We introduce our thoughts with the words of Jesus and the record of the Holy Spirit on the subject.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Mat. 16:17-18).
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls…Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:41, 47—KJV).
With the information in these texts, the reader can logically conclude that the church and salvation go hand in hand. Other passages enhance the reader’s understanding that the church is the saved and the saved is the church. With this information before him, the reader is justified to conclude that the statement, “Be saved and then later join the church of your choice,” is false instruction. He could also discern it is false to say, “The church does not save; so it is not important which church you join.” Before anyone forms a false conclusion concerning what has been introduced, we quickly add this thought: One can be saved without being a member of a denomination, but he cannot be saved without being a member of the church of Christ! When we say, “the church of Christ,” we speak of the very church that Jesus successfully established (Mat. 16). It is the church of Christ because He built it, and because it is His. The church of Christ is the God-designated spiritual entity in which Luke proclaims that “the being saved ones” were added by the Lord.
Making Clear a Few Principles
Because of the possibility of misunderstanding, we address three principles. First, a distinction must be made between those who are safe and those who are saved. Children, as well as those who are literally childlike in mind, are safe. They have no sin; therefore, they do not need to be saved.
A distinction must also be made between the salvation of those after Christ’s death on the cross and the salvation of those before the Gospel dispensation. Before the death of Christ, penitent believers such as Noah, Ruth, and the thief were saved according to the law under which they lived. Neither Noah, Ruth, or the thief lived under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; Acts 2:38).
Furthermore, a distinction must be made between those who are saved and those who have fallen from grace. Sadly, not all members of the church of Christ will be saved because some “are severed from Christ” (Gal. 5:4). Being a member of the church has never eternally insured salvation in the New Testament, any more than being an Israelite insured salvation in the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:1-12).
Being Members of the Church yet not Member of Any Denomination
How is it possible for one to be saved as a member of the church, yet, not join any denomination or spiritual organization? The Holy Spirit gives us a clear answer (Acts 2:1-47). On the Day of Pentecost, those who had murdered the Lord of Glory were told of their guilt before God (2:22-23). The apostles preached the Gospel to all who would hear. The message pricked their hearts and they immediately cried out unto salvation (2:37). The clear answer to their inquiry for forgiveness was “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins” (2:38). Those who obeyed were added to the church (2:41, 47). Superior Greek Manuscripts correctly include the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia).
Luke has recorded that the Lord added the “being saved ones” to the church. Obviously, this means that the church is the saved, and the saved is the church. At the very moment a sinner is saved, he is immediately added to the church by the Lord of Glory Himself.
Jesus Died for the Church
Paul proclaims that Jesus died for the church.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).
A sane person does not throw away millions of dollars for nothing. Jesus did not throw away His precious life for a worthless, non-essential church. In the Lord’s value system, the church was worth His blood, and His blood is worth all that is in all the worlds.
What could God give that would cost Him? The one and only thing He could give, He gave. He gave Himself: “…knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
Our sins cost God dearly. Only the shed blood of Jesus could blot out the sins of the soul because nothing else could accomplish what needed to be accomplished for man to have eternal life. Jesus’ blood was a steep price to pay.
Consider why it took the blood of the only begotten Son of God. What is the one thing that Deity cannot manufacture, make, create, or bring into being? This question has nothing to do with those that ask, “Can God create a square circle?” or “Can God create a rock too heavy for Him to lift?” Looking around, we observe trees, mountains, riches, such as money and gold, human beings, and an entire universe. God can and did create these. But what is it Deity cannot make? Deity cannot make Deity. He cannot create Himself.
When we apply this thought to Jesus’ sacrifice, we understand that the only thing that cost God is that which He could not manufacture—Himself. If the cost of a soul had been dollars, He could simply have had them appear out of thin air or make His own printing press. If a soul’s cost had been an entire galaxy, He could have simply spoken it into existence. However, to sacrifice Himself would be to give the one thing He could not manufacture or speak into existence. It is the one thing that truly cost Him!
