Thoughts on the Church 4

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 and falls.” (Martin Luther)

If it is the case that justification is the article by which the church stands or falls, then each church does in fact stand or fall by how they hold to and preach it. Clearly it is not enough to simply agree that this is true, but in fact a person must truly have true faith and truly be justified. It is not enough to think that one has true faith and that one is truly justified, but one must be truly justified. In like manner to be a true church the true teachings of Christ and His apostles must be taught concerning justification and those in the church must truly be justified. It is not enough for the professing church to have a creed and for the people to assent to it.

The Church is the body of Christ and nothing less. How does one become a member of the body of Christ? One must be put in there by the sovereign grace of God. God does not just put a person in a building or an organization, but He actually joins a person to Christ Himself. A person is not a member of Christ because of some choice s/he made, but because of what God has done and done by grace alone. My hand did not join my body by a decision, but my hand is part of my body because I was born with it. In the same way a person becomes a member of Christ (body of Christ) when God regenerates the soul and unites it to Christ. In other words, a person becomes a member of the body of Christ in a way that corresponds with the biblical teaching on justification. Justification is by grace alone through faith. Only those that God calls to Himself are justified and it is not the man who runs or the man who wills who is justified.

The essence of what the Church is should determine what it means to be a member of a church and what membership truly is. One cannot simply join the Church, one must be born into the Church and one cannot do this by self-effort and promises. The work of joining the Church is the work of God. This should never be let go of. The way people join churches today is opposite of the Gospel itself. A person becomes a member of Christ by the grace of God, yet local churches require a lot of the person to join their organization. If Christ died for His people to become members of His body, then does a local church have the biblical warrant for denying membership to those who are part of Christ? In the body of Christ people are members of Christ and members of each other. So, on what basis do local churches have in demanding things of people that Christ does not? All true believers are members of Christ and each other, so it would appear that local churches should recognize that all true believers are members of Christ and of those in the local church and that they are members.

The great doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone should establish a biblical church membership. No one can join a professing church in reality unless it preaches the Gospel as it is not a church. No believer should try to join a professing church apart from a clear Gospel preaching. It does not matter what the creed of that local group is, unless the Gospel is being preached there it is deceiving people regarding the Gospel and of salvation. If Luther was correct, and I am not sure how he could be wrong at this point, Rome was not a Church because it did not preach the true Gospel. But that sword cuts both ways. Protestants must take that to heart as well. Rome preached things about Christ. Rome preached that people must have Christ. Rome preached grace. Rome preached faith. Rome denied that it preached works for salvation. Rome preached that a person must be a member of the right church. But Rome did not preach the Gospel and it was not a true Church. When Protestants do not preach the true Gospel, they are not churches either and one should not try to join a professing church like that.

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