Lesson Number Twenty-One
How Many Religions?
Religion in its myriad forms and variations seems to dominate the earth. Today there are over a thousand different religions. Daily, new religions are developing and many claim to be the only church of God. Consequently people ask: “Which one is the true church? To what church should I belong?” Because so many different denominations exist one becomes more confused with each investigation. Some say: “It is not so important to belong to a church; all churches are good, but they do not save people; only Christ does.” Therefore they work in behalf of all churches. Others may be discouraged and give up their religious interest.
Many efforts have been made over the last few years to unite the churches. It has been recognized that the splits are damaging and that they decrease or cause drifts in membership. They reason that the different denominations should draw closer together until there will be only one body—one flock and one Shepherd. This movement for the unification of the churches can be seen more readily since the Second Vatican Council. Some differences were removed and others are being removed so that unity may be accomplished.
What is the church of God? Which one is it? How do we find the true church? Can I be saved in any church? Is it necessary to be a member of a church to be saved? These and many other questions which probably preoccupy many minds will be answered. Let us turn once again to the Holy Scriptures, and read the counsels which clearly point out the truth for solving these problems.
What Is the Church of God?
It has always been the will of God that pious people should associate together to represent His character on earth. These servants of God are representatives of the kingdom of heaven. In other words, they are ambassadors of heaven. Paul confirms this truth in the following words: “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20.
As with a national representative, an ambassador must faithfully represent his country, its laws, rules, and customs. An ambassador cannot change the laws nor teach the people that certain national laws do not exist. By doing this the ambassador would falsely represent his country, and make himself a traitor. So it is with the representatives of heaven and their regard for the law of God. Ambassadors of God must uphold the divine law of righteousness in their own lives and teachings.
“Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:19.
God’s church is also compared to a body whose parts are the members of the church and whose head is Christ Himself.
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. . . . Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27.
The head directs and administers decisions for the body so that it may be sound and perfect. Christ is the head of one body, His church, and rules over it and determines the standards necessary to maintain a sound, well structured and well directed organization.
Consequently, it is perfectly right that Christians should be united. However the first step is unity with Christ and the written word of God. This will in turn unite believers in purpose and doctrine. Unity of churches may seem to have earthly merits, but it is a false foundation for true unity when it is not based upon God’s word.
When Did God’s Church Originate?
From the beginning of the world God has had His representatives on earth. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were the ambassadors of heaven. After their fall, God chose faithful souls who constituted the church of God to represent Him. He never selected a people as His church unconditionally. In the history of the Old Testament we see that people could be God’s people while they obeyed Him. This is exactly as God decreed: “. . . The Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you.” 2 Chronicles 15:2.
The Jewish nation was the chosen of God and were given every opportunity to represent Him. We have many illustrations of when Israel followed the Lord and were a powerful influence for good, and God was with them. But they continually departed from the Lord, until finally they lost their direction and purpose.
By the time Christ’s earthly ministry began, the Jewish nation had perverted and misrepresented God to such a degree that they could not recognize their prophesied Messiah. They were steeped in their own traditions and interpretations of God’s word.
After three years of ministering to His chosen people, Jesus finally departed from their formal services forever. He mournfully stated,“Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Luke 13:35.
Jesus left these religious leaders and chose a few poor fishermen to represent Him. He established the nucleus of His church and declared that nothing could destroy it while the church remained true to the foundation, Jesus Christ.
“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.” Matthew 16:18. According to the truth of Peter’s words when he answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:16, God’s church was to be established.
Throughout the ages the Devil has tried to destroy God’s faithful church. Although persecuted and slain, these shining lights could not be extinguished. The most precious object on earth in God’s sight is His church. He says: “. . . for he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye.” Zechariah 2:8.
How Many Churches Does God Have?
Christ is the head of His church, one body. He is not the head of many bodies but of one.
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Ephesians 4:4-6.
“Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” Colossians 1:24.
