What is the Church?
By Robert K. Sanders
The Bible does not teach us to look for a true church, or a remnant church. The Bible does not name any Christian denomination or church as as a "remnant church" or "true church". Some denominations teach they are God's true church in an attempt to get Christians and non-Christians into their fold. They will tell you that you do not want to be a member of a church if it is not "the true church"? Church membership has not saved on person. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin. The church is not a savior, or a mediator between its members and God.
All denominations and independent churches are all founded are man and woman founded. SDAs by James and Ellen White and Bates, Jehovah's Witnesses by Charles Taze Russell, Latter Day Saints by Joseph Smith, Lutherans by Martin Luther, Methodists by John and Charles Wesley, Christian Scientist by Mary Baker Eddy and etc.
The Bible describes the Christian Church as both visible and invisible. The "visible churches" are denominations and independent churches that meet publicly that we can see. Their members are known and sometimes recorded on their church books. The members of the "invisible church" are members whose names are recorded in the books of heaven and we can not see who they are. Not all names recorded in the books of the visible church are recorded in Heaven's invisible church. The Lambs Book of Life has all the names of the saints of God recorded from Adam till the end of time.
If you would ask the question "what is the church" to a member of any denomination, they would tell you, "the church" is Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Christian Science, Latter Day Saints, Seventh-day Adventist, and et cetera. If you have any doubt to the accuracy of this statement look in the yellow pages of a telephone directory and you will see these listed as well as many more.
How does the Bible define "the church"?
From Strong's Greek, 1577. "ekklesia, ek-klay-see'-ah; from a comp. of G1537 and a der. of G2564; a calling out, i.e. (concr.) a popular meeting, espec. a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both):--assembly, church."
Therefore the Christian Church is a group of people that assembles for a religious meeting. The Bible never defines the Christian Church as a denomination.
What are the Churches of the Bible are called?
There are 108 references to church or churches in the N. T. and there is not one reference to a denomination. This is a sample listing:
- I will build my church. Mat. 16:18.
- the church at Jerusalem, Acts 8:1
- the church at Antioch, Acts 13:1
- the church in Cenchrea, Rom. 16:1
- the church that meets at their house, Rom. 16:5.
- the church of God in Corinth, 1Cor. 1:2
- the Galatian churches, 1 Cor. 16:1.
- the Macedonian churches, 2Cor. 8:1.
- of his body is the church, Col. 1:24.
- the church in her house, Col. 4:15.
- the church that meets in your home. Phil. 1:2.
- to the seven churches, Rev. 1:11.
The churches in the cities mentioned in the Bible are called "the church" that met in one place in the city or in several places in that same city. The single local church was not "The Church," or Universal Church. It was "the church" a part of the Universal Church. The combined churches in the world were "The Universal Church." Keep in mind when the word "church" (ekklesia) is mentioned in the Bible, it is a group of Christians meeting together. The church may be as small as two or three members. "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." Mat 18:20 (NIV)
All of the churches of the Bible were a united Church. There were no Pope as leader of all the churches, nor Cardinals, or priests to confess your sins. There were no denominations.
All the Apostolic churches were united under their leader, Jesus Christ. The Apostolic Christian Church after a time had fragmented into denominations and groups, with some claiming to be the true "Universal Church", such as the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox Catholic and the Church of England.
Christians that accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Head of the church and his Word the Bible as their only rule of faith belong to the world Universal Christian Church. Your denomination separates you as a person from other Christians bodies because of churches creeds; doctrines, and statement of beliefs. Nevertheless, when you accept Christ you are joined together into one world "Universal Church." This is the Body of Christ that you have joined by baptism and by faith in his shed blood of Jesus Christ that atones for your sins.
In God's "Universal Church" there is just one body of believers:
"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—"one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." Eph 4:4-7 (NIV)
"For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior." "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." Eph 5:23, 24 (NIV).
The head of the "Universal Christian Church" is Jesus Christ and not a Pope, Bishop, President, Church Board or a prophet and whatever names that they may use.
Christ is the head of the church not any church leader. It is interesting to note that some church denominations expect its members to yield up their understanding of Biblical beliefs to the interpretation of the church leaders or the denomination’s creed. This is in violation of the work of the Holy Spirit to guide all believers into all truth. When church leaders do this, they are nullifying the work of the Spirit of God. They are sinning against God, and the individuals that yield to their pressure to give up their Biblical beliefs, are also sinning against God and disgracing his Church.
Christ assigned leaders to be leaders of his flock in the "visible church," and not to command or force obedience. Church leaders are not to rule but to serve. They are to train and prepare the body of Christ for service.
"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" Eph 4:11-12 (NIV)
"Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." Mark 9:35 (NIV)
Jesus the head of the church set an example of leadership:
"just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mat 20:28 (NIV)
While denominations divide Christendom by interpretations of Scripture, creeds, statements of belief. Some churches keep the Seventh day Sabbath as holy time while others attend church on Sunday the first day of the week. While the Jewish Sabbath ended at Calvary with the rest of the old covenant and those that try to make Sunday some kind of a Sabbath are equally in error.
How can there be unity of Christians when we have such diverse doctrines that each church and denomination cherishes? The odds to accomplish unity are seemingly insurmountable.
Churches and denominations today will never have the oneness of the first century Christian churches.
