This fellowship has always been different, gloriously different, from every other group of churches in Christianity. That is not at all surprising. There are differences in denominations; differences between Catholics and Orthodox, differences between Methodists and Baptists, differences between Assemblies of God and Church of God in Christ. If we were exactly like some denomination – in doctrine, order, tradition, etc., then we’d be united with that denomination. But we are a distinct religious movement. We have been a distinct fellowship ever since God called Brother William Sowders on the banks of the Ohio River some 90 years ago. David said in Psalms 16:6: I have a goodly heritage. As a fellowship, we do also. It is good to contemplate our heritage in the Body of Christ. This helps us to appreciate who we are and focuses us on our primary mission. Christianity is vast – nearly one out of every three persons on earth claims to be a Christian. There are Catholics, Orthodox, Protestant, Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians.
There are denominations, organizations, churches and para-church ministries. What about our little fellowship – the divided and scattered work that looks back to Brother William Sowders as founder? How do we fit into the overall Christian movement? We don’t! We are not supposed to fit in or blend together with Christianity as a whole. We have a mission – a unique mission that differentiates us from every other Christian group. It’s not that we are better than anyone else; God forbid that we should think so. But we must be true to our calling. God called Brother Sowders. He called him to lead a people and gave them a mission that has not yet been completed. That mission was different than the mission He gave to Martin Luther and the movement he founded. It was different from the mission He gave John and Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement.
Our mission is different from the mission of the Assemblies of God, or the Baptist churches, or the United Pentecostal Church. What do you say if someone asks what is different about the church you attend? What is it that sets our fellowship apart from other Pentecostal and charismatic churches and organizations? We could spend volumes addressing our similarities to other Christian movements, but instead, we are going to look into the areas that distinguish the Body of Christ from everything else. There are at least five major points of difference: 1) a different message; 2) a different spirit; 3) a different purpose; 4) a different order; and, 5) a different structure. As a people, we cannot aspire to be like anyone else. Yes, we preach repentance to sinners, pray them through to the Holy Ghost, lay hands on the sick, and so forth – just like many Pentecostal movements. But God has called us to do more, and to be more, than that. Paul wrote in Romans 9:6 that they are not all Israel who are of Israel. Similarly, they are not all the Body of Christ who are of Christ. What makes the Body of Christ the Body of Christ?
- A Different MessageWe have been called to go deeper in the Word of God than any other Christian group. Every denomination has some scholars; but the members of our churches have a deep understanding of the Bible. Some groups feature evangelism, some feature healings, some feature music or drama – we feature the Word of God
- The Importance of DoctrineThere are many places where you can feel the Spirit of the Lord, and many churches where you can feel a genuine love - and both of those are vital. We need more Spirit and more genuine serving of the Lord, but in those other places, when the minister begins to speak – are his words truth? Does the Spirit of truth in you respond, or are half of the minister’s words in the language of Ashdod? Acts 2:42 tells us that the early church continued steadfast in the apostle’s doctrine. Doctrine is important. Elders must hold fast “the faithful word” and be able to exhort and convince “by sound doctrine.” Titus 1:9. There is a strange spirit that is permeating much of Christianity these days. It is an attitude that says: “Don’t bore me with doctrinal debates, all I really need is love.” Truly, the Lord does love you. Part of our mission is to communicate the divine love of God to people. But if we don’t give them the Word of God, then they have no ammunition to defeat the devil. Jesus was victorious in His temptation because of His knowledge. Hebrews 5:11-12 says that something is wrong when a child of God has served Him long enough that he or she ought to be a teacher; but needs to be taught again. Not every saint must be a theologian; but every one should be skilled in the Word, and should understand the first principles of the oracles of God well enough to explain them to someone