Jesus came to build His church, and He did (Matt 16:18). He bought the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). With so many different churches contrasting with one another over Jesus’s words, many or most appear to have forgotten who died for the church. Apparently, many including our friends, family, and ourselves have turned away from Christ to be a part of man-made churches or have given up on Christ’s church because of man-made churches. Where is the church of Christ? Can a Christian go to any church?
Follow Christ to His Church
How can all believers once again seek to be one in the church of Christ? Christ’s words and the words that He gave to His apostles and prophets. Christians will follow Christ to His church rather than follow a church to their picture of Christ. The infallible Christ told everyone that we can know the Truth (John 8:31–32; cf. 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Christians have no reason to be divided over church. Otherwise, they act in neglect and rebellion to Jesus Christ. For Jesus prayed the night of His betrayal that all believers to be one (John 17:20–21; cf. 1 Cor 1:10). Did His prayer fail or is the church of Christ still presently one in the Truth of Jesus’s words? His church must be alive and well, because Jesus said the gates of Hades will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18).
Church Leadership from Christ
When considering churches, Christians must consider who is leading and teaching the church. Christ is the Head of the church (Eph 1:22; 4:15; 5:23; Col 1:18; 2:19). He established His church to have a plurality of church elders in each congregation (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). These elders are to meet specific qualifications (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). These are the pastors of the congregation (1 Pet 5:2–4). They lead by example while not ruling over the congregation (Mark 10:42–45). There is no mention in the Christian Scriptures of senior pastors, archbishops, popes, or any other position ruling over Christ’s churches. There are no ruling councils or governments over congregations in any area or region. Many teachers and church leaders give themselves titles that are equate them to Christ and yet only belong to Christ. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd and Pastor (1 Pet 5:4). Jesus is the only Pontiff — High Priest — of God’s church (Heb 4:14–15; 9:11, 25). For Christians, Christ is the Head of His church and rule by His words. Jesus came as a bond-servant to serve others, and God exalted His name above all other names (Mark 10:45; Phil 2:5–9). How can anyone equate oneself with Him?
False Teaching and Man-made Churches
Should we have anything to do with these man-made churches, who have created their own church government? In 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul warned, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.'” The company of false teachers will corrupt. Should we spend more time with their teachers in the churches of men rather than with those in the church of Christ? Should we support their teachers in any way? The company of false teachers from man-made churches will corrupt others.
Christians often agree that false teachers should be avoided and withdrawn, but most do not do it. Church leaders and teachers must teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Otherwise, the consequences are devastating to the salvation the congregation since Christians are to observe all things that Christ commanded (Matt 28:19–20). Christ’s Spirit spoke through the apostle Paul to Timothy telling him, “Give attention to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim 4:16).
Jesus exhorted His listeners to be careful to observe the fruit of teachers (Matt 7:15–20). Yes, every teacher stumbles in his words (Jas 3:1–2). Furthermore, Christians are to correct gently those in error. Apollos was “mighty in the Scriptures” and he “spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus” (Acts 18:24–28). However, he was not so prideful as to dismiss the correction of Priscilla and Aquila, who “expounded unto him the way of God more accurately” concerning baptism. Apollos though in error repented and kept preaching. On the other hand, false teachers are like the fool in Proverbs who despised instruction. Followers of Christ can identify the wolves by their fruit. Such men as Apollos are not false teachers and certainly not fools. They must repent in hearing Christ’s words.
Avoiding False Teachers
A false teacher may speak their errors from the pulpit, in the classroom, in the church’s lobby, or in your house. False teachers do not wear name tags or have the title “False Teacher” next to their name, but Christians are to watch for them, mark them, and avoid them. The Spirit teaches through Paul in Romans 16:17–18,
Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
False teachers teach false teachings that cause divisions and offenses. They teach things contrary to the gospel (Gal 1:6–9). Christians see what they are to do about false teachers. They are to note them and avoid them. We are especially not to greet them in joy and invite them into our homes. Second John 1:9–11 says,
Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
To consider a greeting or a welcome in joy a false teacher also “shares [fellowships] in his evil deeds.” This is a very striking revelation. The word for “greet” here is not a salute or welcome, but one that is almost always translated “rejoice,” “glad,” “hail,” or “joy.” In other words, do not take joy or rejoice in meeting those coming without the teaching of Christ. Also, do not house them. False teachers are enemies of Christ (Phil 3:18–19).
Teaching about Salvation
Consider what the church’s leaders teach about salvation and baptism. Remember the Pharisees rejected the baptism of John (Matt 21:23–27). Servants in the church of Christ must teach that baptism is necessary to be saved (Mark 16:16), and they need to teach that baptism is the moment of salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Eph 2:4–6; Col 2:12–13; 1 Pet 3:21). Consider that the church of Christ partakes of the Lord’s Supper in the assembly every first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:17–34). Christ’s followers must teach everything from the Bible. False teachers often use Bible translations that do not translated every word (Matt 4:4; Luke 9:26; John 6:63; 12:47–48; 1 Cor 12:13). False teachers may teach that divorce is bad, but that believers can divorce for other reasons other than sexual infidelity, and then permit them to marry another while Jesus said otherwise (Matt. 19:9). Most teach that singing is good, but false leaders take the singing from the congregation and give it to a choir (Rom 15:6). They choose to add soulless musical instruments to the purest form of praise, the fruit of the lips (1 Cor 14:7, 15; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Heb 2:12; 13:15). They may teach that having church elders are good, but the church can have a head pastor, priest, or bishop to guide them. They may even have women as pastors when the birthright to lead and teach before the whole congregation was given to men (1 Tim 2:11–13). We must not have anything to do with such false teachers, but rather humbly correct them. In some cases, “Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13).
