Foy E. Wallace, Sr.
In these days of countless institutions, some worthy and some unworthy, it is necessary to repeatedly emphasize the importance of the church, lest the world forget its existence and its own members forsake its ranks in their patronage of the more popular human organizations by which we are surrounded. There are said to be more than two hundred religious bodies in our land, claiming to be churches and asserting the right of their existence. Among these institutions of men the true church must be identified.—the difference between the human and the divine must be maintained. Such is the object and task of the present effort. Our aim is to present the general marks and characteristics of the Bible church; (1) what it is; (2) its unity; (3) identity; and (4) its paramount work in the world.
What is the Church?
First of, all, it is the spiritual body of Christ. He is its head and we are its members. The relationship between us—between Christ and the church—is that which exists between husband and wife. “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23). The church is subject to Christ as the wife is subject to her husband (v. 24). And Christ is not only head of the church, but also head “over all things to the church,” which means that we must have authority from Christ for every act of worship rendered and deed of service performed in His church. Here we see the unity of the church in beautiful figures. The expressions, “the body” and “one body” occur in the New Testament not less than 30 times and in 1 Cor.12:20 it reads “but one body”—that is “but one church.” Every time the Bible affirms that Christ has only one body it also declares that He has only one church—for the church is his body (Eph. 1:22). Yet many people, and even some sentimental church members, become highly insulted and deeply offended if the preacher ventures to assert it from the pulpit. Paul said it about 30 times in the New Testament and his argument summed up is as follows; One head and one body; one husband and one wife; one Christ and one church. As well ask me what Christ I believe in as to inquire what church I belong to.
Next, the church is a kingdom—the kingdom of Christ. Jesus said to his disciples, “I appoint unto you a kingdom as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:29-30). Also in Heb. 12:28 we read: “”Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” Also in 1 Thess. 2:12 : “Ye should walk worthily of God, who calleth you into his own kingdom.” Jesus appointed us a kingdom and Paul assures us that we have received it. He also told the Colossians that they were in it: “And hath translated us into the kingdom, of his dear son” (Col. 1:13). The kingdom here undoubtedly refers to the church, for the Lord so understood it when in Matt. 16:18 he said to Peter: “Upon this rock I will build my church—and I give unto you the keys of the kingdom.” They are one and the same. Christ is head of the church and we are members; He is king of the Kingdom and we are subjects. “Will build” in Matt. 6:18 is future tense and “hath translated” in Col. 1:13, is past tense. If the language of Christ in Matthew 16 proves the establishment of church and kingdom was then future, by the same law of grammar the language of Paul in Col. 1:13 proves its establishment is now past and the excitement of some brethren over the future millennial kingdom, and reign of Christ on earth is only wild speculation and groundless assertion.
That Christ is now in His kingdom and reigning on David’s throne is plainly taught by Peter in Acts 2:30. The throne of David is now in heaven and the reign of Christ is spiritual and heavenly. Briefly stated, the throne of David has been transferred from earth to heaven and transformed from temporal to spiritual. Christ reigns now by appointment from the Father as He plainly told his disciples: “I appoint unto you a kingdom as my father hath appointed unto me” (Luke 22:29). At His second coming He will surrender this appointment and deliver His kingdom to God, the Father, and with us be subject unto Him throughout all eternity (1 Cor. 15:20-24). Now, that will not be the millennial reign of Christ, as some suppose, for His reign is then ending, not beginning. It will be heaven when, as Peter tells us, we shall have “abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom.” The kingdom idea then is but the government feature of the church-—it began with the church and will end at the coming of Christ, so far as its present state, is concerned.
The church, then, being’ a kingdom is not a democracy and cannot be subject to the legislation of men. It is an absolute mon-archy with Christ as its king and the New Testament its’ constitution. It suggests incidentally that the growing sentiment and modern tendency to yield to the majority is not a Scriptural procedure in the church. Neither majority nor minority rule is the divine order. The New Testament being our divine constitution it is our sole guide in all things pertaining to the work and worship, of the church, and its plain teachings cannot be vetoed by the vote of the majority nor the wishes of the minor-ity. We should let it settle every question that we may “all speak the same thing and be joined together in the same mind and the same judgment’’ (1Co_1:10).
Last on this point, the church is the family of God. “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15). A few questions are here in point. First: Are all of God’s children in his family? The answer is evident. God does not have children out of his family—they are all in the family, otherwise Paul avers they would be “bastards and not sons” (Heb. 12:8). God’s family is the church (1 Tim. 3:16). All of God’s children are in his family. Therefore, all of God’s children are in the church.
Second: Are all Christians, children of God? Again the answer is plain. All Christians must be children of God. But all of God’s children are in his family—the church. Therefore, all Christians are in the church. There is not a Christian on earth out of the church.
