Shelby G. Floyd
Have you been able to identify the Lord’s church among all the different religious groups? There are several unmistakable marks of identity of the church that stand out so plainly in the New Testament. Jesus only promised to build one church. Make sure you can identify with the church that was purchased with the precious blood of Jesus.
CHRIST PROMISED TO BUILD HIS CHURCH
Jesus Christ definitely promised to build his church. When he was in the area of Caesarea Philippi, he said to his disciples, “…and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Christ emphatically stated that nothing could keep him from building his church, not even his death on the cross, nor the gates leading in and out of Hades could prevail over his power in building his church. According to promise, Christ built his church, and it had its beginning in the city of Jerusalem, on the first Pentecost following his resurrection from the grave.
THE MEANING OF THE WORD “CHURCH”
Today, there are well over 300 different religious institutions, which all claim to be the church Jesus promised, built and purchased with his blood. Is it possible after all these years, and in the midst of this confusion, to identify the Lord’s church? We believe that the Lord’s church can be identified by various marks which distinguish it from all other institutions on the face of the earth. The word “church” is translated from a compound word [ἐκκλησία—ekklesia], which means to call out an “assembly,” or “congregation.” Even as early as 1526 William Tyndale, who gave the English speaking people the New Testament in their own tongue, said “congregation” is better understood than “church! But since the word “church” dominates in our language, we will define the meaning of the word “church!” Therefore, the church is composed of people who have been called out by the gospel into one body (2 Thessalonians 2: l4; Colossians 1:13; Colossians 3:15). The root meaning of the word church has reference primarily to an assembly of people that has been called out and convened in a particular place (Acts 19: 32, 39, 41). The word church is sometimes used in the sense of a local assembly of God’s people which has convened in a particular place to worship God in spirit and in truth (1 Corinthians 11:18; 14:35). However, the word church is not restricted in meaning to this usage. It is sometimes used to designate God’s people in a geographical area, whether they are assembled or not, such as the church of God at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1: 2); then it is used in a universal sense to refer to God’s people throughout the world who have been called out of sin into salvation (Matthew 16:18).
THE CHURCH BEGAN IN JERUSALEM
There are many marks by which we may be able to distinguish this wonderful blood bought institution today. Any church which did not begin in the city of Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ cannot be the church of which we read in the Bible. On that memorable day, 3,000 persons received with gladness the word of God and were baptized into Christ and added to the Lord’s church, as they were being saved (Acts 2:47). Any institution today that demands that people join that particular church without being immersed for the forgiveness of sins cannot be the church of Christ (Acts 2:37-41).
THE SAME DOCTRINE WAS TAUGHT IN ALL THE CONGREGATIONS
One of the most important ways in which we can identify the church of Christ today is by the doctrine—the teaching. The New Testament churches were all characterized by the same doctrine. The apostles of Jesus Christ did not teach one doctrine in one church and another doctrine to another church (1 Corinthians 4:17; 14:37). What they taught to one church they taught to all; therefore, the church of Christ will be characterized by a uniformity of doctrine and practice.
Many religious leaders today are trying to promote unity while at the same time holding on to conflicting doctrines. To the Corinthians Paul wrote a letter, in which he said,
“Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4: 16-17).
Paul preached the gospel to the Corinthians, established the church in that city, and then stayed with them approximately a year and a half edifying them in the knowledge of the Lord. After he left them, he desired on many occasions to return into their midst and be with them, but he was hindered from doing so; therefore, by inspiration he wrote them a letter and told them he was sending Timothy, his beloved son, to remind them of his ways, which were in Christ. Timothy would also remind them that Paul’s ways were taught everywhere in every church.
What Paul preached and practiced in one church, he preached and practiced in all churches; therefore, there was unity of doctrine in all the churches of Christ. The only scriptural basis for unity today is to preach the same thing in all churches. The apostle Paul was so emphatic about this that he said to the Galatians, that though we or an angel from heaven preach unto them any other gospel except that which he had preached unto them that they were to be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).
THE CHURCH IS IDENTIFIED BY THE WORSHIP
We can identify the church of the Bible by the worship. The Bible declares that God is a Spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and truth (John 4:24). Since Paul taught the same thing in all the churches, we should find some reference to the use of instrumental music in their worship assemblies, which we do not; therefore, instrumental music is a practice which is outside of the doctrine of Christ. The music of the biblical church was always singing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). New Testament congregations observed the Lord’s Supper and contributed financially “every first day of the week” (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).
THE CHURCH IS IDENTIFIED BY THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST
The Bible clearly forbids us to have any fellowship with those who would go beyond the doctrine of Christ. John said,
“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11).
Since Paul preached and practiced the same thing in all the churches, we may clearly identify the church of Christ today by its preaching and by its practice. There must be uniformity of doctrine, before there can be any unity of organization (Ephesians 4:1-6)!
Copyright © 2018 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142