How to find Jesus' True Church
An Interactive Biblical Detective Story' Episode I...
Perhaps you are one of the millions of people who have enjoyed a good
mystery in a movie, book or short story. Fictional 'who done its',
police, trial, detective stories and their real life counter-parts
in the news abound, perhaps because it is interesting to follow exactly
how the 'suspect' was finally caught.
In our land, and places around the world, a real-life mystery is playing
out, and chances are good that this mystery has touched your life
in many different ways and at various times. Even though the Bible
tells us that Jesus established a church (see Mt. 16:18) and the New
Testament reminds us of our Savior's desire for Christian unity (e.g.:
Jn. 17:20-21; Eph 4:1-6; 4:12-13), we've seen a modern explosion of
'new' churches. These usually claim to be 'Bible based,' 'full Gospel'
churches; which have often broken off from some larger church or denomination.
With some 30,000 different Christian denominations today, the mystery to many people
is: 'which one is Jesus' True Church?' In this short article, we'll
learn how an investigator would solve the 'mystery' of finding the
True Church of Jesus Christ; and you will get to be the 'gumshoe'
(detective) in an inter-active Scriptural hunt!
In this boom of radio, TV and other ministries (besides thousands
of churches), each with their own interpretation of Scriptures, we
should notice that we have a lot of 'victims' of this 'crime against
true religion.' Jesus predicted in the last days this would happen:
"See that no one deceives you, for many will come in my name...And
then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another.
Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the
increase in evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one
who preserves to the end will be saved." (Mt. 24: 4,10-13).
Good, intelligent people can be 'conned' by crooks. Similarly, we
can be sure that with only one church established by Jesus, there
are many people who are misled; perhaps by a sincere pastor, but possibly
by a 'wolf in sheep's clothing.' Stop and think: if YOU have learned
a 'false religion' or a 'false gospel,' the consequences could be
VERY SERIOUS! This is an investigation worth doing! God's Word urges
us: "Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." (Eph. 5:10). Let's
follow His advice, by learning some investigative methods.
HOW TO BE A GOOD DETECTIVE: 'DO's & DON'Ts': Begin with what you
know. Be objective, not subjectively 'deciding' because you 'think'
it's true. A good investigator (some say, a good comparison shopper)
starts with evidence, not beliefs or biases. The 'sleuth' must leave
personal opinions behind, looking at facts with an open mind. Be
prepared for some research, and to go to the sources with your questions.
Remember, in 'court' you must have proof! We should leave no room
for 'reasonable doubt'!
Detectives start with known facts: (1) both to eliminate possible
suspects, (2) as well as to have clues to help them find their 'suspect.'
For instance, if we find a church's teaching that violates a Scriptural
fact, that would eliminate that church from being Jesus' true church.
A church whose worship and teachings agree with undisputed Biblical
facts would be the 'subject' or goal of our investigation. Notice,
that since Jesus came for sinners (cf. Mt. 9:13; Rom. 3:23), we shouldn't
look for a perfect church with perfect pastors or members, instead
we are seeking a church that teaches the truth (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15),
as Our Lord willed (cf. Jn. 16:13; Lk. 10:16). OK, gumshoe, grab
your 'book' and notes, and let's get started!
First, did Jesus start a church? What did Jesus say?
We read in Matthew 16:18 that Jesus established a church: "...and
upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will
not prevail against it." This tells us Jesus promised us an enduring
Church, one that would last. Galatians 1:8 gives us another clue
we should track: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach
a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that one be accursed!"
Let's see how these verses help us in our hunt. Keep in mind that
a detective must use logic, 'critical' or objective thinking, to find
the right person. So stay focused and sharp!
Since we believe in the Bible as God's inspired Word, we now know
Jesus started a lasting Church. We turn to Biblical scholars, who
tell us that Galatians was written approximately 48-55 A.D. (checking
with Bible scholars is something like a detective getting advice from
an expert, say turning to a coroner who tells the investigator: 'the
victim was found at 3 p.m., and given his body temperature, died between
4 and 6 hours earlier').
Keep in mind that when Paul wrote Galatians, Jesus' True Church already
existed. Paul was indicating that any 'new' church or 'new' gospel
that came after Jesus' was 'accursed,' it would be a 'false gospel.'
So history could help us find the true church, since a church that
couldn't trace its origins or teachings back to Jesus' time, by Paul's
definition, is 'accursed' as a 'false gospel.'
TO CHECK the historical credentials of a church, some of the questions
we need answered are: 'When did that church get started?' 'Do we know
the founders of a church?' Let's understand the reason such questions
benefit our search. If we find the founders of a church, or the date
a church first started, and learn that it began long after Jesus'
time, that proves a church was 'another (false) gospel.' It's founders
would be one of the ''false prophets'' Jesus said would come. That sure makes sense, 'gumshoe'! Let's 'hit the pavement' and 'check some leads' out!
