Will the real church please stand up?
There are so many denominations and non-denominational churches, all teaching something just a little different, or placing more importance on one thing over another; it is almost a full-time job trying to figure out which is true and which is false. We have Roman Catholics claiming to be the one true church of Christ on earth, the Eastern Orthodox disagree and claim they are the true church, I’ve heard Baptists claim the same thing, the same with Presbyterians, on an on it goes, so which is the one true church? It is a question I get asked a lot by non-believers who want to try and disprove the Christian faith.
The question “Which is the true church?” is a bit misleading, it gets one thinking of buildings or denominational confessions, I think a more precise question is “What is a true church?”
Ephesians 2:18-22 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
So, the church is the house of God, a spiritual place that transcends buildings made by human hands. Yes, we gather into different groups, but we are all linked together by God. A church is a group of people who share a state of the heart, where God the Holy Spirit lives and moves in us and continually turns us towards the Father though the Son Jesus Christ, in other words, the triune God indwells us and this is what connects us one to another. The question then comes up, how do we know if we are part of the church and how do we identify others who are also part of the house of God?
The above scripture passage says the foundation of the house of God is the apostles and prophets, what is meant by this is the Bible, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. So, any true church will be placing the Bible as its sole authority in matters of faith, morals, and church government. No other writings or traditions will take a place equal to or higher than the scriptures, any such writings like a confession of faith, will be seen as less authoritative than the Bible and be backed 100% by scripture.
It also says that Jesus Himself is the cornerstone. In the trade of masonry, a cornerstone is the most important part of the building, it is the first stone laid, since all other stones will be laid in line with it, thus determining the entire position of the building. If one gets their understanding of Jesus wrong, they are out of line with the cornerstone. Jesus said in John 8: 24 “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
A proper understanding of Jesus is needed for a church to part of the household of God, if someone or a group of people say that Jesus was just a good man, or a prophet, or an angel, they are not confessing the true Jesus Christ and are not a true church. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the triune God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one in being, three in person, coequal and coeternal. Now granted a total understanding of the Trinity is beyond our human minds, but some Biblically orthodox understanding of who God is, is needed.
Ephesians also says that we are being built up together, so another important part of whether a church is a true church is community. Is the church in question a tightknit community, helping and serving one another? As Paul tells us, a church that is a community will display the following: Romans 12: 9-13 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
So, what about all the differences in the denominations, for instance, one church may baptize babies and another only adult believers, is one of those false, since they both use scripture to back up what they say, after all, both interpretations can’t be true? The problem with so many different denominations, with each saying and doing different things is human error. No church is 100% pure in its doctrine, that is just the way things are, like Jesus said, the church is going to have both wheat and tares mixed together until He returns. But He also prayed to the Father that we all be one, and since all true believers are joined together in the Holy Spirit, it does not really matter if there are many denominations, because we are all one church-the household of God.
So, if one has the scriptures, a right understanding of Jesus and a community spirit which causes each other to grow in God, you are part of the true church, which is the body of Christ. We don’t all have to agree on everything, but somethings are just so important that to not believe in them disqualifies a person or persons from being part of the household of God.
How does being part of a church effect your faith journey? Are you active in your church? Why or why not?