Fellowship and False Teachers
Can Christians intermingle and fellowship with believers in man-made churches? Christians know that they should teach and encourage them to observe all that Jesus commanded. However, followers of Christ cannot not fellowship their erring leaders and teachers. If anyone has been immersed in water in Jesus’s name into the forgiveness of sins and they obey the words of Christ, then they are Christians. If they have not been baptized in Jesus’s name for the forgiveness of sins, then we are not Christians no matter how much a person calls oneself a follower of Christ. Following Christ is the boundary of fellowship with other “believers.”
Christ’s Spirit also instructed in 2 Thessalonians 3:6, “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (cf. 1 Cor 5:11). Those who are to be withdrawn from are those not walking according to the traditions that the apostles and prophets taught since they were instructed to “stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess 2:15). Again, Christ’s Spirit instructs in 2 Thessalonians 3:14–15, “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
Though these are erring brothers and sisters in Christ, they cannot fellowship in any error or with any false teachers. Second Thessalonians instructs Christians to withdraw from every sinning brother, note that person, and do not keep company with him. These are those who are not obeying the words of Christ, but they are not enemies but brothers. The wisdom of worldly men tells everyone not to do this, but the instructions of Jesus are again contrary to the world’s wisdom. Certainly, these include so-called brothers in man-made churches not seeking to be the church of Christ. These may well be brothers and Christians, but the faithful cannot keep company with them.
Now, the rest of the Scriptures teach that though spouses may not believe, Christians are not to separate for this reason. Fellowship within families is essential to obey Christ, but spiritual fellowship between Christians, those disobeying God, and with God is not possible. Each Christian is to withdraw spiritual fellowship from these so-called Christians. Believing children must still honor their erring parents. However, the temple of God, the church, cannot commune with man-made churches.
Withdrawing from Man-made Churches
All “believers” of man-made churches must be withdrawn from too. Galatians 5:19–21 teaches that those who practice denominationalism “will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The Christian’s desire is for everyone among the denominations, in man-made churches, to come out and separate themselves to be saved! Denominationalism is an abusive trap of enslavement and a plague of death upon those of ignorant of the Bible. Christians cannot fellowship denominations ever! Some in denominations do not realize what their teachers and leaders are doing. They do not know that their church pays tribute to a ruling government. However, the church of Christ can overcome these denominations. Those who seek to follow Christ are able to know the truth as Jesus said (John 8:31–32). Thousands are willingly ignorant. By the patience and providence of God, they will know better if they seek Christ. Christians do not need to pretend that those within denominations are alright. Followers of Christ must teach them the gospel that saved the church, the pillar of Truth. The beginning of fellowship is in Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection.
Jesus met and ate with “sinners” for only one purpose to proclaim the kingdom to them, and so be a physician to the sick (Luke 5:31). Paul assembled with the Jews in their synagogues for only one purpose to teach them about Jesus. Paul started churches the same way. He went into Jewish synagogues to teach them about Jesus. In Acts 13:14–15, Luke reported,
“But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, ‘Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.'”
Paul only met with them to teach them about Christ. Then when they believed, he had fellowship with them. Paul reached out to the erring church at Corinth to repent, and they did (2 Cor 7:9–11). Christ admonished 5 of the 7 churches of Asia to repent or perish (Rev 2–3). Christians must have the compassion of Christ and never close to doors to sharing the Truth.
No Compromising Christ
Christians need to make a stand for the truth or otherwise many will be lost. Followers of Christ must not compromise the faith. They must not compromise the teachings of the Bible. The faithful must not compromise baptism as the moment of salvation. True believers must not compromise the creation account. True worshipers must not compromise worshiping in spirit and truth. Christians must not give up God’s instructions for marriage. On the other hand, Christians must meet with the lost to teach the Gospel. The followers of Christ must love everyone. Repentance believers must share our lives to teach the way of salvation. Christians must share our lives to teach worship in spirit and truth and the organization of Christ’s Church. The faithful must share their lives because they love God. At the same time, the faithful must remember to not “share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure” (1 Tim 5:22).
Fellowship with Christ
Christian fellowship is with God in Christ. In 1 John 1:5–7, John revealed,
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Believers only have fellowship with Christ when they walk in the light. Walking in the light is obeying God’s commands according to 1 John 2:3–6. Each person must obey God to have fellowship and to share in His blessings. Believers can only fellowship with someone as much as they are in fellowship with God. Christians can only fellowship with someone as much as they are obeying God. Though Christians must not fellowship false teachers and erring brethren, they must show kindness to all. In Galatians 6:10, Paul commanded, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Christ prayed for His church to be one, not denominated (John 17:20–21). Paul spoke by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 1:10,
“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [denominations] among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
Though Christians may differ in opinions, these must never divide (Rom 14). May all believers meet and unite in fellowship only in Jesus Christ.