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MARKS OF THE TRUE CHURCH
Victor M. Eskew
A. Three questions:
1. Did a church exist in the first century?
a. Answer: Yes
b. Acts 2:47
Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
2. Does the church of the first century exist today?
a. Answer: Yes
b. Matthew 16:18
And I say 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.
3. How do we identify the true church today?
a. This is one of the best questions that a man could ask.
b. This is a question that hardly any religious person asks, however.
B. An illustration
1. I received a call from a friend of a friend who lives in California.
a. The contact: I am a friend of John Wilkerson. I am coming to Jacksonville and need someone to pick me up at the airport and take me to a hotel near the airport. Can you help me? I said: “Sure.” As soon as I agreed, he hung up the phone.
b. I had a problem. I agreed to pick up a man and had no clue about anything.
1) I sat at my desk a little frustrated and confused.
2) This is how some feel when it comes to the church. It exists. They need to find it, but they are frustrated because they have no information that will help them identify it.
c. Second phone call: John’s friend called me back about 5 minutes later.
1) He gave me a lot of information:
a) His name
b) The airline
c) The flight number
d) The time of arrival
e) He would be wearing a blue pin-stripe suit, with a blue and red striped tie. He would be wearing a cowboy hat, have a large cowboy buckle on his belt, and would be wearing cowboy boots.
2) Now I was relaxed. I could find him now. How could I do this? I had identification marks by which to identify him.
C. In like manner, we can find the true church because we have been given identification marks in the pages of God’s Word.
1. In the foyer there is a pamphlet entitled: “Marks of the Church.” It lists some 16 identification marks of the true church.
2. We are only going to examine a few identification marks of the true church in this lesson.
I. THE NAME OF THE CHURCH
A. We begin with this identification mark first because it allows one to reduce the number of the churches he must search drastically.
B. The church of the first century was referred to in many ways.
1. We have seen the term, “the church,” used in Acts 2:47.
2. In Acts 20:28, we read of “the church of God.”
3. In Romans 16:16, Paul speaks of “the churches of Christ.”
4. In I Corinthians 3:16-17, he calls the church “the temple of God.”
5. In I Corinthians 12:27, he tells the Corinthians: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
6. Colossians 1:13 refers to the church as “the kingdom of his dear Son.”
7. Paul calls the church “the house of God” in I Timothy 3:15.
8. Hebrews 12:23 speaks of the church as “the general assembly and church of the firstborn.”
C. If a church is going to be the church of the Bible, it should wear one of the Bible names. If it does not, it cannot be the church of the first century.
1. Churches named for men are not Biblical (Lutherans, Mennonites, etc.).
2. Made up names are not scriptural (i.e., Community church, Eleven Twenty-two Church, Celebration Church, etc.).
3. Even names using Bible terms do name make these the church of the Bible (i.e., Pentecostal).
II. THE PLAN OF SALVATION
A. We use this identification mark because it also eliminates many of the churches that exist today.
B. What were individuals told to do by the church of the first century in order to be saved?
1. They were told to hear the word of God (Acts 2:22; Rom. 10:17).
Ye men of Israel, hear these words…
2. They were told to believe in Jesus Christ (Acts 16:30-31).
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
3. They were commanded to repent of their sins (Acts 3:19).
Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.
4. They needed to confess their faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 8:36-37).
And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
5. They were commanded to be baptized in water for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.
C. If you go to a religious group and ask what you need to do to be saved, they should tell you these five things. If they do not, that group cannot be the true church.
1. There are some who will tell you to do less than these five things.
a. Just believe on Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
b. Accept Jesus into your heart and you will be saved.
c. Say the “sinner’s prayer” and you will be saved.
2. Others may add things to the plan of salvation: speaking in tongues, a religious experience, or the washing of feet. If they add to the God-given plan of salvation, they cannot be the true church.
III. PROPER ORGANIZATION
A. In the New Testament, the church can be viewed in two ways:
1. The church universal over which Christ is the Head (Col. 1:18).
2. The local congregations that exist in various cities, towns, and areas of the world.
B. The local congregations are overseen by a group of men known as elders, bishops, or pastors.
1. On Paul’s first missionary journey, elders were placed in all the churches he established (Acts 14:23).
And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
2. These men must meet certain Biblical qualifications that are set forth in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
3. These men have the authority to oversee and rule the local congregation of God’s people. They are the under-shepherds of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28; I Tim. 5:17; I Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:7, 17).
C. Other individuals exist in various positions in the church who function under the oversight of the presbyters, the elders.
1. Deacons (I Tim. 3:8-13)
2. Evangelists (Eph. 4:11)
3. Teachers (Eph. 4:11)
4. Members (Heb. 13:17)
D. If this simple pattern of organization is not found within a church, it cannot be the true church.
1. The church was not organized with the hierarchal structure like the Roman Catholic Church.
2. The churches were not overseen by denominational conventions or organizations or headquarters.
3. The local congregations were not shepherded by one bishop or priest or pastor.
IV. THE WORD OF GOD IT ITS ONLY CREED
A. The word “creed” comes from the Greek word “credo” which means “I believe.”
1. A creed book sets forth the beliefs of the different religious groups.
2. In other words, they have a least two authoritative books they follow: the Bible and their creed book.
a. The Baptist Manual
b. The Methodist Discipline
c. The Westminster Confession of Faith
3. Some have other so-called “inspired” books that they follow (i.e., Mormon Church has The Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.
B. These creed books did not exist in the first century church. All they believed and taught was the precious word of God.
1. Acts 8:4
Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.
2. Paul commanded Timothy to “preach the word” (II Tim. 4:2).
3. Peter said: If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God… (I Pet. 4:11).
C. The question that needs to be asked is: “Does this church have authoritative books other than the Bible to govern them?” If they do, they cannot be the true church.
A. There are many other identification marks that could be discussed.
1. The right founder, Jesus Christ (Matt. 16:18; Acts 20:28; I Cor. 3:11)
2. The right city of origin, Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 12)
3. The right time of establishment, the days of the Roman kings (Dan. 2:44; Luke 2:1-4; Matt. 2:1-18; Acts 12:1).
B. All of the identification marks must be met to be the true church.
1. A church may have a few of them, but not all of them. That church is not the true church.
2. We believe that the church of Christ meets all of the identification marks. It alone is the true church, the church of the Bible, the church of the first century.