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Which church is the one true church?

People mistakenly think that there is an earthly organization that is the one true church. The true church is not an organization, not a series of buildings, but the body of true believers. The true church consists of those who are regenerate; that is, it consists of those who are the true Christians. There are, however, churches that are Christian and churches that are not Christian.

But you might ask how we can tell if a church is Christian or not? The answer is simple once we understand what makes someone a Christian or not. Once we know what is essential, we can then look at a church and see if it is Christian or not.

  1. Primary Essential Doctrines
    Cannot be denied and still be Christian since the scriptures openly declare that to deny them is to bring judgment.
    1. Jesus is both God and man (John 1:1,14; 8:24; Col. 2:9; 1 John 4:1-4).
    2. Jesus rose from the dead physically (John 2:19-21; 1 Cor. 15:14).
    3. 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)
  2. 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)
    1. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary (nature of incarnation).
  3. 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
    1. Communion every week, monthly, or quarterly, etc.
    2. Saturday or Sunday Worship
    3. Pre, mid, post tribulation rapture.
    4. Premill, Amill, post millenialism, preterism.
    5. Continuation or cessation of the charismatic gifts
    6. 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.

Cults

The reason the cults are not Christian is because 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.

The need for unity in the church

"Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose," (Phil. 2:2).

One of the signs of apostasy (falling from the truth) in the Christian Church is the bickering and disunity among Christians.  Jesus said that the world would know that we were His disciples by the love that we have for one another (John 13:35).  In Col. 3:14, it says that love is the perfect bond of unity. The New Testament speaks about us being unified in Christ (Eph. 4:5).  In response to Christians who follow after individuals rather than Jesus, Paul says that Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:12-13).  Though Christ is not divided, His body of believers is.  Divisions in the Christian church can be a healthy and necessary thing: "For there must also be factions among you, in order that those who are approved may have become evident among you," (1 Cor. 11:19).  But too much of a good thing isn't good.

It is all right to have differences of opinion on the non-essential matters like worship styles or days, pre-trib rapture, post-trib rapture, Arminianism, Calvinism, etc. Whether you believe one or the other, do not affect salvation. Yet far too many Christians use these non-essential differences as justification for division and sometimes even insight anger. When this occurs, the love of God in our hearts is sacrificed to our pride. Instead of saying to one another, "I am right and you are wrong," we should be saying something like, "It is certainly possible that you are correct.  Now, let's work together to glorify God and expand His kingdom."  Perhaps this is too simplistic, but at least it displays an attitude of humility that helps to bring unity.  It is the devil that wants us to fall into the self abuse of division and bickering.

What is it that unites us?

Primarily, it is the saving work of Christ that unites us.  Secondarily, it is the essential doctrines that define orthodoxy. We have, as a common heritage, the blood of Christ that has been shed for the forgiveness of our sins.  True Christians serve the true and living God and we know Jesus in a personal and intimate way (1 Cor. 1:9). We have been redeemed by God himself.  Furthermore, we have the body of Scriptures which tell us the essentials of the faith and deviating from these essentials means to be outside the camp of Christ.  It is the essential doctrines that we must know and unite in.

Why then, for all practical purposes, do we elevate the non-essential to the place of essentials?  I believe it is because of immaturity and pride in various Christians.  Should we not sacrifice our "perfect" opinion on a biblical matter for being gracious to another brother or sister in Christ?  Of course we should, but when that doesn't happen, we have denominational splits.  I cannot see how such a huge fragmentation in the Christian Church in denominations and sects glorifies God.

The Christian church, as a whole, needs to repent. We need to look at ourselves. We need to look at our churches. We need to look at one another and decide that we will stand on the essential doctrines of the faith and that we will be united against the enemy. Those of us who are united by the blood of Christ are not enemies with one another whether we be Presbyterian or Baptist or Lutheran.  It may be difficult for many of us to look lovingly into the eyes of those of a different denomination without thinking in our hearts that they are wrong about this doctrine or that doctrine.  But, we need to be reminded that there is neither a Presbyterian nor a Baptist nor a Lutheran on the throne of God.  All of us I am sure, will have our theologies corrected when we stand before the throne of God.  Therefore, we need to seek to work together to further the Kingdom of God.

Romans 14:1-12 speaks about accepting Christians of differing opinions and to not judge them because, "To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind...But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God," (Rom. 14:4-5,10).  The whole point is that we need to be united, not bickering.  We need to move beyond the denominational barriers of what separates us into the common ground of what unites us:  Jesus!

Ask yourself what is most important in life. Is it your relationship with God?  If it is, and it should be, should you not also be seeking the same thing that God wants?  Should you not also be seeking to love one another as Christ commanded us? Love is the perfect bond of unity, (Col. 3:14).

Apostasy begins in our hearts when we put distance between ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ because of a difference of opinion on a non-essential doctrine. Apostasy means that we fall away from the truth. This falling away can be complete or it can be slight. Let's not commit apostasy in our hearts by abandoning the truth of God's call of unity and love within the body of Christ.  Remember, it is the devil that wants us to fight each other so that he can be freed up to deceive the world. If we are fighting each other then we are falling prey to His tactics.

I know that it is easy to speak these words and it is very difficult to apply them. That is true because true love is difficult to live.  But what if the world began to see the Christian Church uniting in spite of its differences? What if the world started to see how the Christian Church started to love not only their own church members but other church members? What do you think the world would say if the churches' bickering stopped? What do you think the unbelievers would say if they saw us living more and more the loving attitude and a sacrificial life of Christ across denominational barriers? It would be a tremendous witness for Christ. It would be a tremendous assault on the enemy and I know that God would use it mightily to bring others to Himself by his grace.

Apostasy begins with the individual. Apostasy begins in the heart and the mind. Whichever comes first is not important. Whether we think something wrong and then feel it or feel something wrong and then think it. The heart and the mind are so closely related that we must guard them both. We must focus on the truth of God's word and let our minds be shaped by it. We must seek to have our minds shaped by the love of God as we move not only to learn about Him, but also to carry out His desires.

What should we do to bring unity wherever possible?

We need to look at our own hearts and our own minds and compare them to Jesus and the Scripture. Where ever the two are not in agreement, it is we who need to change.  We need to pray that the Lord would provide opportunities to work with other Christians across denominational lines.  We need to recognize that we have differences of opinions and worship styles and that that is okay.  But we need to lift each other up and be united in Christ.

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