In Matthew Chapter 16:18, our Lord made a very strange statement when He said, "Upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." Notice in this passage that the term church is singular, not plural. Jesus did not say that He would build his churches, but rather simply that He would build His church. Listen to the passage again. "Upon this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against IT." Again in the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote, "That the church is the body of Christ, and that there is only one body." Ephesians 1:22,23 & 4:4-6.
A simple reading of the New Testament reveals that in bible times, there was only one church, and that all faithful Christians were a part of that one great body of believers (I Corinthians 12:12-13). Although the term churches is occasionally used in the New Testament to refer to a plurality of individual congregations in different locations, such as the seven churches of Asia (Revelations 2:3). The Bible is quick to point out that the same doctrine was preached in all of them (I Corinthians 4:17). Perhaps you're wondering in view of the unity of the first century why there are so many conflicting denominations and by what authority they exist. The purpose of this lesson then is not to be critical of sincerity of good intentions of anyone, but to find a bible answer for these important questions.
Down through the centuries, it has always been a tendency of mankind to attempt to improve upon God's divine plan, and in so doing to depart from God's way. In the book of Proverbs Solomon said, "There is a way that seemeth right unto man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." This tendency was true in the days of King Saul (I Samuel 15:1-24). Also in the time of Naaman (II Kings 5:1-14), and throughout the ages. History shows that is exactly what took place shortly after the days of the Apostles. At first they began a gradual departure from come. These prophecies did not cease to be religious, nor that they would cease to claim that they would be following Christ, but simply that they would depart from God's pattern, and thus make worship vain. Jesus said that such people would in fact strongly claim to be following him, and would be doing great work in His name (Matthew 7!22). It was long after this in Matthew 15:9 that Jesus said that teaching for doctrine such commandments for men make our entire worship vain. Paul made the coming departure from the New Testament pattern even clearer if possible, when he described the end of the world in these words. "Let no man deceive you by any means, for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first" II Thess. 2:3. It was not long after the days of the Apostles that these prophecies began to be fulfilled. First one item then another was altered to fit the times. These changes in the New Testament pattern were very gradual, so much so that no one generation became very concerned about them, but eventually they produced religious organizations that were often as different from the New Testament church as day is from night. Throughout the centuries the tendency continued to let man's thoughts about religion take the place of God's divine plan. As though in anticipation of this, the Bible says, "for my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord" Isaiah 55:8-9.
As more and more human opinions developed, new groups began to be formed. Each like the New Testament church in some ways, yet each holding special human practices and doctrines which made them different from the church of the Bible and from each other. At present in America alone there are over 250 different denominations. All similar on the surface, yet each holding different human opinions and teaching human doctrines peculiar to their particular group. If these differences had not existed, such separate groups would never have developed. The present widespread religious division then is not over what the Bible teaches, but over human opinions and doctrines.