H. Leo Boles
No one should be interested in any church except the one that is revealed in the New Testament. Everyone should be interested in the church that Christ built. Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18 ASV). Jesus’ church is the greatest institution in the world and membership in it is the greatest privilege accorded to man.
What is the Church?
We must let the New Testament answer this question. Man can define human institutions, but only God through the Holy Spirit can tell us what this divine institution is. Since Christ built this church and purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28), he can, through the Holy Spirit, define His church.
The New Testament declares that the church is the body of Christ. “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). Here we have the Holy Spirit saying through Paul that the church is his body. Again, the Holy Spirit calls the church the body of Christ: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church” (Col. 1:24 ASV). Hence, the church is the body of Christ and the body of Christ is the church.
Moreover, the church is the kingdom of God. Jesus said,
Upon this rock I will build my church and I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:18-19).
Here—in one sentence—Jesus calls this institution “my church,” and in the next sentence He calls the same institution “the kingdom of heaven.” Again, the Holy Spirit said, “Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love” (Col. 1:13 ASV). These same Colossians who had been translated into the kingdom also constituted the church at Colosse (Col. 1:2).
The church is also said to be the house of God. “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God…” (1 Tim. 3:14-15). The family of God constitutes the house of God. “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15 ASV).
Further, it is called, the church of God. Eight times the church is called “the church of God” in the New Testament (1 Cor. 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 3:5, 15). The plural is used three times as churches of God (1 Cor. 11:16; 1 Thess. 2:14; 2 Thess. 1:4). One time we have the expression, churches of Christ (Rom. 16:16). Here, the term churches is used in the local or congregational sense as the churches of Christ in various locations.
Again, the church is called a spiritual house: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood…” (1 Pet. 2:5). These and other scriptures teach us what the church is. No institution but the church of our Lord answers these statements of the Holy Spirit.
How Many Churches?
Which church is used in a general sense and in a local sense. All Christians constitute the church in the general sense, and the different congregations of these Christians compose the churches in the local sense. There is but one church over which Christ presides as head. There is but one kingdom of God on earth and but one body of Christ. “But now they are many members but one body” (1 Cor. 12:20 ASV) “For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another” (Rom. 12:4-5 ASV). The New Testament frequently declares that there is but one body, and that this one body is the church. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6 ASV).
When used in the plural, church has reference to the different groups of Christians meeting for worship at different places. We have “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor. 1:2), “the churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2), “the church of the Thessalonians in God” (1 Thess. 1:1), “the church which was in Jerusalem” (Acts 11:22), “the church of the Laodiceans” (Col. 4:16), and the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17).
There are 27 different churches mentioned in the New Testament and all of these churches had the same faith, wore the same name and practiced the same things. Their form of worship was the same. They were not different denominations as we now have them. The New Testament does not teach anything about the different denominations constituting “the church of God.” Each member of a denomination wear the peculiar name of that denomination, believes certain tenets of faith as prescribed by that denomination, and practices different forms of worship as may be outlined by that denomination. There is no resemblance between denominations today and “the churches of Christ” of New Testament times (Rom. 16:16).
How to Enter the Church
The New Testament answers this question as well. It teaches how to get into the church of God, but not how to get into any other church. Thus, if one joins a denomination, the New Testament does not teach him to do so. One who joins a denomination does so without any divine instruction, without any word of God.
The New Testament teaches clearly and definitely how to enter the New Testament church. Surely Christ would not establish a church on earth and not tell people how to enter it. Since the church is a divine institution, we must have divine instructions on how to enter it. Human instructions may guide into a denomination, but it takes divine instructions to guide one into the divine institution, the church.
People are added to the church by the Lord. “And the Lord added to them day by day those that were saved (Acts 2:47 ASV). Here, at the close of Pentecost Day, the day on which the church was established, about 3,000 souls were added by the Lord to the church (Acts 2:41). Acts 5:14 says, ”Believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.” Here we learn that only believers were added to the Lord. Babies or infants are not believers and cannot be added to the church. From the above Scriptures, we conclude that Christ adds folks to His church and does not add anyone to any other.
How does the Lord add to His church? Whom does He add to it? These are important questions. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5 ASV). What is it to “be born of water and the Spirit?” That which puts one into the kingdom of God also puts one into the body of Christ, into the church of God.
One must have faith in Christ. Those who hear the gospel and believe it have one qualification of a citizen of the kingdom of God. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 11:6). Those who heard the gospel preached by Peter on Pentecost and who were convinced that Jesus is the Son of God asked what they must do to be saved. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter answered, “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins…” (Acts 2:38). They did what Peter commanded and were thus added to the church by this process. Hence, the Lord adds those to His church who believe on Him, who are penitent of their sins, and who are baptized into Him.
The only way people enter Christ is by baptism:
Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4 ASV).
Again, “For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27 ASV). This is the way one enters the church. One cannot be in Christ and not be in His church. Neither can one be in His church without being in Christ. The church is His body.
Can One be Saved Out of the Church?
The question is not, “Can one be saved out of a denomination?” but, “Can one be saved out of the church of the Lord?” Many attempt to evade a direct answer to this question by saying, “The church does not save one.” It is true that the church does not save one, but God, through Christ, saves. But where does God save one? Does He save in the church or out of the church.
God is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). God saves people in Christ—that is, He saves people in the church. If people can be saved out of the church, then they can be saved out of Christ, out of the kingdom of God, out of the house of God, out of the family of God, out of the body of Christ, out of the building of God, and without becoming living stones in the spiritual house of God. The New Testament declares the church to be all these things, and if one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved out of that which the church is.
Again, if one can be saved out of the church, he can be saved without being redeemed (Eph. 1:3, 7). Redemption and forgiveness of sin are in Christ (Eph. 1:6-7). Therefore, if one can be saved out of the church, then he can be saved without redemption and forgiveness.
Moreover, the blood of Christ is in the church, which is His body (Eph. 1:22-23). If people can be saved out of the church, then they can be saved without coming into contact with the blood of Christ. If salvation is out of the church, there was no use for Christ to establish His church and He paid too much for it when He purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28).