In our modern world, there are thousands of various denominations or religious groups. Each religious group teaches different doctrines. Each one wears a special name. Each one worships in a distinct manner. Although there are some similarities, there are many differences that distinguish one group from the next. However, in spite of these manifold differences, all religious groups claim to be faithfully following the Lord Jesus Christ.
Friends, are all churches right in God's eyes? Is one church as good as another? If the answer is "no," then which church is the right church? If there is one, true church today, how can we find it and become a part of it? These are questions we will endeavor to answer in this series of lessons we are beginning today. Let us search the Scriptures for our answers with an open mind. When we study any religious topic, we must be willing to test all things by the word of God and "hold fast what is good" (I Thess. 5:21). This subject is no exception. Let us now consider four major points pertaining to Jesus Christ and His church.
1. JESUS CHRIST WANTS UNITY IN HIS CHURCH.
The existence of a multitude of conflicting religious bodies is not pleasing to God. "God is not the author of confusion" (I Cor. 14:33), and the current state of the religious world is confusion. Man, not God, is responsible for the religious chaos that abounds everywhere, and the Lord does not desire that it continue. Jesus, shortly before His death, prayed that all who believe in Him would be one, not many (cf. John 17:20,21). I believe that religious unity is possible since the Lord prayed for it. Furthermore, the fact that the apostle Paul begged believers to be united also shows that it is both desirable and possible - "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Cor. 1:10). Unity is essential in order "that the world may believe". Unity is not possible upon the basis of a subjective or personal standard. Unity will never be achieved as long as men make their opinions and desires supreme. Unity is only possible if all will agree to be governed in every way by an absolute, objective standard. The inspired word of God is such a standard. It will often be a challenge, but achieving unity is possible among those who have a proper respect for the divinely authorized Holy Scriptures and a love for each other.
2. CHRIST AND HIS CHURCH CANNOT BE SEPARATED.
It is sad but true that some want Christ but not His church. Many religious people have been taught: "Just accept Jesus as your personal Savior and then join the church of your choice." Can you believe it--"the church of your choice"? How about the church of God's choice? Christ and His church are bound together. They will always be bound together no matter how hard some may labor in their theology to separate them. One cannot have the church without the Christ, and one cannot have the Christ without the church! How do I know this to be true? Because the Bible tells me so! Consider the following seven facts on this theme and some passages that establish these truths:
I hope it is obvious to all that Christ and His church are bound together. One cannot have Christ in the fullest sense without His one and only church, and vice versa. One cannot be in Christ without being in His church. The Lord is the one who adds souls to His church. He adds all those who obey the gospel (cf. Acts 2:38,41,47). All spiritual blessings are "in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). These blessings are made available when penitent believers are immersed or "baptized into Christ" for the remission of their sins (Gal. 3:26,27). They are baptized into His body, the church (cf. I Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:22,23). The only way to be reconciled to God is through that one body--the church belonging to Christ (cf. Eph. 2:14-16).
3. THE CHURCH IS PART OF GOD'S ETERNAL PURPOSE TO SAVE MAN.
There are two mistaken views about the church today that are widely held: (1) Some say that Jesus was merely a teacher whose followers formed the church to perpetuate His ideas after His death, and (2) Others believe Christ came to establish His kingdom but failed because the Jews rejected Him. They affirm that the church was started as a temporary measure until the time was right for Him to return to launch His earthly reign.
Neither of these notions are reasonable biblically. God's plan of redemption for mankind was already planned out before the foundation of the world. Jesus' death and the establishment of His church were key components in that plan (cf. Eph. 3:8-11; Rev. 13:8). Neither His death nor the founding of the church were indications of failure. Rather, they showed the accurate fulfillment of prophecy. Additionally, consider this: if Jesus failed the first time to accomplish His mission, who is to say that He will not fail again? Such a view does not think very highly of the wisdom or foreknowledge of God.
4. CHRIST'S CHURCH IS NOT A DENOMINATION.
The word "church" in the New Testament, when used in reference to the saved, is used in two basic senses. First, the word is used in a universal sense to refer to all the saved everywhere (e.g., Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22,23). Second, the word is used in a local sense to refer to the saved in a geographic area who meet as one assembly to worship and serve (e.g., I Cor. 1:2; I Thess. 1:1). The concept of denominationalism is foreign to the Scriptures. A denomination is not the universal church. It only claims to be part of the universal church (along with all other denominations). A denomination is not a local church but a larger organization composed of all its congregations worldwide. Thus, it is accurate to state that a denomination is smaller than the universal church but larger than a local church. Where does God authorize such an arrangement? Where can one find approval for the concept of denominationalism in the Scriptures? The idea was born in the minds of men! Denominations should not exist. The one, true church of Christ (i.e., the church that belongs to Christ) is not a denomination. It was not a denomination in the first century, and it still is not today! The church of Christ is the universal church which is composed of all the saved and is made up of local churches which meet in various places all over the world.
Dear listeners, if Jesus were on Earth in the flesh today, I believe He would be as truthful and blunt as He was in the first century. In that era He blasted the "denominationalists" of His day--the Pharisees, scribes, etc. He rebuked their sinful ways and lack of respect for the authority of God and His Scriptures. Jesus was not afraid to predict their eventual demise. He declared in Matthew 15:13 - "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted." His comments about unauthorized religion are just as relevant for modern man. I do not believe that Jesus would hesitate to condemn the sin of denominationalism today and foretell the final end of such--eternal destruction in the lake of fire! Churches that are not planted by the Lord will be pulled up come Judgment Day (if not sooner)! Man-made churches with their humanly devised church manuals, catechisms, traditions, and creeds are worthless and spiritually blind (cf. Matt. 15:14). They will fall into the "ditch" if they do not repent and come to believe and practice divine truth. If you are a member of a denomination, it is our prayer that you will see the light of God's truth and leave the error you are engaged in for the one, true church--the church that believes and practices that which is authorized by the New Testament and nothing more or less.
May we never forget that the word of God is the "seed" of the kingdom (Luke 8:11). Wherever that pure seed is planted in the world today, the same harvest can be produced that was seen in the first century. We know this is true because good seed always produces after its kind (e.g., Gen. 1:11,12). If we plant the word of God today in good and honest hearts, it will produce what it did in the first century, that is, Christians--members of the one, true church! The pure seed of the kingdom did not produce denominationalism in the first century and it still does not today.
I'm a member of the church you can read about in the New Testament. Are you?