“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.” (Matthew 16:18)
In the series “The Church,” the primary focus of the first point of this first series was an explanation of The Definition of the word Church. There will be three devotions in The Definition; wherein will be the answers to three questions: What is it? Where is it? and Who is it?
The first devotion, “The Definition – Part One,” answered the first question, “What is it (the Church)?” The church is a called-out group of people, called by the Holy Spirit (in regeneration) (Acts 2:39; 2 Tim. 1;9; 2 Peter 1:3); joined together in the unity of the Spirit; to be the body of Christ, even the temple of Christ on the earth, to be His witnesses of His Grace, Mercy and Love to all the earth by word and deed; bound together by the truth of God, and made free by the same; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; and as the Pillar and Ground of Truth, then the place of instruction of the saints; and as the dwelling place of Christ on the earth, then, the place of prayer, praise, and worship of God. The church has two offices: that of Pastor and that of Deacon (1 Tim. 3:1-13). The Pastor is to shepherd the sheep; which primarily is to feed the sheep and to rule the sheep by the Holy Spirit in the Truth (Heb. 13:7, 17). The Deacon is to serve the church (Acts 6:1-4), to aid and assist the pastor.
This second devotion, “The Definition – Part Two,” is titled, “Where is it?” In defining the Church, the second step is to find the church; therefore, this devotion is focused on “Where is It?”
When you, as a Christian, move into a new location to live in that community; the first item of concern is to find the Church of Jesus Christ. You already know what it is; for you know that it is spiritual, yet visible, where the “born from above” children of God meet, praise God, worship God, preach the Word of God, water baptize, and disciple the new converts to Christianity. And they are missionaries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all that will listen; whether it be by word or by deed (example).
But, how do you find a true church of Jesus Christ in a certain local? Do you look around the city and surrounding area for a physical building that looks like where a church would meet, and come when the meeting of people is in progress to find out who exactly who they are and what is their mission and purpose? Or, do you check the internet for a certain denominational-named church; such as, Baptist, Methodist, etc. and their location? But, you already know that each denomination has many different variations within its denominational structure that may, or may not, fit your exact beliefs; so, just looking up the physical location of a certain denomination may, or may not, be what you are looking for. But, you finally come to the conclusion that the only way to know is to go and visit different listed churches. However, after tirelessly visiting many, many congregations, you come to the place that none of these churches that you have visited is the place for you. So, you ask, ‘Where is the True Church?’
As you have found in your attempts to find God’s House in your area; it very easy to find a building that looks like a church building; and it is easy to find a group of people who have banded together under a banner of the Name of Jesus. But, to find His true Body is not to be found in buildings; and not in groups of people meeting together, who call themselves by a certain name – but, only the groups that meet and practice in Truth and Spirit are a true church.
Please consider the following suggestions in helping you find a true Church. The following steps of examination are submitted as only a partial list of the criteria to find the true Church of Jesus Christ. But, if the particular group that you examine meets the following criteria, you can at least say that this group meets the standard of the criteria; and therefore, is a true Church of Jesus Christ in your area. But can you say, even though you found a true church, is this where you are to be?
But first, please use the following criteria to determine whether this group is a true Church; then, the next step is to see if this is your place of service.
The criteria are as follows:
1). Pray petitioning God to lead you to His Body, His Temple, His Bride (1 Jn. 5:14-15). It is for sure; that God knows His Temple.
2). Without prejudice; have no regard to the name of the so-called church (1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; Eph. 1:22-23; 2:19-22); for names are man-made; not God-made; as the true name of God’s dwelling place on earth is the word “ekklesia,” which was given in the first devotion answering the question: “What is it?”
3). Examine carefully the doctrines being proclaimed and practiced; whether it is the Doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9-11), or the doctrine of the flesh. If it be about Christ; it will be that Christ is God in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16), and the believers are to love God supremely, and love the brethren (Mt. 22:37-40); that Salvation is by the Grace, Love and Mercy in Christ, and not in the merits of men (Eph. 2:8-9; Heb. 10:1-21).
