Although God changes His framework for salvation as His plan is carried out, He consistently maintains the oneness of this framework because of His very nature. This unity can be seen in the one family in the garden of Eden, in the selection of Seth's lineage over Cain's, and in the selection of Noah and Abraham. It is also revealed in the selection of Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Israel over other nations, and Christians over Jews, as well as in the unification of Gentiles and Jews through the body of Christ, and finally in the one true church who will be His one bride. This oneness is even seen in the choice of planet earth over the rest of the physical universeâ€”"In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth."
When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, the church faced a threat far more dangerous than persecution by the Romans. The early church was at risk of breaking into two parts, one part Jewish and the other part Gentile.
In his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul addresses this problem by stressing, in three ways, the unity of the body of Christâ€”in the formation of the one church from the Jews and the Gentiles (Eph 2:11-22); in God's one framework of salvation, which is true to His one nature (Eph 4:1-6); and in the profound mystery that the church is the one bride of Christ (Eph 5:22-33). These points are instructive to Christians who find it difficult to accept that there is the only one true church.
Reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles in Christ (Eph 2:11-22)
And that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. (Eph 2:16)
Paul states unequivocally in Ephesians 2:11-12 that Gentiles "at one time" were "strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world." It was clear that Gentiles were not descendants of Abraham, and so they were outside of the covenants that God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. This single framework of salvation in the time before Christ relegated those outside of it to hopelessness and godlessness. There was no human way to God, and at that time God did not provide another way, as this would be against His nature of oneness. Then Christ came into this world to save mankind. Ephesians 2:13-16 describes how He accomplished this task while maintaining a single framework of salvation. First, He abolished in His flesh, by His death, the ordinances that separated Jews from Gentiles (Eph 2:14-15). Then, when these two disparate peoples become members of the one body of Christ (see also Eph 2:17-18; and 1 Cor 10:16-17), they are reconciled to God (Eph 2:16; Mt 27:51; Ex 26:33). In all this, God maintained a unitary approach to Him. He expanded the scope of salvation to include Gentiles by introducing a new way that superseded the old way, rather than by requiring two different approaches to Him by two different groups of people.
Worship with Other Christians
Today there are some in the church who worship with Christians from other churches. They advocate that we in the True Jesus Church should "love our brothers and sisters" in the other churches and be comfortable worshiping alongside them, either in our church or in their churches. They amicably avoid issues of salvation such as baptism, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, and, certainly, the doctrine of the one true church. Or they may have decided to take an "everybody may be right" approach to controversial topics. Let us examine these attitudes in the light of Scripture.
We begin by comparing the relationship of the True Jesus Church today and the much larger Christian society with that of the apostolic church and the much larger Jewish society of the first century. There are cogent similarities. The True Jesus Church, like the apostolic church, is considered a minor and new sect within the larger community (see Acts 24:14). Just as the Christian community now consists of many denominations, the Jews then also consisted of different sects, for example the Pharisees, the Sadducees (Acts 23:6), and the Essenes.
The early Christians at first worshiped with the Jews in the temple (Acts 2:46-47), and Paul made it a point that at each town he visited, he would first worship and preach the gospel at the Jewish synagogue or community there (Acts 13:14-15; 14:1; 16:3). However, the early Christians were ultimately forced out of the temple or Jewish community for preaching the true doctrine of Christ (Acts 4:1-4; 18-21; 13:42-48; 14:1-2).
In the same way, Christians of the true church may worship with Christians from other churches on the condition that they boldly preach the complete and saving gospel of Christ to them. The result of doing so, however, is that those who preach the truth will probably no longer be welcomed by the religious authorities of the other churches (though some of those members who really love the Lord and His truth may be saved). We would also expect persecution from the other churches, which is what happened to the early True Jesus Church in China.
When does a person become a brother or sister in Christ? Paul agonized over his physical kinsmen, the Jews, because he knew that they would not be saved unless they believed in Jesus (Rom 9:2-3; 10:1; Acts 4:12). It is not for us to choose who we want to be our spiritual brethren. The teaching is clearâ€”we are brethren in Christ if we are together in Christ. For in Christ Jesus we are all sons of God, through faith (Gal 3:26). And faith puts us in Christ through baptism (Gal 3:27).
Ephesians 2:13 tells us: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ." So baptism into the one body of Christ, the one church, makes us brethren in Christ. We do an injustice to our friends if we call them brethren and thus misleadingly assure them of their place in Jesus, when actually their sins have not been forgiven in the one baptism with the Spirit, the water, and the blood as witnesses (1 Jn 5:8) and they have not obtained a part in Jesus through footwashing (Jn 13:8).
In Ephesians 2:19-22, Paul draws this picture of the united church:
Now therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The church of God is one; she is founded on the truth, and the Holy Spirit dwells in her. A jumble of Christians with different beliefs worshiping together, each in their own way, does not fit this picture of the one true church.