Third: Can one be saved without being a Christian? If yes, then what advantage is it to be a Christian since we would reach, all the benefits of the blood of Christ without it? Here again the answer is inevitable. One cannot be saved without becoming a Christian. All Christians are in the church. Therefore, one cannot be saved out of the church. There is not a saved person on earth out of the church If here someone inquires concerning the infant who cannot belong to the church we merely remind you that the term “saved” can be applied only to that which is, or has been, “lost.” The infant is not lost and its condition is expressed .in the word “safe” rather than “saved.” Reaching years of ability and responsibility, sin separates from God. This brings accountability. That, condition is expressed in the word “lost” and only in the church can we then be saved. The relationship existing between Christ and the church is further proof that salvation is in the church. Christ and the church are one, as husband and wife are one (Eph. 5:31). This being true we cannot be in Christ and out of the church—they are one. Salvation is in Christ. “For in none other is there salvation” (Acts 4:12). Again, “there is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Since salvation is in Christ, and Christ and the church are one, it follows that salvation is in the church, for if they be one how can we be in the one and out of the other? In summing these points up we find that the church is the body of Christ and we are fellow-members; it is the kingdom of Christ and we are fellow-citizens and it is the family of God and we are fellow-heirs.
Now Give Attention to the Identity of the Church.
How can we find the true church in the world today? Out of the many churches in the world, which church is right? Here we shall deal with its characteristics, for the question cannot be settled by arbitrary methods or answers. We must identify the church in the same manner we identify anything that is lost. If you were seeking to recover a stray horse or stolen car you would describe the thing lost, and the thing found must measure up to the description in every particular, otherwise there would be no identification. You will observe in this connection the difference between similarity and identity. Sheep and goats are similar but not identical, and in the judgment “sheep” will stand on the right and “goats” on the left. So there is similarity between many institutions of the world and the church. Indeed, it is doubtful if one could be found that is not in some point or characteristic like unto the church. In order then to find the Bible church in the world today we must know the description and compare the characteristics given in the New Testament and when you find a body of people who teach and practice accordingly you have found the true church. We now submit to you some points of identity—Scriptural marks by which we can be guided in the search.
We must be Scriptural in organization. God has ordained that Christians in certain localities shall band themselves together for the purpose of worship and service. This divine arrangement calls for organization, hence, Paul commanded Titus to “set in order the things that are lacking” at Crete and “ordain elders in every place” (Titus 1:5). Paul also, while on his missionary journeys in like manner “appointed elders in every church” (Acts 14:26). Then, in addition to elders we find there were deacons in the church Also there were evangelists, but New Testament preachers were not pastors—they were evangelists. The word “pastors” occurs in the New Testament but once and is plural—not singular. The elders are the pastors and God has ordained that there should be a plurality in every church—not plurality of churches under one elder, but a plurality of elders in every church. The growing tendency to appoint ‘‘leaders” to take the place of elders and to make “pastors” out of preachers is not the New Testament plan and should be discouraged. The simple organization of the New Testament church then is, briefly stated, elders to rule: deacons to serve and evangelists to preach.
We must be Scriptural in doctrine. We mean by this that whatever it took to make Christians in New Testament times it takes to make Christians now. In the second chapter of Acts these conditions are plainly set forth. Here, the first gospel sermon is preached. Here Jesus Christ is first proclaimed to the world the Son of God and the Savior of men; the Holy Ghost begins His mission of converting the world, and the law of pardon announced unto all men for all time. Thousands hear the word and are pricked in their hearts. With deep conviction they throw themselves at the feet of the King’s ambassador and cry, “What shall we do?” The answer comes, “Repent and be baptized…for the remission of your sins.” They were at once ready to act and “gladly received the word” and were baptized (verse 41), and the Lord “added to the church daily those that should be saved” (verse 47). Thus the plan of salvation was first put into operation and it must be the same as then. Faith, repentance and baptism are conditions of pardon, equally related, joined together with the copulative and. May we not suggest that what the Holy Spirit joins together let no preacher put asunder?
We must be Scriptural in worship. If to be unscriptural in doctrine will destroy identity of the church then to be unscriptural in worship will do the same. Doctrine is no more important than worship and the way most people complain at “doctrinal sermons” one would think it far less important. If we are not permitted to decide our own terms of salvation neither are we privileged to determine our own items of worship. We are commanded by Paul to “keep the ordinances as I have delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). In our worship then we can practice only those things delivered by inspiration. This includes such items as prayer, Lord’s Supper, singing, etc. But we find neither leaching nor example for burning incense, the use of holy water, or the playing of mechanical instruments of music. These practices have not been “delivered unto us” and cannot be adopted by those who are seeking to be identical with the New Testament church. After exhorting the Corinthian church to “keep the ordinances as delivered” he carries that same principle on in writing the Philippians in these words: “Those things which ye have both learned and received, and heard and seen in me, do.” According to this text we can practice in our worship only those things which we have either learned and received or heard and seen in Paul. Did we learn the use of instrumental music from Paul? Did we receive that practice from Paul? Did we hear from Paul of its use in New Testament churches ? Have we seen in him the practice of such? Unless there is some other book than the New Testament revealing Paul’s teaching and practices we must answer the questions with an emphatic no, and therefore must not “do” those things. To do anything in the absence of New Testament authority and example is but to destroy identity in worship and those who engage in the practice disregard the word of God and have ceased to be the church of, Christ.
