By Sewell Hall.
Probably no charge creates more prejudice against a group of people than the charge that they think there is only one church that is right. This fact clearly indicates that most consider all churches right. Is it possible that only one church is right?
At least three other questions must be answered before this one can be answered intelligently.
- Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Many who complain so bitterly about such a claim do not believe that anything is absolutely right or wrong. If there is no right and wrong, then obviously any claim to be the only right church would be ridiculous. However, if there is a God and if He created us, then He is the standard of right and wrong (Romans 3:4). His word is truth (John 17:17).
- Is there a right and wrong in religion? Some who accept the concept of right and wrong in the realm of morals exclude it from religion. They seem to think that God is so loving and good that He will accept anything man may do and dedicate to Him. But Jesus warned of false teachers who would come in sheep's clothing (Matthew 7:15). He stated that worship was made vain by teaching the doctrines of men (Matthew 15:9). Paul informed the Galatians that anyone who preached any other gospel than what he had preached would be accursed (Galatians 1:8), and Peter predicted that there would be false teachers among us (2 Peter 2:1). So religious teachings can be false and religious practice can be wrong. Jesus also said, "Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted'' (Matthew 15:13). This is equal to saying that churches not planted by the Lord will be rejected.
- Has God designated any exclusives in religion? Consider Ephesians 4:4-6. "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.'' The "one'' in these verses obviously means "one and only one.''
These verses do not allow for our modern broad-mindedness. Such broad-mindedness, however, is not really new; it existed in the first century among the Ephesians to whom this was written. Paul became the focus of a riot because he insisted "that there are no gods made with hands'' (Acts 19:26). To put it another way, he preached there was "one and only one'' God. The Ephesians were tolerant of many gods, but intolerant of anyone who said there was only one. Most of us would agree that there is one and only one God. But the same verses say, "there is one body.'' What is this one body? The same writer says in Ephesians 1:22-23 that God has given Christ "to be head of all things to the church which is His body.'' So if there is one body and that body is the church, this is saying there is one church. If one God means only one God, then one body means one body or only one church.
What is the one church? Without doubt, the one body (church) referred to in Ephesians 4:4-6, was the church than Jesus promised to build (Matthew 16:18). It was to be founded on the fact that He was the Christ, the Son of God. That church began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), when Jesus was first publicly proclaimed to be the Christ, based upon the facts of His resurrection from the dead. Those who believed asked, "`What shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, `Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'...Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them...And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved'' (Acts 2:37-38, 41,47).
Please note that all who were saved were added to the church. It includes all who were saved, for the Lord added all who were saved to it. But if it included all who were saved it was not a denomination, for a denomination by definition is only one part of a whole. Neither was it a combination of all denominations, nor even an association of local churches known as "churches of Christ.'' The one body was made up of individual members, not of local churches. It was the one true church to which all who were saved were added. It was that one body described in Ephesians.
How can this church be identified? Jesus said that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His church (Matt. 16:18). It must be in existence today. If it is, it has Jesus Christ as its only Lord and the gospel as its only faith. It is entered by the one baptism, it still includes all who are saved, and it is not one of many. It is the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18), Christ's church (Matthew 16:18), the church of God (Galatians 1:13), the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15). It is the one and only church that is right.
We observe from Ephesians 4:4-5 that "there is one body...one Lord, one faith and one baptism.'' That one body is Christ's church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18), composed of all persons in all the world who have been saved by Jesus Christ. He adds all who are saved to His church (Acts 2:47).
The one church is not a denomination, nor is it a collection of denominations. It is not even a collection of local churches of Christ; it is the body of all saved individuals, and it has no earthly organization. One does not have to investigate all of the churches in the world to find the Lord's church. Any believer in Jesus Christ who follows the simple instructions of Acts 2:38 will be saved and added to it (Acts 2:41, 47). He has no other decision to make or joining to do.
Membership in a local church is another matter. The Ethiopian who was converted on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8) was surely saved and added to the church. But he was not a member of any local church; he had left Jerusalem and there was no local church in Ethiopia at that time.
The examples in the book of Acts clearly indicate that the Lord intended for saved individuals in a community to have fellowship in a local church. Such a church (assembly) was invariably organized when several individuals in a community were saved. In this sense there were many churches--we read of seven in the province of Asia (Revelation 1-3). Local churches were identified as "churches of God'' (1 Corinthians 11:16) and "churches of Christ'' (Romans 16:16). They were, however, independent of each other, each exercising autonomy over its own affairs.
Are All Local Churches Right?
If you should ask the leaders of most local churches, regardless of the name they wear, if theirs is a church of God or a church of Christ, they would say, "Yes.'' But sadly enough, more questions must be asked before we affiliate with such a church. We must be careful not to compromise our membership in the "one body'' by affiliating with a local group that would make substitutions for the "ones'' of Ephesians 4. That passage not only states that there is one body; it also says, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism'' (vs. 5). In view of this, it is important to ask the following questions:
WHO IS THE HEAD OF THIS CHURCH? If we are informed of a president, general overseer, archbishop, superintendent, pope or any other human being or legislative assembly exercising authority over the faith of that congregation, we must avoid that church. There is "one Lord'' (Ephesians 4:5), and that one Lord is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 8:6). "He is the head of the body the church'' (Colossians 1:18). To acknowledge any other head or religious lord is to be guilty of disloyalty to Him. Religious titles of any kind violate the unique position of Jesus who said, "Do not be called `Rabbi': for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ'' (Matthew 23:8-10).
SHOW ME A COPY OF YOUR CREED. If a manual, catechism, discipline, confession of faith, or any other book written by a mere man or group of men is offered, that church must be rejected. There is "one faith'' (creed) according to the same verse (Ephesians 4:5). That faith is the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). No clergy class is authorized to hand down official interpretations of God's word.
WHAT BAPTISM DO YOU RECOGNIZE? If the answer is: "We will accept just any baptism--immersion, sprinkling or pouring,'' you will need to avoid that church. Ephesians 4:5 says that there is "one baptism'' and according to Romans 6:4, it is a burial. If the answer is: "Any baptism administered by one who has been ordained or licensed by our church,'' then you can know you are in the wrong place because the "one baptism'' of Ephesians 4:5 is baptism "in the name of Jesus Christ'' (Acts 2:38), not by the authority of a church--any church.
IS THIS CHURCH AFFILIATED WITH ANY DENOMINATION OR ASSOCIATION OF CHURCHES? Again, if the answer is "Yes,'' you are in the in the wrong place Jesus did not establish a denomination. A denomination, by the very definition of the word, is a division; and Jesus prayed for unity of all believers in Himself and in the Father (John 17:20). DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS MORE THAN ONE CHURCH? Although it is considered arrogant, narrow-minded and bigoted to say that there is only one right church, anyone who says otherwise contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture. Anyone, referring to anything other than local assemblies, who say that there is more than one right church is speaking of something other than the church which Jesus established. Any "church'' other than the "one body'' of Ephesians 4:4 is a plant that the heavenly Father did not plant, and it will be rooted up (Matthew 15:13).