else. (“Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you of the hope that is in you.” I Peter 3:15.) Only “newborn babes” (I Peter 2:2 – desire the sincere milk of the word) in Christ are “unskillful in the word.” Hebrews 5:12- 14.How skilful are you? Are you skilful enough to do battle with the devil? Ephesians 6:12-17. Why is doctrine important? Because you cannot defeat the devil without it! Mankind was created to deal with God’s adversary, the devil. But beyond defeating Satan in our lives, we must incorporate the Word of God if we are going to grow in Christ, to mature in Him. It is impossible to go on to perfection Why is doctrine important? Because you cannot defeat the devil without it! without knowing the principles of the doctrine of Christ and the foundation of truth upon which we build our lives. Hebrews 6:1-3. Why is doctrine important? Because you cannot go on to perfection without it! A Christian life must be built upon a foundation of basic truths. Ephesians 2:20. David asked in Psalms 11:3, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Woe be unto any preacher who destroys the foundations of truth and godly order, or ignores them. Paul taught that no other foundation could be laid in the church but Christ and His truth. Is doctrine important? Yes, it is! In II Timothy 2:17-18, we learn that Hymanaeus and Philetus erred concerning the truth – and overthrew people’s faith. Jesus said in Matthew 15:8-9 that false doctrine voids worship. The Apostle John wrote in II John 10-11that believers are not to receive those with false doctrine – not those with a misconception of the basic foundations that make us the Body of Christ. Jude called preachers “ungodly men” – not because of an ungodly lifestyle; but because they taught false doctrine. Jude 3-4. The Apostle Paul thought preachers of false doctrine should be accursed. Galatians 1:8. This has no reference to new ministers coming into the fellowship. Aquilla and Priscilla did not shun Apollos – but meekly showed him deeper truths. Paul, John, and Jude were writing here about preachers who one time had truth, but turned away from the truth. III John is written about Diotrephes, who was speaking perverse things; - John considered him to be a dangerous man.
- Foundational truths of the Body of ChristWhat about our message is different from other Christian groups? We have so much commonalty with other Christian groups. We are a bona fide Christian fellowship. We believe Jesus is the Son of God, was our sinless substitute, bore our sins at Calvary, was crucified and rose from the dead. These and other truths from the infallible Bible identify us as Christian. But let us focus on those teachings that are fairly unique. There are teachings that we hold in common among our churches that differentiate us from others. There are a lot of doctrinal differences even among the various divisions of the work of Brother William Sowders, but there is a core of beliefs that virtually all of them hold to. These are “foundational messages” that the Body of Christ is built upon. They are the “ancient landmarks” which our fathers have set. Proverbs 22:28. Space limitations preclude proving each one of them from the Scriptures. But there is a strong and comprehensive Scriptural basis for each of these truths – we have studied and taught them for more than 80 years. Let us briefly survey six of those foundational truths that distinguish our fellowship from others:
- The Beast and BabylonA final point of distinction is this fellowship’s understanding of the beast and Babylon. Much of Christianity fails to understand prophecy. Specifically, they do not understand what constitutes the “beast” seen especially in Revelation and Daniel, and they do not have any idea what Mystery Babylon really is. God has given this fellowship knowledge. Revelation 13:1 shows a type: a beast with seven heads, and ten horns. In verse 11, another beast rises up. That is the eighth head seen on this horrible creature. Verse 15 is about an image that speaks – not a statue that lives. Verse 17 presents information about the mark of the beast. In Revelation 17:3, the same beast is seen – but with a woman riding it. This beast, and others in Daniel 7 that we don’t have space to cross-reference, are great human world governmental powers that have dominated the Middle East. The seven heads are Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece, Pagan Rome, and Papal Rome. The eighth head will be an image of the seventh. The whore that rides the beast is an apostate religious system that has been supported by the beast, and which has given birth to apostate daughters – harlot denominations. That apostate system is called Babylon in the Bible. God’s people are to flee out of that system. Revelation 18:4. Jeremiah 51:6-8 tells all true believers to flee Babylon.
