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Friday, December 30, 2022

One Church—A Thing Hard to Accept

Many older Americans alive today can remember years ago when O. J. Simpson was arrested and put on trial for the murder of his ex-wife and Ron Goldman.  I remember a comment I heard on TV at the time that simply astounded me.  One lady that was being interviewed, for what reason I no longer recall, made the comment that if she had seen O. J. commit the murder with her own eyes she would not believe it.  I guess her idea was that she could not trust herself, she would have to be hallucinating, her mind would have to be playing tricks on her.  Assuredly, her mind was made up on the subject and any truth brought to bear upon it contrary to what she wanted truth to be would bounce off it like a rubber ball dropped on a hardwood floor.  Truth to her was what she already believed, what she wanted the truth to be, and do not bother me with any contrary facts even if they exist.  I will not believe them.

Is it any wonder people cannot or will not accept truth in religion?  Is it any wonder they will not accept clear statements made in scripture on various subjects?  There was a time in my life when I was yet relatively young and naive that I thought if a person was in error as it related to a religious matter correcting him or her would be as easy as going to the Bible and finding the book, chapter, and verse that told them the truth.  I learned over time that the real problem is not a matter of the mind but one of the heart and thus much more difficult to deal with. 

The kind of people I am talking about will not be convinced of the truth no matter how many scriptures you show them.  They would flunk out of a high school or college class for they will not accept factual statements or any kind of sound reasoning.  Show them a passage like Acts 2:38 on baptism for the remission of sins (add to that Acts 22:16 and 1 Peter 3:21) and they will say the text cannot mean what it says, that would be impossible from their point of view, for like the lady with O.J. it simply cannot be so.  It cannot be so for the heart has already made up its mind and evidence will not change it.  That was the way it was with Jesus' miracles, even his resurrection did not convince those who had already made up their mind that he could not be the Son of God (Matt. 28:11-14).  

In his last recorded meeting with the Jews in Rome during his imprisonment there Paul made this charge against the Jews, not all but some:

“So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: ‘The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, saying, 'Go to this people and say: "Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; and seeing you will see, and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull.  Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them.”  Therefore let it be known to you that the salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it!’ ” (Acts 28:25-28 NKJV) 

Who had closed the eyes of these Jews who would not see?  Had God done it?  The text says "their eyes they have closed."  Why would a person do that?  Could it be they did not want to see?  Could it be they did not want to know?  Well, why would a person not want to see or not want to know?  Could it be because he or she was happy and satisfied with where they were at and had no desire to change, did not want change?

But this was not the first time the Jews had done such a thing.  Zechariah in talking about the Jews before the Babylonian captivity said of them, "They refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear.  Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit." (Zech. 7:11-12 NKJV)  It was not a matter of they couldn't hear but rather that they wouldn't hear. 

When Paul says the Gentiles "will hear it" (the reference being to the gospel) it is the same as saying to those Jews to whom he was speaking in Rome "you won't hear but they will."  Both could have heard.  The only difference between the two parties was the heart.  The Jewish heart had grown dull.  The New Living Translation uses the word "hardened" rather than the phrase "grown dull."  The Jewish heart had been hardened but it was of their own doing, of their own will.  Man hardens his own heart and we are warned against doing that, "Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." (Heb. 3:15 NKJV)  The Jewish heart was that way because they were happy with their present state of affairs, their present state of being, and hardened against any disruption of what was satisfying to them.  It is hard to get a satisfied person to change. 

One also must remember that the human mind, one’s thinking, is influenced strongly by the emotions and will of man.  The heart the Bible speaks of consists of a man's mind, emotions, conscience, and will collectively (depending on the context).  It is hard for the mind to overcome the emotions.  Many marriages that have failed would never have been made in the first place had the mind ruled over the emotions and will.  Many have been able to see a failed marriage before the ceremony but the bride or groom couldn't see it for the emotions overrode rational thought and the will was strong.  The eyes were deliberately closed.   

