Does the Church One Attends Make Any Difference?
People have debated many foolish questions. In the Middle Ages, for instance, theologians debated the following:
- What shape are Gabriel’s wings?
- Are there any angels with baritone voices?
- Did Pilate use soap when he washed his hands?
- Could Christ have changed Himself into a devil or a pumpkin?
- How much wine did guests drink at the wedding in Cana?
- Could an egg laid on Passover be eaten?
People in our generation also waste time on questions that do not make any difference in how we live or where we will go when we die. Such speculations often create controversy, disillusion, contention, and hurt feelings. Paul said to “avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain” (Titus 3:9).
However, it is also possible to dismiss important questions as if they were trivial. The question at hand is one of those. Some dismiss it as irrelevant, but the existence of Christ’s church on the earth makes all the difference. No one faces a more crucial question than “Can I be certain that I am a member of the church which Jesus built?”
Let’s consider this from a common sense perspective.
When it comes to religion, God does not want us to close our eyes, disengage our intellects, and take a jump into irrationality. Christianity is a reasonable religion (Romans 12:2), so we should be able to give a reasonable answer to a reasonable question (1 Peter 3:15). Paul reasoned with Governor Felix of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come (Acts 24:25).
“Come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). We do not take the “it does not matter” approach in other areas. When it comes to destination, does it make any difference which plane we board at the airport? When it comes to family, does it make any difference which wife we take home from the party or which child we pick up at school? When it comes to health, does it make any difference if a pharmacist gives us a heart medicine, a pain reliever, a laxative, or a psychotic medication?
Imagine that you are a big fan of the Alabama or Auburn football team. Before the season you stand in a long line and pay a princely sum for tickets to the Alabama/Auburn game at season’s end. All year you look forward to that game. Finally the day comes. You get up early, put on your team colors, pack a tailgate lunch, get all your friends together, and start for the stadium. Does it make any difference which stadium? Can you go to the local high school field and see the Alabama/Auburn game? Can you go to Legion Field in Birmingham or the Compton Bowl in Montgomery at kickoff time and see it? No, the game will either be in Bryant/Denny in Tuscaloosa or Jordan Hare on the plains.
God has often limited salvation to a chosen “stadium” (location).
- Did Noah’s family have a choice of which ark to enter? (Genesis 6). No, all those outside the ark perished.
- Did Rahab’s family have a choice of which house in which to seek refuge? (Joshua 2). No, all those in other houses died.
- Did Naaman have a choice of rivers in which to cleanse his leprosy? (2 Kings 5:1–14). No, Abana and Pharphar would not have worked.
- Did the snake-bit Israelites have a choice of which brazen serpent to look upon? (Numbers 21:4–9). No, no other statue could cure the effects of the poison in their bodies.
Today God has located salvation in the New Testament church. It is true that a man can be saved outside of any denomination, but he cannot be saved outside of the undenominational church Jesus purchased with His blood and built in the days of the apostles (Matthew 16:18; Acts 2:47; 20:28). According the Scripture, the church is local (1 Corinthians 1:2; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12) and universal (Matthew 16:18; Colossians 1:18), and nothing in between. Where does a denomination fit? It is too large to be local, and too small to be universal. The denominational concept is without scriptural backing (John 17:20-21; 1 Corinthians 1:10; cf. Psalm 122:1).Denominations confuse instead of unite (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:33). They teach conflicting
- Plans of salvation;
- Ways of worship; and
- Moral and ethical behaviors.
Paul wrote that salvation is found in Christ’s body, which is His church: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” Also, “Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body . . . Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 1:7; 5:23–25). Note that Jesus is the Savior of “the body” (singular). He purchased only one church (Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 1:18) which makes sense since He has only one bride, and the church and the bride are two figures for the same entity (Romans 7:4; 2 Corinthians 11:2–3).
One might say, “But Christ is the vine and denominations are the branches.” John 15:1–5 does teach that Christ is the vine, but the branches are individual Christians, not organizations. Read carefully what Jesus said to His disciples: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me . . .” (15:5–7). Every branch takes the name of the trunk—pear branches are not found on an apple trunk. If Jesus is the vine, then the branches are Christians. Again, Jesus said, “I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (John 15:16).
Another ventures, “Going to heaven is like going from here to New York. There are many different roads that end up at the same destination.” This is true for some places, but not for other destinations. For instance, I live on a dead-end street. If one wants to visit me, there is only one road to take. Jesus said this is true of His house, too: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13–14; cf. Proverbs 14:12; John 14:6).
Let’s consider this topic from an authority perspective.
