Monday, March 15, 2021

Anonymous Asks (136)

“Where is the true church?”

When Jesus told his disciples, “I will build my church”, we now know that he did not have in mind Judean sects, institutions, denominations or even faithful local gatherings of God’s people. Still less was he talking about a literal building of any sort. All of these may possess or reflect the truth to some degree, and any of these may have at various times faithfully represented God to the world, but none of these nouns truly captures the scope of what the Lord Jesus meant to do. He intended to take Peter’s accurate testimonial statement, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, and to build around it a community of individuals set apart from the world to himself, a heavenly nation that would span from the first century to our present day and beyond, and from Judea to the farthest corners of the world.

The Head and the Body

All who believe Jesus is the Christ and confess it to the world like Peter did are part of the true church, no matter how different their practices and how many other questionable things they may believe along with it. Likewise, nobody who rejects the deity of Christ has any part in the true church. This is the case no matter how pious that person may seem, no matter how many good works he may have done, and no matter how much ecclesiastical authority he may wield in the world. The true church is pictured as a spiritual body of which Christ is head. If you are not connected to the head, you are not part of that body.

You don’t have to attend a local church to be in the church Christ is building, though you probably should if you can find one. The word “church” simply means an assembly or gathering. Because we have been gathered together by Christ in a spiritual sense, our conduct in the world should be consistent with our heavenly calling. The apostle John taught that in order to have confidence we have passed out of death to life and in the process have been made members of the true church by the Holy Spirit of God, we need to be loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a bit difficult to love people you never see, so Christians who don’t go to church tend to lack assurance concerning their relationship with God, and they don’t tend to grow in the faith as well as they should.

Local Churches and the True Church

Local churches have come and gone over the centuries. They are temporary manifestations of this living spiritual body which Christ is building, and they express that spiritual reality imperfectly. As a result, local churches shine in the world as a testimony to Christ, and over the centuries those lights may wink out here and there from time to time only to reappear again elsewhere. Local churches do not last forever, and we should not expect them to, but the light they carry cannot be extinguished. Believers and unbelievers alike may claim membership in local churches, but no unbeliever belongs to the true church. You will find members of the true church in every denomination and every institutional religious entity, but in among the wheat you will also find plenty of weeds, and the difference between the two is not always apparent.

The true church is not something you attend, it is something you are. But if you are a member of the true church looking for some place to meet regularly with Christians, it can be said that, generally speaking, local churches that are most like the true church stick closely to the teaching of the New Testament.

Photo courtesy Farragutful under CC BY-SA 4.0.

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