Is there a true physical Church?
aymon de albatrus
"And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." (1Co 12:28)
"ÖÖ. not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Likewise greet the church that is in their houseÖÖÖ." (Rom 16:4-5)
"ÖÖ and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Mat 16:18)
The word Church comes from the Greek ekklesia: which means a called out assembly (Ek = out of, Kaleo= to call) i.e. called-out from the world, that is, saved and bound for Heaven.
In the NT it appears 118 times translated: church 115, assembly 3.
In a Christian sense:
An assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting,
A company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for orderís sake,
Those who anywhere, in a city, village, or home constitute such a company and are united into one body,
The whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth,
The assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven.
The true meaning of CHURCH would then be the total sum of:
ALL those who place their total faith for Salvation in the Atoning work of Christ on the cross, and nothing else. This independently of which religious denomination they belong to, for it is Christ, and Christ alone that saves, and NOT any human organization.
Christendom in a visible natural sense has not been a unified movement throughout most of its history with the possible exception of a few years circa 31 AD from the crucifixion of Jesus to the conversion of Paul. After that there have always been competing faith groups, with each seriously, devoutly, thoughtfully and prayerfully believed themselves to be the true Christianity. (Such is the nature of mankind)
Briefly a little natural church history:
By the first century AD, there were at least three divisions within the Christian movement: the Jewish Christians (led by Jesus' brother James, with Jesus' disciples, and their followers), Pauline Christians (followers of Paul) and Gnostic Christians (people who believed that salvation came through secret knowledge). Naturally each group believed to be the true church, and were highly critical of the other two. (nothing new under the sun)
Following the edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine that effectually made Christianity the state religion, by the fourth century Emperor Theodosian issued a series of decrees to suppress all rival religions, ordering the closing of the temples, and imposing fines, confiscation, imprisonment or death upon any who clung to the older [Pagan] religions. And the official church used the power of the state to begin programs to oppress, exile or exterminate both Pagans and Gnostic Christians. Church authority had become concentrated in the five bishops or patriarchs located in Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem and Rome. Although they were officially given equal status, the Bishop of Rome was considered the first among the equals, for virtue of being located in Rome.
By the sixth century only Pauline Christianity had survived in the Mediterranean area, in the form of a divided Catholic church. Gnostic Christianity had been suppressed; Jewish Christianity had died out. There were independent Christian groups in Egypt, India and elsewhere that were not part of Catholicism.
In 1054 the great schism formally divided Christendom into two main groups: Roman Catholicism in Western Europe, and the Eastern Orthodox churches in the East, still so today.
Then in 1517 Martin Luther triggered the Protestant Reformation with Calvin (and others) providing the theological foundation for this movement to flourish.
From the 16th century to the present time Protestantism became fragmented into more than a dozen families of denominations, and thousands of individual variations. The Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox remaining externally practically unchanged in their dogmas, hierarchies and pageantry.
Nevertheless, it must be stated that even with all these variations in theology and mode of worshipping, the centrality of Christ as The Saviour is common in practically all the groups. Christ being the unifying factor, thus we can say that there is unity in Christ. In other words, if one were to outstrip each denomination by their peculiarities in: additions, traditions, worship, polity, dogmas, etcetera, what would remain in common would be the belief that Christ saves sinners, and that is the common factor in the Christian groupings.
Of course nowadays, as always throughout the ages, every "church" claims to be the true one and everyone else false. Even a few days ago the Pontiff of Rome unwisely went public claiming that the Roman Catholic church is the only true church, and perhaps the Eastern Orthodox may come close, but the Protestant churches were at best only congregations or communities.
This is sheer nonsense for Jesus did not set up any formal church, nor He gave directions to build such thing as an organised human institution. Nor the apostle set up such institution, but reading the New Testament we see churches as defined above:
A company of Christians, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for orderís sake.
In a spiritual sense and having shed all human idiosyncrasies, the definition of Christís Church is very simple, clear and true: The Church of Christ is the only true church and it is composed by ALL that God, the Father, has elected to salvation and to be conformed to the stature of His Son, Christ Jesus. These God has given to Christ and He in no way will lose any: "And this is the Fatherís will which has sent me, that of all which He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." (Joh 6:39)
These are the elect appointed to salvation before time began (Eph 1:4,5) and those for which Jesus came to atone their sins on the cross thus redeeming them to salvation. This is the true CHURCH of Christ, His sheep and they know Him and recognise His voice and they will follow Him, forever: "3 To Him the porter opens; and the sheep hear his voice: and He calls His own sheep by name, and leads them out. 4 And when He puts forth his own sheep, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him: for they know His voice." (Joh 10:3-4)
Most people think that the church is an earthly organization with its hierarchical echelon, peculiar practices and a body of priests with their mystical performances and with elaborate building for their templar worship. In that case, surely, the Church of Rome is definitely the best. BUT the Church of Christ is spiritual, NOT natural and it is composed ONLY by people that He came to save, His people: "And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins." (Mat 1:21)
The true church consists of those who are regenerate by Christ Jesus, those who are the true Christians.