Maintaining the Unity of the Church (Eph 4:1-6)
There is one body and one Spirit ... (Eph 4:4)
From the outside, the fledgling church in all aspects appeared as one. The events in Acts 10-11, which culminated in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, established that the Gentiles could truly be saved within the body of Christ, the church. However, certain issues from within the church continued to threaten unity. Chief among these issues were the remnants of the immoral lifestyles and philosophies that the Gentiles brought with them into the church, and the ever-present danger of reverting to Jewish legalism. In Ephesians 4:1-6, Paul urges unity and discusses how to maintain it in the body of Christ.
The key to maintaining unity is a firm determination to lead a new life that is based on truly understanding God's one framework of salvation. Of course, it is not possible for unity to be maintained if believers have irreverent lifestyles. Undoubtedly, if a leader is unholy, he will bend the principles of Christ to justify what he is doing. This can be seen in the antics of a number of religious leaders today. Also, in an increasingly democratic church, members who are unspiritual will seek to impose their will on the church, and such actions often render her incapable of preaching and following the straight and narrow way. Ephesians 4:1 beseeches us to "have a walk worthy of the calling with which [we] were called."
When one walks worthy of the calling, certain virtues develop that allow "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:2-3) to be achieved. Lowliness, meekness, patience, and forbearing for one another in love are all passive actions toward others, which absorb contention and dissension till they disappear. For instance, Gideon's gentle answer preserved the unity of Israel (Judg 8:1-3). Eagerness to maintain unity is active, as in the teaching of Jesus on the Mount regarding making peace with one's brother before offering a gift to God (Mt 5:23-24).
One Framework of Salvation
There are many "ones" in Ephesians 4:4-6, and this passage reads almost like a poetical recitation. These "ones" affirm God's one framework of salvation. When we truly understand that God is one (Deut 6:4), and how important it is to Him that the church He established is one (Jn 17:11, 20-23), then we shall certainly strive for the unity that He desires.
Let us contemplate the list of "ones" before us and seek to maintain the focus that God teaches us:
- One body--The one church (Eph 1:22-23). Christ has only one church, and it is important for followers of Christ to be in that one church. (See also Mt 24:24 and Jn 10:14-15.)
- One Spirit--One Holy Spirit. Be careful of false spirits (1 Jn 4:1-6). The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 16:7-10).
- One hope--The hope of being God's people in the kingdom of heaven. Do not believe in Jesus for things hoped for on earth alone (1 Cor 15:19).
- One Lord--Our Lord Jesus Christ. No one else should be called master other than Christ Himself (Mt 23:8-10; 1 Cor 1:12-13).
- One faith--One core collection of truths that we believe in faith (Tit 1:4), which was delivered to the saints through Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets (Eph 2:20; Jude 3).
- One baptism--One mode of baptism, one receiving of baptism (Rom 6:3; Heb 10:26-29).
- One God and Father of us all--Serve no other. The false alternatives--mammon (Mt 6:24) and Satan (Jn 8:44).
The doctrine of the one true church is a "hard" teaching (Jn 6:60). Yet if we understand that this teaching is truly consistent with the one nature of God, we will humbly accept it and strive to maintain the unity of the church. There is poetical beauty in the list of "ones" in Ephesians 4. This reflects the beauty of true unity. And there is something still more profoundly beautiful in this doctrine.
The Churchâ€”the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:22-33)
This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph 5:32)
Of all the metaphors concerning God's relationship with His chosen, that of husband and wife evokes the strongest sense of sacrificial love and fidelity. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Eph 5:25)--this verse shows the sacrificial love of the Lord. We have no doubt of the Lord's faithfulness (2 Tim 2:13), but He also requires this fidelity of His bride: "Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Eph 5:24). The unity of the church can be seen as necessary from the fact that Christ preached monogamy (Mt 19:3-9).
To elicit the fundamental principle of marriage, Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh." Paul quotes this verse in Ephesians 5:31 and refers it to the mystery of Christ and the church. We catch a glimpse of spiritual reality through this beautiful metaphor. Christ left His Father in heaven (Phil 2:6-8) to save His bride, the church. She prepares to meet her Lord (Eph 5:26-27; Rev 21:2, 9-10), and the two shall become one when Jesus dwells in the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:22, 22:3-5). How much Jesus loves His one church!
The tide of ecumenism laps at the door of the church. Some have been seduced into embracing it, thinking that this gain in the number of people regarded as brethren is pleasing in the sight of God. But Jesus has one body. Jesus has one bride. He makes it clear that He desires unity in His body, but according to His will. The epistle to the Ephesians tells us what the one church of God looks like and how unity is to be maintained.
To leave the doctrine of Christ is to leave the one body of Christ (1 Jn 9, 10). To accept members into the one body when they have not entered through the one door (Christ) in the proper manner (baptism) is not grafting branches onto the olive tree (Rom 11:17-23). Instead, it is hiding leaven in the meal (Mt 13:32), and this is not good (1 Cor 5:6-8).
The oneness principle in many fundamental concepts of God and the church is not an invention of the True Jesus Church but is a result of the nature of God Himself and is clearly written in the Bible. The church treasures its unique status as the bride of Christ and humbly realizes that this is the grace of God. Our unique status is not exclusive but seeks to include all those who are to be saved. We strive to achieve this task within the one way that God has revealed to us.