In one of the most powerful, dramatic and profoundly important statements in the Bible, Jesus Christ declared, “I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:18). No matter how one interprets it, this passage speaks of a single church!—one organization! Christ continued, “and the gates of hell [the grave] shall not prevail against it.” He promised that His Church could never be destroyed.
Over 2,000 different professing Christian church organizations have been “built” by men in the United States. Another is started every three days. Estimates place the number of professing Christians at above two billion. While church attendance seems to be increasing, it is not increasing as fast as the confusion surrounding the question of which is the right church.
While it has been said, “They can’t all be wrong,” it is more correct to say, “They cannot all be right.” If Christ built His Church as He said, then it can be found somewhere on Earth today—and it is the only right Church. But we must ask: How do we find it—what do we look for—how do we identify it—how do we know it if we see it?
Traditions of Men
Jesus said, “But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9). In Mark’s parallel account of this statement, He continued, “Full well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition” (7:9).
The world’s Christianity is filled with traditions. One of the largest is the traditional view of the New Testament Church. Most ministers, theologians and religionists typically define the church in this way: “All those who sincerely believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior constitute the true church.” This is often followed with the familiar statement, “There are many routes to heaven” or “There are many spokes on the wheel of salvation.” Though the Bible does not teach that heaven is the reward of the saved, the clear implication of these is that people can believe what they want, or be a part of any group or organization they choose, and still be Christians—still receive whatever is salvation. While people may sincerely believe these traditional ideas, they are sincerely wrong!
Your Bible declares, “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints [the context shows this refers to all congregations of the true Church, not all organizations of men]” (I Cor. 14:33).
God’s Church (composed of many congregations of saints) is to reflect peace—not confusion. You need not be confused about the identity of the true Church. God commands, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (I Thes. 5:21). While this certainly refers to scriptural matters (not the car you drive or house you buy), it does say “ALL things,” not “some things,” should be proven! Surely God would not exclude something of such magnitude—such vital importance—as the matter of where His Church is found. And He would never emphatically tell people to prove things that cannot be proven!
A Persecuted Little Flock
When speaking to His disciples about the importance of seeking the kingdom of God, Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). By no stretch can churches comprised of millions, let alone over two billion, be considered a “little flock.”
Christ understood that His Church—His little flock—would be persecuted and despised by the world. Just before His crucifixion, He warned, “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). In the previous verse in the context, Jesus had reminded His disciples that “I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” Christ was persecuted, to the point of horrible crucifixion after a night of brutal torture. Therefore, the true Church could also expect to be persecuted—and hated! Those in it are not “of the world.” The world senses this and hates them for it (Rom. 8:7). Christ used Paul to record, “Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. 3:12). The word “all” means what it says!
Consider what we have just discussed. How many churches can you name that are small, persecuted, not of this world—and even hated because of it? Think about those with which you are familiar. Do any fit this description? Surely not many!
The Importance of the Name of the Church
The world’s churches have many different names, which are derived in various ways. These include the particular doctrines they teach, the names of the men who founded them, the humanly devised type of church government that they espouse, their location, or their intended scope and size, such as universal or catholic—to be thought of as all-encompassing.
On the night of His betrayal, Jesus prayed for His Church. Here is what He said: “Holy Father, keep through Your own name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one, as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name…I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through Your truth: Your word is truth” (John 17:11-12, 14-17).
There are 12 separate places where the New Testament records that the true Church has been kept in the name of the Father—God. The first five refer to the entire Church, or Body of Christ, as a whole. The next four speak of a specific local congregation, while using the same term “Church of God.” This may refer to the Church of God at Judea or Corinth, etc. The final three references speak collectively of all the individual local congregations combined. All these references use the term “Churches of God”:
(1) Acts 20:28: This verse is instruction to the elders to “feed the church of God.”
(2) I Corinthians 10:32: “Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.”
(3) I Corinthians 11:22: “…or despise you the church of God, and shame them that have not?”
(4) I Corinthians 15:9: Paul wrote the same thing to two congregations: “For…I persecuted the church of God.”
(5) Galatians 1:13: “I persecuted the church of God.”
(6) I Corinthians 1:2: “the church of God which is at Corinth.”
(7) II Corinthians 1:1: “the church of God which is at Corinth.”
(8) I Timothy 3:5: Paul references any elder in a local congregation: “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?”
(9) I Timothy 3:15: “…behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.” This verse adds a descriptive word to God by using the term “living.”
(10) I Corinthians 11:16: “…We have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”
(11) I Thessalonians 2:14: “For you…became followers of the churches of God which in Judea are in Christ Jesus.”
(12) II Thessalonians 1:4: “So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God.”
