Sometime in late 1995 or early 1996, while in the military, my cousin Enrique Menjivar was converted by a fellow soldier and baptized into Christ. And, slowly he began to reach out to his mother and two sisters. Finally, at the end of the summer, we were sitting in our grandmother’s living room and he said these words:
“I found the church, the one that you can read about in the Bible.”
My life has never been the same, and I am indebted to that unexpected conversation with my cousin, because he became the “earthen vessel” God used to teach me the gospel (2 Cor. 4.7). He pressed the connection between the gospel, the church, and baptism in the Bible.
Was my cousin right? Paul admonished the Thessalonians, “test everything” (1 Thess. 5.21). Fourteen years after my baptism, I have found his words to be reflective of the New Testament teaching of the church of Jesus Christ. Let us explore these points.
The Gospel Message
The “gospel” is the power of God to save humanity from the wrath due them as a consequence of sin. The apostle Paul makes no equivocations about this in Romans 1.16-17, affirming that he is not ashamed of the gospel message. He is not ashamed for two reasons: (a) it is the power of God to save man (16), and (b) it is the revelation of God’s righteousness (17).
The nature of the “gospel” message is, “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2.2). In other words, the gospel is about Jesus as the Anointed one, the promised Messiah of Old Testament fame (John 1.41), and his redemptive work on his cross (Heb. 10.12-14). Moreover, his death and his subsequent resurrection were the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecies in the Old Testament (1 Cor. 15.1-11). These supernatural demonstrations declare him to be the son of God, Lord, and Christ (Rom. 1.4-5, Acts 2.36).
The “gospel” is to be preached so that those who believe may enjoy its privileges and blessings. The principle blessing is the salvation given to those who receive the gospel as the word of God (1 Thess. 2.13). In fact, when people receive the message, they are baptized and added to the Lord’s church (Acts 2.38-41, 47 KJV). They were saved.
The Church in the Bible
If there is one certain truth regarding Christianity that all “Christian” groups can agree upon, it is that the New Testament speaks of one church that Jesus was to found, that the apostles were leaders of, and that the churches mentioned were representative of. There was one flock, and one shepherd (John 10.16).
Before his death, Jesus affirmed that he would build his church (Matt. 16.18). While the word “build” (Gk. oikodomeo) literally suggests a physical construction process, the metaphorical use suggests the creation of a spiritual community – His “church” (Gk. ekklesia). Interestingly, Paul would describe these communities as “the churches of Christ” (Rom. 16.16).
There is “one body” the church (Eph. 4.4, 1.22-23). Despite the doctrinal, spiritual, and moral issues, there was always only one church. There was nothing of the fractured “Christendom” we know of today. A person can be a part of the biblical church (Acts 2.47). In order to do this, one must take the teaching of Scripture seriously, stripping away those innovations which “distort” the Gospel (Gal. 1.5-10).
Baptism as Disciple Maker
When one reads the words of Jesus at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, one is impressed with his claim to authority, and his commission to his disciples to “make disciples” of all nations (Matt. 28.19). And, in Mark’s Account, the disciples are commissioned to go, “preach the Gospel” (16.15-16). The connection being, the call to discipleship begins with the Gospel call (2 Thess. 2.13-14).
When one hears the Gospel, and wants to become a disciple, he or she must respond by being immersed in water. It is one of the saddest examples of biblical exegesis to see so many biblical students reject this clear connection in Scripture. Jesus affirmed that “disciple making” is accomplished through baptism (Matt. 28.20). Likewise, Mark connects baptism to salvation (Mark 16.16). It is sufficient to say, then, that if you have been baptized, you are then a saved disciple.
On the day in Pentecost, 3,000 souls were added to the church because they responded to the Gospel by repentance and baptism (Acts 2.38, 41), as did the Samaritan converts (Acts 8.12), Simon “the sorcerer” (Acts 8.13), the Ethiopian treasurer (Acts 8.36-38), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9, 22, 26), Cornelius and his household (Acts 10-11), Lydia and the Philippian jailor (Acts 16.15, 30-33), the Corinthian converts (Acts 18.8), and the Ephesian converts (Acts 19.5).
Is it all that naïve to believe that a sincere person with faith in Jesus can confess him as Lord and Christ, repent of their sins, and be baptized for the remission of sins, and be added to His church? Is it really naïve to believe in the power of God’s word? Faith says it is not. We can all be members of the one church found in the Bible. Will you believe?