This is rhetorical but necessary for this discussion to begin.
Often when I’m discussing matters of the Church with Protestants, the responses center around “your church” or “my church” which only serves to confuse the discussion.
When Jesus was with his disciples and traveling to Jerusalem, Matthew 16, he asked them for their testimony of who He was and told them on that testimony he would build his Church.
So what is this Church? Is it an organism or an organization. In the dictionary under the word “organism” we find the following:
1. a form of life composed of mutually interdependent parts that maintain various vital processes.
2. a form of life considered as an entity; an animal, plant, fungus, protistan, or moneran.
3. any organized body or system conceived of as analogous to a living being: the governmental organism.
4. any complex thing or system having properties and functions determined not only by the properties and relations of its individual parts, but by the character of the whole that they compose and by the relations of the parts to the whole.
These definitions are truly applicable to the Church in many ways. The Holy Scriptures refer to the Church as a BODY.
In 1 Corinthians 12 St. Paul uses the body to describe the Church. Each member, having been baptized into Christ as members of one body. The members of the body, he continues, cannot reject each other. They are interdependent as the hand cannot reject the foot because they are part of one body.
Saint Paul to the Galatians said:
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Galatians 3:27 NKJV
Saint Paul concludes his teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 like this:
“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.”
I Corinthians 12:27 NKJV
So why is it that the Church is described as a body? The BODY of Christ. I think it’s obvious by the definitions above that the members are interdependent, while they are individuals and entered the Church as individuals, once baptized they have “put on Christ” and are no longer individuals and independent but are part of the whole and interdependent on all others in the BODY.
When we come to the Church, we hear and respond to the Gospel, as in Acts 2:37 “Men and brethren, what shall we do?””
Acts 2:37b NKJV
We believe and we are baptized for the remission of our sins, yes my friend, from the beginning of the Church the baptism was for the remission or forgiveness of our sins. The Apostles preached it from the beginning of the Church. It is an unmistakable, irreplaceable step in our forgiveness of our sin.
This begins our journey and makes us part of the BODY of Christ. This body, the Church, is identifiable by certain characteristics:
1. The Body is a SINGLE entity. There are not thousands of “Bodies” there is one Body.
2. There isn’t a living Church and a dead Church, there is only “The Church”.
3. The Church is universal, it is catholic, not the ROMAN Catholic Church, but the true universal Church. We see in Revelation 15 that there is a temple in Heaven, so the Church is worshiping in Heaven. Jesus is described in the book of Hebrews as our High Priest in Heaven. Those who have died before us are worshipping in Heaven as we are here so we all are one Body.
4. The Church is visible, there are no invisible Christians. As Jesus rose from the dead visibly, so His Body is visible.
5. The Church, in all of its parts, believes and teaches the same things. The teachings of the Apostles has not changed from the beginning. We are certain that the Church is consistent throughout time. The Church does not change doctrine because society changes.
Now let us examine the many other religions which make the claim of being Christian. Do they have a beginning point sometime in recent history? Do we know who began the religion? Even those who claim that they AREN’T a religion, we know they are. Do they teach all that was taught by the Ancient Church?
I’m not going to belabor this point, I’ll simply look at the movements from which many came.
The Reformation: started in the 16th Century from a desire to reform the Roman church which had been in heresy and Schism from the Church since 1054. Marked by belief that the ORIGINAL church had descended into heresy and needed to be reformed. The unspoken belief here is that when Jesus said in Matthew 16 that he would build His Church and the Gates of Hades would not prevail against it that Jesus somehow lied or “got it wrong”.
Since Jesus is God, and “God is not a man that he should lie” Numbers 23:19, the idea that the Gates of Hades prevailed and the Church fell into apostasy or error and needed reforming is simply false. So those who believe the reformation began the Church again or correctly are simply living in error and need to find the True Church.
There is a movement began in the American Plains known as the “Restoration Movement” also with a similar error, that they needed to RESTORE the true church. This was spearheaded by a man named Campbell. It gave rise to “The Christian Churches and Churches of Christ” and other such similar groups. Some in that group deny the Holy Trinity, some do not. Some baptize in the Name of Jesus not in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as Jesus instructed.
There are many divisions from those two movements where Pentecostal and Charismatic churches have grown out.
Looking at these groups, many would argue that they are “good” people and that’s not the issue. The real issue is are they in the Body of Christ?
If the Body of Christ began on the Day of Pentecost in 33ad, and has continued to teach the same things the Apostles taught, if we are not joined with them the conclusion is that we are NOT part of the Body of Christ.
Now somewhere in the 16th century, during the Reformation, the teaching of Salvation being an occurrence at some measurable point in time, “I was saved on June 1st” for instance, then people began to think of being outside the Body of Christ as a state of not being “saved”. This tends to have people unable or unwilling to accept the teaching that there is but one Body of Christ. Their response is similar to, “if I’m not a member of YOUR church then you say I’m not ‘SAVED’ which to them makes sense, but again it is rooted in false teaching not truth.
Since we are to be saved FROM something, death, Hell etc. claiming to be SAVED now seems a bit presumptuous. Regardless of the mental gymnastics you try to do, following the Apostles teachings as they passed them down to the Church will prevent such presumption; it can also prevent taking offense from these truths as they are being explained.
So the first question, the title question, is the Church an organism or an organization. The answer is that the Church founded by Jesus on the Testimony of the Apostles is a living organism. Yes there’s some organization that it possesses to pay the light bill, the maintenance of the structures etc. but the CHURCH is a living ORGANISM. If I want to be part of the Church, I must be made one with the Body of Christ. I don’t do this by filling out a membership card, I must be Baptized into Christ.
If you are part of an organization that tells you that the Body of Christ is comprised of people from all different organizations calling themselves Christian, you need to examine what you have been taught. The Church, no matter where you find it, teaches the same things, it’s not going to change with the times.
I welcome discussion and questions