4). Is Christ the Center-piece of all that the pastor preaches; and is He all that their practice is patterned from? (Jn. 12:32) Is the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ preached in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit of God? (1 Cor. 2:1-4; 1:21, 24)
5). Is Christ praised above all? Is Christ worshipped as God? Is Christ to Whom they pray? (Co. 3:1-25, esp. v-16; Eph. 5:18-20; Rom. 8:25-27; 1 Jn. 5:14-15)
6). Is the Bible considered to be the verbal, inspired, inerrant Word of God? (2 Tim. 3:16) And is it their sole rule of practice and faith? (Jas. 1:21-22; 1 Jn. 2:6b)
7). Is the child of God, after regeneration by the Holy Spirit, instructed by the pastor to walk in separation from the ways and philosophy of this world? Instructed to walk in love, power, peace, holiness and in the joy of the Holy Ghost? (1 Peter 1:14-16; 2 Cor. 6:14-18; 1 Jn. 2:6; Jn. 13:34-35; 1 Jn. 3:11-21; 4:7-21; Heb. 12:14; Rom. 14:17, 21; Gal. 5:22-23)
8). Is there a hunger and thirst to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the neighborhood, to the community, to the city, to the county, to the state, and to the world? And is this desire put into practice? (Acts 1:8; Jas. 1:22; Mt. 28:19-20)
9). Is there an internal standard set for the membership to adhere to, and to practice the teaching that is set by Christ for His Body? (Such as: unity of the brethren; a sincere effort to walk in holiness and peace; and a joyful and God-purposed giving to support the maintenance of the pastor, and for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in various outreach ministries of the church) (Eph. 4:1-7; Heb. 12:14; 2 Cor. 9:7-11; 1 Cor. 9:6-14)
10). Is there life and growth of the membership in the grace and knowledge of Christ? (2 Peter 3:17-18) Thus, yielding the fruit of the Spirit? (Gal. 5:22-23)
11). Is there a desire of the membership to be stedfast, immoveable, and endure in the work of the Lord unto the end? (1 Cor. 15:58)
12). Is this particular group of people, who call themselves the Church of Jesus Christ, loved by the world? Or does the world persecute and hate these people for their faith and for their walk in this faith? (Jn. 15:18-24)
13). Are there at least two or more that meet in the Name of Christ? (Mt. 18:20)
The list is much longer, but if the above questions are answered in the affirmative; then, you have found the Lord’s Church that assembles from time to time in your location. But, the final question for you to answer is: ‘Do you know that God has placed you in this particular body of Christ to function as one in that body with a specific position or place in this body?’ (See Eph. 4:16; 1 Cor.12:18.) If the answer to this final question be “yes,” then you know the answer to the initial question of this devotion, “Where is It?” That is, you have found the true Church of Jesus Christ; and you have found that you have been placed in that Body of Christ as Christ has purposed for you.
The objection however, from those who are seeking a true church of Jesus Christ in their area is, ‘It is often difficult to find a group of people that have all the qualities that you have listed above’ or ‘These qualities are so vague that it is really hard to distinguish if in fact these people are a true church.’
The answer to this problem is two-fold:
First, in the 1st Century: (a) Jesus had no problem identifying the church (Heb. 2:12); (b) The new converts to Christ on the Day of Pentecost had no problem identifying the true church (Acts 2:41-47); (c) The enemies of the true church had no problem identifying them (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2); and (d) After Paul’s call and conversion to Christ, he had no problem identifying the true Church (Acts 11:26; 14:23; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 1:2; 4:17; Col. 4:15; 1 Thess. 1:1). Why not? The main reason that the above had no problem identifying the true church as the true church in the 1st Century is that the true church of the 1st Century had: (a) the Power of (Acts 1:8; 2:1-39); (b) and the Practice of (Acts 2:41; 4:4, 10, 13, 19-20); (c) and the Persecution from the enemy (5:28-29, 33, 41; 8:1); and (d) the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:14-39; 3:19-20; 5:29-32; 1 Cor. 2:1-4; 15:1-4). Therefore, if the 21st Century Church’s testimony was the same as that of the 1st Century’s Church; there would be no problem in being able to fully identify the true Church of Jesus Christ today.
Secondly, the seeker of the true Church in the 21st Century may not even be a regenerated child of God. If not, then (1 Cor. 2:9-16) would come into play. Paul said in 1 Cor. 2:14, “But the natural man (or the unregenerated man) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Therefore, if the seeker is not born from above, he cannot see the Kingdom of God, nor can he enter into it (Jn. 3:3, 5). Therefore, without regeneration by the Holy Spirit of God; the person has no faith; therefore, no discernment of spiritual things.
In closing, the “Where it is” is where Christ dwells on earth. Christ dwells in His Temple, in the spirit of His children (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). Therefore, where the true people of God meet to honor, praise, worship; to learn more of Christ; and to preach and practice the commandments of Christ; then there is the Church. Also, if you have the witness of the Holy Spirit that this is your place of service; then the question is answered, and you need not look any further, for you are at home.