the church, inasmuch as salvation and church membership are acquired at the same instant and by the same means. Moreover, the church embraces all who have been bought with the precious blood of the Lord (Acts 20;28); all Christians have been thus purchased; therefore, all Christians are in the church. It is indeed affirmed by the apostle to the Gentiles that the church is that of which Christ is not only Head, but"the Savior" (Eph. 5:23). It must then be obvious to the most casual reader that the church of the New Testament is not to be confused with, or to be regarded as a part of the denominational system which so widely obtains today.
It is also vitally important to observe tht the conditions for membership in a denomination and the church of the New Testament differ greatly. One is required to assert that one is already saved in order to abtain membership in any denomination; whereas, the Lord ADDS to the church those whom He saves. Membership in the denomination occurs when one joins it; one becomes a member of the church of the Lord only by being added to it by its Founder and Head. Joining is a human act; being added is a divine act. Joining is that which one does; being added is done for one by another. In joining one is active, in being added one is passive. In joining one becomes a member of a human organization unknown to the New Testament; in being added one obtains membership in the church which Jesus established. So great are the differences which exist between the church which the Lord built (Matt. 16:18), of which He is Head and Savior (Eph. 5:23), and to which he adds all the sav-ed (Acts 2:47), and any denomination, or all combined, that there are not essential similarities -- that which graces the one makes the other appear grotesque and absurd. The church is not a denomination.
How may the church be identified today and its blessings obtained?
It is generally admitted that Jesus established a church; that this institution possessed recognizable characteristics; and, that it was that spiritual communion to which all saints, in the apostolic age, belonged. We have therefore but to determine those characteristics, and then seek for that religious body which reproduces them without exception today. What were the distinctive features of the church of the first century as revealed to us in the New Testament?
It preached the great commission exactly as Jesus delivered it (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15,16; Lk. 24:46,47), requiring sinners to believe the gospel (Heb. 11:6), repent of their sins (Acts 17:30), confess their faith in Christ (Rom. 10:10), and be baptized (immersed in water) for (unto) the remission of sins (Acts 2: 38). Those thus doing were, by the Lord, added to His church (Acts 2:47). It is identified as "the church of the Lord" (Acts 20: 28), and congregationally, as "the churches of Christ" (Rom. 16: 16). Its members were called Christians (Acts 11:26; 1 Pet. 4:16) they met regularly on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:2), and their worship consisted of singing (without instrumental accompiament), teaching, prayer, fellowship and the Lord's Supper (Acts 20:7). Reader: are you a member of this divine organization?
By Guy N. Woods, in Gospel Advocate, Oct. 13, 1960 via. The Sower, Vol. 54, No. 4, July/August 2009.
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