Thus, precious in 1 Peter 1:19 takes on a much greater meaning—precious because of its extreme rarity. Billions of diamonds could be created by God, but they would no longer be rare. Billions and billions of galaxies have been created by God. Jesus is indeed unique—one of a kind. He is the only begotten Son of God. Diamonds lose their value in the midst of supply. Galaxies lose their value in the midst of the knowledge of their vast numbers. The precious blood of the One Who died for you and me cannot be duplicated. He is the rarest of them all. The following exchange from Burton Coffman helps us to see the value of Jesus’ death.
Once, as this writer traveled southward on the Missouri-Pacific from St. Louis to Little Rock, a Unitarian noticed my reading the New Testament; and he said: “You Christians have your arithmetic all wrong. How could the atoning sacrifice of one man wipe out the sins of billions of men”?
The reply was: “Indeed, you are right. The sacrifice of one man would not even wipe out that one man’s sins, much less the sins of all men. Your mistake, Sir, is in your failure to see that Jesus Christ was in no sense whatever only one man. He was and is The Son of God, God manifested in the flesh; and that Holy Being’s atoning sacrifice was more than sufficient to wipe out the sins of all the myriads of men who ever lived.”
Furthermore, with this precious blood He purchased the church. “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Clearly, the church and salvation are coupled.
God Illustrates the Concept of the Church and Man’s Salvation
God’s written examples help men to grasp the idea that sinners are lost outside His chosen realm of salvation. Over the centuries, God has repeatedly designated and recorded various realms wherein men ought to be, so they could be saved from impending natural disasters. When God destroyed the world with a flood, Noah built God’s designated realm of physical salvation: The ark (Gen. 6). Though Noah admonished the people of his day to enter the ark, they refused. By refusing God’s ark of salvation, all on the outside perished. All on the inside were saved.
A second realm of physical salvation occurred in the days of Joshua when they destroyed Jericho. God’s spies warned Rahab of the coming destruction upon all in the city. Based upon her faith, the only way for her to escape death was by following the instructions which the messengers of God gave her. She could escape harm by placing the scarlet thread in the window of the house and staying inside.
Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by:..And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we shall be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him (Jos. 2:18-19).
Such temporal preservations stand as ordained analogies of the spiritual deliverance in the church.
These illustrations bring to our attention a vital point. When one is added to the church by the Lord, he has a moral, ethical, and spiritual obligation to avoid joining another so-called “God-serving entity,” whether that be a denomination, or spiritual club, or church. However, he must seek the assembly of the highly-prized people of God and attempt to unite, associate, serve, and worship with them (Heb. 10:25ff; Acts 9:26). After all, since the being-saved-one is added to the Lord’s church, what could possess him to join a man’s church? Nothing! A church that even they acknowledge has nothing to do with your salvation. To do such would be like Noah entering the ark and then jumping ship into the Titanic. To do such would be like Moses sprinkling blood on his door post and then taking a chariot to Pharaoh’s house for supper. To do such would be like Rahab tying a scarlet thread on her window and then running over to her neighbor’s mansion to watch the action from their window.
Jerry Martin’s words need to echo through the hearts of men: “When men today learn that the Lord promised to build His church and they have had a part in building up “another” church they ought to fall on their face sore afraid” (1).
Being added to the church is equivalent to the sinner being baptized into the one body by the instructions of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). When the sinner is baptized into Christ (Col. 2:11- 13—KJV), it is equivalent to being translated into the kingdom (1:12-14). Being added to the church is equivalent to being built and fitly framed together in the temple of God, which is His kingdom and household (Eph. 2:19-22; John 3:3-5). Salvation is in the kingdom, the temple, the household of God.
All Scripture quotations are from the American Standard Version unless otherwise indicated.
Martin, Jerry, “The Church of Christ Is Not a Denomination.” Defender, 42.01 (1993): 1-2.
Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on Isaiah 53:4.” Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament. Abilene, TX. Abilene Christian University Press, 1983- 1999. 18 Jan. 2018.
Reprinted from the 43rd Annual Bellview Lectures, The Church, Pensacola, Florida, June 8-12, 2018, Ed. Michael Hatcher.