The True Church. What Is It? How Is It Entered?
THE Apostle Paul, in writing to the Romans (2. 28), says: "He is not a Jew which is one outwardly, . . . but he is a Jew which is one inwardly." It will at once be seen that what he meant was that unless there were an inward reality corresponding with the outward profession, God could only look upon the outward observances, no matter how correct in the eyes of men, with abhorrence, for even "the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord."
Now with regard to the subject in hand, it would be well at the outset to put it down as an established fact that that is not the Church which often passes as such, and no man is a Christian merely because of his being a member of it.
When I say, "the Church which often passes as such", I include all the different sects and denominations of Christendom, even those who consider themselves and perhaps are the most orthodox. I am quite aware that in the Scriptures, the local assemblies of professing Christians were called Churches. We read of the Church of God which is at Corinth," "the Churches of Galatia," etc., but no one of these, nor all of them together, constituted "The Church" which the Lord, in Matthew 16. 18, said He would build, and against which the gates of Hell should not prevail. A man might have been a member of any of those local Churches without being a member of the Church of Christ, and therefore without being a Christian. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, says: "Some have not the knowledge of God; I speak this to your shame" (1 Cor. 15. 34). (See also such, Scriptures as Gal. 2. 4; 1 John 2. 19, etc.)
The lesson, then, that I would draw from this is that a man may be a member of the most orthodox Church in the world to-day and yet not be a member of "the Church," outside of which there is no Salvation for fallen man in this dispensation.
Some one may now with reason ask: ''What then is the Church? and How can I become a member of it?"
Being convinced that no one can possibly be saved, at least in this dispensation (i.e., the days in which we live), without being a member of the Church of Matthew 16. 18, I shall endeavour to give a Scriptural answer to these questions.
What ls the Church?
Of it, we may say what Paul said of the Kingdom of God, it ''is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14. 17).
It is the duty of every one to carefully consider the effect of his ''meat and drink'' upon those by whom he is surrounded, but our eating and drinking, or our refusing to eat or drink certain things is no proof as to whether we are in the Church or not. Neither the Kingdom nor the Church consists in external observances.
The Greek word ecclesia is made up of ek. ''out of," and kalein, "to call," and the full meaning is, "an assembly of called-out ones." So, the Lord Jesus, in speaking to His true disciples says: "I have chosen you out of the world" (John 15. 19), and Simeon explains the purpose of God in this dlspensation as being to take out from among the Gentiles, a people for His Name (Acts 15. 14).
The Church is called the "Body of Christ'' (Eph. 1. 22, 23), the "Church of the firstborn ones'' (Heb. 12. 23), and "the habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph. 2. 19, 22).
How Can I Become a Member of It?
May no one be satisfied without knowing beyond all doubt whether he is in this Church or not.
First of all, I should like to say there is a within and a without. It is impossible to occupy a neutral position, for the Lord distinctly says: "He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me, scattereth abroad" (Matt. 12. 30). To, be outside now is to be under the power and dominion of sin and Satan (Eph. 2. 2, 3) and an enemy of the Son of God. To die without having become counted among its members, is to be among those who are described in Revelation 21. 8, R.V., "Their part shall be in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.''
Does Natural Birth Admit?
It is sad to think that in spite of the plain teaching of the Word of God, there are those who affirm that the fact of a child having Christian parents constitutes it a child of God, and among these so-called teachers and guides are some who occupy prominent positions and profess to be the ministers of Christ! They affirm that the child is a child of God from its birth, and that it becomes a member of the Church by baptism, confirmation, or some such rite. These "teachers" often make elaborate attempts to show that the child is a member of the Kingdom without any spiritual change, and should be admitted into the Church by baptism, etc. They make a difference between the child of Christian parents and the child of heathen parents. Now all this finds absolutely no support in the Word of God. 1 Corinthians 7. 14 is frequently cited as showing that the children of believing parents "are holy," and therefore should be baptized, but it is a very perilous procedure to build a doctrine of the kind on such an obscure passage (especially as baptism is not once referred to in the passage) when there are so many clear passages which show unmistakably that children, or adults, are not baptized because they are "holy" in this sense, but because they are "believers" (Mark 16. 15. 16). The same verse in Corinthians speaks of the unbelieving husband or wife being "sanctified." The point of the passage is that if a Christian be married to an unbelieving wife, and that unbeliever be willing to live, with the Christian, there is no need for separating either from her or from her children, as was done under the law (see Ezra 10. 1, 3).
The most serious aspect of this evil is that thousands who know they were christened in their infancy, build their hopes on that fact without having had any definite spiritual experience.
Mischief in the Mission Field.
What terrible mischief this error has done in heathen lands! Look at the English possessions in West and South Africa. Large numbers of natives whose parents are professing Christians have been christened and educated on the mission stations.
