Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 10, 1959
NUMBER 31, PAGE 8-9b

Foolish Preaching About The Church (II.)

James E. Cooper, Campbellsville, Kentucky

Some try to sustain the idea that the various denominations are simply parts of the "universal" church of Christ. One of the arguments used concerns the parable of the vine and branches in John 15:1ff. People see where Jesus said, "I am the vine, ye are the branches," and jump to the conclusion that Jesus is teaching that all denominations are simply branches of the true vine. They think that all denominationalism is attached to Christ. Although these different denominations wear different names, practice different things, believe different doctrines, follow different creeds, and have differing organizations, sectarians think they are all attached to Christ, the true vine.

The New Testament recognizes no such monstrosity. Imagine how it would look if you were to go out into your garden and find a vine looking like the sectarian world tries to see this passage. Suppose that you go into your garden and find a vine with one branch bearing pumpkins, another bearing cucumbers, another bearing gourds, another bearing squash, another bearing cantaloupes, and still another bearing watermelons. You would immediately see that something was out of the ordinary: You might even think you were "seeing things," and needed to be committed to a mental institution! For, we all realize that such a monstrosity is not in nature. We know that we can expect to reap what we sow. This is a universal rule. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."

This same principle is applicable to the question of the vine and the branches. When we plant the seed, it will return fruit after its own kind. Luke 8:11 and Matt. 13:19 teach us that the seed of the Kingdom is the Word of God. When the seed of the Kingdom is planted, it will bring forth after its own kind. It will produce Christians. All will be alike. The seed of the Kingdom will not produce some other kind of fruit. It takes some other kind of seed to make a sectarian. If you sow the catechism, it will make a Catholic. If you sow the Confession of Faith, it will make a Presbyterian. If you sow the Church Discipline, it will make a Methodist. If you sow the Church Manual, it will make a Baptist. But, if you sow the seed of the Kingdom, the word of God, it will make Christians, nothing more and nothing less.

I want you to turn back to John 15:1-6. In this passage we notice that Christ is the true vine. God is the husbandman. Every branch that does not bear fruit is taken away and burned. No branch can bear fruit unless it is joined to the vine.. Now what are the branches? Are the branches denominations? Does this passage teach that all denominations are simply branches of the true vine? Look at verse six, "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered . .." Our Saviour did not say, "If a church abides not in me." He says, "If a man abide not in me." Jesus was not talking about churches; he was talking about individuals. He was talking to individual disciples. He was referring to individual members of the body of Christ. The vine and the branches illustration does not help sectarians at all in their contention.

If we can understand such simple things in the realm of nature, why can we not understand them in the realm of religion? Is it because men have listened to too much "foolish preaching"? Men try to cling to sectarianism, regardless of what the Bible says. Surely, "Ephraim is joined to his idols."

Others try to defend denominationalism by saying that they are all simply branches in the invisible church. There are over 250 different denomination in the United States. Each one of them is distinctly different from all the rest. These distinctive differences keep them apart. Jesus prayed that we might all be one. (Jno. 17:20-21.) Sectarianism thanks God that we have so many churches and we can worship in the church of our choice. When the Bible is read to show that Jesus established only one church, and that church is the church of Christ, people fall back on this "invisible church" idea. The "invisible church" is thought to be the body of Christ. So, all Christians are members of the "invisible church," regardless of their denominational membership. They try to tell us that the Bible is referring to the "invisible church" when it talks about the oneness of the body of Christ. But they still think an individual can "join the church of his choice." They think they become members of the "invisible church" by faith only, and then are to be baptized to join some "visible church."

This concept of the "invisible church" is as foreign to the New Testament as daylight is from dark. The New Testament says absolutely nothing about the "invisible church." If you are willing to let the Bible be your absolute standard of authority in religion, that ought to settle it. Since the Bible does not mention an "invisible church," we ought to dismiss the term and the concept it implies. Peter says, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God." You can't speak as the oracles of God, and talk about an "invisible church."

Jesus promised to build his church. (Matt. 16:18.) He said, ". . . I will build my church." He did not say that he would build his churches, but referred to his "church," singular. Did he ever establish that church? Was that church ever on earth, or is it some "invisible" something? Was the church that Jesus promised to build ever seen by anybody? If so, was it not visible? The church in Jerusalem was a visible church. On the day of Pentecost three thousand of them could be seen going into the waters of baptism, and the Lord added the saved to the church. The church in Jerusalem was visible enough to be persecuted by the Jews. They were visible enough to be scattered abroad. The church at Corinth was a visible church. So were the congregations at Ephesus, Thessalonica, Philippi, Rome, Antioch, etc. They were composed of flesh-and-blood folks just like you and me. But there were no denominations back then. The Bible does not record the distinctive name, faith, or practice, of a single denomination in the world today. The church of Christ is not a denomination. It is the body of Christ. It is visible today, just like it was back then. This idea of an "invisible church" consisting of all the earthly "visible" denominations, is not found in the Word of God. It is the result of "foolish preaching." People try to justify a condition that is contrary to the Word of God, and resort to such foolishness.

Somebody wants to know about the seven churches mentioned in the first part of the book of Revelation. Those were not denominations, wearing different names, and believing and practicing different things. The only trouble with them was in the human side. They were all churches of Christ. They were all congregations of the people of God. These various congregations were located in different cities — at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Philadelphia, Sardis, and at Laodicea.

Whenever you hear anyone talking about the "visible church" and the "invisible church," you just remember that this is just a lame excuse of the person who cannot find the denomination of which he is a member named and described in the Bible. Neighbor, ask your preacher to show you where the name of the denomination of which you are a member is mentioned in the Bible. Ask him to show you book, chapter and verse for your religious practices and theological doctrines. Ask him to show you book chapter and verse for the organization of the denomination for which he preaches. Ask him for the book, chapter and verse for the idea of an "invisible church" uniting all these sectarian institutions. When he begins to hedge about, you just remember that "denominationalism" is not taught in the Bible!