30 Minute Radio Sermon - WAVG Radio 1450 AM

Clarksville church of Christ

March 4, 2001

Speaker: Richie Thetford

"The Establishment and Membership of Christ's Church"

Jesus said, "I will build My church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). Did Jesus mean that all the hadean powers could not keep Him from building His church, or did He mean that once built, His church would be invulnerable, or both? In addition, there is nothing to which one should belong that is more important than belonging to His church. As we study the lesson centered around Jesus' own words, "Upon this rock I will build My church." Our emphasis is on His declaration that the church He built belongs only to Him. And, to be a member of it is of the utmost importance. But have you heard statements like, "It doesn't matter what church you belong to -- the church doesn't save anyone." Today we will study the scriptures looking for an answer as to when Jesus actually built His church and the importance of being a member of it. So friends, please stay tuned.

Hello, this is Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ welcoming you to another presentation of"What Is Truth?"The Clarksville church of Christ presents this program every Sunday at this same time. Our purpose is to teach the truth and nothing but the truth. We always urge you who listen to let us know if you find us teaching what you think is untrue. We do not want to be wrong. You are very warmly invited to visit our services today. At 9:30 A.M. we have Bible classes for all ages. At 10:30 A.M. and 6 P.M. we worship congregationally, and each Wednesday we meet for Bible classes at 7:30 P.M. Our building is located at the corner of Hale Road and Hwy 131 in Clarksville. We would be delighted to have you come and visit us today.

One ought not to dismiss the question of the establishment of the church Jesus promised to build as an irrelevant issue. When the church was established is of vital consequence. Imagine someone running a property survey who begins at the wrong starting place. It is like starting with the wrong button when you button a shirt or blouse -- you invariably end wrong. With surveys and dressing that is not much of a problem, but with the church it is serious.

Suppose someone comes up with the idea that the church began back with Abraham, in the Old Testament. From this false beginning has come the idea that infants may be "christened" and become members of the church. Starting with Abraham, since infant males were circumcised as a seal of their covenant relationship to God, that was a type of "christening" babies today. Or suppose someone affirms that the church was set up by John the Baptist. They erroneously conclude that the church was then a Baptist Church. Many other doctrinal facts are closely tied to the issue of when the church Jesus promised to build was set up. There is really only one reliable source of information and it is to that we now turn.

Prophecy serves a very valuable function in our study of this topic. For hundreds of years, prophets had been foretelling the establishment of God's government over all mankind. Until Christ came, there was really only one nation God regarded as special to Himself -- the nation of Israel. Yet, the prophets began telling these special people that down in the far distant future, God would be the ruler of all nations. Listen to this prophetic utterance from Isaiah. "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established on the top of the mountains. And shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, 'Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.' For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:1-3).

J.A. Alexander, a well known and reliable scholar of Old Testament prophecy, wrote of this passage, "the Prophet sees the church, at some distant period, exalted and conspicuous, and the nations resorting to it for instruction in the true religion..." (The Prophecies of Isaiah, Zondervan Publishers, page 98.) Again, he wrote, "The prophecy begins with an abrupt prediction of the exaltation of the church, the confluence of nations to it, and a general pacification as the consequence, verses 2-4." (Ibid, page 97.)
Notice, friends, this was all to take place in "the last days." One must measure the "last days" from the time of the prophecy -- not from our own day. The prophet could look forward from around 700 years before Christ to what he saw as "the last days." One might understand this as the last days of the Mosaic age. Literally, this expression can be rendered, "the end of the days," or very simply, "hereafter."

That which the prophet saw as being set up was called "the mountain of Jehovah's house." We ought to remember that Paul wrote to Timothy and said, "But if I am delayed, I wrote you so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). The house of God is His church. That which the prophet foretold as being established in the last days before Judaism ceased to exist as God's people, is the church Jesus promised to build.

Now this "house of God" is called a mountain. It was themountain of the Lord's house that was to be established. In the same prophecy Mt. Zion is mentioned. The prophet said that "out of Zion would go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." Mt. Zion, including the mountains of Moriah, was the place where the sacred temple of the Jews was situated. That places the establishment of the church in the ancient city of Jerusalem.

All nations would flow to it. No longer would it be just the Jews as the people of God. When this great house became a reality it was large enough for all nations. No ethnic qualification was necessary. Gentiles, for the very first time, since the giving of the Mosaic Law, would be included as the special people of God. Listen to the apostle Paul. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:26-29).

