An unnamed “serious man” once reminded John Wesley that “the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” He was right. God’s antidote for loneliness is Christ-created fellowship, life in the Church.

The doctrine of the Church, however, stirs an uneasy conscience among many evangelicals who hesitate to support the ecumenical movement but who appreciate the serious study of the nature of the Church within that movement. They are aware that this fresh interest in the Church set churchmen searching their Bibles with new vigor. And those acquainted with denominational history recognize that a specific doctrine of the Church fathered various Protestant communions. Remaining convinced of the merits of their own distinctive witness, they feel constrained to safeguard its uniqueness while attempting to relate it to the contemporary scene.

At the same time many evangelicals zestfully support the work of certain Christian movements which are not related to church supervision. Because of their witness to the need of repentance, the merits of Christ’s sacrifice, and the offer of forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ, independent movements have gained support from hundreds of denominational churches. But some evangelicals confess to mounting frustration over the attempt to reconcile independency with their doctrine of the Church. The major features of the doctrine of the Church, they feel, are taught in Scripture as clearly as the plan of salvation. They also observe widespread misunderstanding of the Church which produces an individualism foreign to the Bible, and movements lacking responsible ties to the churches.

Religious Individualism

The importance of the doctrine of the Church is disclosed when we remember that our conceptions, ...

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