From Kettle, Kentucky
Why do Christians seem to have such difficulty in communicating the “one church” concept (Eph.4:4)? There are many answers, such as pride, prejudice, and sectarianism. But is it possible that Christians themselves are to blame for any of this? Let us consider this idea more fully.
When teaching, it is imperative to clearly understand the biblical concepts involved in discussion. In other words, one cannot teach what he does not understand himself. Teachers must be “faithful men” who are “able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Furthermore, they must be effective communicators (1 Cor. 14:8-9). This is especially true when using terms with multiple meanings and/or applications. For example, if teaching about “baptism,” one must clearly define the meaning of the term (i.e. immersion, Rom. 6:4). Otherwise, the intended message is lost.
Now let us think about the word “church.” This word usually brings to mind all sorts of concepts. It may cause one to think of a building, a local congregation, or a denomination. If the teacher is unaware of this, or fails to compensate for this (by a failure to clearly define his terms), the real message is lost.
Let us bring all of this to bear upon the “one church” concept. Often it is said, “There are many churches, but only one true church.” If properly defined and communicated, this statement could convey truth. However, usually this statement conveys a false message. When such a statement is made, what most people normally hear is this: “There are many denominations, but only one true denomination. ” The statement has unintentionally expressed that the “one true church” (Eph. 4:4) is a denomination or sect. The listener is disgusted with such “narrow-mindedness, ” and the teacher is unable to figure out why he is accused of sectarianism.
Notice what has happened. Without telling anyone (and perhaps without realizing it), the teacher has “changed gears” in mid-sentence. He has said, “There are many churches (meaning: religious denominations), but only one true church” (meaning: body of saved people, Acts 2:47). The teacher has failed in two ways. First, there was a failure to discern the conceptual errors to be reckoned with. Second, there was the resultant failure to properly communicate.
But the confusion is only beginning! Now, “churches” are compared with each other. For instance, one may compare the work or organization of a particular denomination to that of the Lord’s church. But notice: the gears have been changed again! Before, “church” was spoken of in its “universal” sense (Acts 2:47); but now, it is spoken of in its “local” sense (Phil. 1:1; 4:15). These comparisons can facilitate, the exposing of error; but unless we effectively communicate, it has the appearance of “comparing denominations. ” The result of this is that often one is merely convinced to “change churches” (sects). Consequently, a misplaced loyalty develops to “The Church of Christ,” rather than to Jesus Christ (Acts 11:22-23). Furthermore, the “convert” has retained his sectarian concepts, which hinder his communication of the “one church” to others.
What can be done to alleviate this “communication gap”? First, be sure to fully understand the biblical concepts involved. Knowing the difference between “universal church,” “local church,” and “denomination” is vital to bridging the communication gap. The “universal church” is simply all of the saved, who ever and where ever they may be (Acts2:36-38,41,47). The “local church” is a group of saints who organize scripturally and function as a unit (Acts 9:26-28; Phil-1:1; 4:15). A “denomination” is a religious sect, distinguished by peculiar doctrines, which separate it from other believers, None of these terms or concepts are interchangeable! A great injustice is done when they are spoken of as if they were. Second, once the concepts are clarified in the teacher’s mind, he must effectively communicate those concepts. The understanding must precede the communication (1 Cor. 14:8-9).
May all who preach and teach seriously consider this important “communication gap,” and endeavor to bridge it. As in the days of old, it ought to be said that God’s people (I gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” of the word (Neh. 8:8).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 17, p. 531
September 5, 1991