How then can we tell in the flesh whether or not a church is truly Christian? Well Christian means "follower of Christ", so all we have to do is to check out if a church really follows the teaching of Christ and His Apostles. During all the ages many discord and division between churches were mostly on secondary doctrinal points, let us then separate the Indispensable Doctrines from the Secondary ones.
Indispensable Doctrines: are those that cannot be denied or modified for to do so scriptures declares that to deny them is to bring judgment, these are essential:
1. There is only one God (Exo 20:3; Isa 43:10; 44:6,8)
2. God exists as a Trinity of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mat 28:19)
3. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary (incarnation) (Mat 1:18,20)
4. Jesus came in the flesh (1Jo 4:1-3)
5. Jesus is God (Joh 1:1,14; 1Ti 3:16; Col 2:9).
6. Jesus rose from the dead physically (Joh 2:19-21; 1Co 15:14).
7. Salvation is by grace through faith (Rom 5:1; Eph 2:8-9; Gal 3:1-2; 5:1-4).
8. The gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1Co 15:1-4; Gal 1:8-9).
9. Commandment of the Lord: Baptism (Mat 28:19; Mar 16:16)
10. Commandment of the Lord: Communion (1Co 11:23-26)
Secondary Doctrines: Can be believed or not, for they do not affect Salvation:
Predestination, election, limited atonement, and free will,
Saturday or Sunday Worship,
Pre, mid or post-tribulation rapture,
Pre mill, Post mill or A-millennialism; Preterism,
Continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts,
Practices to be Avoided: These detract from worshipping the Only God in Spirit and Truth, besides they are strongly condemned by the second commandment. (Exo 20:4-6)
Adoration of Madonnas and saints
Adoration of images, statues, icons
Prayers to the dead, Animism
For example if a church denies that Jesus is God in the flesh, or physically raised from the dead, then it would not be Christian. Similarly, Mormonism denies that there is only one God in all existence and it denies that salvation is by grace through faith. The Jehovah's Witness organization, denies the Trinity, the deity of Christ, salvation by grace, and Jesus' physical resurrection. Therefore, they are not Christian. A church that places the adoration of Mary at the same level, or even above, of Christ (God) is a compromised church and thus not truly Christian, as soundly condemned by the second commandment.
The True Church is composed of Godís elect that Christ has purchased with His own blood on the cross: "Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood." (Act 20:28)
The word Ekklesia is never used to describe a building or a construction, but always an assembly, a group of people. The Church is an invisible living spiritual organism, composed of all the born again believers world wide, from the time of its inception on Pentecost, until the taking away of the Church at the rapture. Its origin is found in God as the Holy Spirit gave it its birth in Act 2:1-4 with the disciples. And we become part of this same Church today the same way they did, by a gracious act of God, being born again of the Spirit. (Eze 36:26,27)
No one joins the True Church unless they are firstly joined to Christ. This is why Jesus said you must be born again: "Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (Joh 3:5) It is done by the Spirit inside the heart of men chosen by God, not just by putting your name on a church membership roll.
The believers then are the true Church as bricks cemented together with spiritual sacrifice in themselves with their lives: "You also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1Pe 2:5)
The Bible teaches that each of us as individuals are the temple of God: "Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" (1Co 3:16) And we know we are Christ's possession and part of his Church because we have the proof that the Holy Spirit indwells in us for we firmly believe the indispensable doctrine (teaching) expressed above.
Moreover we are also called: "His body, which is the church" (Col 1:24): "the temple of the living God" and God adding this "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (2Co 6:16),
Basically he purpose of the church is:
To fulfil the Great Commission that Jesus gave us i.e. "18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. 19 Go you therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:" (Mat 28:18-19)
To equip the saints to do the above: "11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:" (Eph 4:11-12)
To help each other grow in ever deeper love (Agape) relationship with God and our brethrens: "Seeing you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit to unfeigned love of the brothers, see that you love one another with a pure heart fervently:" (1Pe 1:22) (1Jo 5:2)
There is one true Church, but it is not visible as a single entity and it is not found in a certain church/denomination or group by itself. It is found in the heart of all those who are in Christ Jesus as chosen by God, and have come to God through Christís atoning sacrifice on the cross. No church can claim to be the "true" church, for the Church of Christ is the assembly of ALL believers wherever they are. The Church transcends denominational barriers; it exists within denominations, as well as outside of them. This is the Universal TRUE Church that has continued from the beginning of Pentecost and will go on until the end. It is Christ that builds His church, not man: "I will build my Church" (Mat 16:18)
While churches/denominations may have differences on peripheral issues, if they do not hold to the indispensable beliefs above, they are not of Christ and therefore they are not a christian church.
Anyone claiming that his church is the only true church is a liar and the truth is not in him.