In the modern age, for corporate reasons, the Church uses an additional descriptive name to distinguish itself from other “Churches of God”—those merely appropriating God’s name, but not obeying His commandments, believing His true doctrines or doing His Work. Herbert W. Armstrong, the twentieth-century leader of the Church, chose the name Worldwide Church of God and before that, Radio Church of God. Successor to the Church led by Mr. Armstrong, we have chosen the name The Restored Church of God.
Just as various mainstream denominations may have a few correct doctrines mixed with much error, some appropriate to themselves the name of God’s Church. But only one Church on the face of the Earth has the correct name and teaches all the additional many true doctrines that the Bible teaches! Recall that Christ prayed, “Sanctify them through Your truth: Your word is truth.” The Church that Jesus directs and guides is sanctified—set apart—by its belief of the plain truth of God’s Word!
In addition to carrying the name “Church of God,” we have seen that the true Church has come out of the world, is small and persecuted, even to the point of being hated by it. This Church is then also set apart by its beliefs and practices—which are in complete agreement with the truth of the Bible!
Unified Through God’s Word
Men have their own differing definitions of what the Church actually is, but only the Bible definition—God’s definition—matters. Read it for yourself. Paul wrote this to Timothy: “…that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15). In the end, no other definition, devised by men, is acceptable. This definition of the Church Christ built will guide us throughout the remainder of this chapter. God’s Church has and teaches “the truth.” While most never consider or hear about it, this verse has always existed.
We have discussed how this world’s churches are in confusion, divided by endless disagreement over doctrine and practice. Amos 3:3 asks, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” The answer is NO!
This world’s churches do not practice the principle of “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4), exactly as written. Instead, since they follow the many differing traditions of men, endless disagreements separate, divide and create more and more churches of men. They do not “walk together,” generally because they do not “agree”—either with each other or God!
God’s Church is different. Many New Testament verses show that the Church Christ built is unified—with all its members and congregations walking together in complete agreement with each other, and with God and Christ.
An important point, demonstrating the unity of the true Church, emerges from Christ’s same prayer in John 17, on the night of His betrayal. He prayed, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also might be sanctified [set apart] through the truth…That they all may be one; as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that You have sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, even as We are one: I in them, and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them, as You have loved Me” (vs. 19, 21-23).
These are powerful statements! Christ intended that His Church be unified—“one”—no less than were He and His Father! There is no room for disagreement in a Church that is this unified. These verses describe a perfect oneness through right (true) teachings—the same kind of oneness that the Father and Christ enjoy. It is this kind of unity that allows true Christians to be “in” them—be in Christ and the Father (vs. 21).
Even in the Old Testament, David was inspired to record, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psa. 133:1).
We now must examine several New Testament passages to see if, in fact, this kind of wonderful unity was apparent after the New Testament Church actually formed. Did God’s true servants teach and administer this kind of agreement? And how is that unity achieved?
First, notice this early picture of God’s Church. On the day of Pentecost, gathered in “one accord” (Acts 2:1), when the New Testament Church came into existence, 3,000 converts were baptized. They formed the very beginning of Christ’s building of His Church. The initial description given was “…and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship” (vs. 42), “…all that believed were together” (vs. 44) and “…they, continuing daily with one accord…did eat their meat [food] with gladness and singleness of heart” (vs. 46). From these verses, we clearly see that the Church Christ built was unified—in agreement—over doctrine, and together. Notice verse 47: “And the Lord added to the Church daily such as should be saved.”
In the Church Jesus guides and directs, He is the One who adds to it—He builds it!
Only One Organization
The New Testament speaks of the Church of God as the same thing as the “Body of Christ.” This introduces remarkable understanding.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul recorded that the Church had many separate members (individual brethren), and this was likened to various parts of the human body, in that these members were connected. A careful study of chapter 12 brings this truly extraordinary understanding. Verses 12 to 14 state, “For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…For the body is not one member, but many.”
When one is converted—has repented, been baptized and received the Holy Spirit—this verse reveals that he has actually been placed into the Body of Christ as well as into the Church of God.
Many have been confused by what this means. In other words, exactly what is the Church or Body of Christ into which one has been baptized? When Jesus Christ walked the Earth, His preaching of the gospel and other teachings, and all the miracles and works that He did, were done through and from His physical body. Of course, after crucifixion and burial, Christ’s body was later resurrected as Spirit, before ascending to heaven, requiring that His work and preaching be transferred to another entity, His Church—which Scripture makes plain that Jesus Christ still considers to be His “Body” continuing on Earth what He started.
