Foy E. Wallace, Jr.
“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” Matt. 16:18.
The world hears so much of the denominational in religion, both in pulpit and press, such as Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, etc., that it must be wondering if Christ himself ever had a church, and if he has one today, where is it? How could one find it? Out of the many churches that are in the world today, which church is right—which church did Jesus build?
There is no arbitrary manner or method of settling such questions. It is a matter of identity, and can be determined only by marks, or characteristics. If an automobile is lost, it can be identified by make, model, and number. If the church is lost, it may be found only by identification based on New Testament description. The church is a New Testament institution, and hence a perfect description of it is therein set forth.
Being a question of identity, similarity will not do. A thing may be similar, yet not identical. In order to establish identity with the New Testament church, the church today must be Scriptural in every essential feature.
It must be Scriptural in origin. Everything began in miracle, but continues through law. First creation, then procreation. God created the first man and woman, and then placed within them the potentiality of procreation. Likewise, God created the church (Eph. 2: 14-16), and then provided for its perpetuity through the potentiality of the seed of the kingdom, “which is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). So long as the seed exists, the power of reproduction is present. Therefore an unbroken line of church succession is unnecessary to be argued. The church today is produced by the word of God, and exists wherever men and women have obeyed it.
It must be Scriptural in doctrine. The great commission represents the constitution of the church. The law of pardon, or terms of admission into it, are clearly and unmistakably set forth. Matthew says “teach and baptize”—not baptize and teach. Mark says “preach, believe, baptized, saved”—not believed, saved, and baptized. Luke says “repentance and remission of sins.” The order of these items, both Scripturally and psychologically, then, is preaching faith, repentance, baptism, salvation. On Pentecost, Peter first executed this commission. He preached. The hearers believed, repented, and were baptized “for the remission of sins.” The Lord added them to the church. There is no other way to get into it. The same thing it took to make Christians then, it takes to make Christians now. All who teach or practice to the contrary are unscriptural in doctrine, and that destroys identity.
It must be Scriptural in worship. Paul reminds us to keep the ordinances as he delivered them unto us and warns against “will worship,” or self-devised worship, “after the commandments and doctrines of men” (Col. 2:22, 23). Scriptural doctrine is no more important than Scriptural worship. A rigid adherence to correct doctrine and an “expediency” policy in worship is inconsistent. A “Thus saith the Lord” is no more imperative in one than in the other, and the New Testament requires it in both. Therefore, in the worship, the teaching of the apostles and the practice of the New Testament church must be our teaching and practice. The limit of their teaching must be the limit of our practice. And to introduce innovations, such as instrumental music, “which the Catholics foolishly borrowed from the Jews,” is but to destroy identity in worship with the New Testament church. That the Jews used it is a fact, but that Christian Jews did not use it is another fact; and why they ceased to use it, as they did other Jewish observances, has a significant bearing on the issue, and is reason enough for its non-use by Christians today. As well add to the doctrine of the New Testament as to its worship, and as well affiliate with those who do one as with those who do the other.
It must be Scriptural in work. Christians are commanded to “work out their own salvation.” For this purpose we have set forth in the New Testament a divine arrangement, the local church. Its organization is simple, not complex. As a perfectly framed, living, working organism, with elders, deacons, and members, it provides all the organization required to do the work that God has commanded the church to do. “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages” (Eph. 3:21).
It must be Scriptural in name. The church of Christ is not a name; it is a thing; and since that is what it is, why call it something else?. We are willing to call the church by any Scriptural name or title, but by no name or title not found in the Bible. The Bible is latitude and longitude enough on both names and things in religion—Bible things by Bible names.
Reverting to the question of identity, when you find a body of people today who are Scriptural in origin, doctrine, worship, organization, work and name, you have by identification found the Bible church.