Chapter Three – What is the True Church?

04 December


“Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world
.James 1:27

Religion has taken on so many different tones and aspects through the centuries that the exact meaning has been diluted or even changed, resulting in confusion and division. Often well-meaning people that really do not understand the Gospel in its entirety are unknowingly preaching false doctrine. In other instances, religion has been corrupted becoming a tool for power and domination.

True religion should reflect what James spoke of in the verse above. He made it perfectly clear what God expects His church to look like.  We are to nurture relationships and care for those in need while keeping our eye on God.

Unfortunately, religion and church has come to mean something other than fellowship and an action of love towards others. It has been twisted to mean a series of rules and regulations dictated to us by earthly authorities.

Authority definitely has its place in society and is structured by God himself, but since by nature man is fallible we need to make sure our teaching is directed by the right motives. Church should lead to God, not force one into submission through ungodly tactics such as guilt, control and manipulation. Impure motives and lack of grace often leads to an attempt to control another’s life through a series of rules. This causes not only rebellion, but also division. Division has led to the birth of denominations in mainstream Christianity and other religious organizations all across the world, often resulting in cults. It is human nature, I suspect, to try to find or create a church that fits our wants, needs, and preconceptions of God rather than relying on God’s word. A true church helps you to build a real relationship with God.

Jesus, knowing our natures, prayed that we would find the strength to resist it. He wanted us to stay united. He wanted us to be one in spirit, mind, and purpose (John 17:20-23). God hates division. He deals with it repeatedly throughout the Old and New Testaments.

 

“I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10

 

Denominations allow for man’s authority to supersede God’s within a Church. Nowhere does the Bible say Jesus built a denomination, nor does the Bible teach Jesus died for any church established by man! He died for only one church, the one He bought with His own blood (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25). The Bible doesn’t say that a man was ever to be the head of the Church! But by its very nature, a denomination puts a man over the church.

This creates the problem of pitting one Christian against another. Nothing good can ever come of that, and, ultimately, it is the kingdom of God that suffers. Since God is not for division, who is to blame? Satan, of course, ranks high on the list, but man’s lust for power, dominance, and greed have no less contributed to the division among Christians. For the individual Christian, the effects of this division are most distressing.

The Apostle Paul writes to the Church of Corinth to fix a variety of problems that have cropped up in the church. The foremost of them, and one Paul addressed right away, is that of division (1 Corinthians 1:10). He mentions that the people had become so polarized in their loyalty to a man or an organization that Paul had to chastise them regarding where their true loyalties should lie.

 

“Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”1 Corinthians 1:12-13 (KJV)

 

Good question. Is Christ divided? The answer, of course, is no! This is great news to all of us! Paul didn’t like the fighting and squabbling among the Christians. He worried that they would declare a man’s opinion superior to God’s (1 Corinthians 1:15). He worried that they were setting up a hierarchy based on elitism rather than the call of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). The last thing Paul desired was for man’s ordinances to supplant God’s Word—which would result in the loss of free will. Paul understood that the power of the Church wasn’t in the leadership, but in the preaching of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21-25).

As you can see in the Church of Corinth, division created an entire mess of problems. Each chapter in First Corinthians deals with a doctrine or issue that had arisen as a result of this division. Paul wanted to deal with them on a much more mature spiritual setting and found that he could not. Instead, he felt as if he were talking to spiritual babies, settling squabbles instead of the important issues of the Gospel.

I experienced divisions personally while in the Mormon Church because certain “worthy” members could go to the temple while others could not, and many outside family members were left wondering why I was being led into a place that they could not go. It took a thorough searching of the Scriptures and much prayer before I could see the effects and damages that these divisions had on me and my family.

 

God’s Church versus Man’s Churches

 

According to 1 John 5:13, belonging to the true church is as simple as claiming Christ to be your Savior.  Numerous scriptures point to what it means to be a part of the True Church. I’ve listed a few below.

 

  • The Lord tells us to meet often with other believers to worship our Lord in “spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
  • To partake of His supper and remember His body and blood that was shed for us (Matthew 26:26-29; Acts 20:7; 1Corinthians 11:23-26).
  • To sing praises to God and offer prayers (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Hebrews 13:15).
  • To be taught and edified through God’s Word (Acts 2:42; 20:7; Matthew 28:20).
  • To give as God prospers us (1Corinthians 16:1,2).

