The Lord's Church
By Lance Mosher
It would be interesting to conduct an experiment to find out what people really think of the idea of “church.” What do you think of when you hear or read the word church? Some people think of a building. Some think of their spiritual family. Others think of something that is for others, but not for themselves. Some people think that church is something that is outdated, claiming, “We’re beyond church in the twenty-first century.” Some think that church is not important at all, and that you can worship God without church. When talking about church, some people say, “Any church is just as good as another.” Others say, “The church is corrupt and full of hypocrites.” And others, “There really is only one true church.” There are obviously contradicting views here. Are any of these ideas correct?
THE BIBLICAL CHURCH
Let’s move beyond human opinion. Let’s ask the Bible what God says about the church, shall we? When we read about the church in the Bible, we never find a description of a building. Instead, we find a description of God’s people under His new covenant. The English word, church, is derived from the Greek, ἐκκλησία (ekklesia). This word is found well over 100 times in the New Testament. It seems that church is an important word to God. It will do us well to try to understand it the very best we can.
One of the most eye-opening books in the Bible about the church is Ephesians. In Ephesians, we read, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). This verse tells us two very important facts: Christ is the “head of the church,” and He is the “Savior of the body.” If you and I want to be saved, we must be part of Christ’s body. What is the body? We also read in Ephesians, “And [God] put all things in subjection under [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). Again, the idea that Christ is the head of the church is presented. This passage also claims that the church is the body, and “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:6).
Let’s put this all together now:
During His ministry, Jesus promised to build His church (Matt. 16:16-18). It would belong to Him, and He would only build one. Any person who is able to read this article is able to recognize that there are many churches today. According to one source, there are nearly 40,000 recognized “denominations of Christianity” in the world today. The religious world has surely strayed from God’s teaching about the church.
What is a denomination? Simply put, a denomination is a division. If you go into a bank with a $100 bill and ask the teller to divide the bill for you, he or she might ask, “What denomination would you prefer? 50s, 20s, 10s, or 5s?” In the same way, a religious denomination would be a religious division. What does the Bible say about religious divisions? “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). Scripture condemns religious divisions! The Corinthian church obviously had a problem with division. The one church was breaking up into different groups, following different teachers, saying, “‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ’” (1 Cor. 1:12). That sounds like a lot of religious divisions today. There is one church that says, “I am of John Wesley,” another says, “I am of Martin Luther,” and another says, “I am of John Calvin.” Still, just like the Corinthian Christians would have said, these people would still say, “I am a follower of Christ.” However, they also are divided and cut off from others because they have also chosen to follow a specific man who is not Christ. The one body of Christ began to divide itself in the first century. Jesus Christ sent His apostles to condemn this practice! The “Christian” religious world today is continuing to divide itself. Christ, being heartbroken, still has the same words to say: let “there be no divisions among you” (1 Cor. 1:10). Being part of a division of the church (denomination) is disobeying God’s Word.
While praying to the Father concerning His disciples, Christ uttered this request: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” It was Christ’s prayer that not only His disciples who lived with Him 2,000 years ago, but also everyone who would believe in Him after He was on earth, that we would all be one. With the tens of thousands of different denominations established by various men, many of those who want to honor Christ today are obviously not paying close attention to Christ’s prayer or the rest of Scripture (1 Cor. 3:3; 12:12; 2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:3; Phil. 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:8).
Christ, in His prayer, claimed that unity among His believers would cause the rest of the world to believe in Him. Of course, the opposite holds true, too. Division causes disbelief. How many times has a Christian’s friend turned down an invitation to a Bible study or worship assembly because of all the “religious confusion” these days? I have seen many people throw up their hands in frustration and give up on Christ because it’s just all too confusing. Why? Because each “church” teaches something different about everything. They teach conflicting doctrines concerning salvation. They worship in different ways. Some of them even have different creeds and catechisms that you have to follow. “It’s just all too confusing. I give up!” Religious division has cost the world the gospel.
The Catholic Church has a different view from both the biblical and denominational teachings about the church. They do believe what the Bible says about the one body/church of Christ (though they would claim that the one church is the Catholic Church), but they differ with the Bible about the head of the church. While claiming that Christ is a head of the church, they also view the Pope as another head of the church, whom they call, “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful,” and the “Vicar [or substitute] of Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 882).
Why did all of this division and confusion start? Why did Christ’s church start to denominate? The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Tim. 4:3). People have gathered around teachers and preachers who teach what the people want to hear instead of what God claims in His Word. If a person does not like what his current church is teaching, he can go to the other street corner and start his own church with his own teachings, or he could simply join another denomination that teaches the things that he agrees with.
What’s the big deal? Why does all of this matter? The Bible says that Jesus is the Savior of His church (Eph. 5:23). Jesus established only one church almost 2,000 years ago. Any church that has been established since then is obviously a product of men and not of God, and is not the church we can read about in the Bible. When we read the New Testament, we read about the church established by Christ. We read about the organization, individual teachings, God’s salvation of the soul, and the individual acts of worship that the church of Christ taught and practiced in the Bible. That church is still alive today! How can we find it? We can find it by finding the group of people who adhere to the teachings and practices found in the New Testament, and by finding the group of people who are not divided, but instead, described the way the church in the New Testament is described.
There is good news. You can be added to the body of Christ today! How? By following the instructions found in the Bible. In Acts 2, we can read about the very first gospel sermon ever preached. When the sinners were “pierced to the heart,” from the conviction of their sins, they asked, “what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). To that question, the apostle Peter responded, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). We read just a few verses down, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls […] Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:41, 47, KJV). Many people go around today choosing what church they want to join. The way to be part of Jesus’ church is not to join it, but it is to be added to it by God through obedience (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:26-27). “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Again, the way to be added to the body/church of Christ is to be baptized into Christ. If you have never obeyed Christ in baptism (Mark 16:16), don’t delay! Obey!
Except where noted, Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation