DOES IT REALLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
The multiplicity of churches -- all teaching different things, with different authority, different types of organization and varied kinds of worship -- is evident in our society. Their doctrines are contrary to each other, and there is really no fellowship "across the denominational lines." But most people assume that it really doesn't make any difference, for, "We are all going to the same place, anyway. There are many paths to God, and each of us should be able to choose his own church." The assumption, therefore, is that "one church is just as good as another," and that the various forms of worship, church organization and ways of salvation are simply reflective of man's own personal preferences. So, people "reason" that any and all of these things really make no difference.
But what makes different churches? Do not their teaching, faith, practice, worship, name, organization and requirement for salvation define each church? If all men would teach the same thing, believe the same thing, wear the same name, accept the same authority and worship the same way, then there would be only one church! And if all of that teaching, faith, etc., was taken only from the Word of the Lord, it would be the church of the Lord.
Does it make any difference, then, as to what we teach or what we believe, how we worship, what we teach on salvation or how we define the church? Let us explore each of these.
It Makes A Difference What We Teach: Jesus gives us clear warning against false teachers: "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are revening wolves. By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:15,16). If it doesn't make any difference what we teach, then why warn against false teachers? But Jesus further said, "This people honoreth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:8,9). The apostle Paul exhorts us to, "Preach the word" (2 Tim. 4:2). Peter says, "If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God" (1 Pet. 4:11). God further warns us through Paul, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8).
God expects us to teach His truth, and Jesus, praying to the Father, said: "Thy Word is truth" (Jno. 17:17). That the distinctive doctrines of all of the denominational world are nothing more than "the doctrines of me" cannot be denied. There is not one distinctive doctrine of any denomination that is found in the Word of God. Therefore, we must conclude that it does make a difference to the Lord what we teach.
Paul writes, "When ye received from us the Word of the message, even the Word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the Word of God, which also worketh in you that believe" (1 Thes. 2:13). It makes a difference!
It Makes A Difference What We Believe: The apostle John warns us, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 Jno. 4:1). Teaching of false prophets will produce false faith, so we are warned not to believe them. And note that we choose what to believe. Paul wrote, "So faith cometh of hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). It makes a big difference what one believes, for true faith comes only from the Word of God.
The Bible says, "There is...one faith" (Eph. 4:5). That faith comes from hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). The Lord exhorts us, "Contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). So the Lord Jesus Christ says there is "one faith" or "the faith." Yes, it makes a difference.
A description of that faith is found in the attitude of those who "lived by faith" (Rom. 1:17). The Bible says: "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain...By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death... By faith Noah, being warned of God concerning things not seen as yet, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark...By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed" (Heb. 11:4-8). The only faith that pleases God is "faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). In fact, God clearly states, "Even so faith, if it have not works, is dead in itself...faith apart from works is barren...Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only" (Jas. 2:17, 20,24). Yes, it makes a big difference what we believe!
It Makes A Difference How We Worship: Jesus very definitely limited the scope of our worship when He said, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jno. 4:24). Not only must we come to Him in humility, with a sincere heart, but we must express our worship to Him according to the teaching of God's Word (Jno. 17:17). The apostle Paul spoke of some who had "a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3:5).
If we just "go through the motions," practicing empty formality in worship, God will not be pleased with us. But neither will He be pleased if we neglect His authority and worship according to our own will. We need to learn today the same lesson that Paul endeavored to teach the church at Corinth: "Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not to go beyond the things which are written" (1 Cor. 4:6).
It makes a difference how we worship, for our practice must be based on teaching and faith. As John wrote, "Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son" (2 Jno. 9).
There is a great example of this principle in Lev. 10. "Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took each of them his censer, and put fire therein, and laid incense thereon, and offered strange fire before Jehovah, which He had not commanded them." They offered worship which God had not commanded, and God refused to accept them or their worship! Ask Nadab and Abihu if it makes a difference how we worship God!
The point is clearly made -- God accepts in worship only what He has authorized. That was true then, it is still true today. It makes a difference.
It Makes A Difference How We Are Saved: The Bible says that Jesus "came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). We know that He shed His blood to cleanse us from sin (Rom. 3: 23-25; Eph. 1:7), and therefore we are "saved by grace" (Titus 3:7). But the question asked by many is: "What must I do to be saved?" (Acts 2:37; 16:;30; 22:10). In other words, what response must we make to God's grace in order to receive remission of sins? The Lord Jesus told the apostles, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned" (Mk. 16:15,16). And, "Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name unto all the nations" (Lk. 24:47). That is exactly what the apostles preached later to all people. When people on Pentecost asked what to do, the Lord's answer (via Peter) was: "Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins...They then that received his word were baptized" (Acts 2:38-41). Just as Jesus had said, believers were told to repent and be baptized. When they did that, He saved them (Acts 2:47).
Ananias was told by the Lord to go preach to Saul (Acts 9:11), and as the Lord Jesus directed, he told Saul: "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away they sins, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16). The apostle Paul shows the process by which we are saved. "Being therefore justified by faith...But God commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by His blood, shall we be saved from the wrath (of God) through Him. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son...Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him through baptism unto death: that like as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in new- ness of life" (Rom. 5:1,8-10; 6:3,4).
Many denominations teach, as part of their official doctrine, that we are "saved by faith only," but that is a direct contradiction of what the Lord said in Jas. 2:24, "Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." The only faith that can save is obedient faith (Heb. 5:9). Yes, it makes a difference what we teach for people to do for salvation.
It Makes A Difference About The Church: With over 400 denominations in this country alone, it is well to look to what the Bible says about the church. Jesus promised, "I will build My church" (Matt. 16:18). He never promised to build more than one. In fact, Jesus prayed to the Father, "Neither for these (the apostles) only do I pray, but for them also that believe on Me through their word; that they may all be one; even 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 didst send Me" (Jno. 17:20,21). Now, read that again. Jesus prayed that there would never be any denominations! He intends that all believers be one. The Bible plainly states, "The body, which is the church... There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all, and in all" (Eph. 1:22,23; 4:4-6). That doesn't sound like the denominationalism we see around us today, does it?
Hear what the Lord says to the church in Corinth through Paul, when they divided into different groups: "That ye all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you...Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?" (1 Cor. 1:10,13). Would the Lord say something differ- ent to us today? The church is the "body of Christ" (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-33), the family of God (Eph. 2:19-22), the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:18,19). Yes, it makes a difference about the church.
Jesus never gave anyone the right to choose his own church. (or to start his own church, CWS). The Lord has chosen for us. And note Acts 2:47, "The Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved." Those who are cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ are "added to the church" by the same Lord who saved them. Thus, that church is "purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).
The only way to be pleasing to Jesus Christ is to be a member of that church which He built and for which He died. The apostle Peter wrote of Jesus, "His divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that called us by His own glory and virtue" (2 Pet. 1:3). And Paul, taking leave of the elders of Ephesus, said: "And now I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you the inheritance among all them that are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).
It makes a difference what we teach, what we believe, how we worship, what we teach for salvation adn what church we are in. Let's choose the Lord's way!
By Clem Thurman in Gospel Minutes, Vol. 52, No. 37, Sept. 12, 2003.
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