When it comes to choosing a church, most people base a decision on
- Church building proximity/nice facilities,
- Tradition/parental influence,
- Friends/social aspects,
- Personality fit (intellectual, emotional, entertaining),
- Programs (Bible school, daycare, youth group, singles),
- Prestige (prestigious membership, well-known minister),
- Easy doctrine (little demand for change of lifestyle).
They do not give a thought to the possibility that a church with a sign out front and a preacher up front could be operating without a license. It could be a rogue church that God does not even consider His at all. As Samuel told Jesse about his older sons, “God has not chosen these” (cf. 1 Samuel 16:10).
God approves His Son’s church—and only that one. It is the only one He ever authorized for construction on Planet Earth. If Christ’s church does not exist today, then no church has divine approval. If it does, then no other has divine approval.
Jesus is the only one who had a right to build a church for two reasons:
- All authority belongs to Christ (Matthew 28:18; cf. 7:21–23; Mark 9:7; Acts 3:22–23; Ephesians 1:20–21; 1 Timothy 6:15). The Bible authorizes man to do many things, but it never commands any person to establish a new kind of church. Since we are forbidden to act without authority in religious matters (Colossians 3:17), any man-made church violates God’s will and can never gain His acceptance—no matter how many centuries pass, how much money is collected, or how many members sign up.
- Christ is the only one who can afford a church. Jesus had the church’s purchase price in hand, and He was willing to spend it (Ephesians 5:23, 25). The purchase price was the blood of an innocent human, and He spent it on the cross (Acts 20:28). Even if a man were willing to die for a church he started, his blood would not be a sinless offering, as Christ’s was (1 Peter 1:18–19).
Human churches can have no salvation in them, since men who cannot save themselves surely cannot save others. God’s weeping prophet wrote, “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23; cf. Psalm 127:1). Jesus, another “weeping Prophet,” said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13).
Let’s consider this topic from a biblical perspective.
Does the New Testament ever tell us to join the church of our choice?
- Matthew wrote the first twenty-eight chapters of the New Testament. Nowhere did the former publican ever charge anyone at anytime to attend the church of his choice. He did, however, record Jesus’ promising to build His church (Matthew 16:18).
- Mark penned one New Testament book of sixteen chapters. At no time did he ever advise anyone to join the church or synagogue of his own choice. He did, though, record Jesus’ words to go preach the gospel to every creature, and to baptize believers for the remission of sins (Mark 16:15–16).
- Luke, the beloved physician, penned two books of the New Testament—Luke and Acts—and by volume wrote more of the New Testament than any other man. In these combined fifty-two chapters he never counseled anybody to attend the church of his choice. He did, however, record the apostle’s preaching to be added to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:38–47). In that section, he also noted that the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). Luke recorded that the early church was “one” (Acts 4:32), and—tellingly—never suggested any multiple, “Christian” denominations in his inspired church history.
- John wrote five New Testament books—John, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation—which contain an even fifty chapters. Yet the Apostle of Love at no time commanded anybody to attend the church of his choice. He did, however, record that Jesus spoke of the time when His people would be “one flock” (John 10:16) as well as His prayer for the abiding unity of that flock (John 17:20–21). John also spoke of withholding fellowship for any not abiding “in the doctrine of Christ” (2 John 1:9–11). He wrote that one must not add to or take from God’s Word (Revelation 22:18–19).
- Paul wrote fourteen New Testament books (if we include Hebrews), and they contain an even one hundred chapters. Yet at no time did Paul ever charge anybody to join the church of his choice. He did, however, speak of “the body, the church” and noted that there is one body (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 4:4). He wrote of the unity that was to compose God’s people: “same mind,” “same love,” “one accord,” and “one mind” (Philippians 2:2). By contrast, he wrote that the Christians in Rome were to “mark” (be on the lookout for) and turn away from those who were causing divisions “contrary to the teaching” they had learned (Romans 16:17).
- Peter wrote two New Testament epistles consisting of eight chapters. He who initially was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19) never told anybody at anytime in any place to join the church of his choice. He did preach, however, that they should repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
- James and Jude, our Lord’s half-brothers, each wrote one epistle. James’ work has five chapters; Jude’s has one chapter of twenty-five verses. In neither epistle did either advise anybody to attend the church of his choice.1 Jude did, however, instruct us to contend earnestly for the faith, once delivered (Jude 1:3).
The New Testament instead encourages us to accept the church of Christ’s choice (Matthew 16:18). Thus any church established by any other than Christ, any place but Jerusalem, any time other than the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not a safe place to be spiritually.
1 This section adapted from Robert R. Taylor, Jr., Sermons That Save.