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Does It Really Matter? (2)

Does it really matter what church we join?

This question is often asked by persons after they have received Christ as their Saviour. The new-born joy of the forgiveness of sins and the peace of mind which the assurance of salvation brings usually awaken the desire to be associated with others who have the same joy and peace so that there may be a joint-participation in the joy of Christian life. It may be also that there is purpose of heart to be linked with others in collective witness to the Saviour.

Answers to the question we have posed will depend on the outlook of those who attempt to answer it. Some will advise that newly born again believers should associate themselves with the church to which their parents belong and thus maintain the family tradition. (We are, of course, using the word "church" in the loose way in which it is generally used.) Others may recommend that recent converts should seek out a church which has an acknowledged evangelical character. Others again may counsel that there is no need for one who has believed on Christ to join any church because in the experience of the new birth the believer is baptized into the Church the Body of Christ and this is the only church recognized in the New Testament.

But how do the Scriptures answer our question? In Acts chapter 1 we read of the one hundred and twenty persons who in obedience to the command of the Lord Jesus Christ were waiting in the city of Jerusalem for the descent of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost He came and by His power the message of the gospel was proclaimed with such convicting effect that about three thousand people believed. We read, "They then that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls...". It should be carefully observed that the three thousand persons who believed and were baptized were not dispersed and left each to go the way of his own choice. They were added by the Lord to the Lord. They were added together; they were added to the one hundred and twenty who were already together as a collective unit of divine testimony. In the days that succeeded Pentecost more and more believers were added by the Lord to that company in Jerusalem. Then severe opposition scattered the saints. We read, "There arose on that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1). We notice that the persons who were attacked were identified as "the church which was in Jerusalem". We know that more than five thousand believers had been added by the Lord. But there was the one church. The saints may have met in several places of meeting and this seems to be hinted in the statement concerning a vigorous leader of the persecution, "Saul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison" (Act~ 8:3). It seems possible that Saul raided houses where the believers were known to meet for their spiritual activities. What church was it that Saul of Tarsus laid waste? He tells us "I persecuted the church of God, and made havoc of it" (Gal. 1:13). This was not the Church, the Body of which Christ said, "I will build My Church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

As the work of God developed, more churches of God were established. There were, for example, the church in Antioch, the church in Corinth, the church in Thessalonica. There were the churches of Galatia, the churches of Macedonia, the churches of Judea, the churches in Asia. There is "one Body" (Eph. 4:4). But there were many churches of God. It is impossible for sin to enter the Church, the Body but sin can intrude into churches of God, and the wrong-doing may be of such gravity that the sinner must be put out of a church of God, as was the man about whom we read in 1 Cor. 5. In 3rd John 10 we read of the action of an evil man who wrongly cast certain saints out of the church. Neither the person who was excommunicated from the church of God in Corinth nor the saints whom Diotrephes wrongly cast out of the church were removed from the Church, the Body. That was an impossibility. There are other features by which the Church, the Body is distinguished from churches of God, and the believer in Christ desirous of guidance as to what church he should be associated with should give prayerful, careful consideration to these distinctions.

We are persuaded that it is the will of God that those who through

sovereign grace are members of the Body of Christ should, while on earth, be gathered in the conditional units of divine collective testimony that are identified in Scripture as churches of God. These churches in the aggregate form the house of God.