 

Denominations are man’s inventions to exercise control over other Churches and, thus by extension, individual Christians. Biblically, denominations and splinter groups that use fear to control their congregation have no right to exist. These churches will be destroyed by the Lord at His coming (Matthew 15:13). Only the church established by Jesus Christ will be saved (Ephesians 5:23-27).

It can be difficult, sometimes, to recognize a true church when often it calls itself Christian and yet does not adhere to the teachings of Christ. One sure way is to see if it places heavy burdens of legalism and works on the believer in order to find salvation. Often our perception of the purpose and direction of our life becomes muddied in this type of environment. One sure way to be clear you are where Jesus wants you to be is to take notice of whether the church uses teachings made by man and gives them the same weight or a higher preference as that of God’s word, the Bible. When Jesus was walking the Earth, He condemned the religious leaders of the day who were placing heavy weights on the people. He rebuked them and then he took the entire scriptures and summarized them in to two commandments:

 

“Love the Lord your God with all you mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”Luke 10:27

 

You see, our sole purpose here on earth is to learn to love. When we love God with all our heart first, loving others into His body will be natural for us. In addition, we don’t have to fear Him or prove ourselves worthy of His love or grace. When this has been incorporated into our lives, we will care about what He cares about and, by extension, love those that He loves—which is everyone.

That is the true church.

 

The Church and the Cross

 

The highest expression of this love was the cross. Christ loved God, and because of that, He loved man enough to die for us. This is important, and it concerns me that the Mormon Church has taken away this symbol of ultimate love and sacrifice and replaced it with the Angel Moroni. Remember what it says in scripture about angels preaching a different gospel in Galatians 1:8?  “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!”

The cross is everything to us Christians. 1 Corinthians 2:2 says, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ crucified.” This verse in itself is Freedom! You don’t have to know anything but Jesus! This means you do not need to know about Joseph Smith or any of the other prophets, apostles, elders, or teachers. Only Jesus. He is the only one that saves. Any other leader should only point the way to Christ and His gospel, nothing more.

The Apostle Paul understood this important role and he serves as the model for all Christian leaders as he proclaims, “We preach Christ crucified.” He tells us that this was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23).

In order to preach the truthfulness of the Gospel, there must be a very clear description of the person of Christ, and as Christians we preach Christ as God. Not a man made into God, nor God degraded to the level of a man, nor something in between a man and God—only the Absolute God of Heaven and Earth. If we error concerning the Deity of Christ, then we are in error of the gospel in its entirety. In preaching Christ crucified, we are proclaiming that the God of heaven came to earth to die for us so we could be reconciled to Him. This is the most important concept of the entire gospel, as we would be left to die in our sin if it were not for our Savior.

As a Christian, it worries me when Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley states, “We do not use the cross as a symbol on our chapels, temples, or on our scriptures or in jewelry.”[1] Hinckley explained the reason in a talk delivered in a general conference. He told about talking to a Protestant minister following a temple open house. The minister had asked why there were no crosses anywhere since Mormons claim to believe in Jesus Christ. President Hinckley answered, “‘I do not wish to give offense to any of my Christian brethren who use the cross on the steeples of their cathedrals and at the altars of their chapels, who wear it on their vestments, and imprint it on their books and other literature. But for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the living Christ.’

“He then asked, ‘If you do not use the cross, what is the symbol of your religion?’

“I replied that the lives of our people must become the only meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.”[2]

As I said, this is distressing since it was the Apostle Paul that rallied us around the cross to begin with:

 

“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”Galatians 6:14

 

The cross is not a symbol of death. It is a symbol of salvation and redemption. It is a rallying cry of spiritual victory. It is hope. This is why, for most Christians, the empty cross is the symbol we cling to. Jesus is not dead. He is no longer on the cross. He is risen! It begins to feel more like man’s church when we strip it of the one thing that is to unite us to God: the cross.

The cross was the place of Christ’s greatest victory because it was there that He submitted himself to the ultimate obedience. When He surrendered His spirit to death and then overcame it Christ showed the ultimate victory. The empty cross reminds us that all things work to our good.

