The True Church

From time to time we must refresh our memories concerning fundamental teachings of the New Testament. Our faith arises from the truth revealed in that document when that truth is understood, accepted and applied. If we believe God exists and we believe the Bible is the Word of God then we are under responsibility to do what the Bible teaches. As Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.”
One challenge associated with this perspective is that it places anyone who holds it in conflict with our friends who do not. This conflict can exist on a number of levels. The first has to do with the foundation of the argument, that is, that God exists. If my friend does not believe in the existence of the God of the Bible, discussion of other points must wait until that issue is settled. If progress cannot be made there, then progress concerning other matters of commandment keeping must also wait.
There is ample evidence in nature (Romans 1) and in the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20-21, John 12:48, John 17:17, Acts 17:11, Hebrews 4:12) of the need to recognize the reality of God and the authority of Scripture. There is another, perhaps more troublesome, level of conflict possible over the teaching of the Bible.
This is the conflict that can exist among those who do indeed believe in God and the Bible as the Word of God. A powerful example of disagreement among such folks has to do with the definition and nature of the church. Many Christian groups today hold the position that there is a “universal” church that comprises all the “visible” churches. Furthermore, over the years the doctrinal characteristics of these churches have been refined so that churches in different places and under different circumstances have denominated (that is simply, named) themselves after an early pioneer in that movement or a particular doctrinal characteristic.
For the churches that arose out of the Reformation Movement, the justification for the existence of these denominated bodies has come from a misapplication of John 15:5. There Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” The argument is that all the churches under consideration are in essence part of the church universal based on a common confession that Jesus is the Christ.
This would be fine were it not for plain teaching of the New Testament text that expands on the principle of John 15:5. There Jesus spoke to His disciples. The proper application of the principle is that each disciple of Christ (in the time frame of John 15) and then each Christian (after the gospel is preached in Acts 2) is a branch in and of Christ. If we are separated from Him we die.
Nothing in John 15 is about the present state of denominated Christianity. Indeed when we look to 1 Corinthians 1:10 we find these inspired words: “Now I plead with you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” It is obvious when we read Paul elsewhere (Romans 14 for example) that he is not demanding that every Christian have the same opinion about everything. But when it comes to basic doctrines there can be no division.
Nothing is more basic in the New Testament than the teaching about the church, the body of Christ. It cannot be divided. There is one Head over the one body (Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:4). This is an unpopular doctrine in our world today. We love and respect those who disagree with this position. But we remain committed to it. We do so not out of stubbornness or just to be different, but out of respect for God and His Word.