What Church Should I Attend? - Identifying The Church
Identifying the True Church
What is the Church? That’s right how can we tell what the church is? If you found yourself in a geographical region and only two “ church" groups were meeting how would you know if they are a church? If one is a church and one is not how would you make that determination? The answer regarding how to define and know which would be a church must come from the Bible. Into this question we pray we make the principles about what a church is becomes clear.
.The Ekklesia and Her Head.Technically the Greek word translated church is “ekklesia”. This term meaning is directed toward the people of God that are called out. The Biblical use of this terminology means an assembly, a body of people that are “called out” by God. It is a call to citizens of a kingdom or township for an assembly called by those in authority (compare Acts 19:32,41). Therefore the ekklesia of God are those called out unto salvation by grace, called into meeting with God, to hear the words of the God for common fellowship with all those called unto salvation. All that are called by God unto salvation are called to assemble to hear the Sovereign King. That Sovereign King is God himself (Heb. 10:24, 25). .I don’t think I have ever heard of anyone call the church the ekklesia The English term commonly used is the term Church. The word church is derived from the Greek word “kyriakon” that means “the Lords”. That Greek term says a lot for it declares that we that are in the Church are the Lords. In reality the term church does the same thing for it is derived from the Scottish term “Kirk” which is derived from the German word “Kirche” which is derived from the Greek adjective “kyriakon”. So we are the Lords.
.The Church is the gathering of the called out people of God. They re called out for two main purposes: to worship and to fellowship. They are the called out people of God unto an assembly or congregation. In this assembly the elect hear the Lord speak the words and works of His kingdom, which is the scripture. As they learn of the King’s word and works they respond by worshipping Him giving honor and praises and respect that becomes diety, since He is God. Not only this, but as an assembly the people have many things in common therefore they fellowship with all the saints present, while understanding they also have a connection with all the saints that have gone before and those that will be redeemed in the future.
.While this implies there is a need to have a place together it is clear that the church is not a building with stained glass windows, big pipe organs or grand pianos. These things are great for the building in which the believers meet but they are not the church. The church is a body of believers that have been redeemed, are being redeemed, and will be redeemed by the blood of Christ. The church is body of believers called out from fallen humanity for the purpose, pleasure, and glory of God. The church is the redeemed and their children (Acts 2:8; 1 Cor. 7:14). The church is people on a pilgrimage just as the “church in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38) and the people of faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews chapter eleven. .The Church is not without a leader. The leader of the church is Jesus Christ. It is He that is Lord of the church. The Father gave Him to be the head over all things to the church. He by the Holy Spirit through the word of God teaches how to live giving direction and power to live as called out ones in the kingdom of God. Paul says of Christ that the Father “....gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1-:22-23).The church's foundation is Jesus Christ it’s Lord (1 Cor 3:11). It is upon Him and the testimony of Him that He is continually building His church. The Father gave Him to be the head over all things to the church.
Matt. 16-18 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
The church is so united to or in Christ that certain symbols clearly show His mystical union and relationship to her i.e. a husband to a bride and that of a head to a body. These scriptures teach that believers are in a close relationship with their Savior and that He is perpetually at work in His Church cleansing her with the word, giving her gifts and energizing them to live as aliving organism with a purpose and to spread the message of the gospel.
Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
1 Corinthians 12:4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ . For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.
How to Identify A True Church:
!. First Mark Of A True Church Is The Faithful Preaching Of the Word Of God.
Going back to the original opening statements there have been times in history that it has been hard for Christians to determine what is a true church and what is not. It is not just a problem in our day but has also been a problem in other times in history. This has been evident throughout the centuries and was a concern even prior to the end of the first century. Peter in his second epistle and Jude in his letter gave cautions and warnings about the church and ungodly doctrines and practices that had already slid into the church. Jude desired to fellowship around the great basics of the common faith yet he found it needful to write calling for the believers to contend for the faith they had received. He stated, “It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). So then if they needed to contend for the faith they they like us today need to know the criteria by which one can know the true church. What marks establish it? What must be done so that the kingdom of God can be understood? It is this question and answer that we will take up at his time..Since the Church is the Lord’s people called out by Him to hear then we must declare that the first mark of the true church is the faithful preaching and teaching of the Word of God. This is the foundation of all discipleship and training. Those groups, or persons for that matter, that do not hold to Christ’s teachings are not His disciples. Jesus was clear omn this when he said, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; (Jn. 8:31).” Other passage also indicate that those who do not speak or teach from the word cannot be the true church. They are dark, not being linked with the Father and the Son, “if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:20).” Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9).Therefore believers who have a need to look for a church need to ask themselves questions such as these: “Have the teachers and minister labored to explain the Bible and teach what it has to say where I have been visiting and / or attended?” “Have my sin and idols in my heart been exposed?” “Have I learned who God is and what God has done and has established for my life?” “Is my faith stronger and my life for the Lord stronger than when I first visited? If not have I been called into question about my life’s progress in sanctification?” If the Bible is not constantly and consistently proclaimed with these purposes then where you attend is not a true church. .It is through the preaching and teaching of the Bible that the Lord adds to His Church. Acts 2:41, 47 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.........Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved..
