It is clear throughout Scripture that there has always been only one community of God's elect. The many biblical prefigurations and characterizations of the church all point to her oneness. God commanded Noah to build only one ark, through which he and his household were saved. There was only one temple and one Holy City, the dwelling place of God's name (2 Chr 6:5-6, 20). God will establish only one mountain for His house, and this mountain shall be exalted above the hills (Isa 2:2-3). The Lord Jesus is the Shepherd over only one flock (Jn 10:16). Christ has only one body (1Cor 12:13; Eph 4:4). There is only one house of God (1Tim 3:15). The Lord knows only one bride (Rev 21:9; Song 6:9).
The concept of the church's oneness is consistently emphasized in the Bible, not only as an ideal but also as a reality. When dealing with the problem of division, Paul posed the rhetorical question, "Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor 1:13). As much as men tend to divide, Christ is one in reality. It is simply impossible to think of or talk about Christ as divided. Likewise, it is not possible to think of the church as divided.
The current situation in Christendom is far from the biblical view of the church. Thousands of Christian groups and denominations exist today, and Christianity continues to divide. As more and more Christians leave their former churches, new churches are constantly emerging.
Faced with this disturbing phenomenon, which contradicts Scripture, Christians have to answer some very crucial questions: Does Christ acknowledge all Christian entities that call themselves "churches"? Does the "one church" in the Bible refer to the invisible spiritual church only, or does it also exist visibly on earth? Most important, how can we be sure that we are in the body of Christ?
The Oneness of the Church
It has become a popular belief among professed Christians that all churches that acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord are part of the spiritual body of Christ. In other words, there are many churches in this world, but there is still only one "invisible church." According to this view, regardless of which church a person chooses to join, he is a member of Christ's body. In fact, even if a person does not belong to any church at all, he can still be in the community of the saved if he believes in the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Jesus' prayer for the disciples, he asked the Father to unite the disciples as one:
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (Jn 17:20-23)
According to this passage, the unity of believers does not exist only in the spiritual dimension. It is also visible to the world: "that the world may know that You sent Me." This visible unity must continue in the church, for Jesus' prayer was not just for the twelve apostles, but for all who would believe in Christ through their preaching. Therefore, just as the church is spiritually one, she must also be one in the present reality.
While in a spiritual sense the church has always been one body, the church in this world must also be one, "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3). The church cannot tolerate divisions within herself.
If the church in the present must also be one, then what are we to make of the plurality among Christian churches today? Many people attempt to reconcile the obvious inconsistency between the oneness of the church in the Bible and the divisions within Christianity today by adopting the view that all churches that confess Jesus Christ as Lord share a common denominator. In this view, the different doctrines that churches preach are simply different expressions of the same faith; so all Christian churches are one in essence, and the denominational differences do not constitute division.
This attempt to downplay the divisions within Christianity--by embracing all Christians under a common denominator--is mistaken. If confession of Christ's name were all that mattered, then there would not be so many diverse Christian groups today. Christianity divided precisely because doctrinal issues are so important that disagreements over them naturally lead to separation. Attempting to overlook these fundamental differences does not address the obvious divisions within Christianity.
Still, many Christian leaders are earnestly seeking a solution to the problem of division in Christendom. In an effort to bring all Christians together, many denominations and churches today advocate an ecumenical movement that recognizes the need for unity and seeks to combine all Christians in fellowship regardless of their denominational affiliations. While this endeavor to achieve harmony is commendable, it still fails to remove the barriers that divide Christendom. Christians of various denominations may join together for evangelism and worship, but the separation over doctrinal issues will still exist and cannot be ignored.
The Biblical Basis for Unity
Although almost all Christians agree on the necessity of unity, not all Christians agree on the common elements that unite the church. True unity must conform to the biblical model:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Eph 4:4-6)
The oneness of the church consists of several aspects: one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Most Christians share one hope, one Lord, and one God and Father. However, the other important elements of unity--one Spirit, one faith, and one baptism--are absent in Christianity in general. Since within Christianity today there are such widely divergent views on these three issues, it cannot qualify as the one body of Christ. We will take a moment to examine these three aspects of church unity.
"There is one body and one Spirit" (Eph 4:4). It is the Holy Spirit who brings unity to the body of Christ (Eph 4:3). Believers of the true church must receive the same Spirit. They must share the same belief and experience of the Holy Spirit. But today, there are diverse views on the Holy Spirit. Some Christians believe that receiving the Holy Spirit is only a silent, inward experience that occurs at the time of a believer's conversion. Others preach that a believer needs to ask for the Holy Spirit through prayer, with speaking of tongues as a necessary evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit.
There are also diverse kinds of spiritual phenomena. In some churches, people fall to the floor when they pray; they may dance ecstatically or laugh uncontrollably. In other churches, Christians believe that the work of the Holy Spirit is a spiritual renewal without any spiritual experiences.
