SHOULD I CHANGE CHURCHES?
T. PIERCE BROWN
If most of us who consider ourselves sound, conservative gospel preachers were asked the question, “Do you think I need to change churches?” by a member of some denomination with whom we were studying, probably at least 99% of us would answer with a resounding, “Yes!” The primary problem with that is that about 99% of the time we would not be answering the question he thinks he has asked. In his own mind, he has asked, “Do you mean to tell me that I need to leave my denomination and join yours or some other one?” Deeper in his mind is this thought: “You think that theChurchofChristchurch is better than any other denomination.” If you merely answer his question, “Yes” as a large number of persons who claim membership in the Lord’s church would, you have confirmed his opinion. If you found a person living on the street in a pasteboard box or under an overpass, if you wanted them to come into the house where food and warmth was found, would you say to them, “You should change houses?” The very idea that a pasteboard box is in the same category as a house is erroneous. Any time we use language that suggests that any man made institution is in the same category as the Lord’s church, we do damage to the gospel truth.
The more nearly correct, although partial, answer would be, “Merely changing churches would not do you any good.” Surely anyone who has done any personal evangelism knows that the normal concept of the religious world is that we teach that joining theChurchofChristchurch is what saves a person. Do you not see that the expression, “You need to change churches” means to most persons that the organization they are in is about the same as the organization they are being asked to join (even if we say “come into”), but we think ours is a little better. It is our strong opinion that thousands who are more or less loosely connected with the Lord’s church, some of whom are elders, deacons or preachers, think of the church as “a glorious, blood-bought institution or organization into which a person must come in order to get salvation.” Accurately speaking, the church is not an organization, although it should be organized in order to function as God ordained. If I come into your community in which there is no church, and I baptize three persons into Christ, the church is now there, but no organization is there.
I know that I may risk the wrath of some brethren when I write anything contrary to the notion that the Bible emphasis is that a person chose to come into the church in order to be saved. However, for those of us who speak so highly of calling Bible things by Bible names and doing Bible things in Bible ways, it is amazing that more of us do not realize that in New Testament times, no Apostle ever preached to an alien sinner anything about a blood-bought institution into which he must come in order to get salvation. Did Jesus die to save an organization or institution, or did He die to save individuals who were then classified as a part of the body of Christ, the church?
Surely it does not take an especially astute person to see the difference in the concept of the church as a sort of glorified country club in which one should seek membership if he wants to be saved, and the concept of rendering obedience to Christ at which time he is saved and placed in God’s record among the other called out ones. Is anyone so naive as to think that when Peter preached on Pentecost any one of the 3000 who obeyed the gospel had any concept at all of trying to do whatever it took to get membership in the church?
There is almost as much difference in the two concepts as there is in night and day. It is our conviction that much of the lethargy we see in church of today is because most of the members think getting membership in the church saved them. They think they got membership in the church by getting baptized. So they assume that they “got saved” merely by being baptized. Of course no gospel preacher ever preached it that way, but many that claim membership in the Lord’s church seem to think that getting membership in the church is what saved them. Whether they submitted to Christ as Lord was not at the center of their consciousness. They are told that they have “completed their obedience” and are now part of the family of God. What more could a person want?
This is probably why the idea of “total commitment” so strongly promulgated by the Crossroads philosophy gained so much prominence. They saw that the thousands who would so strongly say, “I am aChurchofChrist” had no real commitment to Christ. So they tried to arrange a program that would change that. In the process they made more problems than they solved. But the sad truth is that we are still plagued with the concept that getting membership in the church (however that may be done) is the really important thing. This is why so many say, “Christ, yes; but the church, No.” They do not understand that when one is properly baptized into Christ he IS in the church, but simply “changing churches” will not put him there. So we may teach people that if they change churches it will solve their problem and gain salvation for them. When a person by language or action puts the Lord’s church, which consists of all the saved persons in the world, in the same category as any human institution, he does a great disservice to the cause of Christ. Even if he thinks of it as a divine institution, into which a person must come in order to get saved, he has perverted the Bible emphasis. I did not “come into the church” in order to get saved, as if there were two steps in the process: First, coming into the church, then the result of that was salvation. Nor was I saved in order to be fit to join some church. I was saved and added to the church at the same time, and our language about the value of “changing churches” may hide that truth, for it usually leaves a person with a denominational concept of the church.