I have been given some copies of material used in a “preacher training school” operated by sponsoring church arrangements. One sheet is headed: THE ONE CHURCH IS COMPOSED OF MANY LOCAL CONGREGATIONS. There are clusters of circles, surrounded by a larger circle: one headed “Sears & Roebuck Co.”—another “Shell Oil Col.”—and the third “Churches of Christ, Rom. 16:16.” We believe God intended saints to work and worship together in “local congregations”...but this is a far cry from saying the universal church is an aggregate of churches. The “one church” view of God’s people” considers saints in the aggregate. It is a “brotherhood” not a “churchhood.”
Individuals are baptized into “one body” “Christ” (1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27) not into a local church. The branches on the Vine are individuals (Jn. 15:6); as are runners in the Christian Race, soldiers in the Lord’s army, and in all other N.T. figures concerning the units of the One church. Under certain circumstances one could be faithful to Christ, and not be a part of a local church (Acts 8:39; Jn. 10).
Sears and Shell “companies” are units of the parent company via corporate ties: common stock funding and centralized administration authority. The whole functions as one organization; each company “unit” is NOT “independent and autonomous.” And, whether by ignorance or intention, the comparison of universal church to such can only promote a denominational concept of the Lord’s people. This was Campbell’s concept of the U. church and led him to endorse the Missionary Society as a means or medium through which the whole church acts as one.
The preacher training sheet says a “line of fellowship concerning faith, teaching and practice is to be maintained between congregations.” True saints do indeed have faith, teaching and practice in common; but the rightness of such is God determined, not a consensus of “the great middle section” of a movement. The “Church composed of churches” concept, with traditional doctrines and terminology, and discipline which must be honored by all, encourages unwritten creedalism—standards having only human fallible authority. An artificial “our church” fellowship gradually takes the place of the genuine oneness created by common fellowship with God. We begin to think acceptance by some local church is equivalent to acceptance by God. As churches “drift” (and who can deny they do) our standards drift, and we are satisfied if people are “faithful to the church.” BUT WE ARE ONE-ON-ONE WITH GOD (Rom. 14:12).