Next, I want to invite your attention to the time element. Isaiah saw the "last days," or the last time. As previously noted, he looked at the last days from his perspective, some 700 or so years before the fulfillment of his prophecy. He had no idea when the prophecy would be fulfilled -- only that it would happen in the end of the days. To those living under the Mosaic Law, there could be only one meaning to that -- the end of the Jewish age. So as the Jewish dispensation wound down to its climax, Isaiah says that the church would be set up.

We may be more specific about the time element. On the first Pentecost, following Christ's glorious triumph over death, and his magnificent ascension to the right hand of God, Peter proclaimed, "But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days -- (this is the exact expression Isaiah used) -- says God that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh..." (Acts 2:16-17). When an inspired apostle says this is that which a prophet spoke, there is no room for doubt as to whether the prophet's utterance is being fulfilled or not. Isaiah and Joel referred to precisely the same time in the use of precisely the same expression. That fixes the time of the last days around A.D. 33, on the first Pentecost following Christ's resurrection and ascension.

But there is more. Jesus stated clearly, "There are some here of them that stand by, who shall in no wise taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God come with power" (Mark 9:1). You cannot miss this. Some of those who heard Jesus lived to see the kingdom set up. Jesus used the expression "kingdom of God" and "My church"interchangeably. Listen to it again. "Upon this rock I will build My church --- and I give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven." Those keys to the kingdom fit the door of the church, for as Peter preached the gospel of the resurrected Christ, thousands of honest people obeyed the gospel and were added to the church. In that sense, and only in that sense, did Peter use those keys.

Jesus was giving His disciples their final instructions when He said to them, "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. Behold I send the promise of My Father upon you; but tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high"(Luke 24:47-49). Repentance and remission of sins had never been preached, as Jesus intended for it to be preached. Only one nation had found favor with God until this time. Now, He says that things will be changed. The old will pass away; the new will be set up. This repentance and remission of sins was announced for the very first time when Peter told those in Jerusalem, "Repent and let every one of you be baptized for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38). Upon compliance, those penitent believers were then added to the church (verse 47).

So, the church Jesus built was established in Jerusalem, on the first Pentecost after He rose from the dead, and includes all nations. If you are a member of some religious organization that cannot and does not claim to be established in this precise way, I urge you to investigate. If you want to be a member of the church Jesus built, you must truly repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins. As a penitent believer, your baptism will admit you into His fellowship, His fold, His church.

Jesus did build His church. Matthew 16:18 are the words of the Savior. He promised, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it." We have seen thus far that it was established in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost following His resurrection from the dead. The first mention of it as an existing reality is Acts 2:47. There the record says that the Lord "was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." It grew to a very large number within just a few years. Those of the first century who were members of it, made up the church -- the called out. But just what did they do in order to be members of His church? Did they "join the church" of their own choice? Did it make a difference if they were members of that church, or could they have pleased the Lord by being members of some other kind of church?

It may surprise you, but there is nothing in the Bible that gives instructions for joining that church. In fact, people did not join it, in the sense of becoming members of it. Acts 2, the chapter telling us of the events that took place as the church came into being, has Peter's sermon, the audience response, and the divine results. You see, Peter preached that Jesus was no longer dead -- He was risen and sitting at the right hand of Almighty God. There was a general outcry, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Verse 37). Peter told them to "repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Verse 38). Verse 41 reads, "They then that received his word were baptized and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls." Verse 47 tells to what they were added. It reads, "Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved." This was the church Jesus built. And it was the only church in existence.

The people did not "join" that church nor any other church -- they were added to it by the Lord. They were never offered the pious platitude, "join the church of your choice." The Lord settled their church membership by selectively adding the saved to the church of Christ. Those who were "being saved" were added to it. Those who were being lost, who refused to obey what Peter preached, were not added. That is the way it was in the very beginning of Christianity and unless the New Testament has been revised, it is still the Lord's way. To this, nearly everyone who has studied the Bible with any profit at all will readily agree. But it is inevitable that things were changed. There are churches you may join. It is like becoming a member of some club, or some organization. There are certain requirements you must meet and then be accepted by the club. But that is not the way it was in becoming a member of the church Jesus built.

With all genuine respect, let me read to you what is required of some today who would be members of the Baptist Denomination. Reading from A Standard Manual for Baptist Churches, by Edward T. Hiscox, page 22, "It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but 'one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,' and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all the rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, 'baptism was the door into the church.' Now, it is different; and while the churches are desirous of receiving members, they are wary and cautious that they do not receive unworthy persons. The churches therefore have candidates come before them, make their statement, give their 'experience,' and then their reception is decided by a vote of the members. And while they cannot become members without baptism, yet it is the vote of the body which admits them to its fellowship on receiving baptism."

