by Kyle Pope
Synopsis: Since we frequently encounter this question in our interaction with people in the religious world, Kyle helps us prepare to answer it correctly.
Let's start by defining some terms used in this question. Three terms are significant:
The Bible teaches that while Jesus was upon earth, He declared His intention to build His church. In Matthew 16:18, after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Lord told him "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church" (NKJV). Notice from this text that Jesus did not declare His intention to build His churches (plural), but His "church" (singular). After Jesus ascended back into heaven, Luke records that those who followed Him in truth were said to be "added" to this church that He had built. When people accepted the gospel on Pentecost, Luke writes, "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). We note from this that Christ's church is made up of those whom the Lord has "added" to it and are said to be those who are "being saved." So, if we use biblical terminology, Christ's church is made up of those who are saved.
The Bible makes it clear that God is not pleased with, nor intends for those who follow Christ in truth to be divided. When people who claimed to follow Christ became divided, the Holy Spirit said such division was "carnal" (i.e., fleshly, as opposed to spiritual). The church in Corinth began to divide and declare to one another, "'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ'" (1 Cor. 1:12). In response to this, Paul asked rhetorically, "Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1:13a). The inferred answer was "No!" Later in the same epistle, Paul wrote, "For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not carnal?" (1 Cor. 3:4). This shows that the church Christ built was not intended to be a division of diverse groups, but one church. It is to this church that the Hebrew writer says that true Christians have come. He writes, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23a). So, the Lord's church is made up of those living and dead whose names are "registered in heaven." This is properly, the church of Christ—not a denomination or a subset of the Lord's church, but the church that belongs to Christ.
The New Testament frequently uses the term members for parts of the physical body. Christ's church is often figured as His body with His followers acting as members of that body. Colossians 1:24 equates His church with His body—speaking of, "His body, which is the church." Having left sin, Christians used to be "strangers and foreigners," but in Christ, they become "members of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). Although they may be diverse and very different from one another, they are part of "one body." Paul told the Romans, "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ" (Rom. 12:4-5a). This speaks of the different gifts, strengths, and talents that individual Christians have as a part of the church. So, members of the Lord's church are those functioning as a part of His body as a result of God having added them to Christ's body, the church of Christ.
To be saved is to enjoy forgiveness of sins and the hope of eternal life with God in the age to come. We have already seen that the church is made up of those "registered in heaven" (Heb. 12:23). We have also seen that on the day of Pentecost, the Lord added to the church "those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). Thus, the church by definition is made up of those members of Christ's body who are saved by His blood and added to Him. So, under these definitions, we may say, "Yes, only members of the Lord's church (i.e., the church of Christ) will be saved because the church by definition is composed of the saved."
This is easy enough to understand, but let's also clearly define what this does not mean. It does not mean...
The Bible makes it clear that the Lord knows "those who are His." Paul declared to Timothy, "The solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: 'The Lord knows those who are His,' and, 'Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity'" (2 Tim. 2:19a). The issue is not about what we may call ourselves—it is about what the Lord established and what the Lord identifies through His word. It is about those whom the Lord recognizes as His. The Bible makes it clear that things the Lord has not established will be uprooted. Jesus told His disciples, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted" (Matt. 15:13b). It is not enough to wear a Bible name but follow human traditions and man-made doctrines. Jesus condemned this attitude, declaring, "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matt. 15:8, 9). Unless our faith and practice is grounded upon the word of God, it is futile and useless. Further, this does not mean...
Just as the "church" is, by definition, those who are saved, each of the saved must abide in the word. Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed" (John 8:31). We may stand against the false doctrine of "once saved, always saved," yet if we imagine that our responsibility to the Lord ends when we come up out of the waters of baptism, we are espousing the same error. Those who follow Christ in truth are His. Paul said to the Romans, through the Holy Spirit, "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His" (Rom. 8:9). The "Spirit of Christ" was obedient to the will of the Father. We must do the same.
We end this study with a few simple questions to you the reader—Why be a member of a human denomination? Why not seek, with faithful Christians throughout the world, to be members of nothing more and nothing less than the Lord's church? You can do that by obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ, and identifying yourself with a sound local congregation of the Lord's people.
Author-Bio: Kyle preaches for the Olsen Park church of Christ in Amarillo, TX. He has written several books published by Truth Publications including How We Got the Bible. The church website is olsenpark.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.