The context of I Corinthians 12 then uses the analogy of hands, feet, eyes, ears and the mouth to show how different parts of a human body (Christ’s body was once human) are connected within the same person. Paul continues, “But now has God set the members every one of them in the body, as it has pleased Him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body” (vs. 18-20).
The Popular Belief
The “Christian” world teaches that the Body of Christ—Jesus’ Church—consists of many denominations, fellowships or communities of believers, said to all be connected by the Holy Spirit working in believers wherever they are affiliated. (Many, many sources attest to this popular thinking.) But this is totally contrary to what the Bible teaches about the Body of Christ. This substitute idea—a very clever counterfeit!—asserts, in effect, that Christ and His Body are divided among many groups or organizations. We will see that this is not true.
I Corinthians 12 cannot be “spiritualized away” by human reasoning. It does not describe an amorphous, disconnected, “spiritual” body of disagreeing people and organizations throughout professing Christianity. Any foot, eye or ear that is taken from a human body dies! No severed body part can live for very long without blood supply and the connective tissue necessary to secure it to the body. God created the human body, so He obviously understands the analogy that He inspired.
Further Meaning of “Body”
For additional proof of the meaning of body, consider two additional scriptures, written to two separate congregations under Paul’s leadership.
Notice his statement to the Colossian congregation: “And He [Christ] is the head of the body, the Church” (1:18). Now see again the first of Paul’s instruction to the Ephesian congregation. Speaking of what God placed under Christ’s control, Paul wrote, “…and gave Him [Christ] to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body” (1:22-23). The Bible definition of the Body of Christ is the Church! They are the same.
Further, in chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul went on to admonish the brethren there to be “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body [Church], and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” (vs. 3-6). Again, there must be no confusing the all-encompassing unity and agreement that this verse requires of God’s people. Recall how Christ prayed for this kind of oneness and unity.
A few verses later, Paul described the importance of a faithful and true ministry, actively working with and teaching Christ’s Church. Carefully read and comprehend the following lengthy, important passage:
“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (vs. 11-16).
Type of Christ’s Human Body
The Church is a type of Christ’s own physical Body when He was on Earth and, as its Head, He governs, directs and builds it, adding to it daily (Acts 2:47). The above verses describe that Body as being unified in both doctrinal truth and love. In phrase after phrase, this passage demonstrates that the entire Church (“whole body” and “every part”) must be walking together in complete doctrinal agreement under Christ’s authority. And He works through His true ministers to keep the Church from drifting into “every wind of doctrine.”
The New Testament Temple of God
We cannot leave the subject of the Body of Christ until another vitally important connection to all that the Church is becomes clear. The New Testament Church of God, which we have seen to be the same as the biblical Body of Christ, is also described as the “temple of the Lord.” There are a number of New Testament passages that make this plain, and they are crucial to understand. Recognize that in the Old Testament the magnificent physical temple (first built by Solomon, and later rebuilt by Zerubbabel, with a still later renovation by Herod) was the place where God dwelled. Everyone understood this. The Old Testament Temple, as we will see with the New, was also often referred to as the “House of the Lord.”
The term “temple” is used in a host of contexts throughout the New Testament. This word appears literally scores of times through the gospels and epistles of Paul, as well as in various places in the book of Revelation, usually there referring to the Temple of God around God’s throne in the third heaven.
The English word “temple” generally derives from three separate Greek words that can correctly be translated as “temple.” These are oikos (oy’ kos): “a dwelling, by implication a family home, household or temple”—hieron (hee-er-on’): “a sacred place, that is, the entire precincts of the temple (at Jerusalem or elsewhere)”—and naos (nah-os’): “a feign shrined temple—the central sanctuary itself.”
Let’s examine passages that remove all doubt about what—more correctly, who—is the Temple of God today.
John 2:19-21 is the place to start, and it was quoted earlier in a different setting. It offers important proof that the Body of Christ is the same as the Temple of God. As you read, realize that Christ’s words are the Bible interpreting the Bible, and they provide the best introduction to the subject of the New Testament Temple. Note especially the final part of the passage: “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building [the renovated second temple built after Solomon’s had been destroyed], and will you rear it up in three days? But He spoke of the temple of His body.”
If you have come to understand that Christ’s “body” is also His “temple”—and that the “temple” is “His body”—obviously the same as the term “Body of Christ”—you cannot get confused. All you must do is take Jesus’ words at face value. The Bible will continue to be seen to interpret itself. As you read, recognize that you are receiving astonishing understanding known to but the tiniest few alive on Earth today!
What Paul Recorded
Paul recorded much more than any other biblical writer about the New Testament Temple. Let’s start with his foundational statement in Ephesians 2:19-21: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord.”
