Chapter 3: THERE IS BUT ONE TRUE
CHURCH OF CHRIST
by Dale R. Larsen
An observing person, concerned
about God, truth and eternity has reason to be perplexed. Why is Christendom
fragmented? Are some churches right, and some wrong? Does it make a difference?
A FEW THOUGHTS COME INTO FOCUS
Most every denominational
organization and sect that claims a Christian purpose calls itself a "church."
In spite of all their diversity, that common term stands out. Where did the idea
come from? The Bible introduces the church, but also clearly depicts it to be a
single, unified organism. The Bible, which traces the Divine church through
prophecy and its founding, should also be the one authority for the church's
organization, pattern of worship and doctrine today.
Just listening to the many
radio and television programs on a given Sunday morning presents another enigma.
The plans of salvation they preach do not agree. A few of these groups may, on
the surface, seem to be preaching doctrines that are about alike, but the
teachings of some are in direct opposition to those of others. Two opposites,
each claiming to be truth, cannot both be correct.
The existence of so many varied
denominations, most claiming to be the church, testifies to the fact that,
somewhere, there is, or was a true original. Even counterfeit money is evidence
there is a real thing - and that it is valuable.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
There is only one place to go
for answers about the church. The Bible, the word of God, tells all about God's
church, and it clearly presents one church! From the very first of the Bible we
find God's oneness stressed, and the unity of His followers taught. The harmony
of God's creation is revealed in Genesis 1:31 "...it was very good." God is not
a God of confusion (1Corinthians 14:33). Deuteronomy 6:4 is one of many passages
which teach the oneness of God. Genesis 2:24 reveals the beginning of marriage
and says the man and wife:...shall be one flesh." An inspired apostle, Paul uses
the Divine institution of marriage to illustrate the nature of the church, which
is his body (Ephesians 1:22,23; Colossians 1:18). The figures of the body and
the oneness of husband and wife carry through many verses of Ephesians 5. Paul
culminates the comparison by saying,"...I speak in regard of Christ and of the
church" (Eph. 5:32). The Bible says "There is one body,...one spirit,...one
hope,...one Lord,...one faith,...one baptism,...one God...: (Eph.4:4-6). Jesus
prayed for unity of his people, "that they may all be one" (John 17:21).
For further identification of
that one church we look briefly to Old Testament prophecies: Both Isaiah and
Micah speak of a special kingdom (future) and describe it as "the mountain of
Jehovah's house" (Isaiah 2:2,3; Micah 4:1,2). These predictions designated the
beginning place as Zion, or Jerusalem, and a message called "the word of
Jehovah." Jesus said the Kingdom would come during his generation, and that it
would come with power (Mark 9:1). The great Pentecost occasion recorded in Acts
2, fulfills all of these predictions, and from that time forward the New
Testament speaks of the church as being in existence (Acts 2:46,47; 20:28; 1 Cor.
16:19). Matthew 16:18,19 and Acts 20:25-28 use interchangeably the terms
"kingdom" and "church." The first letter to Timothy (3:15) calls the church "the
house of God."
None would deny God's
relationship to the church, but in a very special sense it is Christ's church.
Jesus said, "...I will build my church;" (Matt. 16:18). The word "church" is
singular. The passage in Acts 20:28 says the Lord purchased the church "with his
own blood," and Ephesians 1:23 calls it "his body." The church is a living
organism with Christ the head and Christians members of that body.
So undenominational was that
original church that it was sometimes spoken of simply as "the Way" (Acts 9:2).
The basic meaning of the original Greek word for church was "the called out
ones." The New Testament pictures one universal church with one common message:
"And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the
whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that
disbelieveth shall be condemned" (Mark 16:15,16). The members of this one body,
or way, were scattered everywhere and as they met in their respective geographic
locations they were called, in a local congregational sense, "churches of
Christ" (Romans 16:16).
HOW DID DIVISIONS ORIGINATE?
Nowhere in the New Testament is
there a record of Roman Catholicism or any of the numerous Protestant
denominations. How did the variety of present-day "churches" come into
existence? The church always has been made up of human individuals, susceptible
to human error. Paul warned the church at Corinth (1Cor. 1:10-13) not to follow
men - not even good men - instead of Christ. In that very passage he asks, "Is
Christ divided?" Implied in his answer, "No!" Division comes from humans and
their views, and especially so when we look to men rather than to the Bible for
The Roman Catholic system of
religion evolved as men departed from and altered the original pattern. Examples
of such unauthorized additions are: holy water; penance; Latin mass; extreme
unction and purgatory. These practices came too late to be apostolic or
"original." Perhaps the greatest departure came in the area of organization, and
over a period of a few hundred years the traditional Roman Catholic hierarchy
emerged, about 606 A.D., with an unscriptural leader (pope) called Boniface
Protestants began as
protestors. A denomination (of anything) is a division. Early leaders of
protestant movements were Catholics: Peter Waldo; Martin Luther; Ulrich Zwingli;
etc. Their intention was to reform a church which had become full of abuses and
errors. Instead, many of these leaders were excommunicated and their efforts
crystallized into new organizations. These were established too late to be the
church of the New Testament, and they were founded by someone other than the one
who spoke in Matthew 16:18. Many teachings and practices of Protestant
denominations are additions to, or subtractions from, the New Testament pattern,
and several are retained from the Catholic church. Throughout the years still
more denominations with new doctrines have continued to arise.
WE MUST BE IN CHRIST'S CHURCH
What is wrong with selecting a
"church" of one's choice? As free, moral agents we do have the capacity to
choose, but our "choosing" can be wrong. In the case of the church, Christ built
it, purchased it, and is its head. Those who respond to his invitation, on his
terms, will be added to his church (Acts 2:41). Acts 2:47 states that the Lord
added those that were being saved. He is the author of eternal salvation
"...unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). He is the savior of the body,
his church (Eph. 5:23). Proverbs 14:12 warns: "There is a way which seemeth
right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death." Jesus himself said
there would be those who professed the name of the Lord and who did works in his
name, who would be lost. He said those who did the will of his Father who is in
heaven would enter heaven (Matt. 7:21-23).
A will, or testament, of man is
strictly honored by the courts. As we prepare for final judgment and eternal
life we must make certain we are members of Christ's church (the one described
in the New Testament) having complied with his will, and having been obedient to
his commands! On this basis we shall be judged (John 12:48).
Why do so many people accept,
with little or no questioning, the religion of their parents?
Discuss how religious division
contributes to skepticism, and even unbelief.
What is the difference between
unity and tolerance of differences?
Discuss various religious
doctrines common in denominations today and show how they differ from Bible
Examine the subject of
authority and show how basic this is to religious unity.