Essentially there is only one Church, the Church of Jesus Christ.
This one Church manifests itself in different ways here on earth. There are national differences, cultural and social variations brought on by separate geographical locations, and there are differences in interpretation of the Word of God and in the emphasis placed upon certain truths of that Word.
Hence we speak correctly of churches.
Besides these manifestations of the true Church on earth, one also comes into contact with those who call themselves church, but are not part of the Church of Jesus Christ. This applies to those institutions which deny Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, but continue to pay lip service to Him and His Word. Think for example of the Mormons, also known as the Church of the Latter Day Saints, or that church in your community which is thoroughly modern as in the Grand Rapids area, Fountain Street Church.
Over against these different manifestations of the true Church and the corrupt church, we face the important question, which church for me? The question directed to us at the occasion of our making public confession of faith is, “Do you acknowledge the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and in the Articles of the Christian faith and taught here in this Christian Church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation? This requires an evaluation of the teaching of the church. Sometime during our courtship years, the moonbeams illuminate the eyes of a lover who is a member of a different church than our own. When the pangs of love grow stronger the question of which church, takes on more urgency. As a result of our Christian witness, we may become close friends of a person who is a sincere Christian but of a different church. In our attempt to get to know one another better in Christ, we inevitably face the question, which church? Sometimes our church may disappoint. us; perhaps a certain member offends us deeply or we become convinced that the spiritual climate is not what it should be, then we look around at other churches and the question becomes almost desperate, which church?
In searching for an answer, we must be careful that we have a proper standard for measuring a church in order to determine how closely it approximates the Church. It is pathetic to hear some people justify their membership in churches that have apostatized measurably from the truth. We hear them say, “O, it’s such a friendly church;” or, “It’s such a relief to belong to a church that is active in the community and has a reputation, at least we don’t have to hear people say, never heard of that church,” Some boast of their beautiful edifice, others of their choir or organist, still others smugly assert, “We get out within the hour!” I’ve even heard one say, “The budget is cheaper over here.”
Most of us realize that the only proper standard for evaluating a church is the Word of God itself. To use the language of our Netherlands Confession, “The marks by which the true Church is known are these: if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised to punishing of sin: in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church,” Article 29. We are told in this and the preceding article that our calling is to evaluate each manifestation of the Church of Christ by the Word of God, to join ourselves with those who are faithful to that Word and strive more and more to conform their lives to the Scriptures.
This is our solemn obligation not only, but doing this is essential to our spiritual well-being. We consider three aspects.
FOR PROPER WORSHIP OF GOD
According to the Scriptures, we worship on the Sabbath for the purpose of praising God, “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, bring an offering, and come into his courts, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.” Ps. 96:8, 9.
We do this in four specific ways, by our singing, praying, giving, and meditating. Our worship of the Lord is an act of service, whereby we participate in the worship service.
It is important for us to remember that this worship on our part is a response to Jehovah’s presence. In the measure that we are God-conscious in that degree we truly worship Him. Hence we erect special buildings for this very purpose, the architecture and the furnishings are so designed that they function as the “house of God.” We enter into the sanctuary and pray, an important way to make us God-conscious. The organ plays music to this end. We open with a song of praise to prepare us for the first words from the mouth of the minister, a blessing from God Himself. As we continue in worship we read His Word, sing, pray, give, all of which prepares us for the message which God Himself speaks through Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit works in His ambassador. Sometimes we have the addition of a Sacrament as a sign and seal of God’s covenant. Before we leave the courts of the Lord we receive the blessing of God’s, “grace, mercy and peace be unto you.” We are prepared to serve Him during the remainder of the week.
Essential to this holy activity of worshipping God in His house, is God’s revelation of Himself. It is axiomatic, that in the degree that God reveals Himself in His glory, in like manner we are able, by His Holy Spirit, to worship Him. Central to this revelation is the preaching of the Word. You can have elaborate liturgy, beautiful choir and organ music, but without the lively preaching of the Word it detracts rather than adds to our worship.
Holy majestic is that place where the Word of God is preached according to the beauty of God’s own Revelation. As children of God, we long to see God in His beauty. As Israel gazed upon the Shekinah and worshipped God, so we do likewise as we attend to the Word of God. We desire to know God as the sovereign, righteous, holy God Who in His great mercy redeems and calls us by Jesus Christ into friendship with Him. If we are going to be faithful in our worship of God on the Sabbath day and truly worship Him as we are called, we will seek out a church in which we are convinced the glory of God shines through the preaching. Human philosophy, worldly wisdom, sentimental morality, all becloud the brilliance of Jehovah’s presence. We desire to see God as He has revealed Himself in order that we may respond in praise and thanksgiving.
We then will be qualified, “to be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves,” James 1:22.
FOR PROPER NOURISHMENT
According to Rev. 12:14, “And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness into her place, where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time from the face of the serpent.” This is a picture of the church of today who is preserved from destruction by God’s nourishment.
When we are brought to a saving knowledge of Christ, we are not self-sufficient. We cannot say, I’m saved, now I can get along without Christ or His church. The very opposite is true, being saved we need each other. We must be fed with the Bread of life and must constantly drink the Water of life. We need this not to maintain a static state of life, but to grow spiritually. We desire more and more strength in order that we may deny ourselves, resist the devil, and love not the world neither the things that are in the world. We desire an increase of strength in order that we may enjoy the covenant life with God increasingly and be more faithful in serving Him.
There are different degrees of spiritual maturity. Paul reminds us of this in I Cor. 3:2. Others need meat, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil,” Heb. 5:14. Peter adds in his epistle, “As newborn babes, desire the sincere (pure) milk of the word that ye may grow thereby,” I Peter 2:2., “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” Children of God who have varying degrees of spiritual growth require a proper diet. Hence Scripture refers to those who require the milk of the Word, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat, for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able,”
Two things have a direct bearing in this connection. God has called us into His covenant friendship and within that covenant we desire to grow. God has provided us with His nourishment, principally the means of grace, the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments. He has added Christian discipline to keep them pure. We must seek out a church that eliminates poison from the diet, for that cannot nourish, it can only kill. Still more, we must seek a church that brings us not only milk, but also meat. We need a diet that will feed and provide spiritual growth. Without this we will become spiritually anemic. By spiritual growth we will be qualified to serve God in His house, our daily lives at home, business, occupations, work, and play. We will do all to the glory of God. I Cor. 10:31.
FOR MUTUAL EDIFICATION
In view of the many churches, and especially many large churches, that are apostatizing so rapidly in our day, we must realize that we have a responsibility to one another to be a means to assist one another in striving to maintain a faithful church.
Paul refers to this in I Cor. 12:18-26, “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him . . . God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another.”
In our critical days, when the church of Christ is attacked from without and within, each one of us has the solemn obligation before God to give account of our membership in relationship to other members. There are small minorities in many churches struggling to remain faithful to the Word of God. Some local manifestations of the Church of Christ are small and can hardly exist. Some could be more influential if there were more support, financial and numerical.
What are you doing in helping to maintain the Church of Jesus Christ. Leaving a church which stands in the forefront of the battle in maintaining the purity of the Word and Sacraments through the exercise of Christian discipline, is defeatism. As God strengthens us through His Word and draws us nearer unto Himself in humble worship, may we be drawn closer to one another unto the furtherance of His cause in the world.
While on earth the true church is not a perfect church. She is known by her striving unto perfection. As covenant youth, God has placed you in a church that strives unto that high calling.
According to Scripture, the answer is obvious.
May God keep us faithful.