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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.

The Mount of Olives, in Jerusalem, one of the places Jesus walked.

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.

A closer view of the Mount of Olives.

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!

Ancient olive trees on the Mount of Olives.

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).

View of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

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.

Jesus' agony in the garden of Gethsemane - Mt. 26:31-46.

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.

Jesus was betrayed by Judas' kiss - Mt. 26:47-50

Remember, in 'court' you must have proof! We should leave no room for 'reasonable doubt'!

Mt. 26:57.  The 'courtyard of Caiaphas.'  The Sandhedrin judged Jesus here.

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?

Lk. 22:62-Peter denied Jesus. Do we deny Him by our choices? We all need to repent.

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!

Map of stops and landmarks on the way of the Cross in Jerusalem.

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').

Jesus is sentanced to die by Pilate.  Mt. 27:15-26.

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.'

Model of the fortress Antonia, Pilate's headquarters in Jerusalem.

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.'

Door to the 'prison of Jesus' in Jerusalem.  One 'stop' He made for our sins.

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!

In 'Jesus Prison.' Key sites of Jesus' day now have chapels, churches & altars.

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 1534.

Baptist Church: started by John Smyth in Holland, 1608.

Children of God: in 1970 by David Brant Berg, with the U.S. Christian Missionary Alliance.

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 United States.

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.

Grotto of Gethsemane - the 'mother church of Jerusalem - for some 1600 years.

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.

Church of 'Dominus Flevit'='the Lord Wept' over Jerusalem - see Lk.20:41.

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!

Church of the Ascension - see Mk. 16:19.

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.

Footprint of Jesus, in the Church of the Ascension.

Click here to go to "Gumshoe" Episode #2


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