ONE TRUTH / ONE CHURCH
By Larry White
The churches of Christ over the years have been known for espousing the concept of there being only one church. And many people are troubled by it and do not know how to answer questions concerning it. For example: "Is the church of Christ the only church going to heaven?" Or you might hear questions like: "What does your church teach?"
I.) First we will look at our relationship to the truth.
The church, or the assembly of Christ as the congregation that I attend now is called, does not teach anything - in and of itself as an institution. Unlike the denominations we do not have an overall governing body of all the churches that dictates to us what our stand or position is, or what we are to teach on any given subject. There are men in the "brotherhood" who are trying to arrogate to themselves that position and authority, but they do so outside of any precedent in the word of God or any divine revelation. We do what Christ Jesus tells us to do and not what any men or earthly organization says in and of itself. Our body as the church of Christ, is autonomous, which means that nothing outside our local body can tell us what to do.
You ran well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?
This persuasion does not come from him who calls you.
A little leaven leavens the whole lump.
We have responded to the call of Jesus Christ and not that of a church, and the only thing to which we should be listening is that persuasion that comes from him who call us. That is where the truth is.
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard him and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.
We all learn and are taught by Jesus Christ, because that is who has the truth, God's word. The church does not originate the truth or the doctrine. We get the truth from Christ and the church teaches it. It is not the church of Christ doctrine, but the doctrine of Christ. That is an important distinction that many Christians apparently have not considered. If a man is teaching a church of Christ doctrine, then it is beyond the doctrine of Christ.
In 1Tim.3:15 the church is called the pillar and ground of the truth. Notice the distinction here between the two. The church supports the truth, it does not manufacture or produce the truth. In the earth, they who have the truth and abide by it and manifest it as a light in the world is the church.
Does this mean that anything the church teaches is the truth?
Well then, where do we get the truth?
This may sound painfully simple and obvious - but most of the religious world does not understand this elementary principle - that we ourselves, or the church are not the originators of the truth. This ignorance is promoted especially in the Roman Catholic church where the "Holy Mother Church" can say no wrong and can do no wrong. I have read it in black and white from their own catechism - that whatever the catholic church says, that is the truth.
This may be partially the cause of the attitude most people have when they approach religion, i.e. "I can't understand the truth. I need somebody higher and holier to tell me what God says." Therefore they use that excuse for not even trying to find the truth.
Do we need a man or group of men to tell us the truth? Does God have a hierarchy of men who have the knowledge of the truth and then they deign to hand it down to you little by little as they deem you worthy of knowing such knowledge?
Does some preacher who claims to know it all have it over you? Is he closer to God than you can ever be?
You can understand the truth on your own, by your own study. You must have that attitude that you can, otherwise you won't look for it or strive to understand. Here is the attitude that we should have.
“Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of the heavens is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
If we have a keen sense of prizing the truth above everything, we will be searching it out diligently and not worrying about what men say.
...and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
The love of the truth is the attitude that you are not going to settle for less, that you refuse to live in illusion or lies and you are determined to find and understand the real reason for it all, to understand the truth and live according to the truth, that is, in reality. Each one of us must love the truth and search it out and find the truth.
If any man can understand the truth then so can we.
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles – if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation he made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the Sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets:
The teaching of the church is for the express purpose of bringing us to a unity of faith and knowledge.
And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,
Christ has and is the truth - and we can be like Christ, knowing and understanding the truth. If I cannot understand the truth, then of what good is the truth to me? There is no clergy or cleric in the real church. We must all come to a mature knowledge of the truth.
Why was I put on this earth? In Acts 17:27, Paul says, to "seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." That is every single person's obligation in this life - to find God and know the truth.
II.) Now, let us look at our relationship to the church.
In previous lessons we have found that the word "church" meant the called-out group. In the original Greek it is not necessarily a religious term because any group of citizens who were called together into an assembly were called a church. (Acts 19:32) However we have been called out of the world and into Christ by the gospel.
But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which he called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the first century they did not have the extent of confusion in Christianity that exists today. They had one plea, they had one invitation by the one gospel.
The first century church preached the gospel they had received from Jesus Christ and that is all they preached. When people heard the gospel they responded to the call of God and vowed allegiance to Christ and not to a church. Their primary loyalty was to Christ - they did not just join a church.
The people that obeyed the gospel God added together into a group and formed the body of Christ or the church. The only thing they were bound by was their mutual faith in the gospel. They, each one, served and obeyed Christ and then came together into a fellowship of serving him jointly and therefore constituted the church.
Application: If we are not bound together by our allegiance to Christ and our obedience to the truth of the gospel, then we should not be a church. If I am not here because I know the truth and I want to live the truth and do the truth, and I want to jointly practice the truth with others that know and believe it too, then I have to ask myself - "Why am I here? "Did I just join something, or did I give my life to Jesus Christ? "Am I here because I grew up in this religion, or am I committed to finding the truth, then practicing it and keeping it? "Have I bound myself together with the rest of these people to actively do something in service to God - or am I just coming here on Sundays because I feel I have to?"
What bound the first century church together was the gospel. (Rom. 6:17) they "obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine that was delivered to them." That is what was required of them and that is what they all had in common. They believed in Jesus Christ and were immersed into him.
Can a person obey the gospel and the doctrine of men at the same time?
You can try! But no. You cannot do both. You either serve Christ or you serve men. In the church of Christ we seek the truth. The power of what we teach is in the person of the living God, not in any man's personality or wisdom. We come together before God expecting to receive from him, and to seek his face, not any man's face or any manmade denominational fellowship.
We seek God alone and no earthly personage will stand in our way. But there is a fellowship in that intent. We have all vowed allegiance to Christ not to the church or a party or a denomination's doctrinal position.
The assembly is a fellowship of all who have believed and obeyed the gospel. If you have not believed and obeyed the gospel, then you do not belong to that fellowship.
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be my people.”
“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
“I will be a father to you,
And you shall be my sons and daughters,
Says the LORD Almighty.”
Those who have been called out of the world by the gospel constitute the temple of God, or the church, and God has separated them unto himself as his own people.
...through whom we have received grace and apostleship for the obedience of faith among all nations for his name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The called of Jesus Christ are those who have responded in obedience to the faith. There is only one faith - that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If there is only one faith then there is only one called out group (or church) who have answered that call.
Can we have fellowship with people who are not bound together by their obedience to the faith? They may have an attitude of obedience, but obedience to what? Manmade creeds and dogmas?
There must be the right attitude and the object.
and those being: obey the gospel.
In Mt.16:18, Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." That was singular; not - "my churches".
If there are people meeting together on the basis of their allegiance to Jesus Christ, answering his calling, and they are bound together by their mutual belief and obedience to the truth of the only gospel of Christ as it is set forth in the scriptures, then they are the one true church of the Lord, and that church is going to heaven.
Are we members of such a church? If the answer is Yes, are you bound together with the saints here by your love of the truth, is that why you are here? Are you bound in fellowship with the other members here because of your faith in Jesus Christ and your commitment to serve Christ and do his will?
That is something to think about.
If you are not a member of such a church, then you can be a member this morning. If you believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and you are willing to yield your life in obedience to him - then upon confession of your faith and the repentance of your sins, you can be buried with Christ in immersion for the forgiveness of your sins and Christ will add you to his church. Having all your sins forgiven, you can start a new life in service to your God. That's how they did it in the Bible, and that's how we do it today.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, OR. December 9, 1984)