Foy E. Wallace, Jr.
It is an admitted fact that Jesus Christ founded an institution which he called the church. It is also true that there are in the world today many human institutions which are called churches, founded by men, existing by no higher authority than the word of men, governed by no higher authority than the creeds of men. Who is ready to say that these institutions are as good as the church that Jesus Christ built, and of which He is the Head? The fact that good people are in these human churches—better would they be called fraternities—is beside the point. There are good men in the Masonic Lodge, and good women in its feminine gender, the Eastern Star, but that does not make them divine institutions. If good people in all the churches makes one church as good as another, then good people out of all the churches makes no church as good as any. All such is shallow reasoning. In the light of the New Testament, it is the church or no church.
What church should a man join? Why say what church? Rather, why not join all of them, that is, all to which we might have access. If, as claimed, there is good in all of them; some good in one not in the other; truth in all, but not all the truth in any; why limit a man to only a part of the truth and a fractional amount of the good when he could have access to all of the good and all of the truth by joining all of the churches? Men belong to more than one lodge, society or club; hold insurance policies in more than one bank, why not membership in more than one church, if it is purely a matter of “joining some church,” one of which is as good as the other? It reveals the fact that nobody really believes that one church is as good as another and the statement turns out to be an effort to be broadminded and polite.
Men do not join the divine church. The Bible says that God adds to the church those who receive and obey His word when they do. “Then they that received the word were baptized and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 24:41). “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). Yet this dashing, smashing slogan of a “union meeting” was once seen: “Join The Church Of Your Choice And Be Baptized As You Please!” And that in the name of religion, assuming that God has neither church nor choice and that the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles never uttered a syllable on the how and the what of baptism.
The matter of finding the true church is as simple as any matter of identification, when the means by which to identify is at hand. Do you have an identification card in your billfold, purse or key folder? For what purpose? It describes your person, so that in case of accident or emergency you could be identified. When an automobile is lost or stolen the method of identification proceeds on the basis of registration, that is, the make, the model and the number. The New Testament contains the description of the New Testament church—the church of Christ. It is a registered institution. Its make, its model and its number, so to speak, are on divine record. Identify it by characteristics. You have the means at hand—the divine record—and when you find a body of people today who embrace the principles set forth in the New Testament in teaching and practice, that will be the identification.
The New Testament plainly teaches that there is but one true church. Jesus Christ said, “My church.” Paul said, “The church, which is his body.” Again, “The body, the church” (Col. 1:18). Further, “There is one body” (Eph. 4:4). And finally, “But one body” (1 Cor. 12:20). If that is not talking of one church, and the same one, it is a peculiar way to talk of many.
There are several uses of the word church in the New Testament, but in each use its unity is seen. First, the general church—all the saved in the aggregate. “And gave him to be the head over all things to the church which is his body” (Eph. 1:22). Second, the local church, all the saved within a certain locality, restricted by a geographical term of limitation. “The church of God at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2). “The church of Macedonia” (2 Cor. 8:2). And also “the seven churches of Asia,” all the same church (John preached for all of them), of one faith and order. Third, the congregation, or assembly. “When the church be come together” (1 Cor. 14:26). In any New Testament sense the use of the word church when it refers to the institution of Christ includes all the saved, and no more, and no less. But a denomination cannot be the church in any Bible sense. In the general sense, the denomination is smaller than the church, for no denomination claims to have within its folds all of the saved on earth. In the local sense, the denomination is larger than the church, for a denomination is composed of all local bodies of one faith and order. The denomination is too large to be the church in the general sense, it is therefore not the church in any sense.
The church as set forth in the New Testament is simply this: God ordained that men should obey the gospel, thus become Christians and by this process be saved. In so doing, they are added to the church, the saved in the aggregate. God then ordains that Christians should band themselves together for the purpose of work and worship and wherever such a body of Christians is found, banded together in and under the scriptural requirements of the local church, without ecclesiastical head or creed, but who are in doctrine, worship and work what the New Testament requires, there you find a New Testament church.