This article is part of a series responding to an article titled "THE BIBLE VERSUS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST" by James L. Melton. The original article is no longer available at av1611.org as it once was. Reading a response without access to the original writing can be frustrating. Having the context of quotes is important. You can download Mr. Melton's article here.
by William J. Stewart
Mr. Melton begins by quoting a single sentence from a Delton Haun tract, and concludes from it, “The Church of Christ people fail to realize that the ‘true church’ is a spiritual organism, NOT a physical organization.” The citation says no such thing. Haun acknowledged the Lord’s promise to build only one church (which He did, Matthew 16:18), and that it is identified in Scripture as His body (which it is, Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:18).
This distinction which Melton makes (Haun made no such distinction, nor does the Bible) between the PHYSICAL and SPIRITUAL church seems to be Melton’s way to allow for various denominations (the PHYSICAL) to all be part of the same SPIRITUAL body. Though this is a convenient 21st century ecumenical approach to religion, it is not based on what the Bible says about the church. The Lord’s church, as we read about it in the New Testament is separated by geographical location (ie. Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, Philippi, etc.), not by denominational affiliation (Baptist, Methodist, Mormon, Pentecostal, etc.).
He chides Haun for identifying the church as a “…particular group of people who believe and practice the same things…” (p. 2). Melton would have us believe the Lord is OK with the doctrinal division which exists because of denominationalism, and that each denomination is simply a part of the whole body of Christ. The apostle Paul agrees with Haun, not Melton, for he wrote to the church in Corinth,
…I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10, NKJV).
Melton’s position allows for, even encourages, doctrinal division.
Melton charges, “…these people believe that the true Church ceased to exist for about seventeen centuries, and that THEIR church has restored the true faith for today” (p. 5). However, the citation he gave from an Exum Press tract says no such thing.
ZME Science1 provides a recipe for a 2,000 year old Egyptian bread. If we follow the same recipe today, we will end up with the same style of bread. There are a variety of bread styles in the world today, but if you want an authentic loaf of first century Egyptian bread—you need to follow the right recipe. The same is true with the church. There are all kinds of different churches today. Why are they different? They are using different recipes (doctrines & practices). If we want to be the church that Jesus built, we need to follow His recipe (the doctrine & practices that are revealed in the New Testament).
I have no doubt the true church has continued to exist since the day Jesus started it. Wesley, Luther, Knox, and Whitfield were not part of the true church, not because it didn’t exist in their day, but because they believed, taught and practiced things contrary to sound doctrine. They didn’t follow Jesus’ pattern for the church.
Melton writes, “If you have received Jesus Christ as your Saviour, then you are a member of the true church, no matter WHAT denomination you are associated with…” (p. 6). Again, Melton discounts the importance of believing and doing what Jesus says; doctrine and practice are unimportant factors in his mind, so long as you believe you have “received Jesus Christ.” This would be like saying, “If you believe fitness is important, then you are a member of the YMCA, no matter what gym (Fit4Less, GoodLife Fitness, Planet Fitness, etc.) you are associated with.” It doesn’t work that way. The Baptist church is no more part of the true church than Fit4Less is part of the YMCA. They are distinct organizations. They may have many similarities, but that doesn’t make them the same organization or one part of the other.
If one wants to be a part of the church Jesus built, they need to forsake the denominational mindset that is prevalent in today’s religious world, and meet and worship with those who are teaching and doing what Jesus commanded, not what Wesley, Luther, Knox, Whitfield, or other influential religious leaders have taught and practiced.