We must be Scriptural in name. The apostle urges Timothy to “hold fast the form of sound words,” that is, “Bible things by Bible names.” We have too much of the language of Ashdod (Neh. 13:23-24) in our speech today. The Jews corrupted the pure speech of Canaan by using “half the speech of Ashdod.” So today we see the tendency to speak the language of the denominations—calling our preachers “Reverend,” “Doctor” and “Pastor” and referring to our Lord’s day teaching as-the “Sunday School.” These tendencies should be avoided. Bible speech should be maintained. The church uses methods of teaching and work, but is not the Methodist church. It practices baptism, but is not the Baptist church, it teaches the Word of God to young and old, respecting the classes nature has made in age and ability, but is not affiliated with, and has neither part nor lot in the modern, international and interdenominational organization universally called the “Sunday School.” Paul exhorts us to “hold fast the form of sound words” and to “speak the same thing,” We can do this only to the extent that we employ the pure speech of the Bible. The, power of unity in speech is demonstrated in Genesis 11, at the tower of Babel. There a united language became the power of an apostate and idolatrous union which God had to break up in confusion of tongues. Even so today the pure speech of the Bible will become a bond of union among Christians that will triumph over error and eventually bring unity out of confusion. Let us “speak the same thing and be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” holding fast the “pattern of sound words,” thus showing to the world the superiority of Bible names over the human. In so doing we will have taken a long step toward that Christian unity for which we have so long striven and so earnestly prayed.
The Mission of the Church in the World
It has a well-defined work to accomplish. The church is, indeed, a living, working, perfectly framed organism, complete and perfect for every good work. The divine arrangement, as already stated, is the local body with its elders and deacons. This organization is complete and perfect for the work of the Lord and in submitting to it (to those who have the rule over you), Paul tells us that we are “made perfect unto every good work” (Heb. 13:17-21), and in so doing we work that “which is pleasing in his sight.” The work of the church reaches out in three directions. There is the work of teaching; then the work of benevolence and last and greatest the work of sending the gospel.
It is the duty of every congregation to teach and edify its own members. The divine arrangement of the local church is perfect for this work. Methods are necessary, but organizations are not. A protracted meeting is a method employed by the church in teaching the gospel to the world. Likewise Bible classes on Lord’s day is a method of imparting knowledge to the members of the body, and is the same in principle as a protracted meeting. They are merely methods of work. A protracted meeting is a Scriptural method of work, but a missionary society is neither Scriptural nor a method, but an institution. So, in like manner, class teaching is Scriptural, but class organizations are not. A method may grow into an organization and when it does so it ceases to be a method and is no longer the church at work, hut rather, another organization supplanting the church.
The church also has a benevolent mission in the world. We are commanded to “do good unto all men.’’ Here again the church in the simplicity of its divine organization, accommodates every humble disciple of the Lord seeking to “do good” rather than his own personal glory and selfish honor. We read in Acts 9:36 of Dorcas, a woman “full of good works.” We need many Dorcases in the church today, but we do not need any “Dorcas societies.” She was a humble disciple doing good. No group in the church should create funds apart from the church and operate through an arrangement of their own in doing the work of the church. Our benevolence should be done through the church, giving glory to Christ, for “to him be glory in the church” says Paul (Eph. 3:21). In the Jerusalem church there was “none that lacked” for we read that “distribution was made according as any man had need,” the funds being provided by the liberality of these Jerusalem Christians as they came and “laid their money at Peter’s feet’’ thus signifying that they placed the money in the treasury of the church. And the church at Antioch relieved the brethren in Judea in time of distress “sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul’’ (Acts 11:29). Thus may churches, through their elders, cooperate today in the work of the Lord.
But the work of benevolence is not the paramount work of the church. As miracles and physical healings of Christ and his apostles served to produce faith, so in our ministration of benevolence, providing the temporal needs of humanity, our aim should be to save their souls. Thus our benevolences become the medium through which to reach many with the saving message Sending the gospel to the lost of the earth is, therefore, the supreme mission—the paramount work—of the church.
Again, the simplicity of God’s divine organization meets every need. To the Thessalonian church Paul said, “From you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord in every place” (1 Thess. 1:8). And he thanked the Philippians for their fellowship in the “furtherance of the gospel” (Phlp. 1:5), for they sent “once and again” unto him at Thessalonica. The human way is to build gigantic human societies at the expense of the churches, squandering the Lord’s money in enormous sums, oiling the machinery and greasing the wheels of these unscripturnl organizations. The divine way is far more simple and effective, Christians working through the church, and churches cooperating through the elders of a local congregation, where the work is being done (Acts 11:29). Thus the church becomes the grandest institution on the earth, in pristine beauty un-furling her banner in victory and acclaiming His glory “in the church throughout all ages.”