Is the Church an Organization or an Organism?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. You are listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him.
Dave, we’re continuing our discussion of the church, which like so many biblical teachings today, I think it’s wandered from the meaning found in the Scriptures. Last week we closed with a brief discussion on the church being an organism rather than an organization. Now, Dave, how important is that distinction?
Dave: An organism carries the implication of something that’s alive—it has a head—Christ is the head, and it all derives from Him, whereas an organization, anyone can put an organization together. And furthermore, one of the problems, I’m sure with all of us—it would be a problem with The Berean Call—that we would begin to trust in our organizational ability and begin to use techniques that would make us more successful. And sadly, many pastors are like CEOs, Chief Executive Officers of a corporation, and they run this operation like that’s what it is—that’s talking about a local church, now.
Then there are church bodies, whether it’s the various Baptist Conventions, or Lutherans, or Presbyterians, or whatever, and they have their headquarters. And the danger that I have seen in local fellowships, for example, is who seems to get on the board of elders, let’s say, or board of deacons, depending upon your organizational structure? Well, it tends to be people who are more outgoing, successful in business, successful in life, and maybe they have a little money, and they would be good to have on the inside for the sake of future contributions, and so forth. I’m not trying to be general and critical, but you asked the difference between an organism and an organization. An organism is a living body . . . the church is called His body, Christ’s body, and He’s the head, and we really need to draw our life, our strength, our direction, from Him, and, of course, He has given us His Word. And it’s a tragedy when we begin to look beyond His Word or abandon His Word and we come up with our own ideas of how we could make the church grow, how we could make it more effective, more acceptable to the people around us, and so forth. I mean, these are kind of general terms.
Tom: Dave, the New Testament lays out—I mean we want a church that’s orderly. We do have to organize—when you have a lot of people, you have to organize to accomplish things. And the Word of God lays out an approach to organization, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, that’s what we ought to be following rather than moving off into the methodologies of the world, as you’re saying.
Dave: Yeah, I’m not against orderliness and organization, and I’ve seen some very well-run churches, large churches, with a large staff—they know what they are to do, and they do a good job of it, but hopefully under the direction of the Holy Spirit, because whatever is not of the Holy Spirit, it’s not for eternity—it won’t last. It may impress men, it may make us popular and successful, but it has no value for eternity.
So, the Church—the word “church,” actually is ecclesia in the Greek, and that means a “called out” company, not to be part of the world. Christ said, “I have called you out of the world.” He didn’t say that we would please the world, that we would take over the world. In fact, He said that we’re not of the world, and that is why the world would hate us, and that if we would be true to Him, we would be treated by the world exactly as they treated Christ. It doesn’t mean we would necessarily be crucified, but we would be hated. And we certainly wouldn’t be popular.
So, I think as soon as the church—I know it must be a great temptation. I have never been a pastor—I’m not called to that, and I’m glad. But I think it must be a great temptation to a pastor to want to be successful, to the elders, to the members of the congregation, and maybe to do what they could to cause this church to grow. On the one hand, they want more people to know the truth. They want the lost to come in and be saved. On the other hand, our hearts are deceitful, and there’s a lot of pride in all of us and a desire to be looked up to, to be thought well of. And as soon as you want to be thought well of, then you don’t speak the truth any longer. And I know it must be a terrible temptation to pastors not to correct the flock, not to give them the plain truth, but maybe water it down a little bit—“Let’s be careful, we’ve got some large donors in the church—we don’t want to offend them.” The Bible says, “The fear of man brings a snare.” So, he who would be a servant of man is not the servant of God. All of these things that we face at The Berean Call as well.
Tom: Dave, when people consider the church, especially if they’re considering evangelicals or Protestants per se, they look at all the denominations—there are literally thousands of them—and that’s confusing. How does that relate to organism versus these many organizations?
Dave: Tom, it’s not only confusing, it’s discouraging. And I was thinking of that just this morning as I was reading many letters from some of the people on our mailing list, and some of them saying, “Take me off your mailing list.” And I read their theological disputes. Some of them are based on misunderstandings; some of them are based on splitting hairs—we really believe the same thing but maybe say it slightly differently. But some of them are, I think, some serious misunderstandings of the Scripture. But this is what causes denominations. People get different ideas, and they can’t get along with one another. And I’m not minimizing—there are some important distinctions.
For example, I believe the Bible teaches baptism by immersion. There are some, the Presbyterians, for example, Episcopalians, Catholics, and others, who don’t believe in that. They believe in sprinkling. I think that’s a significant difference. The Bible likens baptism to being buried with Christ; it says we are buried with Christ in baptism. You don’t sprinkle a little bit of dirt on a dead man. We come out of the water together; we’re raised in newness of life. We’ve probably talked about this in the past.
