The church of Christ should ever be inseparably connected with the word of God. The church is the body of believers who have been “called out,” as indicated by the Greek word “ecclesia.” They had been called out by the word; and so long as they adhere to the word, they are led by God, and fulfil the purpose He had in separating them from the world. But when they neglect the word, and turn from it to go in ways of their own choosing, they frustrate His purpose with respect to them, and though preserving the same external appearance, soon cease to stand in a position where God recognises them as His church.
And this is what the church, in all ages of the world, has done. Its history is closely interwoven-so closely as to be almost identical with-a history of apostasy from God. We read of the church that was in the wilderness, when the Angel spake to Moses in Mount Sinai (Acts vii. 38), and note the almost continual acts of apostasy which marked their course down to the time when they filled up the measure of their iniquity by rejecting Christ, as related by the martyr Stephen. And had we the history of the church since that time, penned by inspiration, it would differ from the former only in details, and not in its general tone. There would be seen the same frequency of departure from God, the same hatred and intolerance toward the righteous, and spurning of the counsel of those sent by God to show them their errors. And as the church went further and further into apostasy, the time came when men were called upon to choose between the church and the word, and those who chose to obey God left the church in order that they might be free to worship God in the way that His word directs.
When this took place, there was a reformation in the church; not a reformation of the church, for no church was ever reformed. Reformation and conversion apply to individuals, and not to organisations. There were some good men in the days of Luther who laboured under the impression that the Church of Rome could be reformed. Ere long they discovered their mistake. The Reformation was not a reformation of the Roman Catholic Church, but a reformation of men and women who had been in her communion, partaking of her false doctrines. And thus it has been with all reformations, before that time, and since. The church has continued to exist in outward form and ceremonies, and even to increase in wealth and members, for a church is always popular in proportion as it conforms to worldly standards of life, so that the masses of the world can by an easy step transfer themselves within the supposed portals of salvation. But the love, the truth, the faith, and all those elements essential to the true church of Christ, remained with the individuals who came out of the body which had departed from God; and these then became the church.
As by the word individuals were called out to form the church, so by turning from the word, they go back again to the rudiments of the world. “Take heed, brethren,” writes the apostle, “lest there be in any of you and evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Heb. iii. 12. Departure from God comes by unbelief. “I know,” says the prophet, “that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” Jer. x. 23. But “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Ps. cxix. 105. The word, and not the church, is our safe reliance in the things that pertain to salvation.
How is it with us to-day? and how is it with “the church”? We are told that “in the last days perilous time shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers,” etc., “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” 2 Tim. iii. 1-5.
The power of godliness, which these deny, is the Gospel,-“the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” Rom. i. 16. The true church has the power of God; and from those who, though “having a form of godliness,” do not manifest its power, we are exhorted to “turn away.” The power of godliness is the power of the word of God. The words that Paul spoke were “in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” 1 Cor. ii. 4. “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made,” and by the same word are our sins forgiven, and our hearts cleansed.
The church is the body of Christ; but it is Christ, the Head, who speaks. “The church in the wilderness,” of which Stephen spoke, “received the lively oracles to give unto us.” The oracles were not spoken by them, but by God; and the exhortation is given by Peter, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” 1 Peter iv. 11. When the church forsakes these oracles, and speaks her own words, she loses the power of the word, which is “the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” And when this is true of men, whether claiming to be the church of Christ, or a part of it, it is time for those united with it to remember the exhortation, “From such turn away.” 2 Tim. iii. 5. Turn from the traditions of men to the word of the living God, that you may know His power unto salvation; and He will give you a place among them that are sanctified through the truth. John xvii. 17.
— E.J. Waggoner, Present Truth UK, May 3, 1894