Clark Stanley stood before a large crowd in 1893. The self-proclaimed Rattlesnake King held a burlap sack in his hand and pulled out his namesake, a live rattlesnake. He sliced into the fanged creature and tossed it into a waiting pot of boiling water. In little time, the fat from the snake rose to the surface. Thus the world was introduced to a concoction that Stanley referred to as Snake Oil. He sold his mixture to the unsuspecting masses and made a considerable amount of money. In 1906 the United States passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in order to protect the consumer from fraudulent claims and potentially harmful concoctions. Stanley’s Snake Oil was inspected and found to have no snake oil present in the mixture. It was a combination of mineral water, cayenne pepper, turpentine, and a little beef fat. Clark Stanley and other copycats that followed gave us a term that is still used today.
A snake oil salesman is someone who offers a solution to a problem, but in reality brings harmful consequences. Snake oil salesmen still abound in the world today peddling their “miracle” cures. Other hucksters operate on a religious level pushing their spiritual hoaxes on the unsuspecting masses. One such spiritual hoax, perhaps the biggest of them all, is that one church is as good as another. The 38,000 plus denominations in this country are a testament to the effectiveness of this hoax. Phrases such as, “All that matters is the crucifixion,” and “We are all headed to the same place, just on different paths” proliferate religious conversations. Is this true? Is a multitude of denominations what God envisioned when He established the church of our Lord? The biblical answer is no.
The situation is made all the more serious when we consider our own mortality and the frailty of life. The Hebrews writer confirmed, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Likewise the brother of our Lord declared, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14). Death is a reality for us all, and how devastating for someone to die in a church that cannot be found in the New Testament. Counter to that John wrote, “Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on…” (Rev. 14:13). How sweet it is to die in a right relationship with God in the one true church. Yet spiritual snake oil salesmen are spreading the error that the church you belong to does not matter. Consider these three important warnings.
Don’t Die In A Church That God Did Not Plan
In his introduction to the church at Ephesus, Paul writes of the wonderful spiritual blessings we have in Christ Jesus. He continues that thought by writing, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4). How comforting to know that church was planned by God before the world was even formed. The church of our Lord was not an afterthought or a “Plan B” but rather a masterfully calculated project from the divine Architect Himself, God.
We see His divine planning in the fact that He had His prophets talking about the church centuries before He established it. Isaiah prophesied of the place of establishment (Jerusalem, Is. 2:1-4), Daniel foretold of the time of establishment in the days of the Roman Empire (Dan. 2:44), and Joel portended the activity of the establishment day which was baptism of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-32). If you are part of a church that wasn’t established under these conditions then you are not a part of the church God planned.
Don’t Die In A Church That Jesus Did Not Build
The Lord speaks to the oneness of the church in His very promise to build said church. He told His apostles, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Consider the possessive nature of the church. Jesus said, “My church.” This eternal truth is seen in the name we carry. We are the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16), that is, the church which belongs to Christ. If you are part of a church that does not honor His name then you are not in a church that He built. Likewise, consider the singleness of the word church. The significance of this cannot be overstated. Jesus did not say that he would establish multiple religions but just one soul saving institution.
To a religious person who has spent years listening to spiritual snake oil salesmen this truth may seem shocking, even arrogant. Yet the Bible is clear on the fact that Jesus only established one church. The Ephesian Christians were taught, “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). Notice that the church is the body of Christ. When we combine these verses with the truth found later in the same book we see the singularity of the church. Paul wrote, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 4:4). Jesus only has one body; therefore, Jesus only has one church.
Don’t Die In A Church Jesus Did Not Die For
Think back to a truth that has already been revealed in this article. Jesus owns the church. He owns it because He bought it. Acts 20:28 reveals, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” He paid the price for the church when He died for the church. That blood He used is the same blood in which we in the church have been washed (Rom. 6:3-6). Those in denominations (churches not built by Jesus) have no access to that soul saving blood. How sad to die in a state of separation from Jesus. This is the fate of all those who have not been added (Acts 2:47) to the one true church that Jesus died to save.
Snake Oil promised to cure many ailments. It pledged to fix your rheumatism, sciatica, toothaches and sore throats. It did not fulfill its guarantee. Denominationalism promises to send you to heaven. It won’t. It is spiritual snake oil. Please do not let a huckster convince you that there is more than one true church.
Jon is the preacher for the Lord’s church in Atlanta, TX. He is a 2002 graduate of the Southwest School of Bible Studies in Austin, TX. He and his wife, Holly, are the parents of three children.