He also wrote this to the Corinthians: “For we are laborers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (I Cor. 3:9).
Note this. Unlike the custom of today’s English, the King James translators carefully used “ye” whenever the intent was plural and “you” when it was singular. The ye here means all of the Ephesians and all of the Corinthians, or thus the whole Church, collectively. It will become clearer as we proceed that individual members are not the Temple of God, but rather the entire Church as a whole comprises the Temple.
We will later come to understand how the Bible describes—the specific term that it uses for—individuals within that Temple. It cannot be overstressed that this is supremely important understanding for all who seek to serve God in the manner and in the place that He requires.
A few verses later in I Corinthians 3 Paul added this: “Know ye not that ye are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in ye? If any man defile the Temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the Temple of God is holy, which Temple ye are” (vs. 16-17).
Placed together, these verses reveal that God sees His people—the true Church—as both His Building and His Temple. Understand that God is building a Temple—or a House. Almost identical, I Corinthians 6:19 does add a little more, making clear how serious it is if those called of God treat lightly the incredible privilege it is to have God dwelling in them—if God’s people do not conduct themselves in a manner that reflects this.
But the second epistle to the Corinthians adds significantly more understanding. Let’s notice: “And what agreement has the Temple of God with idols? for ye [notice the plural pronoun is used throughout] are the Temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (6:16).
The last part of this passage is a quote from Leviticus 26:12. Its use here demonstrates God has always planned—“has said” from the beginning—that His Church, those in whom He would in the future personally dwell, would be the greatest—truly the most glorious—temple of all. Realize that Leviticus was recorded long before either Solomon’s or Zerubbabel’s temple was built.
There is a powerful message for everyone in the preceding verses leading up to verse 16 quoted above. For those who desire to be in God’s Temple, there exists no room—none!—for doctrinal compromise with any of the false, pagan teachings of counterfeit Christianity—summarized as “unrighteousness” and “darkness” (vs. 14). Christians are to “touch not the unclean thing” (vs. 17)—anything that is sin.
Pause to read 14 and 15. Then take the time to read each phrase in Ephesians 5:6-11, followed by verses 23 and 30. The first group of verses condemns all compromise with every form of unrighteousness. The latter two verses tie Christ as Head of “the Church” to those in it being what He considers the individual “members of His Body, of His flesh, and of His bones.”
Let this understanding of exactly what it means to be in the Body of Christ sober you!
Church, Body and Temple—Three Critical Verses
One final proof (there are several others) that the Church of God, the biblical Body of Christ, the Temple or House of God are the exact same thing is understood by carefully comparing three additional passages in Paul’s epistles. Follow very closely the incredible connection between these important verses.
Do not miss what they reveal!
Let’s begin by returning to I Timothy 3:15. This crucial but we saw largely ignored bedrock passage provides the New Testament definition of the true Church of God. Notice the Church is also there called “the house of God…the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (Take more than a passing interest in the fact that this verse directly ties the Church to where “the truth” is—not “some of the truth” or “much of the truth” or even “most of the truth”—and certainly not “truth mixed with error”—but rather simply “THE TRUTH”!)
Then, get clear in your mind that the Church is called “the house of God.” (It is also more than interesting that this is virtually the same term used from the beginning regarding Solomon’s Temple—which was generally referred to as the “House of the Lord,” or “God’s House,” as in I Kings 6:37-38.)
We saw that Jesus taught in Matthew that a “house divided…shall not stand” (12:25). Why also do those who teach the New Testament Church is scattered among many organizations never reference this verse? Christ went on to explain that even the devil realizes his “kingdom” cannot survive divided.
Surely Jesus is at least as wise as the devil!
Also recall that in Ephesians 2:19-21 Paul called the Temple of the Lord a “building fitly framed together.” Here is the point not to be missed. Later, in chapter 4 of Ephesians, he said almost the identical thing about the Body of Christ. Notice: “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted [I Corinthians 12:24 adds “tempered…together”] by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part…” (vs. 16).
The phrases translated “fitly framed together” and “fitly joined together” derive from the exact same Greek word sunarmologeo. It means “to render close-jointed together, i.e. organized compactly, be fitly framed (joined) together (in the sense of laying).” Paul obviously had the same thing in mind whether he was discussing the Church, the Temple (or House of God) or the Body of Christ.
Sunarmologeo offers truly fascinating meaning. The beginning and last portions of the definition—“render close-jointed” and “together (in the sense of laying)”—carry the obvious meaning of laying individual bricks or stones that are mortared or put “close-jointed” beside each other (“together”) as one would lay them in rows within a building. (Take a moment to re-read Acts 2:42-47, where the first 3,000 baptized into the New Testament Church were bound together in all that they did.)
