DO I HAVE TO BE A MEMBER OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST?
T. PIERCE BROWN
I have been a member of the Lord’s church for over 60 years, and as far as I recall have never had the slightest doubt that every person who has ever been saved since A.D. 33 has been a member of the same church. But I have been increasingly aware that what we sometimes think is so plain that ANY idiot can understand it (for we understand it — or think we do) is not quite that plain. I still believe and assert that ANYONE with normal intelligence who wants to DO God’s will (as opposed to merely learning about it, or arguing about it) can find out what to do to be saved (Cf. Jn. 7:17). In fact, I have asserted many times that it is my conviction that it can not be misunderstood without expert help.
Of course there is much expert help in misunderstanding God’s word, but that has little to do with the question under consideration today. It is my studied conviction that when the average person asks the question with which I have headed this article, he is not asking the question we try to answer. In the second place, I am convinced that both the question and the answer we give may well carry some hidden assumptions of which we may not be aware. Let us address ourselves to a discussion of those two things.
Those of you who have been members of various denominations or are still such, are especially invited to correct me if I am wrong in the following conclusion. When I am asked the question, the one who asks it usually means, “Do you mean to tell me that I have to quit my denomination and join yours in order to be saved?” It is also my sad opinion that many persons who consider themselves members of thechurchofChrist(sometimes thought of a “The Church of Christ” church) would answer that question, “Yes.” Surely most of my readers will understand that the answer to that question is a resounding, “NO!” Quitting one denomination and joining another has nothing whatever to do with being saved!
So, we have a problem of communication. When an honest person of some denomination asks, “Do you mean to tell me that I have to be a member of the church of Christ (church) to be saved?” and we answer “Yes,” we are probably communicating to him that we think our church is better than his church. You may imagine how a Lutheran would feel if a Methodist came up to him and said, “You have to quit being a Lutheran and become a Methodist to be saved.” He would probably be shocked, startled, amazed, chagrined, bewildered, antagonized or amused. But it would certainly make no sense to him. So, we may be in a dilemma. If we answer “Yes,” we are telling him (in his mind) that he as to quit his denomination and join ours. If we tell him, “No,” we are in effect teaching him that one church is as good as another. Of course, if you are in a private study with him, and he will listen, you can tell him what you are trying to impress upon him that he must obey God’s will in order to be saved, and surely he believes that! Then you can lead him to see that every person who does the Lord’s will is added to the church (Acts2:47).
My purpose in this article is not to try to give you one or more answers to give the person, but simply to help you to be aware that in all adequate communication, we need to be able to put ourselves “in the shoes” of the one asking the question, or the one who has the problem, before we can properly deal with it.
In the second place, I believe the question in that form carries some implied assumptions that are wrong and dangerous because they are hidden and not easily discerned. Note carefully: When a person asks, “Do I have to be a member of thechurchofChristto be saved?” the implications to the average questioner are: 1. That means that a person “gets membership” in thechurchofChrist, and that saves him. 2. Membership comes first and salvation comes second in a logical and chronological order. 3. The church of Christ is a sort of religious organization similar to any denomination, except it claims (somewhat like the Roman Catholic Church) that salvation is found by “getting membership” in that organization.
I contend (and surely I do not have to contend to most of my readers) that these implications are wrong! It would be at least as accurate (or more so) in view of Acts2:47to say, “A person has to be saved in order to be a member of thechurchofChrist.” However, since that might suggest that a person “gets saved” and then becomes a member of the church, that would also have to be explained.
Most of you know that the truth of the matter is that the moment a person becomes a member of the church of the Lord he is saved, or the moment he is saved he becomes a member of the church of the Lord, and neither is the consequence or antecedent of the other, but both are the concurrent or simultaneous result of something else. But many of our preachers, and most of our members, speak as if salvation comes as a RESULT of church membership. Note the language: “You must be a member of the church IN ORDER TO BE saved.” That sounds to the average person as if one “gets into” the church — joins some organization — for the purpose of (in order to) salvation.
The truth is that when a person obeys from the heart the form of doctrine which God in his grace specified (Romans 6:17-18), then one is simultaneously born again, saved, justified, added to the church, made a part of the body of Christ, etc. Another part of the problem may well be that when we talk of “being saved” we are sometimes talking about being saved from our past sins, and sometimes talking about being saved in heaven. One is present and one is future, but to many of our religious friends they are synonymous, for they think if you have one you must have the other. So, when they ask the question and we do not know that they mean the same thing that we do, but merely assume that they do, we pass them like a ship in the night, and then accuse them of willful blindness.
There is little doubt that some of my readers will feel the urge or necessity to write a strenuous letter of rebuke finding somewhere in this article the idea that we are suggesting that it is wrong to tell a person that salvation is in the body of Christ, and that we must be a part of that body in order to be saved. Of course there is no salvation outside the body of Christ, and since the body is the church, there is no salvation outside the church. But the point of my article (for those who did not get it yet) is that the average person who is raising the question does not understand the fact that, by definition, the CHURCH IS THE SAVED. If he understood that, he would not ask the question in the first place, for it would be, “Must a person be a member of the saved group in order to be saved?” which would sound rather stupid.
In order to make sense in your answer to a question, you must make sure you understand the meaning of the question in the sense of the person who asks it. Otherwise, you may give what to you is a perfectly sensible and scriptural answer, but will be so much hot air to him. And then you may assume he is either ignorant or dishonest, or both.