Because of the truth, proclaimation and instruction of the word the church is the pillar and ground of the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15. This truth must and will be proclaimed by a true church which is never accursed. Galatians 1:8-9 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Paul the apostle in the true church proclaimed about himself that he “kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house. Acts 20:20.” And “I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God Acts 20:27”. Because the basis of the church is the proclaimation of the word and because of its results Paul gave the following charge to his son in the faith to “preach the word “ in all situations!. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
It is through the teaching and preaching of the Word of God that believers are built up in the faith:
Ephesians 4:8,11-15 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men ... And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, e vangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ : Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
It is through the preaching and teaching of the Bible that believers hearts are laid bare and they are prompted by the Holy Spirit for growth in sanctification.
John 17:17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
2 Timothy 3:15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Hebrews 4:12-13 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
Acts 20:26-32 Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.
Therefore if where you have been visiting or attending where the bible is not proclaimed leave and go look elsewhere. Also if there is not spiritual awakening and growth which would be the result of unfaithful preaching and teaching then there is no true church there. You should not attend. Go and look elsewhere.
2. The Second Mark Of A True Church the Administration of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism
The faithful proclamation of the word of God is the first mark in Identifying a true church. The second mark in identifying a true church is in the faithful administration of the sacraments. It is from the scriptures that there is the teaching concerning the number of sacraments and how these are to be administered. The Bible only teaches two sacraments
(1) baptism and
(2) the Lord’s Supper (AKA communion)
The true church will administer baptism to the proper recipients as stated in the scriptures and they will also serve the Lord’s Supper to those who profess faith in Christ and are not under excommunication of the Church in discipline. Without going into detail at this juncture and for the purpose of this teaching I want to just define what each sacrament is. Between the Baptists, Lutherans and Presbyterians there are some denominational definitions and distinctions. These discussions between these groups can get very heated and the purpose of this paper is not to get into those denominational distinctives. Suffice it to say that all of these groups do perform baptisms and the Lord’s supper and are part of the true church. If at some point someone wants to discuss these in greater detail either their pastor or myself a closer look can be discussed and taught. I do encourage all to learn diligently what these mean, as well as the place the sacraments have in the sanctification and hope of all that believe. In other words ask for more teaching concerning the sacraments please.
The Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper has been established and will be observed in a true church until the Lord returns. It is a community meal for believers. The bread signifies the broken body Christ and the wine represents the shed blood of Christ. It is a meal that signifies God’s covenant of grace upon the lives of those that believe. (Matt. 26:28)
1 Corinthians 11:23-33 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another.
Revisiting or a remembering the work of Christ on the Cross “in rememberance of me”
> -- An evangelistic meal “ye do proclaim”
> -- A disciplining meal “let a man examine himself, and so let him eat”
> -- A meal of self judgment or examination for purposes of sanctification “let a man examine himself”
> -- A community meal “ tarry for one another” (cp. 1 Cor. 10:16)
> -- A meal of condemnation to those that partake of it unworthily “drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord”
Baptism is a sacrament instituted by Christ (Matt. 28:19) and is a symbol indicating that the recipient is bound to Christ by the terms of the covenant whereby God has declared Himself to be the God of his people.
Matthew 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Col 2: 11-14 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Rom 6: 3-14 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. ……We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. ……..Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Baptism clearly represents all aspect of the call of God from Predestination through Glorification!
> -- Regeneration – being made alive with Christ
> -- Forgivness
> -- Being cleansed form sin and its defilment
> -- Being Bound to Christ
> -- Membership in the Visible Church
> -- It Represents the Believers Union and Identification with Christ’s Death on the Cross (the shed bloods cleansing from sin)
> -- Baptism is a seal confirming God’s promise that he will be our God
> -- The Indewlling of the Holy Spirit
> -- Etc.
Once again I encourage you to seek a fuller understanding of the subjects of the sacraments. A deep and fuller understanding will lead to a deeper worship of the Creator and Savior.
3. The Third Mark of A True Church Is The Practice of Church Discipline
The faithful proclamation of the word of God is the first mark in identifying a true church. The second mark in identifying a true church is in the faithful administration of the sacraments. The third mark is the administration of church discipline. The practice of church discipline has been established by God “tell it unto the church” (Matthew 18:17). Our Lord taught that this is the way of unity and peace in the church. It is the true church that maintains discipline over believers guards their souls (Heb 13). Any group that calls itself a church and does not exercise love for the people in helping restore them to righteous living, guiding them in their life, is not a true church. It is only the true church that cares enough to help restore the believer, desires to honor God, and which desires purity.