- The Bride of ChristThe fifth doctrinal distinction is our understanding of the Bride of Christ. If you ask any licensed minister of any organized denomination about the Bride of Christ, and chances are you’ll be told that it is a type of the entire church. Ask about the rapture and you’ll be told that all believers are going to be caught away. This fellowship asks: But what does the Word of God say? Revelation 14:1 is misunderstood by most Christians. We are almost the only people to know that the Bride is limited to 144,000 overcomers. We can explain why Paul pressed for the “high calling of God” and understand that there are other callings of God that are not so high. Philippians 3:14. In Revelation 12:1-6, the woman is a type of the church; man-child is a type of the Bride. Only the man-child is caught away, or raptured, to heaven; the woman flees into the wilderness.
- The Body of ChristThe phrase “the Body of Christ” is commonly used throughout Christianity. But the fourth distinction between us and the rest of the Christian people is our belief that that phrase refers to a limited company of true believers in an identifiable fellowship. Most Christians think that “the Body of Christ” refers to an invisible, mystical composition of all believers scattered in all denominations and groups. But Brother William Sowders early on received a revelation: that the Body of Christ is separate and distinct from everything else in religion. Brother Lloyd Goodwin expounded upon this truth when he taught that the Body is a corporal, corporate fellowship. Corporal means separate and distinct, identifiable as one body of people. In Acts 9:26, Saul left the Pharisee organization and joined an identifiable group of disciples, the Body of Christ. In Acts 4:23, the apostles returned to “their own company.” There was a separate company of believers that constituted the true church in those days; there is still a separate company of believers who are the true church today. By the end of the first century, there was still one identifiable fellowship. I John 1:3. When ministers defected, and left that fellowship, they were leaving the Body of Christ. I John 2:19. Paul was in the Body of Christ; Hymaneaus and Philetus were outside of that fellowship. John was in; Diotrephes was out. The Body of Christ is also corporate. This means that it is given recognition or legal standing – not by the government, but by God. There is a fellowship that Jesus Christ recognizes as His Body. We must be sure we are in that particular fellowship. Colossians 1:18 tells us that Christ is the head of the Body – His church. He recognizes it. Paul said in Galatians 4:9 that it is one thing to know God; another to be known of God. There is a fellowship on the earth that He knows, and recognizes as belonging exclusively to Him. Further, we were taught that the Body of Christ is not aligned with or allied with other Christian groups. We go unto Christ outside the camp of organized religion. See Hebrews 13:13.
- HellThe third foundational truth that sets this Body apart is its understanding of biblical hell. Virtually every Christian denomination and group believes that hell is a literal lake of fire and brimstone. Sinners will be roasted alive, not for a thousand years, not a million, or a billion or ten trillion years, but forever. Satan will laugh as souls pop and fry. (Without nerves to conduct pain impulses, it is difficult to understand how a disembodied soul could even feel the pain of an eternity of hurting.) In this fellowship, we’ve learned that hell is the grave – and that most Bible references to hell mean the second, or perpetual, death. For example, in Revelation 20:11-15, the Bible clearly states that the lake of fire is the second death. See also Revelation 21:8. In Jeremiah 51:39, it is said that the dead sleep a perpetual sleep – not an endless torment of burning fire. Romans 6:23 proclaims that the wages of sin is death, not eternal pain and burning. The hell of the Bible is a place of destruction, not one of perpetual torture.
- The Mortality of the SoulChristians, generally, believe that every human soul is immortal. There is no scriptural support for that belief. In this fellowship, we have searched the scriptures, and have seen that the soul is mortal. Romans 2:7 refers to those Christians who are seeking for immortality. Why seek for immortality if you already have it? But the Scriptures teach that the soul that sins shall die. Ezekiel 18:4, 20. Since all have sinned, all souls shall die. Even Jesus poured out His soul to death. Isaiah 53:12. In their false doctrine of the immortality of the soul, religion had to have a place for the souls of sinners to go after the death of the body. So they invented a place where those evil, immortal souls could be punished forever: hell.
