"I will build My CHURCH, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it!" - Matthew 16:18
We all know that the visible church is divided into pieces - some large and some small, and that it seems impossible to get these "pieces" to acknowledge each other, let alone work together to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I once served a congregation in a small rural community in northern South Dakota where the older people in the congregation still spoke German. When their fathers and grandfathers settled there, they formed their own church largely because of the language barrier that existed. That was understandable then, but as time passed, other things divided those who believed in Jesus Christ from each other. Some were Baptist, some Reformed, some Lutheran ... each had their own brand name and their own distinctive doctrines. This small town had six different congregations. One day out of the year they pretended to be "one" by getting together for a community service, but this supposed "oneness" simply confused those who didn't know Christ. If you are all one, why are there six separate congregations? Actually, only a few asked that question; most simply accepted the fact that Christians can't agree on much of anything, so they just stay separated. So it seems to be true today.
There is only ONE true Church. While it is true that the Spirit spoke to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, these churches were in different cities. They were all part of the one true Church, the body of Christ. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said that He was building His Church - ONE Church. For quite a few centuries it appeared that there was only one Church. It was called "catholic," which means, "universal." The early church leaders met together and the Spirit led them to determine which of the writings being circulated were written by the apostles, including Paul. They had one creed: the Word of God. It was their only authority and all of life was directed by what God said in His Word. The Church was one, as much as is possible where people are involved! Then men messed it up. They misunderstood, or intentionally twisted Jesus' words in Matthew 16:18 and claimed that Peter, rather than His confession that Jesus was the Christ, was the ROCK upon which the Church would be built. They gave power to one man, the bishop of Rome, and recognized his authority and his word above the Word of God. So began more than a thousand years of the church being deceived and distracted: deceived because the church was "selling" salvation; distracted, because the pope became involved in political and secular pursuits for his own power and wealth.
Praise God, He called men and women to return to His Word and brought about the Reformation; a small movement of the Spirit at first, but then an ever-expanding circle of truth grounded in the unchanging Word of God. The Reformers, as they came to be called, never intended to start different churches or to break from the ONE TRUE CHURCH. Rather, they desired to REFORM it! What followed was a century or more of the church seeking to return to its foundation: the Word alone, salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, for the glory of God alone. The one true Church stands today on these truths. The authority of the true Church is the Word of God, which points to Christ as the only Savior and to grace as the only door into God's presence. Faith is the gift of God and the Church exists for the glory of God.
Today, in every city, the one true Church exists, but it is well-hidden by the reluctance or refusal of those who are brothers and sisters to acknowledge each other or to work together for the kingdom. Each works on their own, unaware of the power that is available should they determine to put aside those things that have brought division and to share in the work of making Christ known. Sadly, some have forgotten what the main task of the Church is: to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all creatures. Many forget, if indeed they ever knew, that we are not going to save this world. We must be salt and light, but the hope of this world is the return of Jesus Christ. Until then, we must preach the one message that has the power to rescue people from the dominion of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of light.
What if people would actually sit down and study God's Word together? What if we would listen to God's Word and grow and learn and trust, serving together for one purpose: to glorify the God who sent His Son to save us. I am not promoting a big merger of all churches, but I believe God calls us to begin by acknowledging for all to hear that there is ONE Church, and that every person who trusts completely in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross for forgiveness and life is part of Christ's body. From there we can go to God's Word, confessing that it is quite literally true, cover to cover, and that it is our only rule of faith and practice. As we do that and examine the heresies of the past, returning to the Word, God will unite our hearts and minds and those around us will see something they have never seen before: the ONE Church of Jesus Christ ... and they will praise and glorify the God who made it so.