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Are We the Only Ones Going to Heaven?

This lesson is part of a series entitled "Ready to Make a Defense."

 
CHARGE #2:  MEMBERS OF THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE THE ONLY SOULS GOING TO HEAVEN.

 

I.        AN EXPLANATION OF THE CHARGE

A.      This charge stems from two core beliefs held by members of the churches of Christ.  The validity of these beliefs will be demonstrated in this lesson.

                                                             1.      One belief is that the New Testament church is the body of the saved.  In other words, everyone who receives salvation is added to the church by the Lord, and there is no salvation outside of the church.

                                                             2.      The other belief is that there is only one church recognized by Christ as His church.  This one universal church of Christ is made up of individual Christians (not local churches or denominations) who believe and practice the same things according to the word of God, the Bible.

B.      These beliefs are contrary to some common opinions regarding salvation and the church.

                                                             1.      Some believe that one is not required to be a member of any church to be saved.

                                                             2.      Many believe in the concept of denominationalism, which teaches that there are many different denominations that collectively make up the one universal church of Christ.  According to this teaching, each denomination is made up of many localized churches that believe and practice the same things, and each different denomination is a branch of the universal church of Christ.  Therefore, all denominations are part of the one saved body.

                                                             3.      Others agree that the church is the body of the saved and that there is one church recognized by Christ, but they do not believe that the church of Christ is that church.  Examples of these would be Mormons, Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

C.      Due to the differences in these beliefs, some have taken offense at the beliefs of members of the church of Christ.

                                                             1.      Some charge that members of the church of Christ are elitists who consider themselves better than others and more deserving of salvation.

                                                             2.      Some charge that members of the church of Christ believe that they have earned their salvation and are entitled by having membership in a local church of Christ.

                                                             3.      Some charge that members of the church of Christ are passing a judgment of condemnation on those who are outside of the church by teaching their beliefs pertaining to the church and salvation.

D.      Before answering these charges, let us qualify all that is to be stated in this defense.

                                                             1.      No man has the authority or power to make and execute judgments of anyone’s eternal destination.  Men can neither save nor condemn.  Such judgment belongs solely to our Lord (2 Cor. 5:10).

                                                             2.      However, the Lord has not left us without an explanation of whom He will save and whom He will condemn.  The word of God reveals the standards by which the Lord will make His judgment (John 12:48).  This is similar to the laws of men in that men may not know how a judge or jury in a court of law will rule on a given case, but they can know the standards upon which the ruling will be made.

                                                             3.      Using the standard of God’s word and pointing out what it says to others is not passing judgment.  In fact, a “good servant of Christ Jesus” is bound to do so (1 Tim. 4:6).  Telling someone that he is in conflict with the word of God is no more passing judgment than telling him that it is illegal to exceed the speed limit.

                                                             4.      In all that we say and do, love must be our motivation just as it is for God (1 Cor. 13).  We must speak the truth even when people are offended, and we must speak it in love (Eph. 4:15).

 

II.      DEFENSE OF THESE BELIEFS

A.      Let us first examine these two beliefs in light of the Bible to determine if they are well-founded.

B.      Is the New Testament church the body of the saved?

                                                             1.      Understand first what the church was in the New Testament.

a.       The Greek word ekklesia  is translated as “church” and means “a called out assembly.”  In English, we might also call it a congregation or simply a group of people.

b.       Ekklesia was not a new word used exclusively by followers of Christ.  It was a common word that could designate any group of people that assembled for any purpose.

c.        In the New Testament, ekklesia almost always refers to an assembly of disciples of Christ, and the contexts demonstrate this.

