The doctrine of the Church is one of great importance and one which is often ignored or neglected.

According to the Bible there is one great Church universal, the fellowship of believers—that group of men and women around the world who have named the name of Christ, trust in him as the Son of God, as Saviour from sin, and make him the Lord of life.

The church which man sees is composed of true believers and false, of the redeemed and the unredeemed.

The Church which God alone can designate is that group within the visible church who are his own—who, in sincerity of heart, have heard his call, accepted his grace, and have been born again. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of these as “the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven.”

In its true sense, the Church is composed of all who have repented and believed in Christ’s redeeming work. They may be Roman Catholics or Protestants (Baptists, Pentecostalists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Church of God, Episcopalians, Brethren, or Anglicans)—provided they truly believe in Jesus Christ as God and Saviour.

Within Protestantism there are innumerable divisions. Some of these are childish for they are based on distorted concepts and teachings of Scripture taken out of context and exhibiting characteristics of human weakness.

Other divisions, however, are the result of strong convictions on what are believed to be essential matters of Christian doctrine. Differences here usually stem from cultural, educational, and emotional backgrounds.

But back of these divisions in the visible Church is a deep and abiding fellowship through a common faith which centers in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Where he is accepted as the eternal Son of God, and his atoning and redemptive work are received, there exists a fellowship in him which extends across all national, racial, or ecclesiastical boundaries.

Some people speak of the various denominations within Protestantism as the “scandal of Christendom.” Where there is unwarranted competition, the discounting of other Christians or the claiming of exclusive rights to Christian truth and divine favor, such a judgment is certainly true.

But there is a greater “scandal” in Christendom than denominationalism, and that is to be found in the rejection of revealed truth, and the precedence given to human speculation instead of divine revelation. It is truly a “scandal” to have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof.

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Within Protestantism today, there is to be found a new alignment predicated on a common faith in the biblical records having to do with the person and work of Christ. This alignment crosses all denominational lines because it is centered in a like faith.

In the context of human differences it is inevitable that there should be variations in modes of worship. One man is strongly drawn to God through a ritualistic approach; another finds him more easily in a simpler type of service. But because God looks on the heart of the worshiper, those who come truly in the name of his Son are accepted of him.

All through the Old Testament, we find implications about the Church—a called out and a separated people, those who are called out from an unbelieving world, and separated unto the Lord.

One of the serious problems in the visible church today is that so much of the world has gotten into it. There is a tragic failure to keep clear the distinctions which separate the world from the spirit. Too few church members reflect either their calling or their separation to the Lord through their daily lives. The early Church was Jewish-centered. Later it became Gentile-centered. But all the way through, it was intended to be Christ-centered. Today, in the measure that Christ is given the pre-eminence in worship, preaching, and in daily living, the Church is fulfilling his holy will.

Oneness of faith was basic in the early Church. It was only as time progressed that ecclesiastical organizations were set up. Such organizations, though needful in a practical sense, were never intended to become primary in importance. When the Church took to herself prerogatives belonging to the Head of the Church alone, revolt was inevitable and the Reformation resulted. At this juncture in church history, the primacy of Christ and of man’s personal relationship to him was re-established.

It has remained for our own time to see a strange reversal of the Protestant ideal. Today we see increasing emphasis on both ecclesiastical organization and power. The ecumenical movement, conceived to show to the world the unity of believers in Christ, is in grave danger of assuming prerogatives never envisioned for the Church.

Furthermore, within denominational leaderships there are those who claim for the Church, powers which belong to Christ alone. Some have even asserted that when a church court speaks, God has spoken and the consciences of men are thereby bound to submit.

The Church is the bride of Christ, but Christ is the Head of the Church. Furthermore, God alone is the Lord of the conscience of believers. Present trends within the church if allowed to come to full flower, could well lead to the tyrannies from which the Reformation was to have freed all true believers.

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The mission of the Church is to make disciples of all nations, baptizing those who believe in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Further, it is the mission of the Church to teach these believers to observe all that Christ has commanded.

One of the gravest problems in the church today is a misconception of the mission of the Church. The Church is in the world as a witnessing, not a conquering, organization. It is Christ who will be ultimate conquerer. And it is to him, not the Church, that every knee will ultimately bow. Once we conceive of the Church as designed to conquer the world, we immediately find ourselves involved in all kinds of worldly endeavor.

How very far our ideas are from our Lord’s view! Jesus told his followers that they were to be his “witnesses.” He said the Gospel would be preached for a “witness to all nations.” Loyalty to him would entail the enmity of the world. The citizenship of believers would be a heavenly one; we would not be of this world even as he was not of this world.

Christ gave two great commands to the Church: “go” and preach the Gospel as a witness, and, “love one another.”

As we witness to the saving work and power of the risen Christ, we are fulfilling his first command. As we evidence love for the brethren, we are living in obedience to his second. Reassert the primacy of Christian witness and Christian love, and the mission and influence of the Church will be more evident in the world.

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