- The GodheadThe overwhelming majority of Christian denominations and groups believe in the trinity. A significant minority, primarily composed of several Pentecostal groups, believe in oneness or that Jesus and His Father are one person. We have found the truth in the middle. Again, there is not sufficient space here to prove that there are two in the godhead, but there is solid biblical support for this teaching. In Psalms 110:1, David refers to two Lords, not three. In John 8:17-18, Jesus refers to two testimonies, Himself and His Father. There were not one or three, but only two gods seen in that verse. In I Corinthians 11:3, God’s order is seen – and it excludes the Holy Ghost as an entity. We believe in the Holy Ghost, as the Spirit, the life-force, and power-source for both God and His Son. But the Holy Ghost is not a person. Someone may say, “That teaching is not unique to this fellowship; Charles Taze Russell and the Jehovah’s Witness movement teach two in the godhead.” They do, but they teach a somewhat different doctrine. They teach that Jesus was just an angel before His first advent, and that He was later promoted to godship. But the Bible teaches that He was a God before He was born in a manger. John 1:1. Yet His Father was a greater God. John 14:28.
- A Different SpiritSo the first point of differentiation between this fellowship and every thing else in religion is that we have a different message. The members of the Body of Christ have an understanding of that message. Second, our mission is different, in that we have a different spirit. There is something about the Body of Christ, there is a spirit about it, that is different. This is not a reference to God’s Holy Spirit, but rather a spirit about the people; an attitude of love – in short, charity. Most Christians think that charity is giving an offering, or donating old clothes to Goodwill. Among us, charity means the divine love of God. A hallmark of this precious fellowship has been the message of charity. We’ve been taught that your spirit is everything. In John 13:35, Jesus told His disciples that they were to be noted for their love to, not for, one another. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth to show them a more excellent way. I Corinthians 12:31. They didn’t have it yet; Paul was showing them how to obtain something very precious. That way was the way of charity. In I Corinthians 13:1-3, he showed them that charity, not spirituality, is the more excellent way. Someone may seem spiritual, or blessed of God, but if they don’t have charity – they are just a lot of noise. Verses 4-7 describe this charity, the divine love of God. Brother James Sowders, pastor of the Louisville Gospel Assembly, in a message delivered on May 16, 1971, said, “Charity thinks no evil, that is, is not a ‘mote hunter.’ These are things that develop complete Christianity in your life. These are things that make you like Jesus Christ. And honestly, when you get them, when charity gets control of you, you’re one of the most elegant individuals that ever existed. “Charity will take from you all your human aggressiveness. Charity will take from you all protection. Charity will make you where you will not hurt anybody. It’s so different from what we see today. But, when God takes those things away from you, He’s going to give you something else, that will be far greater than anything you have ever possessed.” In that same message, he also said: “We’ve got the Holy Ghost; we speak in tongues; we shout; get people healed at times; people get converted and filled with the Spirit; we sing; and we have visions, tongues and interpretations at times; And, that’s all good, but it hasn’t brought us to where we can treat each other right. It hasn’t brought us to where, in private, we always speak well of each other. It hasn’t caused us to quit criticizing each other. It hasn’t caused us to quit imagining things. It hasn’t caused us to cease from hurting each other’s influence.” Brother James Sowders later said, “True charity is not typified by an alms box; some people think that, if they give a little bit, that’s all that’s necessary. The benevolence of the checkbook does not meet all the woes of humanity. Giving food, clothing, and money to the poor is only the beginning, the kindergarten class. Charity has higher, purer forms of manifestation. Charity is the incentive reaching out for justice and light. Charity seeks to smooth down the rough places of living, to bridge the chasms of human folly and sin, to find the hungry heart, to give strength to the struggling, to be tender with human weakness. And greatest of all, it means obeying the divine injunction, “Judge not.” These are just words, but brother, every one of them is weighty.” Charity teaches us to bridle our tongues. James 1:26. Proverbs 6:17-19 decries a lack of charity in words. Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, we will be judged for every idle word we communicate. “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.” Proverbs 10:12. I am not to criticize your weakness. Fervent charity covers sins. I Peter 4:8. Anyone can tear down; but it takes skill to build up. An uncouth smart-aleck once asked, “Where did you get such a long nose?” The wise reply was, “I kept my nose out of other people’s business and gave it a chance to grow.” Proverbs 16:28 says that a whisperer separates chief friends. Why would you try to separate friends? Where is your charity? Proverbs 17:9, “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love: but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” Charity does not look for faults in others; it looks for the good in them. The true church teaches that we are to overcome evil with good; not criticism. Do not overcome evil with evil. Romans 12:21. You may say that the other person did not treat you right. And maybe they didn’t. So what? Did the nail they drove into your cross hurt so bad that you cannot forgive them for their part in crucifying your flesh? Can’t you be strong and bear with their weakness? The strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak. Romans 15:1. When saints squabble, or gossip, or get into wrong spirits, it is because they are both equally weak. Charity forbids us from destroying another child of God. We cannot criticize them to others. We cannot try to eliminate their influence. We cannot express our negative opinion about their lives, or conduct. Charity never fails.
