Is the Church Always the Right Church?  No.1
by Tommy Thornhill

This may seem to be a strange question to ask, but I believe it is one that is clearly worth considering. Many believe that if the church of which they became members was scriptural and right at the time they became members, then it will remain the right church. Another way to put it is, "If the church was right in the past it will remain right in the future." But, is this true? The proper answer depends on what one means by "the church." If one is referring to the church as the one Jesus promised to build Matt.16:18, 19, the one He washed and cleansed by His blood Eph.5:25-27; Acts 20:28 and the one He has promised to save when He returns Eph.5:23, then it will always be the right church.  This church came into existence on the day of Pentecost Acts 2, and continues even to this day, still infallible (without error) and glorious. Why? Because the church had a divine architect and builder, God. God, in His divine wisdom purposed, promised, planned and perfected the church to reveal "to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies" (heavenly places) His wonderful purpose and plan of salvation for all mankind. This plan was accomplished through His Son Jesus Christ Eph.3:10-11. In finishing His work of redemption, Jesus built (established) the church into which all saved people are added. It was perfect when established and it remains perfect today.

This church exists today in the hearts and lives of all those who have been washed, sanctified and justified by the blood of Christ 1.Cor.6:11; 1.Pet.2:19, i.e., saved when they obey His command to believe and be baptized Mk.16:16; Acts 2:38, 41. When people are saved God adds them to the church of Christ, the true church, the one His Son paid for, founded and built with His blood. It exists in the spiritual realm (not physical, material) and consists of all saved individuals, joined with Deity and the angelic host in the heavenly places. We might call this a relationship of saints with God. This church has no earthly headquarters, meeting location, treasury or function.

So, what does this have to do with the question in the title? Even though all saved individuals are added by God to the church universal He expects them to function with other Christians in His house, doing the work of evangelism, edification and benevolence. This is why we have been saved, to be workers for Him Eph.2:8-10. This is where the church local, a collective of saints, working together as a unit enters the picture. This local church (a relationship of saints with saints in a specific location) is composed of human beings who are fallible (imperfect-subject to error) material. As such they may digress into apostasy. This is borne out when one studies the seven churches described in Rev.2-3. While the church is composed of individuals, called "living stones" in 1.Pet.2:5, not all stones (individuals) are good material. Paul points this out in 1.Cor.3. As one builds on the "foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood hay straw" v.12, the quality of the material will in time be revealed by fire (trials, tribulations of life). "And the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is." v.13. My understanding of this is that some of these stones, (building material) when joined together in a local congregation will deteriorate and digress into error. They then lead the local church of which they are a part into apostasy if not removed. Yet, the good material (faithful individuals) will be saved if they endure the testing by fire vs.14-15. This means they must not condone error. They must firmly stand opposed against the error, even if it means they have to leave that congregation and join themselves to another local church that does not teach or practice the error. 

No greater erroneous doctrine has been taught by man than to say, "Since we were God’s chosen people we still are." John the Baptist speaking for God, told the Israelites they would not be saved unless they repented Matt.3:8-9. In fact he said that God would "raise up children out of stones," before saving them in such an impenitent condition. The churches of Galatia were in danger of falling away and losing their identity as God’s people. Paul refers to them as "foolish Galatians" Gal.3:1. The church at Ephesus was in danger of having its candlestick removed because it had left its first love Rev.2:5. Other local churches Rev.2-3 - Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, were told to remove the false doctrines and practices plaguing them or the lord would remove their lampstands. Laodicea was so indifferent that the Lord was ready to vomit them out. These local churches may have been right when they started, but they did not remain right. The same can be said of other churches mentioned in the NT.

From an earthly standpoint none of the NT churches were perfect.  The "faithful few" in these churches had to seek to remove the "leaven" (sinful teachings and practices) or be "leavened" and lost. I believe the inference in the NT is that the "faithful" must either work to remove the sin. If this can’t be accomplished, the only other choice is to withdraw from that local church and find a church (group of people) that will not tolerate or teach false doctrine. 

This didn’t just happen to churches in the first century. It has happened all through the centuries since, and is still happening today. No church (group of people) is immune from the danger of falling away. The moment a congregation begins to teach or practice anything it cannot find authority for in the Word of God it is in danger of departing, and if it refuses to repent of its error, in due time it will cease to be the right church to be a part of. The largest religious group in the world developed as an apostasy from the true NT church. Paul warned this would happen when he wrote 2.Thes.2:9-12; 1.Tim.4:1-5. When men begin to assume power and authority that belonged only to inspired men and inspired words (the bible), apostasy is the result. In my own lifetime I have not only heard of, but personally seen local churches that at one time adhered closely to the New Testament pattern, no longer follow God’s plan. They no longer want "a thus says the Lord" (book, chapter and verse) for the things they teach and practice. 

Some may wonder why a congregation striving to please the Lord would ever turn from the truth and drift away. Several things may be involved but most evolve around the things to which the members are committed.  We’ll write about some of these things in the next issue.

— From The Etna Enlightner, March 31, 2013.