It is difficult to answer the question of which Protestant denomination is the right one without first laying out a biblical foundation from which we can answer the question - which is done below. Which is the right one? All of them. I'll explain later.
When Catholics ask which Protestant denomination/church is the right one, they presuppose that a "Correct church" must exist in the same way that their Roman Catholic Church exists. To them, a church is an earthly organization that consists of a hierarchical structure (pope, priests, magisterium, etc.) that interprets Scripture and disseminates its version of biblical truth (tradition, works righteousness, Mary, etc.) to its members. But this is a false assumption. They are committing the logical fallacy called Begging the Question, where they assume their position is true without demonstrating that it is true. They fail to recognize that the church is more than an earthly organization and is both visible (buildings, organization, members, etc.) and invisible (comprised of the actual redeemed, true Christians). This is why Protestants focus more on the invisible church, where Catholics focus more on the visible church and its supposed authority and pedigree. Unfortunately, Catholics are so entrenched in their 'true church' mentality they can't entertain the idea that "the church" can encompass many denominations and local congregations since it is comprised of the saved.
What is the true church?
The true Church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:12; 1 Cor. 12:27) comprised of those who are regenerated and indwelt by God (1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16). They are the ones who are justified by faith alone in Christ alone (Acts 4:12; Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:8) without the addition of works and ceremonies (Rom. 3:28; 4:5; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; Titus 3:5). They do good works because they are saved, and they love Christ (John 13:34-35), not to demonstrate their worthiness of salvation (Titus 3:5). Those good works do not contribute to salvation in any way. They do not attain, maintain, or regain salvation.
The members of the true Church were given by the Father to the Son for redemption and resurrection (John 6:37-40). Of them Jesus said he would lose none (John 6:39; 10:27-28). They hear Christ’s voice and follow after no one else (John 10:27-28). They bear witness of Christ (John 5:36-39; 8:18; 12:17; 15:26; Acts 10:43), not of a church organization, a prophet, or a pope. They are the ones bought with the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28). Their sin-debt was cancelled at the cross (Col. 2:13-14), not in baptism. They have been granted both belief (Phil. 1:29) and repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). God appointed them to eternal life (Acts 13:48). They are the ones who were chosen by God before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). They were predestined to adoption (Eph. 1:5) and justification (Rom. 8:29-30). They are the redeemed, the indwelt, the justified and they are all over the world. They reside in different denominations (Mark 9:38–40; Acts 26:20; Rom. 1:8; 1 Thess. 1:7). They agree on the essentials of the faith and often differ in the non-essentials as is permitted by scripture (Rom. 14:1-5). They are the true Church. They are the invisible Church all over the world that manifests in different visible churches. Their hope of salvation is in Jesus, not a “true church” run by people that claim the authority to provide salvation to those in their Church. Instead, the true Church is all who are redeemed and love Christ. They are the body of Christ, the redeemed, the saved who are indwelt by God.
The True Church is those indwelt by God
Please consider the following verses that deal with Christians being indwelt by God. They are the body of Christ, the true church.
- 1 Cor. 3:16, "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?"
- 2 Cor. 6:16, "Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE."
- Eph. 4:11–12, "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ."
- 1 Pet. 2:5, "you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."
Furthermore, bible-based cults such as Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses also ask which is the "true church." They also believe in "the true church" with its hierarchical structure and "proper" dissemination a biblical truth. The problem is that when people subject themselves to a "true church," they are subjecting themselves to whatever that organization tells them is true. To do this, they must also submit the word of God to that organization's interpretation, and its defenders, and trust whatever they say. Therefore, they are easily deceived because they do not check all things by Scripture (Acts 17:11), to be convinced in their own minds (Rom. 14:5).
What is the Church?
