J. Roy Vaughan
There are many honest hearts in the land without hope of eternal life. They are not mean characters, nor are they prejudiced toward the truth. They simply have not heard the gospel of Christ preached in simplicity and purity. The doctrines of men have not satisfied the yearnings of their hearts, and the gross inconsistencies of these doctrines have but added to their troubles.
One problem that troubles them is, “What church shall I join?” They have been brought up with but little Bible knowledge, but much tradition. They have been taught they should some day join a church. They intend to join a church some day.
There is another class of people, also without hope of life in the world to come, to whom this question is of little concern. Some of these people have already joined a church. Some joined a church to be with their wives, or the wife joined the church of her husband’s choice. Some join a church for the prestige that it lends them in society or in the business world. It may be they made their choices because they liked the preacher, or their friends were members of it. Some like to be members of a church that can boast a beautiful church building.
Of course, to the man who knows the Bible, all such reasons for church membership are absurd and ridiculous. If these reasons are good for being a member of one church, they are also good reasons for joining a dozen churches. Men sometimes join more than one lodge because one organization offers advantages that another does not, and in order to get all the good they offer to join several. Now, if there are advantages found in one church that are not found in another, why not join two or even several churches? There is really no reason why one should not join more than one church if he joins them for any or all of the above-named reasons.
The truth is the Bible does not talk about a man “joining the church.” The expression, “joining the church,” is not in the Bible, nor does it convey the scriptural idea. Leaving Bible names for Bible things and substituting names and phrases of men for these things has led into error. When we use the language found in the Bible, there is little danger of misunderstanding the truth. The Bible speaks of men “obeying the truth,” but we would not get the idea from that statement that a man has joined a denomination and that he did it merely to be with his wife. It takes one thing to put a man into a denomination and something else to make him a Christian. Denominationalism teaches men to be converted, and then go and “join the church of their choice”; but the Bible teaches that the same thing that makes a man a Christian also makes him a member of the church.
Peter wrote, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently” (1 Pet. 1:22 ASV). Paul said, “But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered; and being made free from sin, ye became servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18 ASV). This is the way the Bible speaks. Their souls were purified by obeying the truth and they were made free from sin when they obeyed the truth. Does the expression, “joining the church” express the same? Certainly not. Neither do men conclude from the above Bible language that one does not have to obey the gospel to be saved.
Furthermore, Paul wrote that Jesus would render vengeance “to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus; who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:8-9 ASV). Why talk about “joining the church”? When people are taught to obey the gospel, they will not worry about which church to join.
Again, the Bible speaks of the Lord adding the saved to the church. “And the Lord added to them [to the “church” KJV] day by day those that were saved.” (Acts 2:47 ASV). “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14). “They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41 ASV).
Does this sound like “joining the church”? The Lord does the adding, and He adds to the right church when men obey the gospel and are saved. This is why we know that all the saved are in the church. The Lord is not a partial Lord, nor is He negligent in His duty. It is His business to add the saved to the church, and He adds all the saved to the church.
In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus said, “Except a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God!” (John 3:5). Is one born again when he “joins a church”? According to denominationalism, one is converted, born again, then goes off and “joins the church of his choice.” But the Bible teaches that one is born again when he obeys the gospel.
Seeing ye have purified your souls in your obedience to the truth unto unfeigned love of the brethren, love one another from the heart fervently: having been begotten again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, through the word of God, which liveth and abideth (1 Pet. 1:22-23 ASV).
James wrote, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (Jas. 1:18 ASV).
Now, the church is the house of God—God’s family. Paul wrote concerning “how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God…” (1 Tim. 3:14-15 ASV). The house of God is God’s family, and Paul called it the church. When one is born again through obedience to the truth, he is a child of God, a member of God’s family, the church. He did not join it, but was “born again.” All of God’s children are in His family, the church. All the saved are added to the church. They do not “join it.”