The church of Christ
is one body:
unique, indivisible, exclusive and real
By 'church of Christ' we mean the church that Jesus built (Matthew 16:18), also called 'the body of Christ' (Ephesians 1:22,23; 5:23; Colossians 1:18,24).
Christ's church is unique, one of a kind, incomparable.
The foundation of the church is unique: "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Christ is "the only begotten Son of God" (John 1:14,18; 3:16,18; Hebrews 1:5; 1 John 4:9). He is one Shepherd of one flock (John 10:16). "He is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 1:22,23). "Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:23).
"There is one body" (Ephesians 4:4). "We, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Romans 12:5). We are reconciled to God "in one body through the cross" (Ephesians 2:16). "For we, being many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17). "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13). The one body has "one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:5,6).
The church of Christ has a unique identity with unchangeable distinguishing marks.
A diamond can be identified on the basis of unique characteristics. Diamond is the hardest known material. It consists of pure carbon, but not all carbon is diamond. The carbon atoms in diamond form a crystal lattice with each atom connected to four other atoms. Diamond is hard because these bonds are short and strong. Diamond is a good electrical insulator, has the lowest coefficient of expansion, and is the best thermal conductor at room temperature. Diamond is transparent in the whole spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared and has a refractive index of 2.42 for yellow light with a wavelength of 589 nanometers. Diamonds repel water, but attract grease. They are not harmed by acids and bases, but are attacked by some salts such as melted potassium nitrate.
The average person cannot recognize diamond with certainty because he lacks knowledge. Someone who has the required knowledge, can recognize diamond beyond any doubt.
The church of Christ can also be identified on the basis of unique characteristics described in the holy Scriptures. The average person cannot tell the difference between the church of Christ and an imitation because he lacks knowledge. Someone who has the required knowledge, who knows the revealed characteristics, can identify the church of Christ with certainty.
The church is unique, one of a kind.
Christ's church is indivisible, not susceptible to subdivision.
Jesus said: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand" (Matthew 12:25).
When Jesus prayed for His apostles, He said: "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. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me" (John 17:20-23).
The church is indivisible. Paul asked "Is Christ divided?" (1 Corinthians 1:13). "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" (1 Corinthians 1:10). Like the atoms of diamond, members of Christ's body are solidly joined together.
Followers of Christ may have nothing to do with 'subdivisions' in Christendom, groups that sail under the flag of some human founder, doctrine or institution. When a religious group claims to be a 'subdivision' among Christians, by definition they cannot possibly be the church of Christ. Whoever establishes, maintains or participates in such a denomination, is in rebellion against Christ who prayed for unity. We must shun people who cause division through departures from the original doctrine: "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17,18). "These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit" (Judas 19).
The church of Christ is indivisible. Christians must take their stand only as the church of Christ.
Christ's church is exclusive, set apart, sanctified.
The church of Christ is by definition the church that is of Christ, in contrast with all denominations, groups and associations that are not of Christ.
The church of God has been purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). Jesus "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14). "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
God's people must separate and sanctify themselves: "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'" (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
God's people do not remain in 'Babylon', a representation of false religion. "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).
The church is exclusive in the good sense of the word. This exclusiveness is based on God's word, not on human judgment. Salvation by grace is offered to all people (Mark 16:15,16; Matthew 28:19; Revelation 22:17), but there are conditions: "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30).
A person is added to the church by God Himself. We read about the establishment of the church: "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:41). Peter had commanded: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38). Only those who believe, repent and are baptized for the forgiveness of sins, are added to the church. "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). The church consists of those who are saved, who have been added by God Himself.
This is not simply 'joining a group'. It involves a spiritual cleansing, a rebirth, a new creation, a new citizenship. "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:22,23). "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). "For our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20).
Those who have not fulfilled the revealed conditions, are not added to the church and are not accepted into the fellowship. "For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). Only those who have been sanctified by the blood of Christ, belong to the church.
About the church at Jerusalem we read further: "And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch. Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women" (Acts 5:12-14).
The church is exclusive. One cannot simply 'join'. One must be added by the Lord.
Christians who walk disorderly, are excluded from the fellowship. "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). "But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person" (1 Corinthians 5:11). "Therefore 'put away from yourselves the evil person'" (1 Corinthians 5:13).
Someone who teaches false doctrine is also avoided: "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). "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).
John writes about some who had gone astray: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us" (1 John 2:19).
The church is exclusive on the basis of revealed conditions. Paul explained to the Corinthians: "For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you" (1 Corinthians 11:19). When people turn away from God's word in their lives or doctrine, they are not approved, they separate themselves from the fellowship.
The church of Christ is unique, indivisible and exclusive on the basis of God's word.
Christ's church is real, substantial, visible.
The church has an observable presence and identity. Paul wrote letters to the church of God at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1). He sent greetings from churches of Christ (Romans 16:16). Were these churches invisible?
Some claim that the church of Christ is only an ideal that can never be accomplished in reality. They speak about an "invisible church of Christ" that supposedly consists of the true believers in the various denominations, and about a "visible church" that according to them can never be more than a human, historical and cultural phenomenon.
This false proposition is used as an excuse for the perpetuation of denominations -- based on human traditions and teachings -- that are not equivalent to the church of Christ.
Stones are sold for loaves with the claim that real bread is invisible! Hungry souls must break their teeth on stones because real loaves do not exist. Paste is palmed off with the claim that real diamonds do not exist, that diamond is only an 'ideal'.
The church is precisely Christ's visible presence on earth! Christians are living, functioning, performing, active members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 3:30).
The church also shares in the suffering of Christ. Paul persecuted the church of God (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13). Did he persecute an invisible church?
Paul said to Timothy: "These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:14,15). Through what is written we can known how we must conduct ourselves substantially and observably in the church. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth because we have God's word in our heart and mouth. "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach)" (Romans 10:8).
We may not be impious like Esau "who for one morsel of food sold his birthright" (Hebrews 12:16). The church of Christ is one body: unique, indivisible, exclusive and real. Let us be thankful for this matchless church, and like Paul, continue to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ "to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Ephesians 3:10,11).
The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982, Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers.
Permission for reference use has been granted.
Published in The Old Paths Archive