By Mike Willis
In recent years, some Christians seem embarrassed to state that they believe that there is only one church. One is judged to be narrow-minded and bigoted if he believes that there is only one church. After all, we are reminded, there are good people in all denominations.
Too, the general rejection of the Bible as the one standard of right and wrong has resulted in agnosticism. One cannot be sure about anything, if he has rejected the Bible as his absolute standard for determining right and wrong. The uncertainty that characterizes the non-Christians with reference to pre-marital and extra-marital sex, homosexuality, drinking, and other things (whether they are merely personal preferences of taste or sin) has spilled over into the church. The result is that some can no longer tell whether immersion, congregational singing, partaking of the Lord’s supper on the first day of every week, and other items pertaining to the worship, work and organization of the church are simply matters of personal preference of the members of the church of Christ or divine law. Some among us no longer believe that sin is committed by using instrumental music in worship, by observing the Lord’s supper on Thursday night, and organizing a sponsoring church.
The popular phrase is, “We are Christians only, but not the only Christians. ” Some believe that there are faithful Christians in all denominations. They charge that we are arrogant if we believe that we are the only group in possession of the truth. Yet, they are unwilling to tell us which truths the denominations teach that we repudiate.
A new generation has come and some do not believe in the oneness of the church. Is there one church or many churches? Let us allow the Bible to answer this question.
The Bible Says There Is One Church
On several occasions, the Bible affirms that oneness of the church. Jesus said, “. . upon this rock I will build my church. . . ” (Matt. 16:18). The word “church” is a singular noun. Jesus said “church” and not “churches.”
The early apostles believed in one church. Paul wrote, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are 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” (Eph. 4:4-6). The numeral one means “more than zero and less than two.” We understand what it means with reference to one God, one Lord, and one Spirit. It means exactly the same thing when it is used to refer to one body. The apostle had previously told us what the “body” was; he identified it as the church (Eph. 1:22-23). Hence, the doctrine of the oneness of the church is expressly taught in Scripture.
There Is Only One Plan Of Salvation
Directly connected with the doctrine of the oneness of the church is the idea of how an individual is saved. The church is composed of the saved (Acts 2:47). Those who contend that there are saved people in all denominations must contend that there are any number of ways of being saved. The manner in which a Catholic is “saved” is different from the manner in which a Baptist is “saved.” If both are saved, then there must be more than one way to be saved.
The Scriptures only reveal one way to be saved from sin. Man is saved from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. The manner in which one appropriates the saving blood of Jesus is through believing in Him, repenting of his sins, confessing his faith in Jesus, and being baptized (immersed) in water (Mk.16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:36-38; 22:16). Since the great commission was given, no accountable person has been saved without complying with these conditions, so far as the revelation of God records.
Those who are trying to be saved by a system of meritorious works cannot be saved. Those who are trying to be saved by faith only cannot be saved. The good, honest and sincere cannot be saved by sincerity (cf. Saul of Tarsus-1 Tim. 1:12-16; Rom. 10:1-2). The only manner in which one can be saved is through Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12). One is saved through Christ when he appropriates the blood of Christ by meeting the conditions which Christ gave in order for man to be saved.
Those who contend that there are saved people or Christians in all denominations must contend that there are a number of Yays to be saved’. I wish that some of our brethren who believe that there are faithful Christians in all denominations would just be bold enough to say, “I believe that one can be saved by faith alone” (as most Protestant denominations teach) or “I believe that one can be saved by doing good works” (as the Catholics teach). That is the necessary implication of saying that there are saved people in all denominations. If that is not what they believe, then they must believe that there is only one way to be saved and that those who have not complied with it are lost.
Can One Stay Saved In A Denomination?
When confronted in this manner, those who hold that there are Christians in all denominations will sometimes say, “I am referring to those in denominations who have obeyed the gospel.” Let us grant that there might be a few souls who have obeyed the gospel in denominations. The next question is, “Can one stay saved while in these denominations?”
If I thought a Christian could stay saved while worshipping in a denomination, I certainly would quit trying to get people to leave denominations and become a part of the blood-bought body of Jesus Christ. I would quit preaching sermons which emphasized the organization, names, mission, and worship of the church. I would quit preaching sermons which condemned denominations which are started by man, governed by men, worship in any manner which pleases men, are organized in ways judged best by men, and are called by names selected by men. I would quit telling men that the Lord’s church, as revealed in the New Testament, is divine in origin, given a pattern for worship, given a pattern for organization, and called by names which exalt and glorify God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I suggest to you that one of the reasons that the content of gospel preaching in the pulpits of many churches of Christ has changed is that some preachers have started believing that one can be saved and stay saved in modern denominations. How long has it been since you have heard a sermon which showed the difference in the Lord’s chruch and denominationalism? (Some of us have simply neglected these topics, although we continue to believe in the oneness of the church. We need to remember that every generation must be taught the same fundamental truths and reminded of them.)
When a person worships in a manner not authorized and approved by God, he sins. Jesus Himself said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). I still believe what Jesus said. He said that when men do not worship according to the will of God, they sin. Some have the idea that one can worship anyway he pleases and still be one in whom God is well-pleased.
If there are some few in the denominations who have obeyed the gospel to be saved from past sins, they are the exception and not the rule. Their worship in these denominations is a violation of God’s will and, therefore, sinful. Their sins separate them from God. Hence, a person cannot stay saved in the denominations of men.
We are forced back to the conclusion which our forefathers preached to us, not because we want to hold to our “church of Christ traditions,” but because our forefathers taught what the Bible says. That conclusion is that there is but one church. The Lord adds all of the saved to the church and none of the unsaved (Acts 2:47). There are none of the saved which He overlooks or adds to some other body than His church.
Those who are not in the Lord’s church but in some denomination of man must leave those denominations, even as the pagans and Jews in the first century had to leave their man-made religious organizations, in order to be saved by Jesus Christ. They could not be saved by Jesus Christ while continuing their idolatry or Judaism.
When these truths were preached fearlessly and forcefully, the Lord’s church prospered. Thousands of people left the denominations of men to become a part of the church of Christ. Men could see the difference in human denominations and the Lord’s church as revealed in the Scriptures. They renounced their allegiance to human creeds and committed themselves to Christ and His word.
As the years have passed, some in the Lord’s chruch have quit preaching those first principles of the oneness of the church. Indeed, they are embarrassed when others preach the oneness of the church. They do not want some visiting Baptist to get the impression that we think he is not saved. Their preaching emphasizes positive mental attitudes, love, joy and peace, home and family, and other topics which could be preached in any denomination in the United States. During these same years; the church has nearly quit growing and these brethren cannot understand why. I suggest that one reason is that we have quit preaching the first principles.
Like those in the first century, many today will judge us to be narrow-minded and sectarian because we teach the oneness of the church and the one way to be saved. Nevertheless, we must stand for what the Bible reveals.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 17, pp. 514, 533-534
September 6, 1984