To better deal with the question of what is the true church, we need to find out what the church is according to Scripture. The Greek word for church used in the New Testament is ἐκκλησία, ekklesia. It occurs 112 times. (See the article Church Grid at https://carm.org/church-grid for an analysis over every New Testament usage of the Greek word: ἐκκλησία, ecclesia.) The word is used in five main ways:
- The body of Christ, appx. 35% of the time
- A gathering of people, appx. 3% of the time
- Local churches, appx. 64% of the time
- The people of God, appx. 11% of the time
- An ecclesiastical body, appx. 11% of the time
As you can see, it has a variety of meanings.
Promoting 'The Church'
When I listen the Catholic radio and talk to Catholics, they constantly talk about their church, how it is the true church, how it is traced back to the apostles, and how salvation in the Roman Catholic Church. I hear such things as...
- "Come home to the church."
- "The Catholic Church was built on Peter."
- "The fullness of salvation is found in the Catholic church."
- "The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus."
- "The Catholic Church is the true church."
This attitude is confirmed by official Roman Catholic documents.
- "I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me," (CCC 119)
CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church. To verify the quotes, please go to http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm
- "The Church in this world is the sacrament of salvation," (CCC 780).
- "the one true religion which subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church," (CCC 2105).
- "the Lord also gives them [apostles] the authority to reconcile sinners with the Church," (CCC 1444).
Catholics view the church is the means of salvation where grace is provided through sacraments by which salvation can be obtained and maintained (See Summary of process of salvation in Roman Catholicism ). So, the Catholics who ask which Protestant church is the right one, need to shed their idea of what a church is and adoptive biblical model. Then, we can have a common dialogue.
Which Protestant Church is the right one? All of them.
To the Catholic ear, saying that all the Protestant church is the right one is ridiculous. They say that the Protestant churches contradict each other. Therefore, they can't all be the right one.
But when they say this they do not understand the issue from a biblical perspective. Protestant churches agree on the essentials of the faith and are allowed to have differences on the nonessentials. I have written articles dealing with what the Scripture says are the essentials and nonessentials. You can find them here:
If you're a Roman Catholic I hope you'll take the time to read them and not automatically dismiss them. These are not my opinions. The doctrines described in those articles are referenced in the Scriptures and said to be essential by putting a warning with them if they are denied or not affirmed. They are the basics of Christianity and real Protestant Churches and Denominations all hold to those essentials.
Furthermore the Scriptures teach us that we can have differences of opinion on debatable issues. This is where Protestants denominations occur, in those debatable issues. Please consider God's word.
- Acts 17:11, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."
- Romans 14:1–5, "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind."
Submit to an earthly organization?
If we are supposed to submit to an earthly church organization because it is the "true church" and believe whatever it says because it has the authority of the apostles, then why does Paul teach us that the Bereans were noble-minded for checking what Paul and Silas said against Scripture. Is that submitting to an earthly church? Also, why would Paul tell us that each person should be fully convinced in his own mind (Rom. 14:5)? These statements are in contradicting to the Roman Catholic position that it has the authority of the apostles to which all its members must submit because it is "the true church." (See also the article Which is the true religion, Protestantism or Catholicism?)
As I've already stated, Protestants agree in the essentials of the Christian faith and so they are members of the one true church which is the body of Christ that is dispersed throughout all of the world among all who put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:16; Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Pet. 2:5).
So when the Catholics ask which of all the Protestant denominations is the right one, they're asking the wrong question. They are presupposing that there needs to be a single hierarchical church structure which they call the true church. They mistakenly believe that the differences in the nonessentials permitted by Scripture and which bring about denominational differences, is evidence that Protestantism is not true. In so doing they fail to recognize that the Bible itself allows us differences of opinions on debatable issues (Rom.14:1-5). But, we are to unite in the essentials of the faith which the Protestants do. Furthermore, the church is far more than a visible organization. The true church is comprised of those who are circumcised of heart (Rom. 2:29) and who are indwelt by God (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:16).
So, the Catholics ask the wrong question, because they don't understand how the Bible refers to the Church and how differences of opinion are allowed while still being a member of the true church which is the body of Christ.