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Is it Necessary to Belong to a Church to be Saved?
By Brian Pepper
In Hebrews 12:22, 23 St Paul pays some very high compliments to God's church, "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels,
Verse 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven…”
For we are told in 1 Timothy 3:15 that the church is to be the "pillar and ground of the truth."
In establishing a church of God on this earth it was the intention of God to present truth, not to "change" the truth. That was the very last thing that Jesus ever had in mind; that the church would ever presume to change this and to change that. Truth is eternal and it is unchangeable; no church has the right to alter one verse or one chapter of the Word of God. If you think the church does not teach the truth, then I do not blame you for not wanting to be united with that church whatever it may be.
But I want to tell you that in God's sight the rich and the poor are all alike. And in the church of God we are to stand on exactly the same level.
God is no respecter of persons. Jesus was a poor man. He was born poor; He never had any riches in this world and He died in poverty.
There is one thing that I like about the tithing plan; it is so very fair. If you have a lot, you pay a lot of tithe. But if you have nothing then you pay nothing. That is a very fair plan. You can expect that, because it was God Himself who instituted the tithing plan.
Yes, if a man is poor and he feels unwanted by the church then I would not blame him for not uniting with the church that makes him feel that way.
Jesus said, "...there is none good but one, that is God:" So you see there really isn’t any who can class themselves as good.
I have found in reading the Bible that Jesus takes the most interest in the people who do not think of themselves as good. But the individuals who think themselves very well off and very good, well I find that Jesus did not have very much time for.
We have an illustration of that in the case of two men that went up to the temple to pray. Luke 18:9-14.
There was one man standing over there, well dressed, high in the social circle, well respected because of his high position. Whenever he did anything he liked it to be noised abroad. He just stood there in the temple, praying so the people could see how good he was. The strange thing is the Bible says "he was praying to himself." He said, "Lord, I am so glad that I have been able to do so much; I have done this, and have done that; I am so glad that I was not born in poverty and ignorance. I am so glad that I have the light of this truth and am not blind like that fellow over there that is praying."
Then Jesus tells us of the other man. He was a poor man. He worked in the tax revenue department of the government, and he stood there praying. He knew that he had cheated a lot of people out of their money. He was overwhelmed with his guilt. And now he seeks repentance. All he said was, "God be merciful to me a sinner." In other words "Lord, can you forgive a sinner like me?" And Jesus points to this man and says, "That man went down to his house justified rather than the other."
No I really don’t think that you have a good excuse if you say that you are not good enough. Jesus says "Why you are the very one that I came to save."
Have you ever heard that one? Why, you can hear that one all over the world. I used to think that excuse was an Australian invention. But I have heard that one in plenty of other places. As a matter of fact to hear some people talk, you would think that most church members were hypocrites and that everyone outside the church was pretty good. They just turn the whole thing the wrong side out.
You see there are some individuals that stand outside the church and they look inside the church window, and they look at one church member and pick him to pieces. Then they lay him out and start finding faults in others. They are just like cannibals, they tear the members apart. They then say, “I am a whole lot better than that and I am not even in the church.”
There are some bad ones that get into the church; there is no question of that. Satan puts them there to back up his accusation.
Why, Jesus said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind.” Matthew 13:47 Good fish are pulled in with the bad. He said, “You go out there and you sow wheat but you also gather some tares.” And that is true. But don’t stay outside the church because there are some hypocrites there. Why friends, there are hypocrites everywhere, many of them are in parliament, others are in business. They just infiltrate.
Matthew 7:15 says, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
If you look up the names in the early Christian church and look for “J” you will notice first and foremost “Jesus”. There is also “James” and there is “John”. But on the same page is “Judas”. Yes that name is written right into the first page. If Jesus was willing to have his name on that church book in that early church, and have a name like “Judas” in that same page; then I don’t think that excuse will hold very much value in the great judgment day.
I wonder if they used that excuse in Noah’s day. Can you image someone saying “I won’t go into that old boat church because there are too many hypocrites there.”
Now what is a church? Well a church is a union. It is an organization for strength. But that strength is to be used in spreading the gospel.
United we stand, divided we fall. The wolves know that very well. They attack the sheep that has wandered from the flock. Yes, it is the scattered sheep that the wolves attack first.
It is just like those who have been in the church and have then wandered away. They did not mean to, they did not intend to go, but as they separated themselves from the others without realizing it, their fire, their zeal began to die down and soon it was gone. But when they are united again then the fire comes back.
