Vol. 4, No. 6
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The fight has taken place in many places: pulpits, newspapers, backyards, subways or even at the dinner table. What makes a church the church? Are all churches the same, and if not, how can we prove it? Members of denominations stand firm in their belief that all churches are basically the same, and therefore the attitude prevails that "you have yours and I have mine." Unfortunately many Bible studies end at this juncture, because Christians are not sure how to proceed. Should they simply accept this answer in an effort to "keep the peace," or should they dig in their heels and prepare for the fight that might well ensue? Thankfully God's Word makes the decision much easier. Using just seven short Scriptures, it is a simple matter to lay out the history of the one true church, which then allows Christians the opportunity to ask: "Are you a member of this church that the Bible describes?" This same idea has even drifted into the church of Christ, as individuals seek to please men and build houses of entertainment under the guise of "community churches." I encourage you to write down the following Scriptures, which will prove to be a useful tool in answering the question, "Aren't all churches basically the same?"
Matthew 16:13-18. In this passage, Christ states: "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." We learn first and foremost, that Christ is going to be the founder of his church.
In Mark 9:1, we read that Jesus "said unto them: 'Verily I say unto you, that there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.'" This verse teaches that the church was started during the lives of men who walked with Christ. Where does that leave the denominations that were started long after the first century had passed?
Christ, speaking in Luke 24:46-47, said: "Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Quite simply, Christ informs us that the church was to begin in Jerusalem. Thus, any church that had its origins in America, or any other place besides Jerusalem, is not the church being discussed by Christ.
Acts 2. This entire chapter holds many great teaching examples. We learn in verse 5: "And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven" -- indicating that the events taking place were occurring in Jerusalem. Verse 14 states: "But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, 'Ye men of Judea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words.'" Peter thus had begun to preach the first Gospel sermon in Jerusalem. Verse 41 indicates: "They that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls," demonstrating the necessity of baptism. Verses 46-47 inform us: "They, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." We learn at the end of chapter 2 that the Lord adds us to the church -- we do not "join" the church.
In speaking to the first-century Christians in Rome, Paul wrote in Romans 12:4-5: "For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." This teaches us that we (members of the church) are the body.
Ephesians 4:4-6. "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. These verses clearly indicate that there is only one body.
Colossians 1:16-18 "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." The head of the church is Christ, not someone like a "pope."
From these few verses, we learn simple-yet-important facts that identify the true church:
It was started during the lives of men who had walked with Jesus Christ.
It began in Jerusalem, and then went out to the world.
It has Christ as its head, not men.
Sadly, many of our own brethren mistakenly believe that Christ did not possess enough knowledge regarding founding and organizing a church, and so they feel the need to add manmade traditions or entertainment. Or in an effort to gain numbers, men will often resort to gimmicks not sanctioned by Christ. And yet we were told in Matthew 16 that the gates of hell would not prevail against the true church. It will be here long after the gimmicks, entertainment and manmade churches have perished. The next time someone asks you, "Aren't all churches basically the same?," show them these verses, pointing out these four conditions that identify Christ's unique church. The only question that then remains is this: Are you a member of the church that is described so vividly in the Bible?
Brad Harrub earned his Ph.D. degree in anatomy and neurobiology from the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and was listed in the 2001-2002 edition of Who's Who Among Scientists and Researchers. Dr. Harrub is the author or co-author of numerous scientific articles published in refereed science journals, and a popular speaker on Christian evidences at lectureships, youth rallies, etc. Currently, he serves as the Director of Scientific Information at Apologetics Press and as associate editor of Reason & Revelation, a monthly journal on Christian evidences. He and his wife Melinda attend the Eastern Meadows Church of Christ in Montgomery, Alabama. They have one son, Will.