In his speech, Hinckley continues, “The lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and the symbol of our worship.”[3] Does Hinckley imply that having the cross as our symbol somehow takes away from a Christian’s desire to live a life that strives to reflect the holiness of Christ? If so, I must, once again, strongly object.

Listening to his speech, one might draw the conclusion that Mormons have no symbols unique to their faith. This, of course, is far from the truth. One of the most well-known symbols is that of the angel Moroni.

Ironically, this trumpet-blowing effigy stands in the same place a Christian cross would probably stand if LDS temples were Christian churches. Beehives, moonstones, sunstones, the all-seeing eye, and Masonic ‘grips’ are in abundance on the temple in Salt Lake City, and while Mormons are quick to distance themselves from the cross, they have no problem defending the numerous five-pointed pentagrams used as decorations on both the Salt Lake City and Nauvoo temple.

I personally wish Mormons gave closer heed to the cross; in doing so, they may discover more fully why Christians see this as a symbol that reminds us of all that Jesus accomplished by suffering on the cross. It is the suffering of Christ that gives real meaning to the resurrection—and even to our own suffering. It allows us to see why the resurrection was as important as it was. But what exactly did his suffering and death on the cross accomplish? Consider this:

 

  • John 15:13 – Jesus pointed to His future death as an example of His great love for His people: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

 

  • Romans 5:9 – The shedding of His blood on the cross is what justifies us before a Holy God. We no longer must wonder if we will ever be “good enough.”

 

  • Romans 8:34 – His death on the cross gave us an intercessor in Jesus Christ, someone who represents us before God.

 

  • 1 Corinthians 5:7 – Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross gave us the grace we needed to live a victorious Christian life.

 

  • Galatians 3:13 – Christ’s death on the cross freed us from the curse of the law. Now, it is in Him rather than in a system, that we find salvation!

 

  • Colossian 1:22 – Jesus’ death on the cross allowed for reconciliation of sinful man to a Holy God. No longer must we be separated.

 

  • Colossians 2:13 – Jesus nailed to the cross the laws that were contrary to us and thus paved the way for true forgiveness of sins.

 

  • Colossians 2:15 – Christ’s death on the cross triumphed over Satan and death itself. Now, we need fear neither.

 

  • Hebrews 2:14 – By His death, Jesus freed us from the fear of death. No longer must we labor in bondage to sin and death.

 

  • Hebrews 9:14 – Christ’s death on the cross did away with the imperfect system of animal sacrifices. His perfect blood is sufficient for all mankind for all eternity!

 

  • Hebrews 10:14 – Most adherents of other religions struggle to please their particular deities. However, Christ’s sacrifice by itself allows His people to become perfect. The anxiety of striving to be “good enough” has been taken away, allowing us to rest completely in His finished completed work.

 

Christians should feel no shame when they emphasize the cross for their redemption. Paul clearly reminded the believers in Romans 5:6-8, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

In his tract, titled Calvary, John Charles Ryle, a well-respected bishop in the Church of England during the 19th century, summed it up well when he wrote:

 

“Would I know the fullness and completeness of the salvation God has provided for sinners? Where shall I see it most distinctly? Shall I go to the general declarations in the Bible about God’s mercy? Shall I rest in the general truth that God is a God of love? Oh, no! I will look at the crucifixion at Calvary. I find no evidence like that: I find no balm for a sore conscience and a troubled heart like the sight of Jesus dying for me on the accursed tree. There I see that a full payment has been made for all my enormous debts.

 

“The curse of that law which I have broken, has come down on One who there suffered in my stead; the demands of that law are all satisfied: payment has been made for me even to the uttermost farthing. It will not be required twice over. Ah, I might sometimes imagine I was too bad to be forgiven; my own heart sometimes whispers that I am too wicked to be saved. But I know in my better moments this is all my foolish unbelief; I read an answer to my doubts in the blood shed on Calvary. I feel sure that there is a way to heaven for the very vilest of men, when I look at the cross.”

