The church of the Lord came into existence according to the eternal purpose of God. “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10, 11). It would be a reflection on Him who purposed the church if men could be saved without it as well as with it. It would mean that God had purposed and planned throughout the ages to build an institution which was of no worth or value.
This idea that the church is non-essential implies that the messages of the prophets concerning Christ and his church were fraught with no importance; that John’s announcement of the coming kingdom was a farce; that Jesus Christ shed his blood in vain. The theory is an insult to God and a blasphemy toward him who died for the church. It nullifies the whole scheme of human redemption.
Christ said, “I will build my church” (Matt. 10:18). Did He declare He would build an unimportant institution? Did He imply that He was going to build something non-essential? Christ did build the church, and penitent souls were added to it. Were they added to something that was insignificant and valueless and unnecessary?
Is the Church “Non-Essential?”
“Oh, but the church doesn’t save,” people say; “it is non-essential.” Then why did Christ build it, become the head of it, and fill it with his Spirit? Why did He give His blood for it? Paul says that Christ purchased the church “with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The blood that was shed on the cross was the purchase price that was paid. But if the church really is non-essential, what reason could there be for so terrible a price being paid for it? If the institution bought by the blood is non-essential, then the shedding of that blood was non-essential. Do you not see that such a theory belittles the blood of Christ, makes void the eternal purpose of God, and nullifies the great scheme of human redemption?
Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). Christ loved the church enough to die for it. Why should He do so if the church is of no worth? There are those today who claim to love Christ, but who do not love that for which Christ gave His life, the church. They say the church is non-essential! If one does not love that for which Christ died, how can he love Christ? Can one love the Lord and at the same time disparage and belittle the Lord’s bride?
There are seven “ones” mentioned by Paul in the Ephesian letter. He declares there is “one body, and one spirit…one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God” (Eph. 4:4-6). Which one is non-essential? Where is the man who would be so presumptuous as to strike one out? There is one God, who is the object of our worship; one Lord, who is the source of our authority; one faith, which is the one gospel; one baptism, which is the common act of obedience; one body, which is the one church; one Spirit, who is the one messenger of revelation to the church; one hope, which is the one motive of desire and expectation. Now which of these “ones” is non-essential ?
Does the Church Save?
“But the church doesn’t save” we are told. How often those very words are heard over the radio, from pulpits, in private conversation, and read from the press. The cry is raised, “The church doesn’t save; Christ is our Savior.” Now in a sense that is true; but let us try it on other principles. Suppose we should say, “faith doesn’t save,” and then add to that “Christ is our Savior.” Immediately we would be cited to the innumerable passages of scripture which teach that we are saved by faith; and would be told that while Christ is our Savior, we cannot be saved unless we believe in Him. And that is exactly right. Christ is our Savior, but that very Savior has told us that, “he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16). Again, suppose we should begin to say, “repentance does not save; Christ is our Savior.” We would be faced with the words of the Savior, “except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). While repentance is not our Savior, still Christ cannot save us unless we repent. Repentance saves because Christ made it a condition of salvation. If one repents, he will not perish; if he does not repent, he will perish. It is as simple as that.
In precisely the same manner we can say, “baptism doesn’t save; Christ is our Savior.” But Peter said, “baptism doth also now save us” (1 Pet. 3:21). You may call it a “figure” or anything you like; Peter said it saves us. Of course, Christ is our Savior. But He has made baptism a condition with which we must comply. Neither the church, nor faith, nor repentance, nor baptism is the Savior; but the Christ who is the Savior has made all of these things a part of His plan of salvation. No man can be saved who ignores any one of them.
In the same sense that faith, repentance, and baptism save, the church saves. It is Christ who is saving through the church. He is “the Savior of the body, the church” (Eph. 55:23). The man who tries to argue that “the church doesn’t save; Christ saves,” is making a statement the implications of which he himself does not understand. No one has ever tried to contend for one moment that the church is the Savior. All recognize that Christ and He alone is the actual Savior; but the question is; Where does Christ save? Does He save in the church, or out of it? Does He save by means of the church, or without using it at all ?
God laid down the principle, “In all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee” (Ex. 20:24). But in this, the gospel age, He has recorded His name in the church. No one, therefore, can hope for any blessing from God who is not in the church.
God purposed and planned the church. Christ executed the plans of the Father, and built the church. He became the head of it; He is the church’s savior. Outside the church there is no promise, no salvation, no hope. Inside the church are all the spiritual blessings which God provides (Eph. 1:3). It is in the church, through the church, and by means of the church that the human race can hope to reach that home of the soul. There is no other way.