Matt. 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ , To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
The authority of the church does not rest in the personal and individual authority of the elders or pastors. The authority of the church leaders is a derived authority. Christ is King and Head of His church (Eph. 5:23; Col 1:18). He has given the Bible as the rule of all faith and practice. The leaders of the church must teach and discipline from the Word of God alone. They can only speak where the Bible speaks and teach what the Bible teaches with authority. The church and the members are to be directed by the Word alone in all matters in life and godliness. This truly glorifies the Lord and maintains purity in His, one and only church. Church discipline has a lofty goal. It is properly administered for the maintenance of the the glory of God, the purity of the church and the reclaimation, restoration and reconcilation of the erring brethren.Church discipline includes:
Teaching = It is is teaching the person what the Bible says concerning their sin, and how to change
Convictiing = It includes the need to convince or persuade of the need to turn from sin to loving the living Lord unto holiness ;
Admonishing = Discipline through admonishment includes all three of these encouraging, rebuking, warning,
Excommunicating = Hopefully restoration will be accomplished before this step is taken. This is the farthest end of an extreme measure which includes expulsion from the Lord’s table
Restoration = This is the goal of church discipline. It is an acceptance and compassion for a Christian brother or sister that has repented in order for there to be no grief.
From the teaching of Scripture there are four major steps in the practice of church discipline. The following are the biblically steps of church discipline and restoration from Matt. 18:15-17.Read the passage from the gospel of Matthew and see if you can pick the three steps.
Matthew 18:15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Did you identify them? If not here you go:
Step 1. Private meeting = there is to be a private meeting between you and the person that has caused an offense concerning doctrinal error or delinquent in proper Christian living. “…., go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone”
Step 2. If restoration fails in step one then you must move to a second step where you “take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. The taking of others with you is for the purpose of supporting you in persuading the person to be restored. But sadly if the persuasion fails and the brother or sister does not repent the they are there in order to establish witnesses if the person does not repent and does not want restored in this second step.
Step 3. If this fails the discipline of the non-repentant brother gets very serious. It is here that you must get all of the information together and “tell it unto the church”. This does not mean that you tell the issue to the congregation but it is simply that you tell it unto the church leaders, i.e. elders. They must take up the process of discipline from this point forward. They are the church court and have the spiritual oversight of the people of the church. The church members are to “Obey … leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. ( Heb 13:17). They are the leaders who speak the word of God and watch over the souls of the congregation. Perhaps the person will obey his or her leaders and submit to them and be restored. And if the person does this discipline ends since restoration would have been accomplished.
Step 4. If sorrowfully the above steps fail and “if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” This is the final discipline step that must be done, called excommunication. It must be accomplished for two major reasons: a. in order that the spirit of the person may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 5:5) and for the purging of sin out of the church to keep it a pure as humanly possible (1 Cor. 5:7). The person that is delinquent in doctrine or in godly living, the person that has been sinned against, those brought in for support and witness and the elders of the church are all to be directed and guided not by their own thinking but by the word of God. If this is not done then there is no evidence that the people or the church leaders are Christian but show themselves to be self judging and at best just pragmatic people whether they stumble upon doing what is wrong or right. When one fails to be directed by the word, judged by the church and found to be in sin they are not to partake of the Lord’s supper They are living as the unsaved. Where there is no church discipline there are all kinds of evil. Humanism prevails, sin is in the camp, the leaders have no place to stand, doctrine can go anywhere since it is not checked, there is no growth at all and no watching over the souls of the people of the church. Church discipline by the word of God and by the church and its people following the above steps is a must. A congregation or faith group that does not practice church discipline is missing a critical mark of being a true church.
The marks by which the true church is known and made discernable is 1) the faithful preaching of the word of God; 2) the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper; 3) administering of church discipline. Each mark stands with the other like dominoes standing on end. If the Word is not proclaimed the sacraments will not be properly administered for anyone could be baptized or come to the table. Discipline will be non existent. Without either of these there no matter how many people attend a weekly gathering it is not a church. However, where these are carried out faithfully then the church is and it will produce fruit and the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. God’s blessings, spiritual growth and men will be brought into the kingdom of God. This happens because the preaching is diligent, church members come to the table often checking themselves against the word of while they eagerly await their risen Lord’s return. If there is a need to discipline someone it is carried out by the word of God for the purpose of restoration so that there is continual communion with one another and with the Lord in the supper.
Therefore, if you find yourself looking for a church do not fail to and please use these three marks in order to determine where to place you membership and accountability.
Oh Lord, May you grant your people knowledge and discernment to know and to love the church, your darling Bride. Amen.