This statement is made often by people who hear members of the church advocate for the divinely authorized existence of only one church. It is a statement designed to be extremely controversial. Those who put it in question form usually want a “yes” or “no” answer. They want us to say: “Yes.” If we do, they will turn away in anger, or, they will continue to argue and fight, or, they will seek to shame and embarrass the individual. They want to convince us that we are excluding others. In reality, we are trying to include them in a very special group of people, those who have been redeemed, that is, purchased by the blood of Christ (cf. Acts 20:28).
One question I like to ask individuals when discussing the church is: “Did a church exist in the first century?” Some do not comprehend the importance of the first century, so I ask: “Did a church exist when the apostles lived on the earth?” Most have never contemplated the question. When asked, they do not really know how to respond. They might say: “I guess,” or, “I suppose.” This is not something that is very important to most denominations. They do not teach about the first century church. If they are a little surprised by the question, show them one or two Scriptures that mention the church: “…And the Lord added to the church daily church as should be saved” (Acts 2:47), or, “…And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem…” (Acts 8:1). There is no doubt that church existed. You might inform them that the word “church” is used 80 times in the New Testament. Again, a church existed some two thousand years ago.
This leads to a second question: “What church existed two thousand years ago?” Again, this question often stuns the one to whom it is directed. Why? Because he has never considered it. A church existed in the first century. Which church was it? It was not one denomination that is here today because not one denomination existed until much later. However, during His earthly ministry, Jesus said: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus promised to build His church. Acts 20:28 reveals that it was purchased with His blood: “…to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” Jesus built it. Jesus purchased it. It is His church. It belongs to the Christ. When it was established on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:47), it was the only church that existed. In order to be saved from sin, death, and condemnation, a person had to be a member of that church. If not, why not?
The next consideration involves a choice between true or false. Question: “All denominations that exist today are man-made organizations.” The correct answer to this question is true. They did not exist in the first century. They were founded by men during what is known as the Reformation Movement. Therefore, they cannot be the church of the first century.
Does the church that existed in the first century exist today? Remember Jesus’ words: “…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Nothing, absolutely nothing, could have destroyed the Lords church. The prophets of old declared that “it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44). It must exist today. Where is it? How does one find it? First, he examines the church about which we read in the Bible, the first century church. He looks at its name. He learns about it organization. He comes to understand it doctrine. He studies its worship. He comprehends what a person had to do to become a member of that church. These are what some refer to as “identification marks.” Once these marks are understood, a person then searches all the churches until he finds the true church. It is definitely here. “It shall stand forever.”
Is the church of Christ that church? Those who are members of it believe that it is. We believe that we meet the identification marks of that church about which we read in the Bible. Since the church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33), we wear only His name. In Romans 16:16, Paul wrote: “…The churches of Christ salute you.” In order to enter this church, we exhort men and women to do only what those on the day of Pentecost did. They heard Peter’s words (Acts 2:22). They were pricked in their hearts, “and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter’s answer is the same one we give men today. “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38). Some of those that heard Peter that day, obeyed (Acts 2:41). Having obeyed, they were saved (Mark 16:16). Those saved individuals were added by the Lord to His church (Acts 2:47). He still does the same thing for the saved today. These are just two of the identification marks of the church. We could discuss others as well.
When Paul wrote to the church as Ephesus, he set forth in one section of that epistle what some refer to as “the seven ones” (Eph. 4:4-6). He opened those “seven ones” with these words: “There is one body…” In Ephesians 1:22-23, he had already revealed what that one body is. It is the church. Thus, there is one church. That is the plain teaching of the New Testament of Jesus Christ. My friends, members of that body are going to Heaven.
Those who deny the teaching and the significance of the one church need to consider some Bible history. In the days of Noah, there was only one ark in which one could be saved. Would they have asked Noah: “So you believe only those on the ark are going to be saved from the flood?” In the days of Moses, only those who were in houses with the two side posts and upper door post covered with blood were going to be saved from the angel of death. Would they have asked Moses: “So you think the Israelites are the only ones who will have their firstborn spared from the tenth plague?” In the days of Joshua, the city of Jericho was destroyed. One house, the house of Rahab was spared. It was spared because it was the only one with a scarlet line in the window (Josh. 2:18-19). Would they have asked Joshua: “So you believe only those in Rahab’s house will be saved?” The answer to these questions would have all been: “Yes.” If a yes answer was given then, why is a yes answer so unusual today? God has always designed a place of salvation for man. Today that place of safety is the church of Christ.
Victor is a graduate of the Memphis School of Preaching, University of Memphis, and Ambridge University. He is married to Kathleen, and they have three children and six grandchildren. He preaches for the Oceanside congregation in Atlantic Beach, FL.