Foy E. Wallace, Jr.
“For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” (Eph. 5:23).
There is a common sentiment that it makes no difference what church one belongs to, if any at all, and that church membership is not essential to salvation. So the indifferentism of “join the church of your choice,” as though God had none, is age-old in religious nomenclature. Such expressions can only be viewed as a sort of “pious profanity” by those who know and believe what the Bible says about the church.
Jesus built the church; he died for it and purchased it with his blood; ransomed and redeemed it; washed and cleansed it. He is the Saviour of it and he will come again to own and claim it. Yet we are told that it is a very “non-essential” thing.
There are only two senses in which the church can be Scripturally viewed. First, the comprehensive, or universal, sense, to include all the saved of the earth—all who have obeyed the gospel. Second, the limited, or local, sense, to include all Christians, or saved people in a particular place described and limited by geographical terms. The denominational idea does not fit either case. A denomination is smaller than the whole church, but larger than a local church in that it is composed of many local churches of the same faith and order; therefore, a denomination is both too large and too small to be scriptural.
It is admitted that one can be saved without belonging to any denomination. The Lord adds saved people to the church (Acts 2:47). Therefore a man can be added to the church and never belong to a denomination. Hence, it is the denomination and not the church that is non-essential.
The Church is the Body
Paul’s theme in the book of Ephesians is the church in its relation to Christ— Christ and the church. In the first chapter he compares the church to a body, with Christ as head (vv . 21-22) and in chapter four he declares that “there is one body” (v. 4) …in chapter five he compares Christ to the husband and the church to the wife (vv. 21-23). Hence, Paul’s view is, one head and one body—one husband and one wife.
Continuing his comparison, Paul uses the family analogy—God the Father, the church the family (Eph. 3:15). Hence, one Father and one family. And reverting to the second chapter, he points out the unifying power of the cross of Christ in making the “twain”—Jew and Gentile—“one new man”—the church—thus reconciling them “in one body.”
If Christ would not accept Jew and Gentile in separate bodies, but united them that they should be “one fold and one shepherd,” what must be his attitude toward the spectacle of (more than) 200 denominational bodies today that dishonor his name and ignore his prayer? (John 17:20-21).
Salvation is in the Church
The idea that one is first saved by some mystical or mystified, unintelligible or intangible process, and afterwards “joins some church” is a common religious delusion. Yet there is no truth more plainly emphasized in the Bible than the fact that the process of being saved is the process of entering the church (Acts 2:47).
First, it is affirmed in Acts 4:12 that salvation is in Christ. Then, to have salvation, one must get into Christ. But Paul, by analogy, in Ephesians 5:30, teaches that as husband and wife are one, so Christ and the church are one. “I speak concerning Christ and the church,” he said. Christ and the church being one, how can one be in Christ and out of the church?
Second, Paul makes the fact that Christ is “the Saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:23) the ground of his exhortation to the Ephesians concerning the church as the bride of Christ (v. 25). He washed it and sanctified it; cleansed and saved it; purchased it with his blood and redeemed it; reconciles us to God in it, and adds all the saved to it. Therefore, out of the church there is no cleansing, no blood, no redemption, no reconciliation to God, no salvation.
Third, the relation between Christ and the church is the same as that which exists between God and Christ. Christ is the “fullness” of God (Col. 1:19), and the church is the “fullness” of Christ (Eph. 1:22). Therefore, no man can come to Christ and ignore the church for the same reason that no man can come to God and ignore Christ.
We exhort the unsaved to come to Christ, “gladly receive the word,” be “baptized into Christ,” and the Lord will add you to his church.