Puritan Gems

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Marks of a True Church

How does one identify a true church? There are many groups of people today who refer to themselves as the ekklesia, the church (literally "called out"). For those who are new in the faith, or for those who get confused about the many factions that exist, there are ways to identify which is the true church and which is the false church.

Those things that are NOT Marks of a True Church

1.) CHURCH NAME - Some feel that the name "church" makes one a true church. Calling an organization a "church" does not make one a church. The church at Sardis had a name that they were alive, though they were dead (Revelation 3:1). Therefore, nothing in the "name" of a church can be considered the mark of a true church.

2.) AGE AND DURABILITY - Some suggest that that a true church is one who can establish a long history for its specific organization. However, the Devil's kingdom has been on earth since the fall. At the beginning of the "Reformation" of the church in New Testament times, age and durability were of no benefit to the false church of Judaism, who were agents of the Devil (John 8:44). Therefore, age and durability are no marks of a true church.

3.) NUMBER OF PROFESSING CONVERTS - This is especially apropos in light of today's church growth movement. A church that is growing rapidly in numbers doesn't necessarily correspond to a true church. In fact, more often than not, the reverse is true. In the first Century, Judaists and Pagans both outnumbered the true church. In Noah's Day, the true church failed to grow at all. In contrast, we read that the whole world followed after the Beast (Revelation 13:3). The New Testament Church is addressed as a "little flock" (Luke 12:32), as we are warned in Scripture that "the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few". (Matthew 7:14). Therefore, a large number of professing converts is no mark of a true church.

4.) APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION - Some have suggested that a line of succession for bishops and clergy is a mark of a true church. However, the Apostles themselves warned of false prophets and teachers in their own time (Matthew 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1), and proclaimed that they would grow abundant in latter days, "having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power". (2 Timothy 3:1-5). We have seen a multitude of churches in our own day, with a good succession, degenerate into heresy. Judas Iscariot was first in line in terms of Apostolic Succession, yet was a Devil (John 6:70). Therefore apostolic succession, even if it could be proven, is no mark of a true church.

5.) EXTERNAL LUSTER AND PROSPERITY - Some have suggested that fame, riches, and prosperity are a sign of approval from God, and therefore are marks of a godly faith and a true church. What a deceitful scheme that the Devil has laid at the feet of the simple! The church at Laodicea was rich, prospered, and in need of nothing in terms of temporal blessings, but did not realize that it was "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked". (Revelation 3:17). Asaph was envious when he saw the wicked prosper (Psalm 73:3), until he saw their end (Psalm 73:17-19). In contrast, the Son of Man had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58), and the apostles were lacking in silver and gold (Acts 3:6). Therefore prosperity is not a mark of a true church.

Those things that are the Marks of a True Church

The Nicene Creed espouses belief "in one holy catholic and apostolic Church". The true meaning of these words have been misrepresented by false churches who, just by importing these words into their name, market themselves as rightful heirs to the kingdom. Therefore, we must gain a right understanding of what it means to be a holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

1.) HOLY - The term "Holy" is most accurately defined as "set apart". The true church consists only of Christians, those who are set apart from the world in Covenant with God. Those who are unbelievers are not of the church, although they may be in the church (1 John 2:19). The church is holy in the eyes of God, not by its own works, but because of the work of Christ, who is its sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:2). Those to whom Christ has joined himself were chosen “in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him” (Ephesians 1:4). As a result, Christians are commanded to be holy (1 Peter 1:16), and to constantly pursue and grow in holiness (Ephesians 4:24, 2 Corinthians 7:1). The church uses of the Word to Instruct in Holiness (John 17:17, Ephesians 5:26), the sacraments to discern the Lord's Body (1 Corinthians 11:29), and Keys of the Kingdom to discipline those who are unholy (Matthew 16:19).

2.) CATHOLIC - This term is the cause of great confusion in modern times, and is used by papists to promote their organization as well as the accompanying fables as truth. The term means "universal" and was used long before Romanism began to ostracize those of the Apostolic Faith. The church is universal (Ephesians 2:12-13) in that it includes not only Israel, as was the case in the Old Covenant, but "the children of God that were scattered abroad". (John 11:52). The Roman Church, however, is not "catholic" in spite of its use of the term, nor ever has been.

3.) APOSTOLIC - Some have used this term to promote the myth of Apostolic Succession as being the mark of a true church. However, true meaning of the term "Apostolic" refers to adherence to Apostolic Doctrine, which is the Word of God as contained in the Holy Scriptures. Note that it is not merely the “use” of the Word that identifies the true church, for even the Devil uses the Word in corrupt ways to suit his own ends. (Matthew 4:6). Rather the true church rightly handles the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15), for that Word is the only standard for life and practice. The true church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 2:20), and cannot depart from "the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ;" (Jude 1:17). Even the verbal preaching of the Apostle Paul was subject to testing by way of the Holy Scriptures (Acts 17:11), so that anyone who preached another gospel, including apostles or angels, was anathema (Galatians 1:8). Hence the church is Apostolic in terms of doctrine, not by "fables and endless genealogies" (1 Timothy 1:3-4). No pope or archbishop can claim Apostolic authority while shunning Apostolic Doctrine, for "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work". (2 Timothy 3:16-17)


Puritan said...

Amen brother.

Many times I've come across Pastors in heavily compromised "churches" trying to hide, behind the 5 points that don't make you a church.

Turgonian said...

"Rather the true church rightly handles the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15), for that Word is the only standard for life and practice."

You never managed to prove that.

Also, I would like to see you produce quotes from the Church Fathers to the extent that the apostolicity of a church rests solely in its doctrine and not in the historical succession of its leader. The Creed is not a 'living document' that can be reinterpreted at will; our interpretation of it must be consonant with the way its authors understood it. Of course we are free to partially reject it if we disagree with the authors; but we cannot change its meaning.

Puritan Lad said...

Which "creed" are you referring to? It is the Scriptures themselves that " must be consonant with the way its authors understood it" so that "we cannot change its meaning." (2 Peter 1:20). Creeds and Apostolic Fathers are men who often erred and even contradicted each other. But the Word of God is perfect (Psalm 19:7)

If you want proof from the "apostolic fathers", how about the Apostle John, since he was one of the inspired apostles?

"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." (Revelation 22:18-19)

or Paul?

"Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ."
(Jude 1:3-4)

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone (including a pope) is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:6-9)

I can provide dozens of Words from Apostles and Prophets that tell us that the Word is the rule for life a practice. Even the teachings of the Apostle Paul were subject to the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). The burden of proof is on you to show that Church Leaders can make their own standards, or that the Bishop of Rome has any special authority, despite the clear warnings from God’s Word.

“in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9)

When your church leaders invent demonic doctrines (1 Timothy 4:1) like forbidding marriage (1 Timothy 4:3), purgatory, indulgences, and granting salvation to Muslims, they are contra scriptura, and thus are accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).