Do You Belong to "The Church?"
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it: That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Before you may wish to answer the question, "Do you belong to the church?" you may ask, "What do you mean by that term?" Recently I came across some verses concerning the church, and decided to see just what the Bible has to say on the subject.
I had no idea what I was getting into. If you look at the listings in Nave's Topical Bible you will find that there are more than twenty pages of references, two columns to the page. I have selected a number of these that it should be profitable to consider. They are found in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Some of them you are surely familiar with, and others may give you some new understanding of this important word, unless you read as much of the Bible as the mother of Ralph Carmichael, the musician and hymn writer. She is more than 90 years old, and still teaches Bible classes. She reads the Bible through six times a year!
Notice two references found in the Psalms: The Assembly of the Saints (Ps. 89:7), and The Assembly of the Upright (Ps. 111:1). What do these suggest? The fact that the church is composed of those who are saints, who are upright, should cause us to look carefully to our lives. Are we striving to live the kind of holy lives that would make it possible for us to be considered saints, and upright?
You may recall the account of Corrie Ten Boom when she was a young woman working with girls and young women in Holland before World War I. . There were a number who came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then wanted to join the church. One girl, it seemed, had absolutely no vital interest in matters of righteousness and holy living, yet wanted to join the church. Corrie did her best, as I recall, to show her the error of her ways, but she insisted that it was her right to do so. It seemed that she felt there would be some social or other advantage to her, not that she wanted to be religious, and pay any attention to the duties and responsibilities of being a Christian. Corrie felt that she could not in good conscience go along with the girl's desire, but the pastor -- was he a born-again Christian himself? -- overruled Corrie, and allowed the girl to join.
One evening in Amsterdam I attended an organ concert held in a lovely old building that had been called a church. Did it have so many "members" like the girl Corrie Ten Boom tried to minister to, that the spirit of true, heart-felt religion dried up, and the building had to be appropriated for other purposes?
Look at another other reference found in the Psalms. The Congregation of the Lord's Poor (Ps. 74:19). In some fellowships, it is reported, there is little or no welcome for those who are poor in this world's goods. How did St. Paul feel toward the poor Christians in Jerusalem and the other nearby communities of his day? We find that on various occasions he laid great stress on giving them a helping hand, and expected the Christians in the churches he founded to give generously of their resources for this purpose.
We might think of still one other reference in the Psalms: Sanctuary of God (Ps. 114:2). This suggests a very holy place. While the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, having been delivered from Egypt, where they had been in bondage for generations, they had among them the tabernacle, a movable "sanctuary of God." They had been delivered by God from their bondage, as Matthew Henry phrases it, "that they might serve him both in righteousness and holiness." Is that not what He expects of those today who profess to follow Him, to be a part of His Church?
A favorite name for the church, as found in the New Testament, is The Bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9 and 19:7-9). Several names are found in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, such as Lamb's Bride (Eph. 5:22-32), Household of God (Eph. 2:19), and Habitation of God (Eph. 222 );
There are a number of characteristics we should notice about the Church. It is militant. A favorite scripture of the late Howard Goslin, long-time engineer of KPOF, "the oldest station of the oldest Christian network" in the United States, according to National Religious Broadcasters, shows this quality. It is found in the Song of Solomon, a book not too often quoted, Chapter 6 and verse 10: "Fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners." Verses underlining this quality are also found in 2 Timothy 2:3 and 4:7.
The Church is loved by believers (1 Thes. 4:9). It is dear to God (Isa. 43:4). It is salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13, 14). It is. persecuted by the wicked (Acts 8:1-3). And it is edified by the Word (Col. 3:16). If time and space permitted, we could well afford to dwell at length on each of these.
Let us examine some of the great verses that are so meaningful to those who love the Lord. "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body. (Col. 3:11, 15) I have on a number of occasions been in a worship service where there were as many as twelve or fifteen or more different "tribes and nations" represented. What an interesting and exhilarating experience this can be, to feel the love and fellowship and spirit of worship in such a group! On the other hand, on a recent trip to Malawi, Africa, I was the only one, it seemed, who was "different" in color or background from all the members of the large congregation, and yet that same feeling was present. What will it be like in heaven, to meet with the believers of all ages who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb!
