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The Church at Large — the Body of Christ
What does the Assemblies of God believe about the entire Christian church world (all born-again believers in our world) being part of the body of Christ? Is it possible for so many denominations and church groups to hold such differing theologies and lifestyles and yet be of one faith or universal Body?
The New Testament is clear in its teaching that there is only one Church, which is described as the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22,23; 2:16; 4:4; Col. 1:13-21; Rom. 12:4,5; 1 Cor. 12:12-20). That one Church includes all who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and are serving Him as the Lord of their lives. It is also clear that Jesus’ desire for the Church is that all believers be one, even as He and the Father are one (John 17:11). The unity for which Jesus prayed comes obviously from His redemptive work on the cross (Eph. 2:16). It is a spiritual unity rather than an institutional unity.
The New Testament testifies to a spiritual unity that bothalready isand yet is to be pursued. Paul exhorts us to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3, NASB). Despite denominational labels or distinctives, all true believers in Christ are one in Him. Yet unity must be cultivated and promoted within the Church at large and within local congregations.
The same passages that declare the unity of the body of Christ also speak of the great diversity in God’s creation (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:14-21; Eph. 4:4-7). So it should not surprise us if the Church contains groups that differ in theological interpretations and lifestyles. The Assemblies of God has always held that the divine inspiration of Scripture makes it the final judge in deciding matters of faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16). While we may disagree with the interpretation of Scripture by other Christian groups on a variety of issues, we must heed Paul’s advice that we are not “to judge anothers servant? To his own master he stands or falls” (Rom. 14:4, NKJV). At the same time, we must not surrender our own convictions, remembering that “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
Unity in the body of Christ does not require accepting the beliefs and practices of any group that offers membership to enhance cooperation on social and legislative matters. The Assemblies of God has historically been cautious in making alliances with church groups that do not hold the same biblical priorities, but rather emphasize social concerns over the importance of changing lives through a genuine salvation experience. The church cooperates with groups when our distinctives are not compromised. For example, the Assemblies of God is a cooperating member of the National Association of Evangelicals, the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North America, and the Pentecostal World Fellowship. But it is not a member of the World Council of Churches or the National Council of Churches.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching and in the Assemblies of God Bylaws, Article IX, B, Section 11.