- A Different PurposeGod called Brother William Sowders and our fellowship of churches for a different purpose than other groups. We preach old-time salvation; repentance from sins and the baptism of the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking with other tongues. We preach the good news of the gospel, pray for healings and miracles; but that is not our sole, or even our primary, purpose. God called us to stand outside of Babylon for many reasons; but there are two primary, or overriding purposes: (1) to give this world one final witness, and (2) to produce members of the Bride of Christ.
- As a WitnessGod’s judgment is going to rain down on this world. The beast, the false prophet, and the global population of sinners will see plagues poured out as a just God gives this rebellious world the wrath it so merits. But prior to that judgment, there will be a glorious church, which will give the people one final witness. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, Ye shall be witnesses of me. That was spoken to the church. Ephesians 5:27 prophesies of a glorious church. Revelation 11:1-2 is a type of a measured temple; and unmeasured courts. (Ephesians 4:13: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”) Verses 3-4 tells of two witnesses – they will be produced by a measured temple. We have called this the latter rain, we’ve looked for a cloud like a man’s hand to rise up out of the sea, we’ve grown weary in waiting – but it is still going to happen!
- To Produce Bride MembersOther movements and groups may get multitudes saved and filled with the Holy Ghost, and perhaps they will even put many people in the new earth. But this Body of people has been called to produce the rulers of the world to come. The Bible teaches that saints (from the true church) will judge the world. I Corinthians 6:2. Revelation 2:26-27 boldly proclaims that overcomers will rule the nations. Isaiah 32:1 says a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. We know the King; but where are the princes coming from? Clearly, someone is going to reign with Him. Revelation 20:6. Babylon cannot produce princes. The true church will produce those who are to rule. You cannot qualify to be a ruler just anywhere. There are qualifications required of those who are in the Bride of Christ. Those persons pressed for the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ, and they made it. Nobody is pressing in Babylon. Even those who think they are striving will not be crowned because they did not strive lawfully. “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” II Timothy 2:4. In this fellowship, we must be careful or we’ll produce churches full of Christians who no longer “press.” Revelation 14:1, 3 shows that the Bride of Christ is composed of a limited number. They learned a song others couldn’t sing. What song is that? Revelation 15:3 tells us that it is the Song of Moses and the Lamb – an understanding of the truth from the Old and New Testaments. You cannot sing that song in Babylon. Psalms 137:1, 4.