"As we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." (Rom. 12:4. 5) The human body is an amazing "unity in diversity." Think of the marvelous things a human hand can do. Recently I took some guests "from afar" to a cafeteria for an evening meal. I had been there before on occasion, but not recently, and wondered if there would be music. Yes, there was! A blind pianist sat at a small grand piano and furnished music for the enjoyment of the diners. His hands flashed back and forth over the keys in a way that would have done credit to someone who was sighted! At the end of the meal I noticed that one of my guests, who had said nothing at the table about the music, quickly walked over to the piano and placed a bill on the piano.
"Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." (John 10:16) Adam Clarke and other Bible scholars point out that, although Christ came to the Jews first, He was also concerned with the Gentiles. Is that not fortunate for so many of us? Also we might think of those who are different from any of us in some small way. On the one hand, we must be careful not to compromise on essential doctrines, but on the other, there may be earnest and consistent Christians who have a different point of view on some matters that we feel greatly concerned with.
You will remember another Scripture that may be considered related to this one. John said to the Lord: "Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us." (Mark 9:38. Also Luke 9:49) What would you or I have suggested in such a case? The reply of Jesus was very illuminating: "Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us."
On one occasion Jesus was ministering to great multitudes of people, including Pharisees who were seeking some sort of sign from heaven. He refused to gratify their desire for a miracle, but let them know that the sign of Jonah would be fulfilled in His life. While He was talking to the people His mother and brothers came and wished to speak to Him. As we know, from a child Jesus had been a loving and obedient son, yet now He was engaged in His ministry that would bring salvation to all of all ages who would believe. His mother and His brothers were dear to Him, but so were all who were willing to follow His commands!
What did He say? After stretching forth his hand toward His disciples He said: "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." ( Matt. 12:49-50) Isn't that almost too wonderful to take in? Some people have been very proud of the fact that somewhere in their background they have been related to some nobleman, or a king, or even a President of the United States. That is all well and good, but it doesn't compare with being recognized as a member of the family of God, and that is open and available to all who will meet His demands, and they are not grievous, as He assures us, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
Do you remember the account of the Scottish minister who was "brought On the carpet" by his deacons? On one of them said to him something like this: "We love you, pastor, but don't you think you had better resign?" Why was this? Well, there hadn't been a single convert that year. The pastor had to agree that it had been a sadly dull year, yet there had been a convert, "wee Bobby Moffat." But he was just a little fellow, and perhaps he didn't really count.
Bobby really did count, though, and a few years later he went to the pastor and asked if he thought he could ever learn to preach. "I feel within me that I ought to. If I could just lead souls to Christ, that would be happiness to me." The pastor said, "At least you can try." As we know, he did try, and when he came back On furlough from his missionary work in Africa, the King of England and the British Parliament "stood as a mark of respect." Yes, little Bobby Moffat, later to be father-in-law of David Livingstone, did count. And children everywhere count! The words of Jesus, spoken On more than On one occasion, show His attitude in this matter: "Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God." (Luke 18:16. Also see Matt. 19:14 & Mark 10:14)
Children play an important role in the church, and women do as well. We think of Mary, the mother of Jesus; the women who at times traveled with Him On his preaching tours; the woman at the well of Jacob, who became an "evangelist" to her community; Mary Magdalene, the On one commissioned by our Lord to carry the Good News of the Resurrection to the disciples; and others. St. Paul was privileged also to have women who were helpful to him in the ministries he carried out. He writes: "Help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life." (Philippians. 4:3) In missionary efforts overseas, and in congregations all across our land, how great a gap there would be if all at once none of those women who have been so faithful in the past in laboring for the Lord were to come up missing. And multitudes more are needed today!
There are many more Scriptures I have had in mind, but we shall look at just On one more before we return to our original question: "Do you belong to the church?" It is the passage used as our text:
"Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:25-27)
Notice the love Christ has for the church, and the privilege it has to be cleansed, to be sanctified, and in due time to be presented to Him, in heaven, without spot, or wrinkle, or blemish, but glorious and holy. But that holiness of heart and life can and must begin here On this earth, for "without holiness no man shall see the Lord." (Heb. 12:14)
So we return to the initial question. If your answer is "Yes," continue to grow in His grace and love, and in love for your fellow members. If it is "No," or "Maybe," or "I'm not sure," do not put off the day of salvation any longer. There is only danger and death in delay.