When God gave His law by Moses to Israel, He made no provision for the division of His people into sects and parties. But by the time Jesus came into the world, division was well entrenched. There were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and doubtless others. It was assumed that all who were serious about religion would be associated with one of these. But to which of these parties did Jesus belong? Of course, He belonged to none of them. He maintained His independent, non-sectarian relationship with God to the very end. For this reason, they all opposed Him.
Jesus did not provide for His followers to be divided into sects and parties. Rather He desired that they might be united. After praying for His apostles, He then prayed that all His disciples may be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:20-21).
Through the years, however, divisions have developed and has been perpetuated by the writing of creeds and the formation of denominational organizations. The result is that now among professed followers of Jesus there are many bodies (denominations), many faiths (creeds), and many baptisms. How different the present situation from the unity described in the New Testament. The apostle declared, “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” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Many today regret the division among believers and wish it did not exist. They desire the uniting of all the denominations and work diligently to that end. But they assume that until this is accomplished, there is nothing an individual can do but join one of the existing divisions and maintain a kind and tolerant spirit. Nothing in the teaching or practice of Jesus supports this approach to unity.
Jesus did not undertake to convene an ecumenical conference designed to effect a merger of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes into one super sect. Neither did He pray that His disciples might be united into one super denomination. He prayed rather that individual believers might be united in Himself and in the Father. His teaching was designed to turn individuals from the doctrines and traditions of men to the simple word of God.
In the first century the church was simply composed of all who were saved by Jesus Christ through repentance and baptism, and it continued to grow as others were saved (Acts 2:38-47). Groups of these saved people met in various cities and each group was a church. Though united in Christ, they were independent of any human association or federation. Christ directed them through His inspired apostles, teaching them how they were to worship and work together.
If we obey the same instructions given through the Lord’s apostles, repenting of our sins and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, we too will be saved. When we are saved, the Lord will add us to His church as He added them. They joined no other religious organization; neither should we. In Christ, we are united with all others who are in Him.
As members of the Lord’s church, we must then study carefully the New Testament’s description of that church and the instructions given to it. This is found in the book of Acts and in the letters which follow it. Since the apostles were guided by the Holy Spirit, we can be sure that the churches under their instruction were exactly what Jesus wanted them to be. If we duplicate these early churches the Lord will be pleased with us.