Thoughts on the Church 3

If you believe what you like in the gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself. (Augustine)

Matthew 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

The churches (even the gospel churches) are worldly in spirit, morally anemic, on the defensive, imitating instead of initiating and in a wretched state generally because for two full generations they have been told that justification is no more than a “not guilty” verdict pronounced by the Heavenly Father upon a sinner who can present the magic coin faith with the wondrous “open sesame” engraved upon it. (A.W. Tozer)

“Justification is the article by which the church stands or falls.” (Martin Luther)

The concept of the local church in our day is far removed from the teaching of the New Testament and perhaps has been for a long time. It is not just important for people to show up on Sunday mornings at a place that has the word “church” on the door and/or sign. It is not just important to sign up and be on the roll of a local “church.” It is not just important to be busy in the local “church.” It is not just important to subscribe to a creed of a “church”. It is not enough just to be a part of or on the roll of a conservative professing church.

If we look at the three quotes and one Scripture from above, one can see that it is utterly vital to be careful in this area. Professing churches preach a so-called gospel that is what the people want rather than what is biblical. That can range from liberal views to conservative thinking on moral issues and theological issues as well. As seen from the quotes above, one can go so far as to think that one is holding to justification by faith alone and be terribly deceived about it. The old self will go far in denying what it wants to deny and “believing” what it wants to believe. It is not simply accepting as true what certain statements say and attaching to them what we want them to mean. We must bow to what Scripture says and what Scripture means in what we believe.

The doctrine of justification is vitally important to the very idea of the Church. If the Church stands or falls depending on its views and treatment of justification, then this is not something that can be minor or not stressed. If the Gospel is not preached, then how can a professing local church be considered to be part of the Church? Luther thought that this was so important that without it there could be no Church. Roman Catholicism denied justification by grace alone through faith alone and by that was considered a non-Church by the Reformers. But again, it is not just any view of justification by grace alone through faith alone that was acceptable and is acceptable. The glorious Gospel cannot just be readily accepted by the human will as if it is free to apply grace to itself. It is not enough to say the word “Gospel” during the sermon as if that is preaching the Gospel, but one must preach the Gospel that is in accordance with Scripture if that person is going to preach the Gospel at all. If the Reformers were right about the Gospel, then one must preach what they preached. We must be careful.

This is no idle thought. How can one be a “member” of a professing church that is not a true church because it does not preach the true Gospel? If the Reformers were right, then it may be that the vast majority of members of professing churches are not members of a true church at all. In our day there are many who profess to be Reformed and they press church membership on others, a focus on the Gospel itself would be more helpful. A person must be a member of Christ to be in the true Church and not just “join” a local professing church. It could be that ministers can be adding many members to a local church and they are doing nothing but making those who join twice the sons of hell that they are.

Modern professing churches in our day are little different than Roman Catholicism in the time before the Reformation. Rome said that one must be a member of Rome in order to be saved. However, being a member of Christ is not the same as being a member of Rome. In our day people are saying that if one is not a member of a local professing church that person is either in sin or is not saved. Of course there is no biblical evidence for this, but that does not stop them at all. The true Church preaches the true Gospel. That is an issue more important than all the talk on membership. If people who focus so much on local church membership would focus on the Gospel instead, they would be far more biblical.

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