Why Not Just Be a Member of the Church?
Despite this plain command of God, the history of the Old Testament reveals how the people of God wandered off into idolatry time after time. They were severely punished and would return to God, only to wander into idolatry again.
Finally, God, as punishment for their idolatry, sent them into slavery. The two tribes returned and small remnants of the other tribes. They learned their lesson. They were cured of their idol worship, and though they still have errors, the Jewish people do not worship idols.
They had learned that the best defense is an offense. After their return from captivity the Old Testament Scriptures were translated from the Hebrew into Greek. What English is today in the literary world, Greek was in that day. Through reading of the Bible there were many people in the world who were no longer idolaters when Jesus came. They had not embraced the Jewish faith but they did believe in the God whom the Old Testament reveals. Cornelius, in Acts 10, is an example. In the world of today wherever faith in the Bible goes, idolatry ceases.
The Old Testament reveals there is one God. The New Testament makes that truth even plainer.
Just as the Bible reveals one God, it reveals that there is one church. In fact it is explicit in teaching that sobering fact. There is no place in the plan of God for more than one God and there is no place for more than one church. The church was in the mind of God from eternity: "to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Ephesians 3:10,11).
Two truths are evident from this passage: that the manifold wisdom of God was to be made known through the church and that the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is to be made known through the church. The work of the church was not an afterthought in the mind of God but it was His eternal purpose.
In the plan of God, the church was not to belong to one nation but to all the nations. This is how the Holy Spirit through Isaiah described the coming church: "And it shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of Jehovah's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow unto it" (Isaiah 2:2). The Holy Spirit informs us that the house of God is the church of the living God (I Timothy 3:15). In plain language God said He would establish one church for all nations and Paul told us in Ephesians 3:10,11 that it was established for all time. He says further: "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever" (Ephesians 3:20,21).
So as God is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2) so the church is to exist for all time and for all eternity. We shall establish it more clearly but just as idolatry has no place in the plan of God, so denominations have no place in the plan of God. Jesus built His church (Matthew 16:18). He said the gates of Hades would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). Denominations are made by men and Jesus said they would all be rooted up: "Every plant which my heavenly Father planted not shall be rooted up" (Matthew 15:13). God by Christ planted one church and He says that it will last for all time and for all eternity but those plants which He did not plant shall be rooted up. The teaching is plain, isn't it?
Denominations try to justify their existence by saying they are different branches of the church. Any student of church history knows that the various denominations were formed by men. Some are very ancient; some are new, but they were formed by men. But Christ built His church (Matthew 16:18). There is one body (Ephesians 4:4). That body is the church: "And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22,23).
Just as surely as there is only one God, there is only one church. The work of Jesus Christ is to be done in that church.
We find a very sad thing in the church of the New Testament. They belonged to the church. They had obeyed the Lord Jesus Christ, but then they began to follow men. In the church at Corinth there were those who said --- "I am of Paul --- I of Apollos --- I of Cephas; I of Christ" (I Corinthians 1:12). This was wrong. Paul asks the question, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you or were you baptized into the name of Paul?" Though they were members of the church yet they became divided into contending factions. How bad is that? "For ye are yet carnal, for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal and do ye not walk after the manner of men? For when one says, I am of Paul, and another I of Apollos, are ye not men? What then is Apollos? and what is Paul? Ministers through whom ye believed" (I Corinthians 3:3-5). So when we follow men instead of Christ (or think we follow both), the Holy Spirit says we are carnal.
What does it mean to be carnally minded? The Holy Spirit says that to be carnally minded is death: "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be" (Romans 8:6,7).
It took hundreds of years for men to learn that there was only one God. That did not alter the fact that it was true, even though they did not believe. Men are better now. Wherever the Bible goes, men believe in one God. And if men believe there is only one God because the Bible says so, then they can only believe in one church and should serve God in that church. Let us quote again: "Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:20, 21).
The power that works in us is our faith in the gospel (Romans 1:16). I tell my Indian brethren that I am afraid that they sometimes have more faith in me than they do in Christ. If they do, then the time will come when that faith will be of no use. Some brethren put their trust in the philosophies or methods of certain men. Thus the church is divided. "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus' Name."
J.C. Bailey (1987, Bengough, Saskatchewan)