Are all of these beliefs and experiences the work of the one Spirit? A casual glance at 1 Corinthians 12 may lead us to think that the diverse spiritual phenomena in Christianity confirm the teaching that the Holy Spirit distributes various gifts for the common good of the church. Yet while there are many gifts, there is only one gospel. The one Spirit cannot be the source for the many gospels and doctrines of salvation that exist in Christianity. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth who reveals the truth of salvation to believers (Jn 14:16, 26; 1 Cor 2:9-12). The fact that there are so many different teachings about salvation shows that there is a lack of unity in the Spirit.
Therefore, to achieve unity, we must examine the Scriptures again and compare our experience of receiving the Holy Spirit with the apostolic experience. In the true church today, believers should receive the Holy Spirit just as the apostles did (Acts 10:47). Only the church in which believers share this same experience can be the spiritual temple of the Holy Spirit.
There is only one gospel of salvation. The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20). As the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15), the church must uphold the one truth of salvation. Thus, the unity of the church must be based on the unity of faith (Eph 4:13).
All believers must share a common faith in terms of salvation (Jude 3). Those who do not accept this only gospel of salvation, or who preach "another Jesus" or "another gospel," are not part of the body of Christ, even if they profess to be Christians. This is the measure that the apostles used, and they did not hesitate to exclude or even condemn those who did not share the same faith.
At first, the claim that confession of the Lord Jesus Christ should be the only common denominator of Christianity appears to be biblical. Didn't Paul say, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:26)? The problem arises when we study exactly what faith in Christ entails, for this is where Christian groups and denominations differ. Some hold that accepting Jesus Christ into our hearts and openly confessing His name guarantees eternal life, and they deny the necessity of the sacraments for salvation. Others may acknowledge the sacraments but differ in their views on the biblical way to conduct them.
We cannot trivialize such differences, because they have to do with the salvation of believers. The church cannot possibly hold conflicting doctrines of salvation and still maintain her unity. The boundary of church unity must be based on the one gospel of salvation that the apostles preached. Enlarging this boundary is tampering with the gospel truth.
The Lord Jesus commands His followers to enter the narrow gate (Mt 7:13-14). In other words, we must do the will of the Heavenly Father (Mt 7:15-23). Those who do not abide by the one way of salvation cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. This is the way of God--it is the "common denominator" set by Him. We are not in the position to enlarge the narrow gate just because we would like to include people of different faiths. The only path to unity is for all Christians to obey the one gospel and to accept the way of salvation that Christ has provided.
"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free--and have all been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:13). Believers become members of the one body by means of one baptism. That is why the Scripture speaks of "baptism into Christ" (Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27).
Many churches today consider baptism unnecessary because they do not believe that sins are washed away by Christ's blood during baptism. According to this belief, baptism has value only because it serves as a personal expression and a public declaration of our faith. It does not have any spiritual effect at all.
Even among churches that believe in the necessity of baptism for salvation, there are various views on the mode of baptism. In truth, however, baptism is effective only when the Holy Spirit is present (1 Jn 5:6-9), for it is by the one Spirit that we are baptized into the body of Christ. If the one Spirit is absent, then baptism has no effect.
There are many beliefs on baptism and many ways that baptism is performed in Christianity today, but only one baptism can bring us into the body of Christ. Only one baptism is biblical: the baptism that the Holy Spirit presides over and performs. Therefore, to be united and exist as one body, the church must agree on one baptism.
The Biblical Model of Unity
Is it possible for all Christians to unite in one faith and one Spirit? The answer is yes. But the road to unity is not through ecumenism, for when we compare the apostolic church and the ecumenical movement, we notice a great discrepancy between their two approaches to achieving unity.
The apostolic church began as one body. She preached the one gospel message, and all believers received the Holy Spirit in the same way. The Holy Spirit founded only one church, and this church was always a single institution. Believers came into this body through baptism into Christ (Acts 2:38-41; 8:12; 10:48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 19:1-5). By one Spirit they were all baptized into one body (1 Cor 12:13). Within this one body there was neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for they were all one in Christ (Gal 3:28). Paul told the believers to make every effort to maintain this unity through the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).
The church grew as new converts came into this community. In chapter 8 of Acts, we read of an incident in which God reinforced the importance of church unity. The men and women of Samaria believed Philip's message and were baptized into Christ. But they did not receive the Holy Spirit until Peter and John, who were sent by the church in Jerusalem, came and laid hands on them (Acts 8:4-17).
This event shows that the believers in Samaria did not comprise a separate entity, but instead needed to join with the believers in Jerusalem. In like manner, new converts in other cities also identified themselves with the larger community of believers by submitting to the direction of the apostles in Jerusalem. The church was not a coalition of denominations, and there was no such thing as Christian groups maintaining their distinct identities. Although believers in various locations were addressed as "churches," such usage of the plural form always applies to geographic location rather than religious affiliation.
The apostolic church never allowed more than one set of basic doctrines to exist within the church. When controversies arose regarding the necessity of circumcision for salvation, the apostles and elders did not overlook the issue or try to embrace conflicting views. Instead, they convened in Jerusalem to settle the matter. Despite the extensive debate, the church arrived at a conclusion based on the Scriptures and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Then the whole church sent letters to all the churches so that all the believers may abide by the decision (Acts 15:1-35).