Since we saw that the Temple is also called God’s “building,” there is no possible way to read these passages and conclude that the true Church of God could be anything other than one undivided organization—a single building! Do not let anyone tell you that God’s Temple (and Christ’s Body) is anything less than this! His Building cannot be “spiritualized away”—as do professing Christian ministers with every doctrine in God’s Word—into a “temple” that is ill-defined, disconnected, amorphous—and meaningless.
Now let’s look more closely at what are the “bricks” or “stones” used in building—exactly what or who it is that lies together “close-jointed.” At this point the knowledge presented in this chapter becomes personal.
An Astonishing Passage in I Peter!
The apostle Peter put an exclamation point—a capstone if you will—on all that Paul wrote about the New Testament Temple.
This first of his general epistles declares this to what would include all true Christians through the ages: “If so be ye [plural again] have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To Whom coming, as unto a living stone [referring to Christ], disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively [living] stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices [on God’s altar], acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on Him shall not be confounded” (I Pet. 2:3-6).
It is obvious the living stones (Christ being the Chief Corner Stone) are the individual Christians in the Temple lying “close-jointed” or “fitly framed” together. And note that it was only the priests who could enter and serve in Solomon’s Temple (II Chron. 23:6). Also, it is important to recognize that verse 5 should carry the stronger rendering of the positive command “be ye [BE YE!] also living stones,” as is found in the margin of many Bibles.
This is absolutely incredible understanding, for those able to receive it. Get it firmly in mind before continuing. Everyone who wishes to receive God’s Spirit should give much more than mere pause in determining whether they will fulfill this meaning—will obey what is a command!
Peter wrote more, and understanding cannot be complete without it: “Unto you therefore which believe He is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the Stone which the builders disallowed [or “rejected”], the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (vs. 7-9).
The world has never been willing to accept the true Jesus Christ! Neither will they accept the Church He built—and is still building. They “stumble” at His doctrines, and reject—“disallow”—Him as the Head of the Church—any Church. In His place they have brought a cold, dead Jesus (called “another Jesus”) on a cross, who brings dead understanding (empty pagan doctrines), and who builds dead churches out of dead stones!
Most will not hold precious the true Jesus Christ of the Bible. Neither will they hold to His teachings (of course, most will not even study them). They will not yield to His government. Neither will they come to His Church, nor support the Work of that Church. And they will not permit Him to head their lives—and build them into His House. Blind to their actions, they keep themselves outside the Temple that He is constructing. They have unwittingly chosen not to be placed next to the “living stones” with which He is building.
Get this. If God is calling you, you will be judged on this knowledge! The apostle Peter also said two chapters later: “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God” (4:17).
The Church has long understood that the “House of God” is His Church. By now you know this is the same as saying “His Temple”—of which you may be called to be a “living stone,” one “closely joined” with all the others in God’s unified “Building.”
Why will most people not accept that God’s Church—the Body of Christ—His House or Temple—is obviously one, undivided organization ruled by Jesus Christ as Head under the government of God—and doing His Work?
What could be more important for you to understand than these points? What could be more important to you than allowing yourself to be placed by Christ into the Temple—into the “House of God”—recognizing that it is being judged?
What could be more important to you than capturing the basic, but all-important, knowledge, never understood by Christendom, that “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psa. 127:1)? There is but one House God could have had in mind here, the one He planned long before the Psalms were recorded. Regarding the churches of men, how could their founders think they could build their own “houses” and that the all-powerful, living Jesus Christ would submit to their lead, and follow them, instead of the other way around?
And how could so many millions blindly help them build?
Why Many Groups?—Some History!
The next two sections form related insets, the first to help the reader understand why the supposed Christian world has so many differing churches.
The universal church, centered at Rome, and teaching the false doctrine of the trinity, has always taught that the Body of Christ was solely composed of those within that church. Even though the Roman church taught doctrines that were almost entirely the tradition of men, their understanding that Christ led one undivided, organized spiritual Body, identified in a single Church, was largely correct. Their error was connecting this key doctrine to themselves instead of to the true Church of God, led by the true Jesus Christ (II Cor. 11:4).
Let’s understand this by tying together several critical elements that clarify the thinking of the Protestant Reformers. When they rebelled against Rome, they were obviously no longer part of that church, and thus had departed from what they previously believed to have been the sole Body of Christ. They knew that Paul taught, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body” and “For the body is not one member, but many” (I Cor. 12:13-14).
