THE CONVERSION OF CORNELIUS
AND OF APOSTLE PAUL
AND OF APOSTLE PAUL
“RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST, not religion or church, is all a person needs to attain everlasting life.” This is the common view of salvation and service to God of people today who are heavily influenced by the faith-alone concept of salvation. After all, they add, it is not the Church but Christ who saves; it was not the Church but Christ who died on the cross to redeem the sinners. Therefore, it is not the Church that we need but Christ, they conclude.
For the dangers this and other similar beliefs pose, it is necessary to investigate them in the light of the teaching of the Gospel. Two instances in the New Testament are useful in disabusing the mind from a tendentious attitude against church membership—the case of the conversion of Cornelius and that of Apostle Paul.
THE CASE OF CORNELIUS
Cornelius, the centurion or captain of an Italian regiment mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, possessed the qualities usually claimed by those who think that they can serve God directly without affiliating with any religious organization and that they can be religious without necessarily joining any religion.
“He was a religious man; he and his whole family worshiped God. He also did much to help the Jewish poor people and was constantly praying to God.” (Acts 10:2, Today’s English Version)
In spite of these qualities, Cornelius was instructed by God through an angel that in order for his prayers to be answered he was to send for Simon Peter, so that he could hear what the apostle of Christ had to say (Acts 10:22). What was in that Cornelius must hear from Apostle Peter? In Acts 11:13-14, it is written:
“He told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, 'Send someone to Joppa for a man whose full name is Simon Peter. He will speak words to you by which you and all your family will be saved.'” (Ibid.)
All those things that Cornelius was doing—worshiping God, doing works of charity, and praying to God, which are undoubtedly religious deeds—were not sufficient for him to attain salvation. He had yet to hear, together with his family, the words by which they would be saved. Those words they had to hear from one of God’s messengers, Apostle Peter:
“While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who were listening to his message.” (Acts 10:44, Ibid.)
Then, true to the injunction of the Lord Jesus Christ to “go throughout the whole world and preach the gospel to all mankind” and whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:15-16), Apostle Peter “ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:48). They were baptized into the one body (I Cor. 12:13), which is the Church of Christ:
“He is the head of his body, the church, ….” (Col. 1:18, Ibid.)
“Take heed therefore to yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, to feed the church of Christ which he has purchased with his blood.” (Acts 20:28, Lamsa Translation).
Therefore, Cornelius and his family were brought into the Church of Christ. This was done in order for them to be saved, because it is the Church that Christ will save:
“For a husband has authority over his wife just as Christ has authority over the church; and Christ is himself the Savior of the church, his body.” (Eph. 5:23, TEV)
The Church is important not because it can save us, but because it is that which Christ will save. It should not be taken to mean, however, that membership in any church will do, but rather only in the true Church of Christ.
THE CONVERSION OF APOSTLE PAUL
The case of the conversion of Apostle Paul is also highly instructive, particularly to those who try to evade the issue of Church membership by saying that they already belong to a religion, are already conversant with the laws and commandments of God, serving Him in all zealousness, and leading a holy life—by their own standard, of course.
Before his conversion into the Church of Christ, Apostle Paul possessed all these and more. Says he, in Acts 22:3:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up here in Jerusalem as a student of Gamaliel. I received strict instruction in the Law of our ancestors and was just as dedicated to God as are all of you who are here today.” (Ibid.)
So, Apostle Paul belonged to a particular religion prior to his conversion. And he was not just a nominal member. In Galatians 1:13, he says:
“You have been told how I used to live when I was devoted to the Jewish religion, how I persecuted without mercy the church of God and did my best to destroy it.” (Ibid.)
He further testified that when he was still a member of Judaism, “As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault” (Philip. 3:6, Ibid.). He was knowledgeable about the laws and statues of his religion. From the perception of Paul prior to his conversion, he was rendering services to God. In fact, so dedicated was he in his former religion that he was intolerant of other beliefs. He persecuted the Church without mercy and did his best to destroy it (Gal. 1:13, Ibid.).
But Paul conversion came eventually, dramatically, and stunningly. In a fit of a strong religious intolerance, he set out to arrest the members of the Church, which he persecuted with murderous zeal (Acts 9:1-2, Ibid.) He was on his way to give bent to his prejudice against the Church when his conversion took place:
“As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?"
“"Who are you, Lord?" he asked. "I am Jesus, whom you persecute," the voice said.” (Acts 9:3-5, Ibid.)
It could be argued that Paul was persecuting the Church, not Christ who was then already in heaven. But as far as Christ is concerned whatever harm is done to His Church is also harm done to Him. To persecute the Church is to persecute Christ because the Church is His body.
The Church is Christ’s bride. Paul, then already a servant of the Church, says:
“I am jealous for you, just as God is; you are like a pure virgin whom I have promised in marriage to one man only, Christ himself.” (II Cor. 11:2, Ibid.)
How then could anybody say that the Church is not important, that membership in it is not necessary, and that all a person needs is relationship with Christ? It is the Church which has relationship with Christ by virtue of its being Christ’s body and Christ’s bride. The providential relationship between the husband and wife was used by Apostle Paul to illustrate the great truth concerning the relationship between Christ and His Church. He says:
“As the scripture says, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and unite with his wife, and the two will become one." There is a deep secret truth revealed in this scripture, which I understand as applying to Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:31-32, Ibid.)
Therefore, sneering at the Church, and preaching against the necessity of membership in it mean failure to understand the truth revealed in this Scripture. Fortunately, anyone can still avail of the benefits of church membership if, taking the cue from the Apostle Paul’s conversion, he also comes to realize the importance of membership in the true Church and act accordingly.
How did Apostle Paul view his conversion, and where was he brought to upon believing and accepting Christ as his Lord? In I Timothy 1:12, Paul says:
“I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength for my work. I thank him for considering me worthy and appointing me to serve him”
And where did God place the apostles who were given the right to serve? I Corinthians 12:28, states: “In the church God has put all in place: in the first place apostles …” (Ibid.)
Prior to Paul’s conversion to the Church of Christ, he was already ardently serving God. Obviously his services then were not acceptable to God, for why should he be called to the Church if his services in his former religion already were? Calling him to serve God in the Church would then be superfluous, wouldn’t it? But Paul was called so that he could serve God in a manner acceptable to Him.
Apostle Paul was able to serve God properly and acceptably by becoming a member of the true Church of Christ because it is that which Christ has purchased by His blood (Acts 20:28, Lamsa Translation). By so shedding His blood to cleanse the Church, it is Christ’s Church that obtains the right to serve God (Heb. 9:14).
Therefore, joining the true Church of Christ is necessary in order to obtain the right to serve God and to be saved.*
PAMPHLET/PASUGO GOD’S MESSAGE/SEPTEMBER 2001/PAGES 21-22
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