There is a great confederacy which the Bible calls Babylon, and it is made up of many corporations. They call themselves Christians or followers of Christ.
“And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach.” Isaiah 4:1.
In the Bible a woman symbolizes a church. Bread symbolizes God’s Word. Apparel symbolizes Christ’s righteousness. In the last days these professed churches want their own interpretation of God’s Word, want to wear their own righteousness, but still take the name of God’s church.
It is pointless to claim to be the church of God if human laws and precepts are taught and practiced which are contrary to the laws and teachings of God’s Word.
“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:8, 9.
We have been given the prophecy of the scarlet (apostate) woman and her daughters: “So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: and upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” Revelation 17:3-5.
All these apostate churches, mother and daughters, endeavor to make a unification and invite all to join their company. The true church of God, however, will not join them. She will be separate from the fallen churches who transgress God’s commandments, because she has heeded God’s call: “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18.
How to Distinguish God’s Church
The church of God is the pillar of truth. She advocates and practices the truth.
“But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” 1 Timothy 3:15.
What is truth? This question is often asked, but seldom accurately answered. If we ask Jesus, He will say: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6.
Another statement from the book of Psalms says: “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.” Psalm 119:142.
Again, the words of Jesus Christ testify: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” John 17:17.
The church is the pillar of truth, in other words, it keeps the truth. The church of God accepts Jesus as the only Saviour, keeps the law of God, and respects and obeys the word of God. By these evidences one can easily find the true church.
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20.
“Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12.
After our conversion and commitment to God we then realize our need of joining God’s church. This requires earnest prayer as well as a sincere examination of God’s Word to know which church fulfils the conditions or standards given by God.
Which church keeps the law of heaven and teaches men to keep it as an unwavering standard even under persecution?
“And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17.
“I will also leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down and none shall make them afraid.” Zephaniah 3:12, 13.
“Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32.
Can One Be Saved Without Being a Member of the True Church?
Independence runs rife in today’s society. Many interpret the Scriptures for themselves instead of allowing the Bible to interpret itself. Consequently, they find it difficult to agree with, and do not support any church. Others support all churches, believing they all have some good.
But God does have His church which He holds in a revolted world. The church is God’s appointed agency for the salvation of men. It is the custodian of the fullness of all God’s truth. God’s church is the court of holy life, filled with varied gifts, striving together for the upbuilding of God’s kingdom.
The Bible also tells us that Jesus is soon coming to take His church to Himself.
“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 11:2.
“That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Ephesians 5:26, 27.
Membership alone will not save anyone. But unity with Christ will bring us into unity with the brethren. Unity and organization are the fruits of truth. The written work draws God’s people together under one banner, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” John 17:21.
While persecuting the early Christian church, Saul of Tarsus was caused to realize his blindness. The Lord then directed Him to the church to learn of Christ and unite with the believers.
From early in one’s experience, the Lord directs the honest seeker to His church. Although membership with God’s church is not the criterion for salvation, it most certainly is a fruit of one’s conviction to the Word of God. There are many lost sheep who are not of the fold of God, but in the final work in the earth they will join the true church. Christ foretold this: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” John 10:16.
Christ desires to bring all the lost sheep into His fold.
The church of God was persecuted in times past, and perilous times await her again. The church militant will finally be triumphant. All who are with Christ, joined and knit together in one body will be triumphant.
The church of God is now being prepared to join the heavenly church, God’s great family. While many churches teach and practice various degrees of error and will finally join the transgressors of the law of God, the remnant people, God’s church, are perfecting their characters in obedience to the truth. Paul wrote: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Titus 2:13, 14.
Throughout the ages the church of God has been unpopular, poor, and with few members but possessing truth and a faith which separates her from the world. We can expect no difference today. Pray that your heavenly Father will accept you as one of His children, that He will impress and direct you to the united body of Christ. And when Jesus returns to redeem His church from the earth, strive and pray that you will be with them.
Quiz For Lesson Number Twenty-One
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