The entire world of Christendom is able to read this passage, and others, about the Body of Christ. All of these had to be reconciled with the fact that they had now left the Roman church and its authority. But here was their problem: They had to devise a teaching compatible with converts and believers supposedly being truly baptized, but now into a divided, competing and multiplying picture of denominations that is the Protestant world. They had to reconcile the idea of “one Body of Christ” with the reality of eventually hundreds of Protestant denominations—and other groups—with more appearing all the time. They were forced to conclude Christ’s Body is composed of many organizations, denominations, fellowships and “communities of believers.”
But this is utterly false!
Built Upon Which Rock?—Peter the First Pope?
When the Protestant Reformers rejected Rome’s authority, they were simultaneously rejecting the rule of popes over the church. Also as an inset, let’s briefly return to Matthew 16:18—where Christ said, “I will build My Church”—this time examining His statement to Peter following it.
Let’s first read: “And I say also unto you, That you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
This verse is the single bedrock scripture to Catholic theology regarding the supposed authority of popes, who are said to derive their position directly from Christ’s supposed empowerment of Peter, and thus his successors in an unbroken line ever since. Over a billion Catholics today, and generations before them, have been taught that the passage designates Peter as the first pope. The verse simply does not say this, and the reader needs to understand what it does say—what Christ meant by His statement.
Breaking down the important Greek words within this passage makes it easier to understand:
Peter comes from the Greek word petros, meaning a piece of rock, but either bigger or smaller than a stone. (Note that the Greek word for stone is lithos, essentially meaning a medium-sized rock.) The Greek word for Rock is petra, which means a mass of rock, usually very large.
Let’s carefully examine and understand. Verse 13 mentions that Christ was speaking at Caesarea Philippi. It is significant that He chose this site to speak of His Church! Here is why.
This city is in the far north of today’s Israel, about 25 miles north of Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee. Located at the foot of Mt. Hermon, it is where one of the three main branches of the Jordan River originates. The area is very beautiful. I have been there.
A Key—Where Christ Was Speaking
Standing on the spot where Christ delivered these words, you would see the following: Immediately above where the river springs from the base of a cliff is a massive rock outcropping that dominates the topography. Its presence towers over the landscape. None who were present when Christ spoke these words could possibly have believed He was talking about building His Church on Peter, whom He compared to a little rock. The enormous physical size of the rock looming directly over Christ’s head reinforced His message that He was building the Church on a giant Rock—HIMSELF! This is, no doubt, why He picked this setting to utter His words in Matthew 16:18 to His disciples, and to Peter.
In effect, Christ was saying that Peter was a small rock. On the other hand, Jesus Christ is the large rock, or foundation stone of the Church that He built. Christ is actually distinguishing between the two. Proof that the mass of rock is Christ can be found in I Corinthians 10:4, Ephesians 2:20 and Matthew 7:24.
Understand that Christ is the great Rock upon which the Church is built. This verse is absolutely not saying that Peter is either that massive rock or that the Church is built on him. I Corinthians 3:11 shows there can be only one foundation (Christ), not two. Obviously, this applies to Peter’s role. Ephesians 4:11-12 explains that apostles (Peter, Paul, John, etc.) were in offices that Christ established to serve His Church. Collectively, with the prophets, they form part of the Church’s foundation—alongside Christ (Eph. 2:20).
Think of Jesus as having complimented Peter. Then there is this: If He had established him as the first (and infallible) pope, how could Peter almost immediately have fallen into what Christ labeled a satanic attitude in the very next verses of Matthew 16 (vs. 21-23)? Take a moment to read them. Would such an attitude be possible for one who was spiritually infallible? Also, there is this question: How could Peter have later denied Christ three times?
Here are ten proofs that Peter was probably never even in Rome—and therefore could not have been the first pope:
(1) Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 15:16; Gal. 2:7) not Peter. Rome was a Gentile city.
(2) The Emperor Claudius had banished all Jews from Rome in AD 50 (also see #9 below).
(3) Peter went to Babylon—in Mesopotamia (I Pet. 5:13).
(4) Paul would never have written what he did in Romans 1 (the book was written in AD 55), verses 11 and 15—clear insults to Peter if he had been faithfully serving there for 13 previous years (from AD 42), particularly if it had been as pope. Actually, a “Peter,” Simon Magus (see the account in Acts 8), was there. It was this Simon (not Simon Peter) who was the Pater (or Peter), which means “a father.” (Paternity and patriarch come from this word.) Simon Magus was already by this time the leading figure in the early apostate church at Rome.
(5) Romans 15:20: The apostle Paul declared that he would not preach (or write) upon any other man’s foundation. Yet, Paul wrote the letter to the Romans. Thus, Peter could not have laid the foundation of the Roman congregation.