On the other hand, I don’t think that’s something that I would quarrel with someone about. And I certainly wouldn’t say, “If you don’t believe in baptism by immersion, then you’re not a Christian. I would say that’s a misunderstanding, in my opinion—a misunderstanding of the Scriptures, but we’re not going to fight over this and separate over it.”
On the other hand, there are some important issues that denominations have separated over. Some people believe in baptismal regeneration. They believe that baptism saves you—that an infant is saved when they are baptized. They believe in infant baptism. I do not find infant baptism in the Bible. My Bible, as near as I can say, teaches believer’s baptism, and we’ve talked about that in the past, too. The Ethiopian eunuch said to Philip, “See, here is water. What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may be baptized,” because baptism is a sign of a relationship that I have through faith in Christ. But there are those who teach that baptism itself, even without faith (because an infant has no faith, but they would maybe speak of the faith of the parents and so forth), that it saves, that it delivers you from sin. It makes you a member of the family of God, and all you have to do, then, is to have faith in that baptism, honor it, and recognize that this is what has happened to you. I think that’s a serious difference. . .
Tom: You are really affecting the gospel then.
Dave: I believe so. I think that that has probably deceived many people into thinking they were Christians when they really weren’t.
Tom: But, Dave, within the denominations, I think we’d both agree that many . . . although there are differences—for example, there are some churches who do not believe in baptismal regeneration, but they’d say that the method of baptism is you have to dunk people, you know, immerse people, three times, and a certain formula for that, and that would separate them from those who they feel are not doing it correctly according to the Scriptures. But it’s the gospel that saves. In other words, when we have lots of denominations, one of the things that you have to look to is what are they preaching? What is the gospel? That is the bottom line here, even though they may have structural differences, one church may be more hierarchical than another, and we could have differences over that. But the gospel is the critical issue.
Dave: Well, there are many denominations. Within denominations, of course, there are differences among individual congregations. You might find in a particular denomination that is mostly apostate some good pastors, some good congregations. You wonder why they remain a part of that group that has mostly gone into apostasy, a denial of the gospel of Christ. For example, we could think of the Episcopal Church. The Bishop of California for many years before his death, James Pike—he was an open adulterer. Told Time magazine in an interview that he didn’t believe in the virgin birth, even the resurrection—didn’t believe Christ died for our sins. He didn’t believe anything! You’d wonder why he became the Bishop, which meant he was the head over all the Episcopal churches for California. But he doesn’t believe anything.
Tom: Bishop Spong in New Jersey—another one.
Dave: Unbelievable what that man says.
Tom: And there are denominations, like the Episcopals, who have gone so liberal that, as you said, there are some pockets of evangelical Episcopalians—we’re not denying that, but it’s the exception not the rule.
Dave: So, why would you stay in that group? So, there would be a reason why someone, some congregation, might get out and join some other group or be independent. So, through this process of differences of opinion, some of them serious, some of them not serious; some of them based on pride, you know. Paul said, we have quoted it a number of times, to the elders from Ephesus, he said, “Of your own selves men will arise speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.” So, this is another way that denominations came about. Someone comes up with some new idea, some novel interpretation of the Bible, in order to draw disciples to follow him.
Then of course you have cults, and Joseph Smith, the Mormons, and Rutherford and his successors, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ellen G. White, the prophetess of the Seventh-day Adventists—and we have many Seventh-day Adventists on our mailing list. They take us to task—they have a big difference over the Sabbath. They believe that the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday, that Constantine did this.
Well, I don’t care whether Constantine did that or not. The Sabbath has not changed. The Sabbath is Saturday. We gather together to worship the Lord, to remember Christ, on Sunday because that’s the first day of a new week. That’s the day in which He rose from the grave, and we are not part of the old creation—we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. So, it’s not a matter of the Sabbath being changed from Saturday to Sunday. And then they put you under the law.
So, Tom, you said it’s confusing, and I said it’s discouraging. Because sometimes I say, “Lord, is it that difficult in your Word? How is it that so many sincere people, many of them real Christians, have differences of opinion over the Scriptures, and because of that, they separate and start new groups, new denominations. You can find some people that can’t find anybody to meet with because no one quite lives up to their standards. It’s a tragedy, but that’s not the church.
The church is the body of Christ. The body of Christ is comprised of all true believers in Christ. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ as the one who is God, who came to this earth, became a man, paid the penalty for our sins, was buried, and rose again—when we believe that, we are born of the Spirit of God into the family of God, the household of God. And it is those who become—those believers who have become, as Peter said, “living stones.” And, as Paul said, “we are built up a holy temple unto the Lord.”