 

The True Church and the Local Church

 

Jesus died for only one church, the one He bought with His own blood. His intention, according to Scripture, was that there would be a single faith for all humanity. The church, meaning all Christians, is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). There is one body (Ephesians 4:4). Therefore, there is only one church—His Church! Jesus is the Savior of His body—meaning His people (Ephesians 5:25). If we want to be saved, we must be in His body. We cannot be saved in a man-made church!

 

“And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence”- Colossians 1:18

 

We do not read in the Bible of any human head of the church. There is no preacher, pastor, priest, pope, president, prophet, patriarch, board, or committee over God’s Church. Christ is its only head! The headquarters of the one true church is in Heaven where Jesus Christ, the head, lives (Acts 2:33-36).

While there is one body, there are still many local churches. These are groups of local believers who meet together for worship, praise, and study. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome: “The churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16). He was not speaking of different denominations, but of the different local assemblies of Christians in each area.

These together make up the body of Christ—the one true Church.

Paul addressed the saints in Corinth as “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2). He asked the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet with him in Miletus (Acts 20:17). He spoke of “the churches of Galatia” meaning the assemblies of Christians in each city of Galatia (Galatians 1:2).

Though there are many local churches that make up the one true Church in Christ, God never meant for a man to form a central organization of power to wield over these churches. Except for Christ who rules from Heaven, each congregation is self-governing and independent of all the others. Each local church has its own authority as laid out in Scripture, regardless of the titles. Elders (wise-counselors), bishops (overseers), and pastors (under-shepherds) all were synonymous in the Bible, depicting different aspects of the same calling. Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders in every church” (Acts 14:23). Paul called the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17). He wrote to the saints in Philippi “with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). The church authority established by Jesus was meant to lead only over the local congregation of which they are members (1 Peter 5:1-2).

 

Finding God in Church

 

I know it is scary for many of you that are Mormon to think that quite possibly the church you attend is not the ‘the one true church.’  You might defend it, get angry and feel like these words are words of the devil trying to tear down God’s true church. I understand your feelings. I too, once felt defensive when I was a Mormon. I pray that you will at least search out all things and test them according to God’s Word and then pray to God about it—the very thing the Mormon Church asked you to do when you accepted their faith in the beginning. This time, however, I want you to start from God’s Word, the Bible, and make your decision based on truth and God’s Word alone.

God certainly wants you to have faith in Him, but He does not want you to blindly follow a religion that is less about a relationship with God and more about control over your life. My own experiences in this had a profoundly damaging effect on my family. At first, I was blind to what it was doing, and only after I came out of Mormonism did my family feel safe enough to share with me how they felt. I was then able to look at the Mormon Church from a position of spiritual health to see what it had done. I understand now the control, judgment, manipulation, separation, oppression, fear, and guilt that had been placed on me while being in the “true church.”

Even before I left the Mormon Church and began attending a Bible believing church, the very laws that I was told would guarantee our eternity together were injuring my family. At the time, I couldn’t see the contradiction of a family being destroyed now so that it could be together later. The only thing I knew was that my family was hurting, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I fell to my knees and just cried to God, telling Him I did not want to betray Him by leaving the “true church,” all the while struggling with a family that seemed to be tearing itself apart. Still, I had been forgiven of much, and I did not want to jeopardize my salvation by going to another church. It was very scary for me. As I prayed on my knees, crying to the Lord, I felt Him wrap His peace around me and tell me that everything was going to be okay. I felt directed to go to a community Christian church and just rest in God’s peace.

I know I could not have left the Mormon Church without that affirmation from God. The first time I went to this other church, my own daughter became worried since attending a Christian Church was contrary to what I had not only been taught, but what I had taught her. She came to check on me, and I had to assure her that I could worship God anywhere. Just saying those words to her made the truth of them ring in my ears. God is everywhere.

Look at Paul. He preached in prison. God was there! Ministries venture into every part of the world and into every part of society. God is there, too! It is not about where you attend, what rituals you practice, what you wear or whether or not there is a pipe organ in the room. What matters is your heart and your relationship with God (Psalms 139:23).

As I continued to attend the community church and study the Bible, I felt more at peace each time. My family became more whole than I could have ever imagined! I know with a firm assurance that we are now living the way God intended. Things are natural and not forced. There is not a spirit of religion in our home—only the spirit of love, a love of God and a love for each other.

