(Many people with inquiring minds--whether agnostic, atheist, infidel, or Christian--have at one time or another asked the above question. Here is our answer.)
JESUS, the perfect Son of God, preached words of life and truth--a flawless message calling for repentance and offering salvation. But those who heard it were imperfect people in an imperfect society. Fighting against the influence of sin in their lives, that fight would become their way of life as they sought to understand and apply the principles which would bring to light the opportunity of a better life. "In him was life; and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4). That light "is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and incorruption to light through the gospel."--2 Tim. 1:10
Jesus knew that such struggle would make the course of living difficult in the present evil world. He knew that God was intentionally permitting Satan to oppose God's own will (Matt. 13:25). Jesus understood that it was therefore not time to deliver to men a simple, clear declaration of God's entire program or of His timetable for accomplishing what God had set in motion. For this reason Jesus expressed many of His teachings in parables. He thus did not expose truths to the frivolous minded, nor to those who would despise them: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you."--Matt. 7:6
God had promised through the prophets that a day would come when He would invite the acceptable, reverent worship of all peoples. "Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the LORD, to serve him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people" (Isa. 56:6,7). But some of the early Jewish believers found it difficult to accept Gentile believers into full fellowship as sons of God. Moreover, some brethren even in the time of the apostles thought that they could improve their religious worship by claiming certain teachers as their leaders. "For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?" (1 Cor. 3:4,5) These early Christians did not realize the disadvantages of failing to own Christ as the only head of the church.
These additions to the body of faith brought additional distortion and even the displacement of desirable spiritual fidelity and obedience to God in worship. The pleasure of man is not always the pleasure of God, and obedience to men was bound to result in ignoring commandments of God. And yet, none of the human priests or dignitaries had ever given their lives according to the commandment of God as had His Son, who gave His life "a ransom for all, to be testified in due time."--1 Tim. 2:6
But God's Word survived all these abominations. Where it was fervently examined and its instructions followed, to that extent there was dissent and protest. This often led to division and a new doctrinal emphasis which became the banner of a new Christian sect under its prevailing leader. And in the course of events, succeeding generations engaged in similar processes.
Many religious leaders have through their own imaginations attributed to God a vengeance which He does not possess and will not own. Regarding such tendency the Apostle Paul's counsel is noted: "Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). Distorted interpretations of the Bible have nurtured fear regarding the fate of "unsaved" sinners after death. Such lies have increased the "tare" membership in humanly- organized churches. But that was foreseen by our Master as revealed in the parable. "Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn...As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:30,40-42). The same lies have also increased the treasuries of churches from the gifts of those who think that through "their" church they have escaped a future of everlasting suffering.
Briefly, then, there have been so many different churches in the world because our wily adversary, the Devil (1 Pet. 5:8), continues to oppose truth and righteousness. And this he does by God's permission. But it will not always be permitted!
The word "church" is from the Greek word ekklesia. This word accurately shows the relation of the church to the world. It is composed of two words: ek, meaning "out," and a derivative of kaleo, meaning "to call." That church is, therefore, a "called out" company. Its members are being called out from the society of man to stand separate and apart as a peculiar people. "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people [a people for God's own possession--NAS]; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). The members of the church are invited to follow Jesus both in service and in sacrifice. They are called to self-denial and crossbearing; to be faithful to truth always, even at the cost of their own lives. "...be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."--Rev. 2:10
The Bible shows abundantly that the only head or authority which the church will recognize is Jesus. It is He whom God raised "from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places. Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church" (Eph. 1:20-22). "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body" (Eph. 5:23). "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence."--Col. 1:18
The real "church" are those who come out from the world. "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (2 Cor. 6:17). They participate in the process of regeneraton, "Being born again [having been regenerated--Marshall Interlinear], not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Pet. 1:23). They are made new creatures: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). And their faith is directed by love: "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6). "What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?... For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:14,26). Only such persons are members of the true church.
Admittance into Christian fellowship is, therefore, by its very nature, restricted to those who express the desire and show evidence that they are seeking to be cleansed from all unrighteousness. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."--1 John 1:9
From the foregoing it is easy to see that no single denomination or church may understand all spiritual truth. Perhaps none may correctly interpret the meaning of all Scripture. The pursuit of this objective is nevertheless honorable for all believers.
Those who treasure the words of the Bible will be encouraged to worship God in spirit and in truth. "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Why? Because they see in the Bible certain simple