Although we live in a world of many “churches” and religious organizations, we can discern a Biblical New Testament church solely by the word of God.
A New Testament Church is a literal, visible organism. It is a theocracy under Christ whose word is its constitution. The headship of Christ in that body is not shared with a denomination, convention, board, people or any doctrinal belief that undermines it. We have a clearly defined working model of the Lord’s church which He founded during His earthly ministry. He personally commissioned this church, promising its perpetuity and reproduction (Matthew 16:18 & 28:18-20). New Testament churches therefore continue today as the Lord promised.
The Bible is also clear that salvation is by God’s grace – not by church. The blood of Christ satisfied God’s holy demand of justice on our sin. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” (John 1:12). Therefore, all who have received Him are brethren within the family of God. Contrary to popular religious conception, God’s word never uses “salvation” and “church” synonymously. The executorship of the Kingdom of God was appointed to the church (Luke 22:29) and is therefore the visible manifestation of it until He returns. But there are many who have received the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who have never become part of a New Testament church.
Furthermore, most religious organizations calling themselves “churches” were founded by men and not Christ. The Roman Catholic “church” came into existence at the council of Nicea in 325 AD, many years after Christ founded His church. This is obviously not the same church which Christ appointed the kingdom. All Protestant “churches” and their many splits and revisions are reformed organizations of this Catholic (universal) “church.” They may preach the gospel and their members may be saved by the same grace that saves anyone who will receive it. But their organization was not founded by Christ and they are not a NT church. In like manner, churches with the Baptist name, but whose head is a denomination cannot claim Christ as the Head of that church body. Likewise, any church of any name which embraces the Protestant/reformed-Catholic doctrine of universal membership in an invisible “church” body (by means of a mystical, invisible, “baptism of salvation”) could not maintain that Christ is the literal Head of that assembly. The contradiction of their doctrine makes it impossible. By default, Christ becomes the Head of a mystical, invisible “church” of salvation, which necessitates a man or men to be head of the local visible assembly. The fruit of this doctrine was condemned by Christ Himself (Rev. 2:15). It produces a “clergy class” which thing the Lord hates.
The Lord is as a husband to a NT church (Eph 5:21-32; 2 Cor. 11:2). Any wife that would regard other men alongside her husband has certainly lost her first love. Likewise, any NT church that regards others alongside their Head has lost their first love. The church of Ephesus was certainly a NT church from its founding. But the Lord was clear in addressing her waning regard for His headship in Rev 2:4-5. The candlestick they would lose symbolizes the Lord’s authority. Most Christian assemblies never seek this from their beginning due to the pervading influence of the counterfeit doctrine of an invisible, universal “church.” As much as many modern Baptists try, this doctrine cannot cohabit with the distinct Biblical truth of the Lord’s NT church any more than a bride can cohabit with two husbands. After the Lord quietly leaves with the candlestick, they may continue with all their programs, baptisms and spreading the gospel. But the witness of authority as a NT church is gone before the Lord and those churches who still retain it.
The Lord’s church is distinct from the religious organizations of men in its founding authority, its fidelity to Scripture, and its literal, functioning headship of Christ. Scripture attests to the dearness of the New Testament church to the heart of Christ. His promise that it would continue assures us that He never relinquished it to be changed or redefined by the religious corruptions of men. When seeking a church, consider first its headship. If Jesus Christ is truly the Head, it will follow Him in all areas of Scriptural truth as well.