People mistakenly think that there is an earthly organization that is the one true church as if a collection of people, church structures, and "authority" designates that it is the "one true church" on earth. But, this is a wrong assumption. The true church is not an earthly organization. It is not a series of buildings and ceremonies rooted in ancient tradition. Instead, the church is the body of true believers. The true church consists of those who are regenerate; that is, it consists of those who are "the called," the true Christians.
- Rom. 1:6, "among whom you also are the called (klaytos) of Jesus Christ."
- 1 Cor. 1:24, "but to those who are the called (klaytos), both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
- Jude 1, "Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are the called (klaytos), beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ."
- Rev. 17:14, "These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called (klaytos) and chosen (eklektos) and faithful."
The greek word "klaytos" means "call, invited, divinely selected and appointed."1 The Greek word of "church" is ekklesia and is formed from a compound of the word "ek" (out of) and "kaleo" (call). Therefore, the church is the "called out ones." "Eklektos" in Rev. 17:14 above means simply means "chosen" and comes from the verb "eklegomai" which means to choose, to choose out. Therefore, the church, the ekkesia, is the "called out ones."
Okay, but you might respond by saying you can't look into the hearts of people and know who is and is not truly saved. That is true. But, can we look at earthly "churches" and see if it they are Biblical or not? The answer is simple once we understand what makes someone a Christian or not. I have reproduced part of the information found at the doctrine grid which lays out the essential and non-essential doctrines. Once we know what is essential, we can then look at a church and see if it is Christian or not.
- Primary Essential Doctrines
Cannot be denied and still be Christian since the Scriptures openly declare that to deny them is to bring judgment.
- Jesus is both God and man (John 1:1, 14; 8:24; Col. 2:9; 1 John 4:1-4).
- Jesus rose from the dead physically (John 2:19-21; 1 Cor. 15:14).
- Salvation is by grace through faith (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 3:1-2; 5:1-4). The Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4; Gal. 1:8-9). There is only one God (Exodus 20:3; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6, 8).
- Secondary Essential Doctrines
Not explicitly stated in Scripture as essential but they are derivatively necessary.
- God exists as a Trinity of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (See Trinity)
- Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary (nature of incarnation).
- Non-Essential Doctrines
Can be believed or not and it does not affect whether or not one is Christian.
- Predestination, election, limited atonement, and free will
- Communion every week, monthly, or quarterly, etc.
- Saturday or Sunday Worship
- Pre-, mid-, post-tribulation rapture.
- Premill-, Amill-, post-millenialism, preterism.
- Continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts
- Baptism for adults or infants
Therefore, we can see that if a church or denomination would deny that Jesus is God in flesh or physically risen from the dead, then it would not be Christian. Furthermore, we could have two different churches that disagree on the non-essentials, but are still Christian since they affirm the essentials.
The reason the cults are not Christian is that they deny the essential doctrines of Christianity. Mormonism, for example, 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 either.
So, if we know what the essentials are, we can then look at a church or denomination (or even a person) and ascertain if that church is Christian or not by whether or not it denies the essential doctrines that make Christianity Christian.
Finally, to answer the question of which church is the true church, the true church is the cross-section of believers in all churches that adhere to the essential doctrines of Christianity.
This article is also available in: Polski
- 1. Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible; Showing every word of the text of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (G2822). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.