(6) Romans 16 contains 30 different salutations, yet Peter, again, supposedly the resident “pope” there, was not greeted by Paul. Think of what a grievous slight this would have been had he been present. Paul’s epistle did not even acknowledge Peter.
(7) Galatians 1:18-19 and 2:7 demonstrate that Peter was based at Jerusalem, from where he periodically traveled to places like Bithynia, Northern Galatia and Babylon, and other places where Israelites (also see #9) had migrated, from AD 38 to AD 49—the dates of these events described in Galatians.
(8) Notice Luke 22:24. Related to these points, if Peter was already designated to be the future pope, why did the disciples argue among themselves about which of them was the greatest?
(9) Galatians 2:7 reveals that Peter took the gospel to “the circumcision”—the Jews, and the other tribes of Israel, referenced in #7. (See Matthew 10:5-6.)
(10) II Timothy 4:10-11 mentions that Paul wrote from Rome and records that “only Luke is with me”—obviously this eliminates Peter.
Although not the subject of this chapter, Peter was, in fact, the leading apostle in the early New Testament Church, but he simply was not the first pope and certainly did not even live in Rome.
A great deal can be learned by examining Paul’s instructions to various other congregations he was overseeing. He continually stressed unity and oneness within the true Church of God.
The Corinthian congregation had many problems—including terrible division and disunity. Early in his letter to this congregation, Paul strongly admonished them to stop entertaining other doctrines and to quit playing favorites with ministers. Notice: “Now I beseech you, brethren…that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment…Now this I say, that every one of you says, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas [Peter]; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided?” (I Cor. 1:10, 12-13).
Do not miss the intent of this passage. Paul was inspired to describe, in five distinct and different ways, how completely all of God’s people in every age should be unified and in agreement. These verses also cannot be “spiritualized away” by deceptive human reasoning.
Where in this passage does Jesus give license for multiple organizations—“churches”—to appear in His name? Where in this description is there room for hundreds, even thousands, of divided, competing groups, in disagreement over teachings—and diminished in the all-important impact in taking the gospel announcement of the kingdom of God (Matt. 24:14) and Christ’s other teachings to the world (28:19-20)? The answer: Nowhere!
Let’s examine further. Verse 13 begins with the rhetorical question: “Is Christ divided?” The only reason it is not followed with the word “no” or something similar is because the answer is so obvious. Considering what he had just written, Paul knew that the thrust of his question was equivalent to asking, “Is grass green?” or “Is the sky blue?” When people ask rhetorical questions, no one actually responds, because the answer is so obvious. Related to the point here, in Amos 3:3, even the question “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” is left unanswered for the same reason.
It was in this same letter to the Corinthians that Paul had to write, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (14:33), followed by “Let all things be done decently and in order” (vs. 40). Real “decency” and “order” are impossible if God’s Church is divided into many organizations, let alone hundreds or thousands.
Now consider Paul’s admonition to the Philippian congregation: “…stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; and in nothing terrified by your adversaries” (1:27-28). And, “Fulfill you my joy, that you be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (2:2).
These passages teach that complete unity in the Church is the only condition acceptable to God! But there are others.
Paul admonished the Colossians to be “knit together in love, and…the full assurance of understanding,” and “rooted and built up in Him, and established in the faith, as you have been taught” (2:2, 7). There is no misunderstanding the total unity Paul is describing. Brethren walk “together,” assured of the right “understanding” that they “have been taught.” (We already saw how strongly Paul admonished the Ephesian congregation, in numerous ways, to strive for unity.)
The local Roman congregation was experiencing a problem with false doctrines entering the Church. Notice how Paul instructed them to address this: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark [take note of] them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them. For they…by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (16:17-18).
The last passage contains very strong language. It introduces the truth of the biblical doctrine of disfellowshipping (sometimes described as shunning or excommunicating) those who depart from the truth into false doctrines and seek to take others with them, and to divide the Church. This principle demonstrates how important it is to God that His people not stray from the truth into manmade doctrines.
A number of additional scriptures address and amplify this same Bible principle. See Titus 3:10-11, I Corinthians 5:1-8 and I Timothy 6:1-5. Together, these passages represent a vital Bible doctrine that the true Church must practice in order to maintain unity. In addition to ignoring God’s instruction, churches that will not practice this doctrine are full of division, discord and disagreement—which inevitably leads to splits within the church or congregation.
Fulfilling the instruction to disfellowship is neither abusive nor an act of hate! It is actually a form of God’s love being administered to people who have drifted into error—and it is designed to wake them up. At the same time, it protects the remaining brethren in the Church. It certainly requires a greater level of faith—that most find too difficult—to obey God’s instruction to protect the Church in this way. Persecution can result. However, obeying God yields the fruits of peace, joy and unity in the Church (I Cor. 14:33, 40; Prov. 22:10).