So, this is the Church, the true body, and I’m sure that there are members of that true church—not by signing some earthly membership, but through faith in Christ—in all denominations out there. So, that’s the organism. They’re not part of the same organization, but they belong to Christ, and they are members of His body, and they are in His church.
Tom: Dave, we hear from numerous Catholics, and they, on the basis of their Catholic apologists—that is, those who . . . their calling, they believe, is to defend the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. One issue that they continually bring up is—and the reason why many say they converted from evangelicalism or Protestantism to Roman Catholicism—is because of the confusion there among denominations, and they want to come under one umbrella, one teaching, one truth. Now, how do you respond to that?
Dave: Well, it sounds good, I guess. Let’s all come under one teaching, under one roof, one umbrella. But the issue is not are we united? but are we united in the truth? There are many distinctions, differences, quarrels, among Roman Catholics, as you know . . .
Tom: Incredible diversity.
Dave: . . . all kinds of factions.
Tom: Dave, all you have to do is subscribe to two newspapers, Our Sunday Visitor and National Catholic Reporter, and you have such a wide spectrum of beliefs. But anyway, keep going, I’m sorry.
Dave: Yeah, but there again, you see, the unity is found in the organization. The Mormons are the same. The first thing that the two Mormon missionaries want you to know is there is one true church. That’s an organization. It has a headquarters in Salt Lake City. It has a First Presidency, three men. It has a president who is the top person, and within this organization you find salvation. And they want you to know that outside of this “true church” of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints there is no salvation.
Now, the Catholic Church teaches the same. Now, the pope does talk out of both sides of his mouth. One day he’ll say, “There is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church,” and then again, he’ll say, “Well, the Buddhists and Hindus, Muslims, and so forth, they can all get to heaven, too. They are okay in the final analysis.”
But the official teaching—it’s in the catechism; it’s in the Code of Canon Law; it’s in . . . the Canons and Decrees of the Councils is that the Roman Catholic Church, this organization, is essential to salvation; that salvation comes through its priesthood, through its sacraments, and if you do not participate in these sacraments, no matter what your faith in Christ may be, you cannot be saved. So now we have salvation through an organization, with a headquarters, and a hierarchy, and so forth. That is not the organism, the body of Christ.
Tom: And in the gospel—how does the gospel match up to the biblical gospel? That’s a problem as well.
Dave: Yeah, the problem is then if you have salvation in the church, or through the church, it is no longer in Christ alone, and this, of course, is a different gospel—exactly what Paul cursed in Galatians 1: “Anathema to anyone who preaches another gospel! Even if an angel from heaven preaches another gospel . . .” That takes care of the angel Moroni, of course.
So, Tom, as you’re pointing out to us, the real issue is the gospel. That affects the eternal destiny of souls. Paul makes it very clear in Romans:1:16: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God [not a power of God—it’s not one way—it is the power of God] unto salvation to everyone who believes.” So, we are told very clearly in this verse and in many other scriptures, salvation comes only through faith in Christ. And what do we believe about Christ? What the gospel tells us about Him!
Now, that sounds narrow minded and dogmatic, but Jesus said, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.” That does not mean so long as you believe someone named Jesus Christ. When [Paul and Silas] said to the Philippian jailer in response to his question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”—that doesn’t mean you believe that there is someone named Jesus Christ who lived back there, and so long as you believe that you’re okay. No, when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you must understand who He is. You must believe in Him for who He really is and what He has accomplished. So, you are reminding us the important issue is: What is the gospel? What gospel do you preach? How do you think you are going to get to heaven? What is your hope of going to heaven?
Tom: Dave, we have just a couple of minutes left, but there is an issue here that we have to address. We get lots of letters from people who say, “I’ve had it with my church. I’m going to just sit at home and read the Bible.” And we have even small groups—not that we discourage; we encourage Bible studies and so on—but what about small groups who become sort of an organization unto themselves? That’s a problem, isn’t it?
Dave: Well, the Bible says, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.” That’s in the book of Hebrews 10, I think. We should gather together with other believers, and if I have become so exclusive, and I am so right and everyone else is so wrong, that I can’t find anyone—just us four and no more; we are the only ones who have the truth—just logically, Tom, I think that’s an extreme view. I think such people should re-examine what they believe.
It is really helpful—I speak in a number of different denominations, I read a lot of different books, I rub shoulders and come in contact in conferences and so forth with people that I don’t agree with one hundred percent. But I find it’s helpful to get the opinions of other people—at least let me hear them out and study it from the Scripture. But when you get so isolated, it’s like you’re growing in upon yourself, and your view becomes narrower and narrower, and you are more proud of being right—that’s not good either. We need fellowship with another; we need to learn from one another.