Can there be unity in diversity? Yes! Unity of Christians will not be based on Bible doctrines, but on love for one another.
"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35 (NIV)
"If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen." 1 John 4:20 (NIV)
All Christians have the same needs, to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit to be our guide to lead us into all truth, and for us to be a Christian witness to present the Gospel to those that do not know Jesus.
Jesus unites all Christians under himself as the Head of the Church
"And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ," "to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ." Eph 1:9,10 (NIV)
One of the purposes of the church is to unite Christians as citizens of God's household. Every Christian regardless of church affiliations, is a fellow citizen and a member of God’s household. A church that claims to be the one true church or remnant church is opposing the purposes of God in accomplishing this unity of believers. In fact there is no Bible term as remnant church. This is a made up term to identify a denomination which is not biblical. Cults try to lead their followers that they are in the true church. Watch out for this!
"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household," "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." Eph 2:19-20 (NIV)
Please understand membership into the Universal Christian Church is not the result of belonging to earthly churches or denominations. Citizenship into God’s household is by the Christian having Jesus Christ, the Chief cornerstone of their life. Individuals may belong to an earthly "visible" church and still not belong to the invisible Church of Heaven.
"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Col 1:19,20 (NIV)
Christians of visible churches can unite and fellowship with other Christians because by faith we belong to the one family of God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our salvation. We are one day going to be one eternal family in the earth made new, why not start now by working with other Christian churches and denominations for the salvation of non-Christians, and helping those in need?
"In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord "And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." Eph 2:21,22 (NIV).
If we view the invisible church as described by God, then we see that the visible church is a "holy temple." The members are joined together with the Lord. And God lives by his Spirit in each of its members making them a holy temple.
The early church met for fellowship, the Lord's Supper, prayer for one and other, evangelism, fellowship, hearing the Word of God, baptism for new converts, singing, etc. But the church does not have the power to save anyone.
Many Christians have removed their membership or have been disfellowshiped from the visible church because they refused to relinquish their biblical beliefs that were opposed to the church doctrines. In many instances after their names have been removed from the church books, their former church members accused them of following Satan and called them enemies of the church and lost souls. It is difficult for some to grasp the concept that you can leave their church or denomination and still be a Christian that is loyal to God. They have failed to understand that because your name is not on their church books that you still belong to Jesus' church and your name is recorded in heaven.
"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly," "to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect," Hebrews 12:22,23 (NIV)
The writer of Hebrews tells us several things about the Christian church, which is true of our day.
- It is the church of the firstborn, which is Christ.
- Thousands of angels are meeting with the members in joyful assembly. The Greek tells us the meaning of assembly to be "universal and a mass meeting." Strongs, G. 58
- It is a joy to know that our names are written in heaven. All true Christians whether members of a denomination or not a member, have already been judged worthy to have their names recorded in the books of heaven. God is the judge of whose names are recorded in the books of heaven and not the visible church.
"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms," "according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord." "In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence "I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory "For this reason I kneel before the Father," "from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name." Eph 3:10-15 (NIV)
"to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." Eph 3:21 (NIV)
- God’s intent for the visible earthly church is to make known his wisdom to the powers of the heavenly realm through the eternal purpose of Jesus. Christians that are witnessing the love of God, the Gospel of Jesus Christ are fulfilling God’s eternal purpose in his church.
- We may approach God with confidence as a member of the family and kneel before the Father without fear. God hears and answers every prayer by the members of the church family regardless of their denominational affiliations, nationality, and earthly status, whether rich or poor.
- God’s family in heaven and earth is one united family that is not divided by denominational walls and doctrines. It is the visible churches and denomination that divides and separates the Body of Christ.
God’s family is scattered over the face of the earth. Many family members are sleeping in the grave awaiting the resurrection and others are strangers and pilgrims waiting for the great homecoming. They will be from many churches and denominations and not from just one claiming to be the true church. Many will be saved that never have been a member of any denomination or church, but believed God by faith.
"After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." Rev 7:9-10 (NIV)
By now after reading to this point you are aware that there is no true church, that has God's special blessings on it. And that all denomination's doctrines are not infallible. That denominations are man and woman founded. That denominations do not save anyone. Salvation is in Christ Jesus.
Many that write ask, "where should I go to church?"
Visit churches in you area that preaches the gospel which does not include old covenant laws. They will not require you to accept doctrines that you do not believe in which are salvation issues. The will make you welcome.
I would not join a denomination that requires their members to follow old covenant laws. All the old covenant ended at Calvary with all 613 commands. To keep any of the old covenant is a denial of God such as keeping the Jewish Sabbath, paying tithe, and forbidding eating unclean meat.
Any denomination that tries to make Sunday some sort of a Sabbath are as in as much error as the Sabbatarians that promote the Jewish Sabbath. Any day of the week is acceptable to worship to God whether in a church building or on the street. God does not require weekly attendance. Some denominations pressure you to be in church each week. Perhaps they miss your money.
I could never see myself going to churches with so called prophets/prophetess. God has given us his word for the last 2000 years to live by and the promises of salvation through Christ. I would not attend or support a church that promotes practicing homosexual leaders and members as acceptable to God. I do not have a high regard for the pulpit being a forum for political politics. But that is just me. God is the judge of us all.
- Former Adventist pastor Dale Ratzlaff
- Former SDA Pastor Mark Martin
- Former Adventist Fellowship
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