This brings me to what I really want to talk about it.  I have recently taken an interest in reading books on the history of Christianity from the first century up to the present.  The most recent book I have completed on the subject was a book by Stephen Tomkins who has a Ph.D. in church history from the London School of Theology.  In his book entitled A Short History of Christianity, copyrighted in 2005, he states on page 245 that "there are 34,000 Christian denominations worldwide."  In doing a little Internet search on the subject of numbers I came up with an even greater number—38,000.  The number you come up with will vary due to the criteria you use to distinguish one denomination from another.

Why is it and how is it that when Jesus said "I will build my church" (singular, Matt. 16:18) and when Paul speaking by the Holy Spirit says "there is one body" (Eph. 4:4 NKJV) and has told us in two different places that the church is the body of Christ (see Eph. 1:22-23 and Col. 1:18) that men seem to think that one is equivalent to thirty some thousand?

How is it we have here in the Bible a plain statement of scripture as plain as anything Paul spoke to the Jews in centuries gone by and yet the eyes are closed today and the ears are hard of hearing and the hearts are grown dull so the plain statement of scripture cannot be understood and all mathematical laws are thrown out the window so that one is no longer equal to one but to thirty some thousand?  Yet, we think we are better than the Jews of old.  We think we are more rational.

Yes, I know the argument that all the thirty-some thousand different denominations make up the one church.  Where do you read that in your Bible?  What book is that in, what chapter, what verse or verses?  It is not in the parable of the vine and the branches as is sometimes said.  That parable is found in John 15.  Jesus was talking to individual disciples not denominations.  There was not a denomination on the face of the earth at that time.  When Jesus said "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5 NKJV) he was not speaking to a phantom that did not exist.

If it be said that the disciples Jesus spoke to at that time were representative of all future believers even though they are scattered throughout all the denominations I deny it.  Why?  Because the disciples Jesus spoke to on that occasion were the 12 apostles and the occasion was the Last Supper (compare Mark 14:17-18 with John 13:1-18:3).  Were the apostles divided in doctrine like the denominations?  It is the disciples united in doctrine, not divided, who are the branches in that account.  It is disciples who are in full fellowship with one another who are the branches, disciples who are unified, not divided.

The one church has one doctrine, not thirty-some thousand different doctrines.  When John, Peter, or Paul, or any of the apostles went anywhere preaching one did not contradict what the other one taught for every one of them was guided in his speech by the Holy Spirit (see Matt. 10:19-20, John 14:16-17, 26, 16:13, Gal. 1:11-12, 2 Tim. 3:16, 1 Cor. 7:40, etc.).  The idea that we have thirty-some thousand faithful denominations all chockfull of saved Christians is the thinking of hearts that have been hardened to the point they can no longer reason rationally.

If denomination A believes one thing, denomination B believes another, and denomination C believes something else and yet I have concluded that a man can be saved in any denomination then the reality is truth no longer matters.  Error is as good as truth for one will be saved either way—by believing and obeying truth or believing and obeying error.  Hardened hearts no longer think rationally.

It is sometimes said that all that really matters is that one believe in Jesus.  That sounds good until you ask people to define what that means.  What does it mean to believe in Jesus?  Does it just mean that all one must do is believe with the mind that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?  That was the confession Peter made in Matt. 16:16 and Jesus said that he would build his church on that rock.  Are all such believers then in the "one church" Jesus built?

If so what do you do with a passage like John 12:42 where John says, "Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue"? (NKJV)  Granted this was before the one church was established on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 but just for the sake of our discussion let us say we have a similar group of men or the same group of men do the same thing after Pentecost.  What then?  They are believers that Christ is the Son of God.  Is that all that matters?  Are they then in the "one church?"  Are they saved?  The failure to confess Jesus is the same as denying him.

I think you can see you have to be very careful in defining what it means to believe in Jesus when you talk about saving faith or belief.  When you begin to define saving faith in stricter terms than just an intellectual faith then you are putting yourself into a position where you are saying that doctrine does make a difference after all and if doctrine does make a difference then you do not and cannot have thirty-some thousand denominations with different doctrines making up the "one church."  The one church most of the denominational world today believes in cannot exist if doctrine matters.  

