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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From the book, The Church That Jesus Built, 1923 (Chapter 4)
"The popular teaching that all of the saved compose the church of Christ is a man-made theory without Bible proof."
"We recognize every saved person as a brother or sister, but not every saved one as a member of a gospel church."
-J. T. Moore, in Why I Am A Baptist
When one sets forth the Baptist claim to perpetuity and attempts to demonstrate that Baptist churches alone can claim Jesus for Founder and Head, there are always those who immediately jump to the conclusion that Baptists claim that none are saved but Baptists. They get the idea that Baptists deny them a place in the kingdom and family of God. Such is by no means true. Far be it from any true Baptist to claim that one must be a Baptist in order to be saved. Indeed, they believe just the reverse, for according to their view one must be saved before he can be a Baptist.
And as for the kingdom and family of God, true Baptists are members of both before they ever become members of a Baptist church. If not, they are not fit to belong to the church, for they are yet unsaved. The things that I have said in former chapters concerning the church have nothing to do with anyone's membership in God's family or kingdom, for the church, family, and kingdom are three separate and distinct things. Because of the confusion that reigns in so many minds on this point, I have thought it worthwhile to devote an entire chapter to a discussion of the differences between these three.
While considering how best to present my ideas for this chapter, in reading what others had written along this line, I came across an old tract published some years ago by H. B. Taylor, editor of News and Truths. The tract is such a clear, concise statement concerning the differences between the kingdom of Cod, the family of God, and the church of God, that I can do no better than to quote it. I make only a few changes such as to adapt it to the present use. I invite the reader to ponder very carefully the distinctions made and to verify them from the Scriptures.
1: FAMILY OF GOD. "The Family of God includes all of the children of God in heaven and on earth. In Ephesians 1:15, Paul speaks of the 'whole family in heaven and on earth.' This family includes all believers. 'Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.' Gal. 3:26. All believers are God's children. Since Old Testament saints were saved by faith in Christ (Acts 10:43, Rom. 4:16, etc.), they are all members of God's family.
God's family is bigger than the kingdom of God or the church of God, for it now contains all of the saved from Abel to the last man who believed, whether in heaven or on earth. God has only one family. All believers are children and heirs of God.
2: THE KINGDOM OF GOD. The Kingdom of God includes all of the saved on earth at any given time. In Matthew 13 the kingdom is used to include all professors.
But the kingdom as used in John 3:3-5, Matthew 16:19; 11:11, Luke 16:16, Romans 14:17, Col. 1:13, John 18:36, etc., is composed of all the born again on earth. This is not the kingdom of Daniel 2:44, Luke 19:11-27, Acts 1:6, etc. Those passages refer to the millennium. That kingdom is yet future. What is sometimes called the spiritual kingdom is composed only of those who have been born again, who have been 'translated out of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son.' In John 3:3-5 the Master said, “Except a man be born anew lie can neither see nor enter the Kingdom of God.” In Matt. 18:16 and Mark 10:13-15 the Master shows very clearly that the kingdom is composed of only such as have received Him, whether children or adults.
"The family of God includes all of the saved of all the ages, whether in heaven or on earth; the kingdom of God includes that part of the family of God who are on earth now."
3: THE CHURCH OF GOD. "The church of God is never used of any institution, except of an assembly or congregation of baptized believers in some given locality. E. g., the church of God at Corinth."—I Cor. 1:2.
The local individual church is the only kind of church God has on this earth today. There is only one family of God, composed of all the redeemed of all the ages in heaven and on earth. There is only one kingdom of God, composed of all the born again on the earth now. There are thousands of churches of God on earth. Every individual Baptist church is a church of Cod. No others are. When a man is born again he is born into God's family. He is in the family of God forever. The relationship does not change. Whether in heaven or on earth he is in God's family. When he is born again he also enters God's kingdom. This relationship is for life. When he dies he passes out of the kingdom of God on earth and enters 'His heavenly kingdom' (II Tim. 4:18). After he has been born again he is not yet in a church of God but is now a scriptural subject for admission into a church of Cod. 'The Lord added to the church daily the saved' (Acts 2:47).