These are looked upon and called "Christian natives," but my experience, and that of many others, proves that hundreds of them are morally more degraded than the raw natives who have never been brought under these so-called Christian influences. Is there any wonder that ungodly men in these places speak against all mission work? Surely not. These teachers of error have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.
lt is as clear as daylight that all, when once they have reached the age in which they can distinguish and choose between right and wrong, must be saved through a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This applies equally to those who have Christian parents.
The Case of Timothy.
Take the case of Timothy (2 Tim. 3. 14. 15). He needed to be made ''wise unto salvation," and that "through faith which is in Christ Jesus." It was not the faith of his grandmother, Lois. or of his mother Eunice, but his own faith in Jesus Christ which saved him and made him a member of the True Church. Mother and grandmother both had faith, but of Timothy, Paul could say: "And I am persuaded that (the same faith dwells) in thee also" (2 Tim. 1. 5).
When we open our Bibles at the third chapter of John, we find that the Kingdom is entered, not by natural birth, and this is true of all, whether their parents are Christians or not, but by new birth, by being "born again" born "from above" (see margin), or ''born of the Spirit" (vv. 3-8). It will also be seen from the Lord's teaching which follows, that the new birth is wrought in those "who believe" (vv.14 -18).
The Case of Nlcodemus.
The case of Nicodemus, who was devoted to his religion as a Pharisee, and had probably been baptized by John, shows that apart from this definite and clear heart belief in the Son of God, no Salvation is possible.
My Personal Experience.
I should like before going any further to give a few words of personal testimony as to how I became a member of the True Church. Unfortunately, this expression, the "True Church" has been almost monopolized by one of the most unchristian systems which ever attempted to pass as Christians. I refer to the Roman Catholic religion. It is not for me to say there are no Christians in it; if there are, they are Christians not because of, but. in, spite of her evil doctrines. When I refer to the True Church, I mean, of course, the Church which is the ''Body of Christ.''
Up to about the age of twenty, I led the ordinary kind of life which the average young man of to-day lives. Parental control was irksome, and I threw it off as much and as quickly as I possibly could. The usual round of sports, theatres, music-halls, and such-like, claimed a good deal of my time. I did not altogether neglect attendance at places of worship. and was sometimes deeply impressed with the truths I heard, though my principal reason for attending was the company of young people I found there. As a child, I was christened, but the life I lived as I grew in years was quite sufficient to prove that I, though the child of Christian parents (my father being a local preacher for sixty years), was far from being a child of God, or in any way improved or helped by the rite. I became acquainted with a number of young people connected with the "Church of England,'' and began to attend its services. Then I joined the cricket club, the captain of which was the Curate of "the Church." He pressed me to be confirmed and said that all that was necessary was to attend some preparation classes and be able to answer certain questions. There was no reference to sin, my need of a personal Saviour, or the necessity of the new birth. Of course, there were the usual confirmation questions, but no attempt was made to reach my conscience. I was duly confirmed, but I was still in my sins, and I well remember how on the very afternoon of the day of our confirmation, a number of us, both young men and women, visited a gipsy camp and behaved most dlsgracefully.
"The Most Important Step I Ever Took."
Eventually I and my dearest companion were led to attend the preaching of Mr. A. A. [Arthur Augustus] Rees, of Sunderland. That man of God, as many can gratefully testify, did not hesitate to declare all the counsel of God concerning sin and the absolute impossibility of obtaining Salvation apart from a personal faith in the atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the custom of Mr. Rees to see any anxious ones on the Monday night in the vestry, and I decided to go and see him. But how was this to be done. seeing my companion and I were accustomed to meet every night at the very hour when I should go? There was nothing for it but to tell him frankly of my decision, but this was no easy task, for it meant, probably, a close to our companionship, and perhaps his scornful contempt at what he might consider a manifestation of childish weakness on my part. I cried very much to God for strength, for my mind was made up. When we met, after much hesitation, I broached the subject and instead of contempt, which I expected, his face brightened up, and he said that he also had been seeking grace to tell me that he had come to the same decision. We visited Mr. Rees together, and received a most loving welcome. After conversation, during which we were pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ who had finished the work of redemption on the Cross, and who offered us SaIvation as a gift. He gave us each a little book which showed the difference between the "do" and "done." Salvation was not to be obtained by doing—not of works—for the Lord had done it all long, long ago, and all that was needed was a true heart, belief in the Saviour, and a grateful acceptance of His finished work. My choice was made there and then, and so was my companion's, who is now with the Lord, and I have never had a doubt since as to my soul's Salvation. Blessed be God, that was the best and most important step I ever took, and my desire to-day is that God may use me to point others to the living Saviour, who has power, and is willing to save from the dominion of sin all who put their trust in Him. This, and only this, is the way of Salvation, and a way to become a member of the True Church, against which the gates of Hell shall not prevail.
Charles A. Swan, Portugal.
"Crowns and thrones may perish,
Kingdoms may rise and wane,
But the Church of Jesus
Constant must remain."
From: "The True Church. What is it? Who Compose it?"
by William Hoste & Robert McElheran.