Please understand, dear friend, this is an official statement from the Baptist church as to how to become a member of their denomination. And, their candid admission "now it is different" is very revealing. The difference in now and the apostolic age is that then people simply obeyed Christ's gospel and were added to the church. Today, people are called upon to give their statement, their "experience" and then are voted into fellowship with the Baptist church. The dangerous difference is that voting is never mentioned anywhere in the Bible as a means of receiving people into the fellowship of the church. This is clearly an unscriptural, anti-biblical procedure that has been derived in the minds of men, not in the mind of God.

Here is another example of modern procedures for church membership that are not found anywhere in scripture. From theMethodist Discipline, Chapter II, paragraph 107, I read, "All persons seeking to be saved from their sins and sincerely desiring to be Christian in faith and practice are proper candidates for membership in The Methodist Church. When such persons offer themselves for membership, it shall be the duty of the pastor, or of proper persons appointed by him, to instruct them in the meaning of the Christian faith and the history, organization and teaching of The Methodist Church; to explain to them the baptismal and membership vows and to lead them to commit themselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. When they shall have given proof of the genuineness of their faith in Christ and of their desire to assume the obligations and become faithful members of The Methodist Church, and after the rite of baptism has been administered to those who have not been previously baptized, he shall bring them before the congregation, administer the vows and receive them into the fellowship of the Church, and duly enroll them as members."

Again, the difference between those on the day of Pentecost, and the procedural requirements for membership in The Methodist Church is very evident. In the first century, no one ever dreamed of learning of the doctrines, history, organization, and policies of any church. Faith in Christ as the Lord, that led sincere believers to repent and be baptized made them automatically members of Christ's church. Please notice very carefully, that both these denominations mentioned, and all others (with which I am acquainted) require baptism in order to be in their fellowship. But each and every one of them deny that baptism has anything to do with salvation from sin. They affirm that one can be a Christian, die and go to heaven, and never be a member of their particular fellowship or church. The irresistible conclusion is that they require more of one to be members of their denominations than the Lord does for them to go to heaven.

No, dear friends, voting people in or out of the church based on their statement or "experience" is not taught in the Bible. Indoctrination of candidates into the doctrinal views, the history, and organization of The Methodist Church is not taught in the Bible. In fact, there is nothing in the Bible that tells one how to join the church. The reason for that is simple. Dr. Hiscox was right. "...in the apostolic age ... the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church."

We have established previously that the church is the kingdom of God on earth. Entering the church is entering the kingdom. And one is made a member of Christ's kingdom by being born of "water and the spirit" (John 3:5). Jesus said, "Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." By baptism in water, in obedience to what the Holy Spirit has revealed through the inspired apostles, one is then born again. No one joins the kingdom of Christ. It would be as sensible to speak of a child "joining" its family as it would be to speak of joining God's family. You become a member of Christ's kingdom, the family of God, by birth -- a new birth of water and spirit.

The process of conversion puts one in the church of Christ. Jesus said, "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Conversion is the change that occurs in one who leaves sin and enters salvation. But notice that this is the procedure by which one enters the kingdom, and simultaneously becomes a member of the church Jesus said was His own.

This has very serious implications. It implies that anyone who is not a member of the church Jesus called His own is not saved. Being saved is the means by which He adds one to His church. So, to be a member of His church, is to be saved from past sins. But how is one saved? If we are to be saved it will be only on the Lord's terms. Listen carefully. Jesus, just prior to His ascension, said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved. He who disbelieves will be damned" (Mark 16:15-16). Salvation is placed after belief and baptism. The passage is often twisted to read, "He who believes is saved, and then should be baptized to join the church." But that is not the way Jesus gave it. He put two conditions between the lost person and salvation, and membership in His church.

It has not gone unnoticed that Jesus said, "He that disbelieveth shall be damned.." with the erroneous conclusion that had baptism been essential, he would have said, "He that disbelieveth and is not baptized shall be damned." The truth is simple. He put two conditions between damnation and salvation and only one for those who are lost. Are you a member of His church? Have you obeyed His gospel? Have you been immersed for the remission of sins, like those on the Day of Pentecost were required to do? If so, the Lord has added you to His church. If not, please carefully consider what you need to do in order to be added to the Lord's church. I pray that you will accept the truth of God's word, obey it from your heard, be saved from your past sins, and be added to His church today.

This is Richie Thetford, evangelist for the Clarksville church of Christ thanking each of you for listening to this morning's broadcast and invite you to listen again next Sunday morning at 8:30 A.M. for another presentation of "What Is Truth?"