“Is Only One Church Right? (continued)”Categories: Authority
Written By: Sewell Hall
On this page last month, we observed 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; 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 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 says 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).
Originally appeared in the October 1995 issue of Christianity Magazine.