                                                             2.      When the gospel was first preached on the Day of Pentecost following the Lord’s resurrection, every person who was being saved was added by the Lord to a congregation of people, which was His congregation or church.

a.       “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:41)

b.       Further, we see that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)

i.         The King James Version presents this phrase as “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

ii.        Ekklesia does not appear in this verse in many of the ancient manuscripts of the book of Acts.  However, the thought is correct because the collection of all persons called by the message of the gospel was a called out assembly, a church.

iii.      Further, this same collection of persons is identified as the church beginning in Acts 5:11, and it is regularly called the church thereafter.

c.        The church is not a description for only the collection of saved persons who were located at Jerusalem, but it also refers to those who were saved in every place as the gospel was spread.

i.         Congregations of disciples who assembled together in their particular locations were called churches in a local sense.  See Acts 8:1; 11:22,26; 14:23; 15:41; 16:5; 20:17.

ii.        Collectively, all of the saved make up the universal church.  See Matthew 16:18; Acts 9:31; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13; Ephesians 1:22; 3:10; 5:22-32; 1 Timothy 3:15.

d.       Therefore, if anyone is saved, he is added to the church by the Lord.

                                                             3.      Also, the Bible reveals that Christ is the Savior of the church.

a.       “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.” (Eph. 5:23)

b.       The “body” is identified as the church in Ephesians 1:22-23 and Colossians 1:24.  Therefore, Christ is the Savior of the church.

c.        Thus, if one desires to have Christ as his Savior, then he will see the necessity of being part of the church, the body of the saved.

                                                             4.      Further Scriptural proof could be exposed revealing that Christ purchased the church (Acts 20:28), that the church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-32), that the church is the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:22-28), etc., but these points are sufficient to demonstrate that the New Testament church is indeed the body of the saved.

C.      Is there only one church recognized by Christ as His church?

                                                             1.      Jesus told Peter, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).  Clearly, Jesus had one church in mind when He foretold that He would build His church.

a.       Jesus began building that church on the Day of Pentecost when He began adding together saved souls into one congregation.

b.       Notice that the Lord did not separate these saved souls into diverse denominations, but rather He built one church of which all were members.

                                                             2.      The same Scriptures presented above to show that Christ purchased the church with His blood, that the church is His body and His bride, and that the church is His kingdom, also demonstrate the singularity of His church.

a.       There is only one church that He purchased with His blood, and that is the one that He recognizes.

b.       Just as a person has one head and one body, so also Christ is one Head who has one body, the church.

c.        Just as a man has one wife that he recognizes as his own, so also Christ has one bride, the church.

d.       Just a king rules over one kingdom, so also Christ is a King over one kingdom, the church.

                                                             3.      If there is any doubt, Ephesians 4:4 states explicitly that “There is one body…”

a.       That one body is the one church of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22-23).

b.       Notice that if one accepts that there is more than one body (church), then he will also have to accept that there can be more than one God, one Lord, and one Spirit based on Ephesians 4:4-6.

                                                             4.      Thus, it is well established that there is only one church recognized by Christ as His church.

D.      Therefore, because the Bible teaches that the church is the body of the saved and that there is only one church, it stands to reason that those who desire to be saved would strive to be a part of that one church.

 

III.   ARE MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST THE ONLY SOULS WHO WILL ENTER HEAVEN?

A.      Understand first that those who lived before the revelation of the gospel predated the church.

                                                             1.      Obviously, they could not be part of the church that did not yet exist.

                                                             2.      However, those who were faithful to God under their particular dispensations and laws have the benefit of forgiveness provided by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  In other words, they are saved.  Christ’s sacrifice was retroactive and proactive.

                                                             3.      The limitations of this study do not permit a detailed explanation, but an examination of Hebrews 9:11-28 is recommended.

B.      In these final days, as has already been proved, the Bible states that Christ is the Savior of the church.  Therefore one must be a member of the church to be saved.

                                                             1.      This prompts the question: Is the church of Christ the church for which Christ is the Savior?

                                                             2.      The answer is yes, provided that one understands that “church of Christ” is a description of the church that belongs to Christ and not the title of a denomination.

a.       Church of Christ” simply denotes ownership.  It is the church that belongs to Him.

i.         He said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18).  Obviously, Christ saves the church that is His.

ii.        He adds souls to His church. (Acts 2:41,47)  Man does not have a vote for who is in and who is out of the universal church.  Salvation and the addition of saved souls to the church by the Lord are simultaneous.

b.       This same church is described by many other terms in the Bible.  One could also rightly say that Christ saves:

i.         The church of God (1 Cor. 1:2).

ii.        The church of the First-born (Heb. 12:23).

iii.      The church of the Living God (1 Tim. 3:15).

iv.      The bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-32).

v.       The body of Christ (Eph. 4:12).

vi.      Any other Scriptural description of the same church.

