n my radio preaching especially, many times I threw out a challenge such as this: "I will join your church if you will show me from the Bible how to do it. I want to do what the Bible teaches; so, if it tells me how to get into the church of which you are a member, I'll join it!"
Needless to say, I got no offers for such information, which added to my confidence that the whole truth was in my corner. But how would I have responded had someone offered me the same proposition? Suppose some listener had offered, "I will join the Central Church of Christ, of which you are a member, if you will take my Bible and read to me from it the instructions as to how to get into it."
How pleased I would have been to give that information. I could show that, in the beginning of the church, when people believed, repented, and were baptized for the remission of sins, the Lord saved them, adding them to his one church by the same process. They did not join anything, but the Lord made them constitute the church, his one body which certainly was not a sect or a denomination. I obeyed the same gospel in the same manner and I let the Lord add me to the same church the church of Christ. That is how all of us got into the Church of Christ and the way that all can get in it. (Notice how smoothly we transform "the church of, Christ" into "the Church of Christ!")
"Oh, you mean that you were baptized into the Central Church of Christ?"
"Not really," I explain. "You see, I was baptized into the Rochester Church of Christ in West Texas. When I moved here, I just placed membership in the Central church.'
"Then you really cannot show me from the Bible how to get into the Central Church of Christ, can you? Where do I read about it?"
"Well, now, everybody knows that, when you moved to a new city, you have to place your membership there. YOU know "
"I haven't read about placing membership in the scriptures. Isn't that the same as joining the Central Church of Christ?"
"Certainly not! You can't join the Lord's church!"
"Then, the Central Church of Christ must not be the Lord's church for you joined it. You were baptized into the Rochester Church of Christ. Were you also baptized into the Central Church of Christ?"
"You are being unreasonable!" I protest. "The Church of Christ is universal. When you are baptized into it, you have universal membership, for there is only one church though it has many different congregations."
"Then you also have membership in the Northside Church of Christ, Southside Church of Christ, Eastside Church of Christ, and Westside Church of Christ in this city?"
"Not really," I explain, "for those churches are all different. The Northside group uses instrumental music in its services, which is sinful, making our fellowship with it impossible. Eastside uses only one cup in the communion and thinks Sunday School is wrong; hence, they have no fellowship with the others. The premillennial teachings of Westside keep it from being a true church. The Southside church refuses fellowship with the churches which cooperate congregationally to operated orphans' homes, do evangelism, etc. These congregations are not true, loyal churches; so, we cannot recognize them."
"How did those people get into their various churches which are so different as to reject each other? Did they join them? Did they do something different from what you did to get into them? Did they have to do something besides obeying the gospel to get into them?"
"No, they only obeyed the gospel and the Lord added them to those congregations just like he did me in Rochester. The Lord is not pleased with those churches because they have gone beyond the scriptures. They are in error!"
"The Lord surely knew their nature when he added the saved to them. Do you mean that the Lord adds people to the wrong church sometimes four out of five times in this city!" Does he add people to churches which refuse fellowship with other churches that he also built by adding the saved to?"
"I think that you are just being stubborn and are resisting the plain word of God. There's little profit in discussing with you. Jesus warned us not to cast the pearls to swine!"
The plain truth about the matter is that the Lord does not add us to a congregation of any sort. He adds us to his universal church, and that is not in any organized form; it is just the saved people. We join churches by joining congregations. These churches recognize a brotherhood of all groups of a similar doctrinal stance. We have invented an absurd expression, "place membership," to avoid saying "join the church." Whether it be done formally or not, when you let a group know that you consider yourself as a part of it or ask to be considered as a part of it, you join it. This may be consented to passively by the group or by announcement, but you are accepted as a part of the congregation. Due to your misconduct, you may be withdrawn from later, which withdrawal is based on the premise that you were a part of that church.
When a person is baptized into Christ in his or her home community, we consider that person as having become a member of the church where the baptism took place. No mention is made about application for congregational membership. Generally, we have thought that the Lord adds the new convert to that church. But people are added to all the divisions in the Church of Christ by this same method. They all obey the same gospel, and no application for membership is made; yet, they become members of various dissociating churches by the same process! The night of our sectarian divisiveness is rather foggy, isn't it?"
We are misguided when we think that God adds us to congregations. He does no such thing. He adds us the universal congregation of the saved, but we join local groups. When a group does not recognize other groups of disciples whom the Lord has saved and added, that group is sectarian. As a sect it maintains its own separate identity protected by its own distinct set of doctrines. The Lord does not add the saved to separate, dissociating groups. We join them. We form them. We perpetuate them. But that is not the will of the Lord. To say the least, if the Lord adds his saved to these distinct churches, it is an affront to God for us to reject any group into which the Lord adds the saved.
We are faced with a reality here that we have not dealt with honestly. If God adds us to congregations when he saves us, then he either added us to (1) congregations that are in fellowship with other congregations, or (2) congregations that reject others. If God adds the saved only to the Central church and others of its kind, which he recognizes as his true church, then he breaks his promise in refusing to give salvation to others who obey the same gospel at the Northside, Southside, Eastside, and Westside churches and others of their kind. If God adds the saved to these five kinds of churches, then he either approves them or has made a grievous mistake in adding the saved to sectarian divisions. If God adds the saved to these five kinds of churches and then those churches reject each other, they have made the grievous mistake of becoming divisive and sectarian.
The Lord adds the saved to his one body, the church, which is not identified as the Church of Christ. All who are saved are in (and comprise) the church of Christ. Many of those who are saved then become members of a congregation denominated as a Church of Christ. Such a procedure is not directed by the scriptures. If this Church of Christ disassociates itself from other groups of the saved, it becomes a sect. We have been woefully misguided in thinking that being in the church of Christ is equivalent to being in a Church of Christ. The Lord adds us to his universal church by his choice and action, but we join a Church of Christ by our choice and action.
My challenge is still extant: "I will join your church if you will show me from the Bible how to do it!"