“But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
The Bible speaks of but one church but when we look in the world or even just the community around us there is much confusion out today when we consider that there is not one church, but many “churches.” What kind of church is the church of the living God? Does that church still exist?
“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.” (Matthew 16:18)
The Lord’s churches have been promised preservation. We call this perpetuity. I will not understand how some folks will question this or deny this. The fact is that God has promised that His church will always be. If Christ has not kept His promise concerning His church to keep it how can you trust Him concerning your salvation? There is, without any doubt in my mind, an unbroken chain of true churches going all the way back to Jerusalem. The enemies of truth will ask us to prove every link going back from this church to Jerusalem, and I will admit this is impossible – just as it is impossible for me to trace my genealogy from today back to Adam. Yet, I am sure by faith that both these go back to the source.
J.R. Graves said it best when he said, “When the infidel can prove, by incontestable historical facts, that His kingdom has been broken and removed one year, a day, or one hour from the earth then we surrender our Bible with our position.” I am convinced that in the last 6000 years there has NEVER been a time when there was not at least one human being on the earth and am also convinced that in the last 2000 years there has not been at least one true church on the earth without any affiliation to Rome!
They have not always been known by the same name, but history has recorded their names as Christians, Donatists, Paulicians, Albigenses, Waldenses, Anabaptists, and Baptists. Hated and despised but always churches of the “living God” they proclaimed the truth under constant threat from others. Faithful even to death!
The Lord’s churches, then are still found today…but notice:
“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:33)
Our God is not the author of confusion. Yet, confusion is all we find in the religious world today. Not everything that calls itself a church is a church of the living God as described in our text. If one church is Scriptural then the others are unscriptural.
There are a couple of theories out there that I’d like to point out which I do not subscribe to when it comes to all the confusion out there:
• The Church-Branch Theory. This theory says that all these different sects are “branches of the Church.” A bank has branch offices. So if you bank at Richland Bank, then you would expect each branch of it to operate much the same way – to have the same account information and same rules would apply no matter if you are in Mansfield or Shelby.
• The Church Army Theory. This theory is that all the different denominations compose one great army and Christ is the Captain. The various sects are the regiments, brigades and divisions. Yet armies are under the same laws and army regulations, and drilled by the same tactics, and are not in conflict with other parts of the same army.
• The Universal Church Theory. This theory says that all these various groups are really part of the same “invisible, universal church.” This is perhaps the most common view of the church, but it is not the Biblical view. In this theory we find one universal group composed of a multitude of divided people who are preaching and teaching opposing doctrines. The Catholics and the Baptists and everything in between fits into this church according to the proponents of it. I have preached against this view before. The Greek word our Lord used in our text is ecclesia which always means a local assembly. Nowhere in the New Testament is katholikos ever to be found alongside the ecclesia in the original. It is often used as a church in a local place or in a plurality of churches and sometimes it is used in an institutional sense, but never in a universal sense, whether visible (as the Catholics claim) or invisible (as the Protestants claim).
We are coming up to the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. The Protestant Reformation was not of God. All the churches founded by God were one and identical in doctrine, faith, organization, ordances and practices. Yet this is not the case with Protestantism. (Go back and read I Corinthians 14:33 – God is not the author of confusion!)
Ask yourself – did God inspire Luther to teach consubstantiation, and Calvin to denounce it as false and impious? Was God leading Luther to give one form of Church government, while he led Calvin a different one? And so on through all the variant doctrines and practices of Protestants; until, God in some way became displeased with these, he raised up Wesley to deny his sovereignty and salvation by grace, without works, as taught by the Scriptures, Paul, and even many of the Reformers? This is not the God I know of in the Scripture!
If the fountain is corrupt then all the streams coming from it are also corrupt. Matthew 7:23; Job 14:4
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” (Ephesians 4:5)
To claim that Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Cambellites, and Baptists are all of God is to claim that their baptisms are also of God and that their doctrine (faith) is of God. Yet we find some different – yea, radically different baptisms, and doctrines. To say these are all churches of the Lord is to deny the plain teaching of this verse. Believing them all to be churches of God is absurd and goes against even reason itself!
“And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” (Matthew 28:17–20)
Jesus gave the authority to His kind of church as commissioned here. This authority was not passed on to any other group.
Now, admittedly the teaching that there is only one true kind of church is not popular and a lot of times there are some false accusations presented to us. These accusations are not new, and are perhaps as old as the truth itself. I’d like to answer the critics:
1. We do not deny the salvation of those with whom we decline to associate with ministerially or ecclesiastically. That is between them and the Lord. However, many of the societies hold and teach baptism as a condition or sacrament for salvation. Such societies must be full of lost people since they do not require a credible evidence of regeneration as a condition of membership. Refusing to fellowship with such groups and refusing to allow their preachers into our pulpits does not mean that we believe them to be lost, but simply that we do not believe their churches are scriptural churches.
2. We do not deny the honesty of Catholics and Protestants, but rather we believe that they are honestly deceived.
3. We are not uncharitable. Some folks mistake love as compromise, but it is never charitable to compromise. If you say you love someone and then do not tell them the truth about the error of their ways, then you are not doing them any favors at all. Notice: I Corinthians 13.
4. We do not deny to others the civil right to exist as false churches. Baptists have never denied to others the right to exist and preach the way they see fit. However, we must hold and deny they have any Scriptural right to to exist as churches of Christ. We also deny their right to be called or treated as churches of Christ.
5. We certainly do not believe that the others have no truth at all. There are, within the doctrine and teaching of Protestant denominations some nuggets of truth. However, their churches cannot be classified as the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. Indeed they some possess more truth than others, but none of them were promised perpetuity as found in Matthew 16:18. And not one of them were comissioned by our Lord.
In an age when it is popular to say “attend the church of your choice” isn’t it better to “attend the church of God’s choice?”