Depending on whom you ask these questions, you could get very different answers.
Therefore, let us go to the only standard that a follower of God should have; His Word.
Let us determine, from His Word, the answers to these questions.
First of all, we need to establish
what we mean when we talk about the church.
The word comes from two different Greek words. "Ek" which means "out of" and "kaleo" which means "to call". Thus, when we refer to the church, we are talking about those who have been "called out". But called out of what?
Paul told the Corinthians, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
Christians have been called out of the world.
That call comes from God's Word.
"Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Our call to become Christians is not a mysterious one. We become Christians when we read God's Word and obey its call.
When was the church established?
In answering this question, it helps if we understand that when Christ talks about the "kingdom" he is talking about the church. He uses the words interchangeably in Matthew 16:18-19; "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." In this passage, Peter is told that the church would be built upon the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. But Jesus used the word "church" in verse 18 and "kingdom of heaven" in verse 19. The church is the kingdom. The Bible is very plain on when the kingdom was established.
Let us look at a few passages. "And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power." (Mark 9:1). The kingdom of God would come during the lifetime of some of those present with Jesus. Also, Jesus said that it would come with power.
Next, we should notice that Jesus sent His disciples to Jerusalem to wait until they were given power, "And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:49). A little later, they were told by Jesus that they would receive power when the Holy Ghost came upon them, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." (Acts 1:8).
Let us review what we have so far. Jesus told them that the kingdom would come during their lifetimes and that it would come with power. He then told His disciples to go to Jerusalem to wait for power. Then He told them that the power would come when the Holy Ghost came upon them.
Now notice the fulfillment of these predictions, "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:1-4).
The kingdom (church) was established in Acts 2,
on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ.
We know this because the kingdom is always referred to something that is already in existence after this point. "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:" (Colossians 1:13). Also, "I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." (Revelation 1:9) John was in the kingdom. Yet some still try to argue that the kingdom does not exist.
How does one become a member of the Lord's church?
In order to be part of the Lord's church, we have to be saved, "Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47). Therefore, the question of how one becomes a member of the church is a question of what one must do to be saved so that he can be added to the church by God.
So let us look at what the Bible tells us we have to do to be saved. Some like to pick out one verse which says what we have to do and decide that is ALL we have to do. However, we must look at ALL the Bible teaches in order to get ALL the truth.
The Bible says that we have to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. "I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." (John 8:24).
The Bible says that we have to repent (or turn from) our sins; "I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3).
The Bible says that we must confess our faith in Christ, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:9-10).
Finally, the Bible says that we have to be baptized in order to be saved, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:16).
What must be done to become a member of the Lord's church?
Believe, Repent, Confess, and be Baptized.
And continue to live a faithful life from that point on.
Why are there so many and which is correct?
Some are discouraged from becoming a Christian because they look at all the different denominations in the world and realize that they can't all be right. Therefore, they feel lost and never try to discover the truth. Why are there so many denominations in the world?
Denominations arise because of man's own sinfulness.
They are contrary to the will of God.
Denominationalism teaches that it is impossible for us to agree on everything so we should denominate ourselves into different groups of Christians who have our own beliefs.
Paul condemned this attitude, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." (1 Corinthians 1:10).
Jesus prayed for unity among those who believe on Him, "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." (John 17:20-21).
Why would Paul command it and Jesus pray for it if it was impossible? If denominationalism is sinful, how do we identify the correct church?
The Correct Church.
The correct church is the church which Christ established and purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). It is the church which was established on the first Pentecost after His resurrection.
When you look at various denominations throughout the world, they were started by men other than Christ. Many times they even wear the names of these men and not the name of God.
The church of Christ has no founder but Christ, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:11).
The correct church will worship in the correct way. That is: in singing (Ephesians 5:19), in prayer (Acts 2:42), in teaching (Acts 20:7), in giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and in partaking of the Lord's supper (Matthew 26:26-29).
This church will teach the correct doctrine on salvation which was already mentioned above. The best way to determine the correct church is simply to read your Bible and compare the things being done and taught to what you read.
It is extremely important that we understand what the church is and how to identify the correct church, for it has always been in God's plans: "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:" (Ephesians 3:10-11).
If it was so important to God, shouldn't we give all diligence to
make sure that the church where we attend is the correct one?
-- Ralph Price (Streetsboro Church of Christ), January 2002 --