Later, as false brothers infiltrated the church, the apostles defended the one faith and condemned all false teachings and ungodly lifestyles. Believers in the church were commanded to drive out the unrepentant and refuse hospitality to anyone who preached a false doctrine. Even when some in the church left the community, the church still maintained her oneness. John wrote to the church regarding those who left: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us" (1 Jn 2:19). The apostles considered those who differed in their beliefs to be outside the community of believers.
The Ecumenical Movement
In light of the apostolic model of unity, the modern ecumenical movement is problematic. It seeks to unite various Christian groups while still allowing them to maintain their distinct identities and beliefs, despite the fact that these groups were not established by the Holy Spirit. The rise of so many Christian denominations and groups cannot be the work of the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit would not establish different churches that maintain different gospels. While it is important to promote a spirit of love among all professed Christians and to share our understanding of the truth, the attempt to coalesce all of these institutions into one body is a futile human endeavor. Such an approach does not conform to the biblical model.
Isaiah prophesied concerning the church in the last days:
Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the LORD'S house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths. For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isa 2:2-3)
In the end time there will be only one church, which will rise as a mountain above all other hills. All nations will stream to this church to receive the word of the Lord.
When speaking of the believers as the flock and Himself as the Shepherd, Lord Jesus said, "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (Jn 10:16). There is only one flock, not many small flocks. Although there are sheep outside this flock, they will hear the Shepherd's voice and join this flock. In the same manner, true believers will join the body of Christ by accepting the gospel of salvation.
Hence, it is clearly the will of God to have only one church on earth rather than many Christian denominations or groups. The Holy Spirit founded only one church. God recognizes only one church as the mountain of the Lord and the flock of Christ. All believers of Christ who hear the true gospel of this church must forsake their former ties and join the body of believers that the Holy Spirit has established in the end time.
The True Jesus Church
The True Jesus Church, founded in 1917, is the revival of the apostolic church. The Lord first poured out the Holy Spirit on a few Christians and revealed to them the perfect gospel of salvation according to the Scriptures. These Christians, having been entrusted with the commission to proclaim the full gospel, went out and preached the message of salvation. The Lord was with them and confirmed the gospel by pouring out the Holy Spirit on those who believed and by revealing great signs and miracles.
Like the church in the apostolic period, the True Jesus Church has received one Spirit and upholds one faith. She is not a denomination among denominations, but the one body of Christ, the continuation of the one church that the Lord established in this world. Believers in this church receive the promised Holy Spirit and experience the power of God. Since she preaches the true gospel and is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, she is the body of Christ.
Any congregation that preaches another gospel cannot also be part of Christ's body. All who accept the truth of salvation that she preaches and are baptized by the Holy Spirit into this body "come to the Heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb 12:22-24). They have believed the gospel of salvation (Eph 1:13), and their lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). They join the timeless community of the saved.
The True Jesus Church's claim that she is the body of Christ has offended many Christians. They say that to claim to be the one true church is a sign of pride and arrogance because it excludes other Christian groups. Yet these same Christians would readily agree that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, a claim that members of other religions would likewise dismiss as arrogant because it excludes them.
Therefore, just as all religions cannot be included in God's salvation, all gospels that claim to be Christian cannot be included in the body of Christ, for the apostolic church did not hesitate to exclude individuals or groups that preached a different gospel or received a different spirit. The real issue, then, is not accusations of pride or arrogance, but respect for the truth that God has established.
The name "True Jesus Church" is not just the name of an institution; it also identifies the gospel she preaches and differentiates it from other gospels. Thus, the claim that the True Jesus Church is the body of Christ is in essence stating that she preaches the true gospel. When we preach that every believer ought to accept the gospel of the True Jesus Church, we are not proclaiming ourselves, but rather the true gospel. The True Jesus Church is the body of Christ not because of the people who attend this church, but because of the gospel and the Holy Spirit that God has given to her. As long as the True Jesus Church preaches this gospel, with God's presence through the Holy Spirit, she will remain the true church.
In this light, we urge you to compare the basic beliefs of the True Jesus Church with the apostolic faith. Consider the work of the Holy Spirit in this church as a sign of God's presence. The experience of receiving the Holy Spirit comes from God, not from the preachers of the True Jesus Church. Believers testify that the True Jesus Church is the body of Christ because they have experienced the Holy Spirit in her. This blessing is a testimony to the work of God, who has graciously revealed His truth and poured out His Holy Spirit in this church.
In this end time, the Lord has raised up His church on earth. He is calling believers everywhere into His body, where they receive the word of Christ and are baptized into Him. In His church, believers receive the promised Holy Spirit and are united as one body. Rather than simply rejecting the church based on her claim, Christians must evaluate the True Jesus Church based on biblical criteria. Again, we urge you to study the basic beliefs of the True Jesus Church carefully and to ask the Lord to guide you with His Spirit. If God moves you to believe that the gospel of salvation and the Holy Spirit are truly present in this church, then we invite you to accept the truth with a humble heart and to join the community of God's elect.