For those Mormon friends who read this, I pray that you will find the strength to push past your fears of those around you and investigate with an open heart and tender spirit the Christian faith. The “true church” should not be afraid of you seeking truth and freedom. Scripture teaches us to search, to know, and to try every spirit (1 John 4:1). You will notice a sense of freedom and love come into your home when you are living as God truly intended for you to live.

 

“I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven.” - Ecclesiastes 1:13

 

When seeking to find your church home, you will discover that there are many different styles of worship. We all need the freedom to be unique as God created us. We need to allow others the freedom to worship in their own right—even if it is different than us. Differences are not bad. God created us all unique and different. Some people like to praise and worship God to rock music, some to gospel or blues, and others to traditional music. Some people are more at ease in jeans, some in shorts, and some feel the need to dress up. Some people need or want to attend church on Saturday. God is not looking on the outward appearance of man and judging him. He looks on our hearts and wants a heart that longs to be with Him. As long as a church is teaching the Word of God and not twisting it to meet the needs of the flesh, then you can attend or have your own ministry anywhere. Paul says that in his ministry he became a Greek for the Greeks and a Jew for the Jews.

 

“Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.” - 1 Corinthians 9:19-20

 

In this way, he was able to connect with people and bring them to Christ. Paul was not, nor am I, advocating sin in order to win a soul for the Lord. God gave us commandments and we are to use our freedom wisely (Romans 6:1). God’s true Gospel is a love story, a story of grace. After all, God loved the entire world by giving His only begotten Son so that we, you, me, and everyone else might have eternal life (John 3:16). As Christians, we believe and understand that Christ died for us while we were still a sinner (Romans 5:8). We didn’t have to become perfect for Christ to love us.

Church is wherever we are—and it is indeed important! I am not saying that we shouldn’t go to church. We are to gather with other believers to edify and encourage one another (Thessalonians 5:11). In this respect, church is vital to the spiritual health of every believer. Only don’t lose sight of the fact that God’s kingdom is not of this world and not bound to a segment of believers. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we represent the Kingdom of God. We take it with us!

God has given us the Bible to guide us safely through this world, to comfort us, encourage us and sustain us through this life. It is the only book we are to follow.  As Jesus said in John 12:48, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.”

I remember attending a woman’s Christian concert with a friend of mine just shortly after having left the Mormon Church. Sylvia Lange sang a song called I am Free. I just stood up with tears in my eyes, completely overcome with the Spirit, knowing I had been set free! We were the only two standing up, but I could not help it. I was so overcome with my newfound freedom of just singing about Jesus and worshipping Him alone.

 

A Prayer of Healing

 

“Lord, I thank you that You have guided me into Your truth. I thank You that you are where we as the believers are. I am so grateful, Lord, that You have placed other solid believers in my life to bring clarity to Your Word through bible study. I pray for all those in the world that do not know You personally. Help them not to fear seeking Your truth and guide them to where you would have them fellowship.  I pray for their strength to break free of the bondage that would keep them from truly knowing You. Thank You for the cross Lord, the symbol of Your love and of my salvation. Amen.”

 


[1]Gordon B. Hinckley, The Symbol of Christ, (http://lds.org/ensign/1975/05/the-symbol-of-christ?lang=eng, 1975).

[2]Gordon B. Hinckley, The Symbol of Christ, (http://lds.org/ensign/1975/05/the-symbol-of-christ?lang=eng, 1975).

[3]Gordon B. Hinckley, The Symbol of Christ, (http://lds.org/ensign/1975/05/the-symbol-of-christ?lang=eng, 1975).

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2 Responses to “Chapter Three – What is the True Church?”

  1. Mike Reed December 5, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    I appreciate your comments on the topic of Mormonism and the Cross. You may be interested in a book I recently published titled “Banishing the Cross: The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo,” which historically traces the development of Mormon attitudes toward the Christian symbol, to become the taboo that exists today. You may be interested to know that early Mormons embraced the symbol, but that it wasn’t until the turn of the twentieth century that attitudes began to change. Here is a link to my book on Amazon if you are interested: http://www.amazon.com/Banishing-Cross-Emergence-Mormon-Taboo/dp/1934901350/
    Best regards,
    Mike Reed

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