Church membership was not something a man got with salvation, but a subsequent blessing he got after salvation by being added to the church. Baptism is not essential to admission into either the family of God or the kingdom of God; but baptism is essential to admission into a church of God. Men are born anew into the family of God and into the kingdom of God; but they are baptized into a church of God (I Cor. 12:13). The 'one body' referred to by Paul in I Cor. 12:13 was the church of God at Corinth. Note in I Cor. 12:27 he says, 'Ye are a body of Christ and members in particular.'
That local church at Corinth was the body of Christ at Corinth. The members of the church at Corinth belonged to only `one body' of Christ. That body of Christ probably did not contain all the saved at Corinth (I Cor. 1:2) and none of the saved anywhere else except at Corinth. Since they belonged to only `one body' and that was the local church at Corinth, Christ has no other kind of a church or body except a local church. If they had belonged to a local church at Corinth, which Paul said was a body of Christ, and then to the kind of church that some believe in, composed of all the saved everywhere, they would have belonged to two churches or bodies of Christ—one local and visible, the other universal and invisible.
The New Testament shows nothing of any such confusion as that. God is not the author of any such confusion. Jesus Christ has only one kind of church or body on this earth, and that is the local assembly—the organized body of baptized believers in any given community. The church which Paul called 'the house of God' was a local church. The church which Paul said was the 'pillar and ground of the truth' was a local church. The church to which the Lord Jesus promised perpetuity (Matt. 16:8) was a local church, for He never spoke of any other kind. The meaning of the word ecclesia permits of no other kind. On that we will let others more competent than the writer speak.
Prof. Royal, of Wake Forest College, North Carolina, who taught Prof. A. T. Robertson, of the Louisville Seminary, and Prof. C. B. Williams, Greek, when asked if he knew of an instance in classic Greek where ecclesia was ever used of a class of "unassembled or unassembling persons" said: "I do not know of any such passage in classic Greek." With this statement agree Professors Burton, of Chicago University, Stifler of Crozer, Strong of Rochester and many other scholars.
Joseph Cross (Episcopalian), in a book of sermons entitled "Coals from the Altar," says:
"We hear much of the invisible church as contradistinguished from the church visible. Of an invisible church in this world, I know nothing, the Word of God says nothing; nor can anything of the kind exist, except in the brain of a heretic. The church is a body; but what sort of a body is that which can neither be seen nor identified? A body is an organism occupying space and having a definite locality. A mere aggregation is not a body; there must be organization as well. A heap of heads, hands, feet and other members would not make a body; they must be united in a system, each in its proper place and all pervaded by a common life. So a collection of stones, brick and timbers would not be a house; the material must be built together, in an artistic order, adapted to utility. So a mass of roots, trunks and branches would not be a vine or a tree: the several parts must be developed according to the laws of nature from the same seed and nourished from the same vital sap."
The limbs of a body scattered on a battlefield are not a body. The material of a house in the woods or quarries is not a house. These members and this material must be put in place before you have either a body or house. So the saved are not a church unless brought together and organized or builded into a body or house of God. There is not and cannot be such an institution as a universal, invisible church on this earth, composed of all the saved, because the material has never been brought together and builded into a house or body.
When the Lord Jesus and Paul spoke of the baptized believers of a larger territory than a local church they always said churches. There was no confusion in their speaking, though there is much confusion in modern thinking upon this question.
Once more we try to make the distinction clear. The family of God is composed of all the saved in heaven and on earth. Old Testament saints and babies who died in infancy are in God's family. They are not now nor were they ever in the Kingdom or in any church of God.
All believers on the earth at any time since the days of John the Baptist (Luke 16:16) compose the kingdom of God. There are no infants in it. All true believers, whether Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, or non-church members on earth are in the kingdom; for if true believers they have been born anew. Only baptized believers or Baptists are members of the churches of Christ.