The same process, for want of a better word, that makes one a Christian also adds him to the one church Jesus built.  God adds you when you obey the gospel.  The Bible says, "The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47 NKJV)

Well, who was being saved?  In Acts 2 in the verses prior to verse 47 (just quoted) we have Peter preaching the first gospel sermon ever to be preached.  It was the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit that had been promised to the twelve (Acts 1:1-5) had arrived, and Peter via the Holy Spirit preached the first gospel sermon ever to be preached by man in which by belief and obedience to it men were saved and added to the one church of which Jesus is the Savior (Eph. 5:23).  Added by the Lord.

What did Peter preach?  He preached Jesus concluding that part of his sermon with the words "God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36 NKJV)  Based on the next verse, verse 37, it is clear men were brought to faith in Christ by what Peter had preached.  Did Peter then tell them their sins had been forgiven and to go on home and henceforth remain faithful?  Had he told them that we could safely conclude the Lord had added them to the one church and that an intellectual faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord and Savior, is all that is required for salvation.  If that is what had happened then the idea that all who believe in Jesus no matter what denomination they are in are in the one church and are saved would be a truthful doctrine but that is not what happened.  He next tells them to "repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38 NKJV)

Here is the point where men who claim to believe in Jesus get their back up and refuse to believe Jesus' words (John 16:13-14) spoken via the Holy Spirit through Peter.  So you have a situation where men supposedly believe in Jesus but won't believe what he says.  That is why I said earlier you have to be very careful about how you define "belief in Jesus."  There is such a thing as belief in Jesus that does not save (see John 12:42 again as just one example).  No one wants that kind of faith.  We are interested in saving faith, in the faith where the Lord adds us to his one church because of our faith.

Men will generally accept what Peter said about repentance as essential for their salvation but not baptism and that despite as plain a statement as one can find in scripture on any subject.  You can point them to other scriptures that say the exact same thing as what Peter said in Acts 2 (Acts 22:16, 1 Peter 3:21, John 3:5, Mark 16:16) but a thousand plain scriptures on the subject will not change their minds.  They have closed their eyes and hardened their hearts.  It will take far more than a few passages on baptism or a few passages on the one church to get them to believe either.  They will only believe "one church" if the number one can somehow be made the equivalent of thirty-some thousand.

I would like to ask a question.  Sometimes we cannot wrap our minds around concepts because the concepts are too big for our finite minds to comprehend and when that happens our defensive mechanism is to cast thoughts about such matters aside.  Here are some examples:  the universe, distances in space, the national debt, our own death, hell, eternity, etc.  These are some things that are hard to grasp hold of.  These are the kinds of things our minds do not dwell on long because they overwhelm the mind.

Now to my question.  Which concept is the hardest for the mind to believe, that there are 30,000 plus churches all of them right and in which any person can be saved in any one of them even though none agree and all teach different doctrines or on the other hand that there is only one church?  I grant you both concepts are kind of mind-boggling.  It is hard to believe there is only one church when the world has such a diversity of churches but is it any harder to believe that than to believe there are 30,000 plus churches all teaching different doctrines and yet it doesn't matter in the least to God and you can be saved in any one of them?  Which is the most outlandish belief?

The Bible does not teach what denominationalism teaches on the subject of the one church.  I include Catholicism as just another denomination.  It is true in the New Testament many of the congregations were not what they ought to be (check out the 7 churches of Asia for both the good and the bad).  But, this much they all had in common, in every congregation the membership had obeyed the gospel Jesus taught via the Holy Spirit through Peter (on the Day of Pentecost) or through the other apostles and inspired teachers and prophets and were thus made up of people who were a part of the one church Jesus built.   That is simply not true of modern-day denominationalism.

The doctrine taught by the apostles and inspired prophets and evangelists was a unified doctrine.  Every congregation was to abide in it.  There was no such thing as every man having a church of his choice each differing in doctrine.  It is not man's choice to make when it comes to the church.  It is God's choice and he has said there is but one church.  If that church is not found in your community why not restore it?  You will find the pattern for it in the pages of your New Testament, not in a book on the history of Christianity which is more the history of apostasy than of New Testament Christianity.

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