There is another strength that comes from being united with the church and that is the union of prayer. Jesus assures us that where a group is united in prayer request “I will hear that prayer."
We have an example of that in the experience of Peter. It is a thrilling story. You find it in Acts the 12th chapter. Herod, having beheaded one disciple saw that it pleased the Jewish leaders and now he thought I will gain great applause if I have Peter beheaded also. The church gathered together in this fateful hour of danger. Yes they assembled together and they prayed and they prayed desperately. So God sent down one of the chiefest of angels. The angel turned the key and the lock was free.
There is not a prison house that God cannot open. Yes I am thankful that Jesus has a key to every prison. God heard the prayers of His church, united in their appeal to Him.
I tell you it means a lot to belong to the church. It is a wonderful thing in time of danger, in time of suffering and sorrow, and in adversity.
Verse 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
The church is what? “His body.” Yes it is the ‘body’ of Christ.
That illustration is carried a little further in 1 Corinthians 12:18 and onward.
Verse 18 "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
Verse 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body?
Verse 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.
Verse 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
Verse 22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:"
Then he makes this appeal, Verse 25 "That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
Verse 27 …ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."
We enter the church and we are united with the body of Christ. We still have our individuality; we are individual members, but we are united with the body of Jesus Christ.
That shows us how important it is that we be baptized, for by one Spirit we are all baptized into His body.
That illustration of St Paul is very fitting. Take this chair. It isn’t much good with one leg missing. The body is certainly hampered with a leg off. The brain is of no use without the body and the body useless without the brain. It takes all members to make up the body and it takes all members to make up the church.
You would think it is a terrible thing to have your arm cut off. But it is not anywhere as bad as having your name taken off the church books. I would rather die in Jesus Christ in premature death than to live on and be dropped from the church of God.
Matthew 18:15, 16, 17 says, "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
Verse 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
Verse 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
Jesus warns of what an important thing it is to be connected with the church and how terrible thing it is to be dropped.
He says "Now don’t broadcast this matter, tell the man privately, don’t feel that you have to call a board meeting. Isolate the matter, don’t treat the matter as a church scandal. But if you can’t do any good, the individual just won’t listen, then count him as an outcast.
I want to tell you that God takes notice of the records of the church alright
Verse 18 says, “Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
So you can see the worst thing that could possibly happen to a man is have his name off the church books.
I must be united to the body. I dare not be cut off from the body - the church; for it is fatal.
Romans 11:23 describes a branch that has been cut off, been dropped from the church, "And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again.”
That is a wonderful text. God says that He will graft that man in once again to the body – the church. The backslider is the one sheep lost from the fold. He was in the fold but he left fold. Now he is back again.
I wish to God that every member in the church would take the same attitude. The trouble is that when we hear of a sheep having strayed from the fold, we often take a clod of dirt and throw them at the straying sheep; thus driving them further and further away. We ought to love them right back into the fold.
I am glad that Jesus loved the backsliders and that He is able to graft them in once again.
Then he goes on to speak of the union between the husband and the wife. That love that exists between the husband and the wife is a symbol of the love between Christ and the church.
John meets Ruth. They are greatly attracted to one another. He learns to love her. "Ruth will you marry me?" "Oh, John, I am still young. I will be only young once. I want to have a good time. I am not ready to settle down yet. Maybe sometime later." And so she goes her flippant way. The years pass by and again they meet. "Ruth, will you marry me now? I still love you. I want you as my own." "Oh, John, I can’t now. I have thought about it sometimes. I have not forgotten you, but you see I am just getting a career started and I haven’t the time to go into these things. Years pass by. Again they meet again. Now an old lady, bent, crippled, "Ruth, will you marry me." What a pity she did not give him her youth and her vigor.
I read the other day of the marriage of a couple who were nearly 80 years old. Childhood sweethearts getting married so they could escort each other to the cemetery.
Why not give God our youth, God loves His church. It is a wonderful group to belong to. We should love the church. St Paul had a tremendous love for the church. The church is the light of God in this world.
Isaiah 60:2 says, “For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people…”
But the Bible says that even in the hour of this awful darkness a light is to shine forth to the world.
It is an awful thing to be in darkness. I wish this was nighttime. Do you know what I would do? I would give out candles and then I would have the lights put out then one by one have the candies lit. There would soon be lights all over the room. I would like to do this. (Assume) I have a candle here. I light it then I snuff it out. If this was night I would be in darkness. Were it not for the church I would be in darkness.
May the Lord help me that my light will never go out, and that the LORD may help me to share that light, that it may go to the whole earth.