Answering this question will certainly ruffle a few feathers. However, it is an important question, and is answerable.
Jesus uses the word “church” exactly two times.
The first time is found in Matthew 16:17-18 when Jesus is quizzing His disciples about His true identity.
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Now, there has been some controversy over exactly what Jesus meant by “on this rock,” because the name Peter also means rock. Some people have taken it to mean that the church was to be built on the ‘rock man’–Peter. Thus, he became the first church leader after Jesus for those who follow that tradition.
The other way that this can be understood–and the way I believe that Jesus meant it–is that the confession of Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” is the foundational truth upon which Jesus would build His church. It is not the man, but the confessional truth that the man spoke.
Now, the Messiah is the anointed one of God. There is a lot of prophecy about this Messiah in the Old Testament. One of the more prolific prophecies comes from Isaiah who describes the Messiah as one who would suffer and die for the sins of humanity.
This is the first test for which church is the true church. They have to affirm that Jesus is the Messiah, Son of the Living God, and that He was crucified for our sins.
The second time Jesus mentions ‘church’ is in Matthew 18:17
If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church;
The context is that Jesus is telling His followers about how to deal with a fellow believer who sins. I’m sure that you have heard the 3-part process to handle the sinner.
- Go to them alone.
- Go to them with a few.
- Take it to the church.
Now each of the steps is to be taken as far as you can until there is no more progress. When progress stops at one level, you take it to the next level. So, if you go to them and they repent, you stop at that step. If they don’t repent you keep trying for a while on your own, when progress stops you bring in another to help. This is how it works through the whole process.
What does this mean for us with regard to which is the true church? Well, the true church takes seriously the call of Christ to behave in a way that is in line with how a Christian should live. Some call this Church Discipline. In reality we are supposed to be looking out for what our brother/sister in Christ is doing in their lives. Not to be judgmental, but we must judge their actions and see if they fit in with the teachings of Christ. If their lives don’t match up with the teachings of Jesus, then it is the responsibility of other believer to help them see the truth.
There is another side to this element called discipleship. Discipleship is the front end of discipline. We must teach someone to follow Jesus and discipline those who wander off the path.
Let’s summarize what we have so far:
- The true church teaches that Jesus is the Messiah, son of the Living God, who was crucified for the sins of humanity.
- The true church takes seriously the call to live for Christ, and helps each other live it out.
Is there anything else that the true church must have? Yes.
- Teach true doctrine from the scripture.
- Practice the ordinances biblically (baptism and the Lord’s supper).
Preaching style, music, facility, technology, history, personality, or leadership structure don’t make a church a true church. Believing and doing the biblical teachings surrounding the church are what make a church the true church.
What do you think? Have I missed anything? tell me in the comments below.