                                                             3.      Can anyone deny that Christ will save the church that belongs to Him?

C.      However, it is foolhardy to focus only on the name of the church for an indication of whether or not the Lord will be the Savior of it.

                                                             1.      Membership in a church that calls itself “church of Christ,” “church of God,” “church of the First-born,” or any other Scriptural name is not an automatic qualification to enter heaven just because the name is Scriptural.

                                                             2.      Rather, the focus must be upon whether or not the individual and the church are conforming to the will of God revealed through the word of God (which includes whether or not they designate themselves according to God or according to men).

D.      Therefore, let us focus upon what the Bible says about those who will enter heaven and those who will not enter heaven.

                                                             1.      Clearly, the Bible teaches that the blatantly sinful and rebellious will not enter heaven.  See 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Revelation 21:8.

                                                             2.      However, the Lord also teaches us that there are others who will not enter heaven who do not fall into this category of “hardened” sinners.

a.       For example, Jesus declared to the Pharisees, “I said therefore to you, that you shall die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).

i.         Notice that these were religious people who were considered good people and authorities on religion by most of their countrymen.

ii.        Yet Jesus said that they would die in their sins, which is to be eternally lost, because they did not believe in Him as the Christ.  This applies to the non-religious as well as those who practice religions other that the religion of Christ.

b.       Moreover, Jesus explained that even among those who believe in Him, some will be lost because they will be ill-prepared when He comes again.

i.         In Matthew 24:45-25:1-13, after Jesus had taught that the time of His second coming is unknown, He taught the parables of the two servants and the ten virgins to show that believers must always be prepared for His coming or else they will be excluded from the Master’s pleasure.

ii.        In Matthew 25:14-30, He taught the parable of the talents to show that believers who are poor stewards of their Master’s blessings will be denied the Master’s reward.

iii.      In Matthew 25:31-46, the Lord taught that even believers who fail to practice love toward their brethren will “go away into eternal punishment.”

                                                             3.      The defining principle for determining which religious persons will enter the kingdom of heaven and which will not is found in Matthew 7:21-23.

a.       In this passage, Jesus described what will happen “on that day” (v. 22), which means the Day of Judgment.

b.       He described a group of people who appeal to Him, saying, “Lord, Lord,” many of whom will be lost.

i.         Among those who will say “Lord, Lord” are religious persons who will claim to have done great works in the name of Jesus, but whom Jesus will not recognize as His own because they “practice lawlessness.”

ii.        These are those religious persons who do lip service to the Lord.  See Luke 6:46.  They do as they please and then ascribe it to the authority of Jesus.

c.        Jesus said that the person who will be granted entrance into the kingdom of heaven is “he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.”

i.         This person calls Jesus “Lord” and also does what He says.

ii.        Jesus reinforced this teaching in the following verses (Matt. 7:24-27) where he taught that the one who hears His words and acts upon them is wise indeed.

E.       Therefore, those who will be saved and go to heaven are those who do the will of the Father.  Likewise, those who do the will of the Father comprise the church that belongs to Christ, for which He is the Savior.

 

IV.    CONCLUSION

A.      There was a time when men were more willing to debate the merits of their particular faith in light of the word of God.

B.      Now, our modern sensitivities and political correctness have led many to abandon the pursuit of truth and declare that almost any system of faith is equal in merit.

                                                             1.      Many are so squeamish about declaring what is right or wrong that they have accepted that almost anything is right regarding the church.

                                                             2.      This may provide false comfort now, but who will be able to stand before the Lord and give an account for his actions?

C.      The truth is simple and best.  The Lord saves those who are faithful, and those saved souls comprise His church.




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