On the Church

By John David Clark, Sr. - January, 1988

David very wisely prayed, "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer." (Ps. 19:14). David knew that having a right spirit is one thing, but expressing the right spirit in a manner acceptable to God is another. For example, the faithful old mother who prays "Lord, don't let no harm come to my boy", may very well have a right spirit but her words are actually the opposite of what she means. "Don't let no" is what is called in English grammar, a "double negative". It reverses the meaning. Grammatically speaking, the old saint actually was praying for God to let harm come to her son. She may have wanted the Lord to protect her boy, but her words actually meant the opposite.

Now, I have learned that God is not nearly so picky and exacting as men are. Men will nit-pick a person to exhaustion. God overlooks poor grammar and ineloquent speech and hears the prayer that is intended from the heart. He is displeased when educated, sophisticated men condemn others for the misuse of a word (Isa. 29:21). But David's prayer indicates a fervent desire to go beyond simply having a right intent, to be delivered from even inadvertantly contradicting a right intent.

With that in mind, let me bring up the word "Church", because despite a right intent of many, I feel that the misuse of this word is contributing to the confusion and divisions among us - which things we all hate.

First, the word "Church" was coined by Jesus in reference to those whom he called out of wordliness. In fact, the Greek word for Church means "called-out ones". Therefore, the word "Church" is never rightly used in reference to a building. To do so is unscriptural and contradictory to the Spirit of God. Everyday, multitudes, with good intentions, use "Church" in reference to an earthly building. But while their hearts may be clean in God's sight, the words of their mouths are not right. A good spirit edifies the Church, but the widespread misuse of the word "Church" helps promote confusion as to what the Church really is and how one enters into it. If the Church is a building, then one enters into the Church by physically walking through the door. If the Church is a building, then men can with their own money and strength build one. If the Church is a building, then there are many of them. It is inconceivable to me how our heavenly Father could be pleased with His children thinking and speaking of the Church in this manner. Whenever the Father uses the word "Church", He uses it only in reference to His dear children. He does not follow His children's errors. He beckons us to follow Him.

Christ is Available to All!

Secondly, the Church is not a club. It cannot be joined. From the moment the door of the Church was opened to men, in Acts 2:4, until now, no one has ever "joined the Church". That's like asking a sinner to confess Christ. It is impossible. And this is a crucial point for our faith. The Church is those individuals who have been called out of the world's systems of living to follow after Jesus. When an individual is converted, he becomes at that moment as much a member of God's Church as the Apostle Paul ever was. A person who has been born anew by the Spirit of God is in the Church. Period. Every person born of God is my brother or sister. Period. There is no more to that issue than that. A brother in Christ is a brother in Christ.

Unfortunately, some have been persuaded to believe that their denomination alone is the Church, and that all who are outside their group are not Church members. They confuse, then, allegiance to their denomination with allegiance to God. Anything that you can join is not deserving, as God is, of your undying devotion. All denominations will pass away, but the Church of the living God is an eternal institution.

I feel very strongly that those who have not been converted should be told that the Church cannot be joined. They should know that wherever they are, at any time, Christ Jesus can take them into the Church. Many people may have been converted while praying at an "altar" during a Church gathering, but some of the dearest and wisest saints I know were born of the Spirit in a cornfield, or alone in bed late at night, or kneeling on a kitchen floor with a praying mother, or lying in a hospital bed. Jesus is available at all times, everywhere, to forgive sins. And when he does wash away someone's sins and with his Spirit baptize someone into his body, that person is 100% a member of his Church. And the Church should be extremely careful not to make that precious new-born member of the body to feel that he is somehow a little unclean or still a little unholy because he has not joined something or because he has not undergone a particular ritual or ceremony. When Jesus cleanses a person, that person is as clean as can possibly be. And if God has accepted someone, let us beware that we don't despise him because God didn't do it our way.

Going to Church?

Thirdly, it is impossible for those in the Church to go to it. As far back as my 36-year-old mind can remember, my father has practiced and preached that the saints have a need to gather together. But he also maintains that he hasn't "gone to Church" since he was born of the Spirit in 1924. How could he? After receiving the holy Ghost, he was in it. Humorously, here in Henderson rumors spread several decades ago that my father was teaching people not to go to Church. Actually, he only was telling saints that they couldn't "go to Church" if they were already in it. Sinners are the only people who can go to Church, because saints are already there. The Church should continually meet together, but because the Church is not a building, the Church can't go to Church.

Meeting my father on the street in the mid-1950's one man remarked, "I hear that you don't believe in going to Church." "Oh, I believe in it, but..." "But, you don't go to Church." "Haven't been in 30 years." "Why is that?" "Look over there," my father said, pointing to a car parked by them. "Can you go to that car?" "Sure, I can" replied the man. "But only because you are not in it," explained my father. "If you were to get into the car, you couldn't go to it. That's how it is with the Church. I tell sinners to come to Christ and to the Church, but after they've done that, why should I tell them to go to Church again? They are already in it."

Frequently, I hear "the Church" misused but do not interrupt the speaker to correct him, especially if that interruption would distract from an important issue being discussed. However, I can see that the abuse of the word "Church" is in the long run having a tragic effect upon our understanding of truth. If the church is a building, then simply being in the Church (building) is a holy act. And, unfortunately, that is the attitude of many believers. If you're "in Church" on Sunday you're doing well, they say. But I don't know that being in a morter-and-brick building called a church is any holier an act than being in a mortar and brick building called a grocery store - if what goes on inside is no more spiritual than grocery shopping. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul warned that the Church could gather and it be for the worse instead of for the better (I Cor. 11:17). In a case like that, one would be better off in a grocery store than in a building where the Church meets. Outside of worship in spirit and truth, there is no good and acceptable Church gathering, and everyone would do well to stay away.

David's prayer that his words as well as his heart might be acceptable to God is a prayer we should all pray. He determined in his heart not to use terms unaccetpable to God - not out of fear that God was nit-picky, but because he loved the truth and wanted not only to know it but to live it before God. Will you make that determination? David vowed that he would not so much as take up the names of heathen gods into his lips (Ps. 16:4). How much more should we reverence Jesus by acknowledging with our words that his Church is a living body and not a construction of dead earthly material?

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