Unless you are a member of the one true church, you won't be in the Kingdom of God. Where is it? Are you a member?
Religious cults are notorious for their claim to exclusive rights to God's Kingdom. Unless, they claim, you are part of us, a member of our organization - then you may kiss goodbye to eternal life. Could the claim be true? Is there indeed "one true church" outside of which there is no salvation? Is it "out there" - perhaps a church you know, or even your church?
The Christian faith has historically laid claim to be the one true way to God. Its leader, of course, is Jesus Christ. And the claims to be the unique, the only way, to salvation are from his own lips. "I am the way, the truth and the life", he said, "and no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). Indeed the first Christians were also known as "followers of the Way". Jesus also stated " I will build my church" (Matthew 16-18).
So - where is it?
Churches By The Thousand
Examine any major Christian handbook and you will find literally hundreds of churches listed. They range from the billion strong Roman Catholic Church through to tiny minnows; numbered in tens of adherents. Is it one of them? Given the claim that Jesus is God's representative, we would expect His divine power to be manifested in "the biggest". Yet the indications from the Word of God are that this isn't so. Jesus himself warned: "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:14). That narrows the field somewhat!
And when Jesus looked down the centuries he was able to inspire his apostle to prophesy "that day [the coming of Christ] will not come except there come a falling away first" (II Thessalonians 2:3). Add to this the Biblical end-time scenario of numerous false prophets, a worldwide and universal religion featuring Satan worship, and persecution of true believers. Do we, therefore, eliminate large or popular or renowned church organizations?
That leaves us with the fringe churches. But which? If you belong to one of them, you are probably saying, "That's us". None of us want to be left out! But could it be that even here there are misunderstandings about the "one true church"? Could some small fringe group produce the "144,000" and the "great multitude" of the Book of Revelation?
Identifying the True Church
God gave specific guidance about "His religion". He tells us, in the Scriptures, how we may identify that religion. It's there for all to look at, to act on. And, yes, it's not an easy way, as Jesus said. It's not popular, never has been - not even in the days when God's prophets and Jesus himself walked the earth. If you want to know that way then search for it (Jeremiah 29:13): "And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart".
Many, if not most, Christians are not looking in the right place. Jesus again warned: "In vain [uselessly] do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7). Can you identify all your Christian beliefs in the Scriptures? It is, then, important that our beliefs are firmly based on the Word of God. For Paul warned that some teachings come from "seducing spirits" (I Timothy 4:1). The teachings sound great, they are appealing - but they are far from Godly!
Lesson From History
Back to our original question: Is there one true church?
Historically the Christian Church has radically changed since its origins. One church historian noted that there was a blackout of Christian history after the death of the apostles, and observed that the church which emerged - a mere fifty years later - was totally different from that of Jesus and the apostles. And so it is today. What passes for Christianity is more akin to some non-christian faiths than to Biblical Christianity!
A major development was the grouping of Christians into "denominations". The first Christians assembled with one another in their locality. Indeed, for the most part they gathered initially in their own "house churches". But human nature took over and power-hungry leaders built little empires - culminating in ensuing centuries in centralized, often hierarchical organizations. The face of "The Way" changed and became unrecognizable.
Most Christians are "born into" the denomination of their parents. Yet the Bible is consistent in declaring that a Christian is individually called by God (John 6:37, 44). In whatever church organization, or none, he or she is, it will - if the call is responded to - mean a transformed life: behavior, worship, attitude, beliefs. All will change, making it likely that mere perfunctory "Christian" fellowship will become uncomfortable. The prophet Amos (3:3) remarked, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" - a view echoed by the apostle Paul writing to the Corinthians.
We needn't therefore locate "the one true church" in a particular denomination. Of course, a truly converted Christian may find a home in a church organization. However, the true Christian fellowship, the fellowship of the "saints", is only possible with other spirit-lead believers. And, as in most of the centuries since the apostles, this can be difficult because true followers of Jesus Christ are, like precious jewels, a rarity. But an individual who responds to God's call, who turns from his past sin, who is then baptized and receives the Spirit of God is - whether a member of a recognized church or not - part of the one true church which is being built by Jesus Christ.
The Church An Organism
The church of God, as described in the Bible, is not an organization, but an organism. It is the living Body of Jesus Christ - individual believers acting as he acted, teaching what he taught, believing as he believed, worshipping as he worshipped. Such a believer may be the only one in his city, even in his nation. But he or she is a part of the one true church.
Individuals, of course, may for a season band together to accomplish a particular work. But however they associate, that organization does not constitute "the one true church"!
Is God, now, calling you to be a part of that church? Do you have the courage to commit yourself wholly to Jesus Christ? Will you put first his claims - and reject the human traditions that you may have embraced till now?
To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.
For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Issue 13, November/December 1998. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.
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