The apostle Peter also taught the all-important need for Church unity and oneness. He wrote, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people” (I Pet. 2:9). The four phrases in this verse are in the singular—meaning one, not several, of each term referenced. If a nation is actually split into several or many nations, no one would consider it to be a single nation—it would be multiple nations, not “a” nation. The same is true of God’s Church.
There is but one!
Christ Left No Doubt
Jesus Christ Himself taught the following on the vital importance of unity in the Church. From earlier, it is worth our time to revisit this passage more in-depth:
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand [survive]” (Matt. 12:25). Recall that Paul asked in I Corinthians 1:13, “Is Christ divided?” This is CHRIST’S own answer. His instruction is even more fascinating when the reader considers that He is describing Satan’s kingdom in this account! I repeat: Jesus taught that even the devil is smart enough to know that his kingdom cannot be divided and survive! And I repeat: Surely, the great God of heaven and Jesus Christ are at least as wise as Satan the devil. Of course, they are infinitely wiser! They both understand that their Church also cannot be divided and expect to survive (“stand”).
Consider. Can a divided marriage continue indefinitely? Could even the most powerful company survive if its board of directors were divided? Could a winning professional football or soccer team remain in existence if the coach continually challenged and opposed the decisions, policies and judgment of the corporate leadership and management of the team? Could a school survive if every decision made by the principal was attacked and repudiated by senior teachers on the faculty, and groups of teachers regularly broke away from the school to form another one?
Again, Jesus Christ plainly stated that Satan’s kingdom is unified (Matt. 12:25-26). Why, then, do professing Christians accept the idea that the most important organization on Earth—the Church of God—can be divided into hundreds and thousands of competing, disagreeing denominations? Why do they presume that God cannot “figure out” what even the devil understands?
We are left to ask: How long could God’s people survive in a state that members of a family, a company, a sports team or a school could not begin to endure—and would not even be foolish enough to think they could?
Just before His crucifixion, Jesus gave vital instruction to His disciples. In John 15, He explained the well-known analogy picturing Himself as the “Vine” and individual Christians as “branches” (vs. 5). Here is what He instructed, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches…for without Me you can do nothing” (vs. 4-5).
The obvious purpose of this passage is to explain that individual Christians must be connected to Jesus Christ, meaning to His one, organized, unified Church, to grow—to produce fruit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Read and reread all that you have read so far until it becomes crystal clear in your mind—and until it is impossible to misunderstand what is at stake in which church you enter. Remember, the true Christ is not divided—meaning there is only one true Church of God, and one true Work of God! Until you find that Church—the one, unified Body of Christ and Temple of the Lord—you cannot have contact with the living Jesus Christ who heads it, and only it!
Jesus Built His Church
The world is built on the foundation of Satan’s way. As “god of this world,” he has constructed his own governments, cultures, educational systems, and other institutions—and he has also built his own “churches” (II Cor. 11:13-15). All of these together form a “building,” with a vast superstructure, but one that is founded upon “sand,” instead of the “rock” (I Cor. 10:4) that is the true Jesus Christ! Christ is not trying to build or to rebuild—repair!—the governments, institutions or churches of Satan’s world. Soon these will all be swept away by the “rain,” “wind” and “floods” that He described in Matthew 7:24-27.
But, as we have seen, Jesus also calls His Church “a building”—one that is “fitly framed together” (Eph. 2:21), and built with Himself as the foundation. He is literally “building a building” consisting of brethren whom He calls “lively [living] stones” (I Pet. 2:5). Christ is continuing His building of the Church today, and you are seeing it.
The true Church is depicted as a type of Jerusalem and as the Mother of all the brethren in the Church (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22-23). Like any Mother, she cares for and feeds her children.
Will you be one who strives to make yourself ready?
Finally, we have not yet addressed the actual meaning of the Greek word translated “Church” in the New Testament. This needs clarification. Most have supposed it means a building or an organization. It means neither. The word “church” is ekklesia, meaning “a calling out,” especially as a religious congregation. Christians are indeed called out of this world—its ways—its customs—its practices—its traditions—its false knowledge and false doctrines—and into the true Church, and fellowship with God and the true Jesus Christ (I John 1:3).
God thunders this to all His people: “Wherefore come out from among them [the world], and be you separate…and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty” (II Cor. 6:17-18).
May God help you to come out of the Babylon of this world (Rev. 18:4), that you may qualify to rule with Christ in the wonderful, utopian new world that lies ahead!