You could start by calling local pastors, or hit a good library, or
both. See what the church or group says about itself, and what unbiased
histories say about that same denomination. NOTICE: in searching for
the True Church, we aren't condemning members or judging their leaders:
we are simply doing what Jesus told us to do, searching for the truth
that sets us free. (Jn. 8:31-32). Let's get some facts, to help your
investigation (note: most of these bodies have many offshoot churches).
Adventists (with offshoots, including: 'Seventh Day Adventists'):
founded by William Miller circa 1840 in the United States.
Anglicans (Episcopalians): this church effectively began when King
Henry VIII declared himself to be the head of the English church in
Baptist Church: started by John Smyth in Holland, 1608.
Children of God: in 1970 by David Brant Berg, with the U.S. Christian
Christian Science: Mary Baker Eddy, in the United States in 1848.
Church of Christ (Campbellites, Disciples, etc.): by Thomas and Alexander
Campbell, 1809, in the United States.
Congregational: by Robert Brown in England, in 1580.
Friends (Quakers): by George Fox, in jolly old England, in 1648.
Islam: (the meaning is: 'submission to the will of Allah') in 622 by the 'prophet
Muhammad' in Arabia (in 1990, there was 881 million people world-wide
who belonged to one of the Islamic branches).
Jehovah's Witnesses (Watchtower Society): by Charles Taze Russell,
in the U.S., in 1884.
Lutheran Church: founded by Martin Luther, in 1517 in Germany.
Later Day Saints (Mormons): launched circa 1830 by Joseph Smith in
the United States.
Methodists: begun by John Wesley in England, in 1728.
Mennonite (Amish etc.): Menno Simonis, 1636, in Holland.
Pentecostal (Assembly of God; also Shakers, Jumpers 1758, Ann Lee,
in England): Charles Parham in 1904, in the former 'colonies,' the
Presbyterians : started circa 1560 by John Calvin in Switzerland,
and John Knox in Scotland.
Salvation Army: in England by William Booth, in 1878.
Unification (Moonies): Sun Myung Moon, Korean born, circa 1956.
Unitarians: by John Biddle in England in 1645.
United Brethern: Phillip Wm. Otterbein, in the U.S.A., in the year
of our Lord, 1767.
This partial list clearly doesn't mention literally thousands of other
independent churches and ministries (often named after their founder),
which typically started in the twentieth century; such as: Alamo Ministries,
All Roads Ministries, Campus Crusade, Chick Ministries, Cornerstone,
Iglesia ni Cristo, Jimmy Swaggert Ministries, Last Day's Ministries,
New Age groups, Solid Rock Ministry and World-Wide Church of God,
to mention but a few. But this list of churches, their founders and
starting dates will help you get started. For talking to church members
or pastors, consider 'investigative' questions like these:
'How old is the oldest known church or house of worship for your faith?'
(for example: we know historically that the very first Baptist church
was in Southwark, London, 1633). We can't expect church buildings
to survive from the second century, roughly when scholars say the
early Christians established separate public places for worship.
But we know there are churches in Europe and the Holy Lands that are
well over five-hundred years old. So if a group or congregation has
no church building older than those, such a fact would argue against
it being Jesus' True Church.
Another question might be: 'Does your church have ancient houses of
worship in Bethlehem, Nazareth or Jerusalem?' If the answer is 'no',
that would eliminate that church from consideration, since those places
had Christians. Another interesting question would help your investigation:
'Which church has centuries-old places of worship at the key sites
of Jesus' life?' We know the early Christians revered the places
of Christ's Birth, Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified), or the mount
of our Lord's Ascension into heaven. These sites DO have very old
church buildings, and learning which faith built those churches would
be a strong clue as to the True Church.
FREE WILL: Because God gave us free will, we can choose to be a member of any church we want to, and we can always come up with some excuse for being in one church, not being in another. We can even do as
many others have done, simply start our own churches! We could take
a Bible, pick some verses, and claim to be a 'Bible-based church,'
'full Gospel' and the like, maybe even start a radio or TV ministry.
But those who choose to delude themselves will be ignoring the Lord's
warnings against being in a false church. It's risky!
The Church of the Ascension was built on the site where Jesus was taken up into Heaven (see Acts 1:6-12). The church was built in the fourth century, was destroyed in 614 by the Persians, and was rebuilt in the 12 century by Crusaders. It came back under Moslem control during the 13th century 'holy wars.'
The picture below is from inside the church, a footprint traditionally held to have been made by Jesus before He rose into Heaven. Sites like these have traditionally drawn pilgrims who want to see the sites where Jesus lived, died and rose in glory. They have inspired the faiths of millions through the centuries.
Click here to go to "Gumshoe" Episode #2