No, we do not believe this. As there is only one God, there is also only one genuine church, the Body of Christ (Eph. 4:4; 1 Cor. 12:13), which includes all believers, regardless of their conviction or practice regarding the church. We have never claimed that we, the believers meeting together as the local churches, are the only true church. What we do claim is that we are part of that one true church, along with all of our fellow believers. It is this church that the Lord spoke of in Matthew 16:18, when He said, “I will build My church.” This is the unique universal church, which is composed of all those in every place and throughout all of time who have believed into the Lord Jesus Christ.
Based on such an understanding of the oneness of the church universally, what is the Bible’s pattern for the practical daily church life?
Just as the church is indivisible universally, we believe that its visible expression in time and space should likewise be absolutely, uncompromisingly one. In order to establish and maintain such practical oneness among the many members of the Body of Christ throughout the earth, God established a pattern in the New Testament of having only one church including all believers in each city. All the believers in their respective cities comprise the church in that city. Collectively, these churches are the many local expressions of the one universal church. According to the New Testament, these local churches are established solely on the inclusive ground of geography—specifically, the entire city—not on the exclusive ground of any doctrine, person, spiritual experience, concept, or form of church government (Rev. 1:11; 1 Cor. 1:10). For that reason, we follow the New Testament practice of designating the local churches as the church in a city as, for example, the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1), the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), and the seven churches in seven cities in Asia (Rev. 1:11).
By meeting as the church in a city, we are endeavoring to maintain a testimony of our oneness with all the believers in that city, neither excluding nor dividing ourselves from those who choose not to meet with us. In practice, meeting as the church in a city is the most inclusive, least exclusive possible basis on which to meet, for by definition the boundary of the church includes all Christians within a given city. Therefore, as a proper and genuine local church, we receive all believers in Christ just as God has received them (Romans 14:3; 15:7); our meetings are open to all believers and are for all believers, and we gladly fellowship with others whether or not they choose to meet with us in this way.
For more information, please see:
- “A Practical Testimony of Oneness” on an-open-letter.org