by Steven Chan
15 August 2010
Growing up in the Methodist Church, I was under the impression that all denominations were acceptable to God and that the choice of which denomination to attend was merely one of personal preference. In fact, I recalled attending a Billy Graham Crusade where Billy Graham told those who attended the meeting that they could go back and join the church nearest to where they lived. As some may know, Billy Graham was of the Southern Baptist persuasion but preached across all denominations. However, even as a youth I was perplexed as to why there were so many denominations such as the Anglican Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Baptist church, the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran church and countless others.
In 1969, when I was 13 years old, a classmate passed me a Bible Correspondence Course entitled “What the Bible Says”. That was the first time I was privileged to study the Bible and to have a fairly good overview of the Bible. Later on I also studied the Bible Correspondence Courses offered by the Assemblies of God, the Emmaus Bible Correspondence Course and even one offered by the Catholic Church. I also had a series of personal Bible studies with the Assemblies of God. Two years thereafter, it became clear to me that most of the denominations were not mentioned in the Bible, the inspired Word of God which is given to guide and equip the man of God (2 Tim 3:16-17).
After having had the opportunities to study the different Bible Correspondence Courses offered by the various denominations, it dawned on me that the Bible teaches that the Church belonged to Christ because it was built by Him: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church”(Matt 16:18) – and that He built only ONE church: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were 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); “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body”(Eph 1:22-23). According to 1 Cor 12:13 we are all baptized into one body, i.e. His one church: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free”. “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). On that day of Pentecost, “those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:41). According to the Bible, one does not join the church or denominations of one’s choice – the Lord adds to the church daily those who were being saved. Those who were being saved were those who believed in Jesus and had been baptized for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Besides, which denominations existed on the day of Pentecost for Jesus to add those who were being saved? All the denominations that exist today did not exist at that time. So then, to which church did Jesus add those who were being saved at that time? Some friends tried to explain to me that it was the universal church that Jesus added those who were being saved.
But what was the name of the local congregation of that universal church at that time? My religious friends replied that it did not matter what name the local congregation or church was called because “a rose by any name would smell as sweet” (a quotation not from the Bible but from William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet). For a while I thought that the answer given to me by my religious friend made some sense – until I came across the scripture in Rom 16:16 when the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Rome (Rom 1:7): “Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.” This text clearly identified the local congregations of the Lord as the churches of Christ! Of course, subsequently I read that these local churches were also referred to as “the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28); “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1); “the churches of Galatia” (Gal 1:2); “the church of the Thessalonians” (1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1); “the house of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Tim 3:15) – but there was no mention of any church named after a religious leader – not even named after the apostles (and not after Christ or God) or named after a doctrine – there was no Catholic, no Baptist, no Presbyterian, no Lutheran, no Anglican, no Methodist, no Wesleyan, no Pentecostal, no Assemblies of God, no Evangelical Free church, etc… all these did not exist in the first century – they came too late to be the church that Jesus added those who were being saved. The church of God and the local congregations referred to by the apostle Paul as the “churches of Christ” were the only ones in existence in the first century. There is no authority for anyone to build their own church or to call a church by any name other than those that shows divine ownership or by their geographical location.
According to Col 1:18: “He is the head of the body, the church”. Hence, the church should honour its head, by being called by His name and not by any human names. According to Acts 4:12, the name is important: “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There should be no such divisions or differences among believers: 1 Cor 1:10-13: “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. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” Is Christ divided?” Personal loyalties to religious leaders other than to Christ effectively constitute “divisions” among the body of believers and would contravene the clear instruction of the apostle Paul in I Cor 1:10-13. It would also contravene the prayer for unity of believers by our Lord in John 17:20-21: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
It is evident that Jesus built only ONE church and that all the denominations that exist today DID NOT exist during the first century. Why would any believer in Christ want to be a member of a church that did not exist then – but was only formed much later by mere human beings. Today, we can be members of that one church that Jesus built and to which He adds daily those who are being saved. When the seed which is the word of God is sown in the hearts of men (Luke 8:11), it will produce faith in the hearts of those who are receptive to the Word (Rom 10:17) – and they would then decide to obey the Word (Rom 6:17) and be born again by the Word through baptism (Titus 3:5; Eph 5:26; I Pet 1:23; 3:21; John 3:3,5) – and be saved – and then be added by the Lord to His church, organised as the churches of Christ in the various geographical locations.
Truly, the Bible is clear and unequivocal in this matter: Rom 16:16: “Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.” Would you rather be greeted by man-made denominations not mentioned in the Bible and not by the churches of Christ? Be careful. Personal loyalties to earthly leaders should be cast aside in preference of being loyal to our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. In obedience to the will of our Lord as stated in Mark 16:16, I am thankful that I was baptized by immersion into Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38) on 15th August, 1971 – 39 years ago – and was added to the church that Jesus built in the first century – and ever since, I have assembled with the churches of Christ. I pray that each one who has yet to put on Christ through baptism (Gal 3:26-27) may do so without any further delay (Acts 22:16) and be added by the Lord to His church – of which He Himself is its saviour (Eph 5:23-27).
You can be a member of the church that Jesus built in the first century. You ought not to be a member of a man-made denomination. In John 14:15, Jesus said: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” Do you love Him? If you do, why don’t you obey His commandments without any further delay? The Bible says that “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were 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). Why not be a member of that one body?