- A Different OrderThe way we worship and conduct our services is not based upon man’s traditions; nor do we pattern after the church world. To the very best of our ability, we seek to follow New Testament order; not what we see Babylon do on television. Paul told the church in Corinth, the rest will I set in order when I come. I Corinthians 11:34. Even sounds are different. The sound of worship in the Body of Christ is to be different from the sound of worship in Babylon – just as the sound in the camp of Israel was different around the golden calf than it had been after their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. In Exodus 32:17-18, Joshua heard noise – but it was not the pure sound of true worshippers in Spirit and truth. It was the sound of worship, idolatrous worship. Joshua recognized immediately that the sound was different than the sound of worshippers in due order. Even the teaching of the word of God is different. It is not always in shouting and theatrics – but Jesus went up on a mountain, and when He was set, He opened His mouth and taught the people. Matthew 5:1. But there was a way that Jesus broke bread that was different from any other man. See Luke 24:30-31. There is a way that this ministry is to break the bread of life that is to be different from every other ministry in Christendom. Ministers in the early church were admonished to preach the Word – in season, out of season with both longsuffering and doctrine. II Timothy 4:2. Preachers are to hold forth the word of life; and by sound doctrine they are to exhort and convince gainsayers. Titus 1:9.
- A Different Organizational StructureVirtually every other religious group has organized, or formed an organizational structure. Some structure is needed in any true fellowship – for God is not a disorganized God. But man has organized God right out of their denominations. God cannot move in violation of their Constitution, Rules of Order and Denominational Handbook. God said, build according to the pattern I showed you. Exodus 25:40.
- Church MembershipMan often builds according to his own plan. For example, most churches have membership rolls or lists. People join through a prescribed process, perhaps by being voted in or by agreeing to abide by some prescribed set of rules. But saints in the churches of the Body of Christ cannot be voted in, nor can they be voted out. You don’t join the true church; the Lord adds you to it. See Acts 2:41. In the Body of Christ, our only list of members is one written in Heaven. Luke 10:20. The Lord adds to the church – we don’t vote them in, and they do not sign some membership form. Acts 2:47.
- Ministerial HierarchySimilarly, we have no ministerial hierarchy. That is not to say that every minister is on the same level in God; they aren’t. The Apostle Paul was not on the same level as Agabus the prophet, but they each could respect the gift of God in the other’s life – and neither tried to rule the other. In the Body of Christ, each minister is under the headship of Jesus – and not a supervisor, regional bishop, state overseer or general superintendent. Philip was not an apostle. He was one of the ministers in the Jerusalem church; an evangelist. The apostles were governing that church. But in Acts 8:5, the Spirit of God directed Philip to evangelize in Samaria. Earlier Jesus had told His ministers not to go there. Matthew 10:5. But later He prophesied that the church would witness there. Acts 1:8. Significantly, Philip did not need permission of the apostles or any overseer to go to Samaria. Nor did he need any ministerial authorization to go to Gaza. Acts 8:26. In Acts 11:22, The apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to only as far as Antioch. He was under their ministerial authority. He went no further. That is why he had to bring Saul of Tarsus to Antioch. See Acts 11:25. But Barnabas was free to follow the Lord. When the Holy Ghost directed Barnabas to go further, he didn’t have to get permission from Jerusalem. Acts 13:2. When God calls a man to the ministry, we recognize God’s calling, and the presbytery ordains that man, I Timothy 4:4, but we do not “license” him to preach. God gives him license to speak in the name of the Lord – just like He did for Jeremiah, or Saul of Tarsus.
- Not an Incorporated ChurchNeither our local churches nor our association of churches are incorporated. This distinguishes us from almost every other Christian group. Brother William Sowders called Articles of Incorporation a marriage license with the Beast. Corporations are entities created by the state. A corporation has no legal existence until the government gives it permission to exist. What the state creates; it can regulate, tax, or even destroy. State action can abolish a corporation for a variety of reasons. Our churches operate as a trust. Title to our property is held by trustees in trust for the benefit of all of the congregation. Trusts are recognized by the state, but are not a creation of the state. We do not believe that the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is submissive to, nor a creation of, the state. We do not believe the church can be regulated nor abolished by the state – like a corporation can. We believe that incorporation is one of the marks of the beast. Revelation 13:16.
Conclusion In these five areas, the Body of Christ is distinguished from every other Christian movement. This is as it should be; for we have a distinct mission. Let other denominations and fellowships be true to their calling; but let us be true to ours.