Question:

I understand that the word “church,” as used in scripture, has two meanings: (1) the universal church – consisting of all redeemed souls that have obeyed the authorized steps of hearing the Word of God, believing (that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and our Savior), repenting (change in mind that brings about a change in action), and baptism (understanding that baptism is a burial of one's sinful self and a resurrection as a new creature and a requirement for salvation); and (2) the local church – Christians in a particular locale who meet, work, and worship together.

Is a person who obeys the authorized steps required for salvation (with belief in Jesus Christ and the proper understanding of baptism) part of the “universal church,” if the “local church” at which he was taught and baptized has unscriptural practices (i.e. instrumental music, women preachers, etc.)?

Can one be a member of the “universal church” if he is a member of a “denominational church”? Assume, for example, that a local “Baptist” congregation had the proper understanding of the authorized steps for salvation, but everything else remained as Baptist churches generally exist in society today (unscriptural leadership organization, instrumental music, women preachers, monthly communion, etc.).  I understand that denominationalism is sin, and that Jesus requires us to be of one mind.   What is the difference in the church at Corinth, for example, having sinful practices and a “denominational church” having sinful practices, if their understanding of salvation (and the requirements therefor) is the same?  Should a member of this hypothetical “Baptist” church repent for his sinful worship or was he never a member of the “universal church” to begin with? I am sincerely having difficulty comprehending this. Many members of denominational churches believe they are part of Christ's one church (i.e. the universal church). Is this possible?


Answer:

You are making the assumption that once a person is a part of the church, in the universal sense, that his salvation is assured. A person can do what is right to become a Christian, but to be saved he must avoid sin. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2).

A person can only reach heaven by remaining faithful. "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end" (Hebrews 3:12-14). The problem of being in various denominations is not just a problem of correctly teaching how to become a Christian, there is also the problem of remaining faithful.

Can a person be in a denomination and practice true Christianity? For example, can he partake of the Lord's Supper weekly (Acts 20:7), or can he sing only with his voice (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). What I would conclude is that in most denominations the answer is no. Something will be done against God's will.

In Corinth, the church had numerous problems, but a person attending there could still worship faithfully without being involved in those problems. Sardis is a good example of this, "You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy" (Revelation 3:4). Just because sin is in a church, it doesn't follow that all are sinning.

When a person realizes that he cannot worship faithfully with one group because of their practices, he needs to leave to find a group that is following God more faithfully. He changes his behavior and his attitude toward unfaithful worship, so yes, he needs to repent.

Just because a person claims to be a Christian, it doesn't follow that they are actually are obedient to Christ. "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).

Thanks very much for your quick response.

I do understand that it is nearly impossible to remain faithful in a denominational church.  I guess I should really ask, "how do I teach someone about Christ's one church?"

Do I teach that one becomes a member of Christ's church upon completing the authorized steps mentioned in my prior email and must thereafter worship in a congregation that allows him to remain faithful? And also teach that such congregations are generally labeled "churches of Christ."

Or

Do I teach that one becomes a member upon being taught and baptized in a church of Christ?

Is this a distinction without a difference?

Where someone is taught or baptized does not matter. What makes a difference is what a person is taught and how they are baptized. The fact of the matter remains that if someone wants to live faithfully to God's teaching, he must find and worship with others of like mind. The emphasis is on the contents, not the label.