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Which, if any, is the "true" Christian church?

Criteria for selecting the true church

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The task of selecting the true church:

The Encyclopedia of American Religions 1 listed 1,588 religious denominations, sects, faith groups, organizations, etc. in the U.S.  The vast majority of them consider themselves to be Christian. Some of these groups believe that they are the only true Christian church.

How does one find out which denomination really is? Some possibilities:

bulletThose who believe in the power of prayer might devoutly, sincerely pray to God to assess his will. If they feel certain that they have learned his will, the problem is solved. Unfortunately, the results of a small pilot study seem to show that assessing the will of God through prayer is impossible. Although this finding may be surprising to some Christians, it can be supported by the fact of Christian diversity. If Christians really could have assessed the will of God, the original conflicts between Jewish Christians and Pauline Christians in the first century CE -- and the thousands of conflicts since -- would have been resolved, and there would have been only a single Christian church throughout history.

Without God's guidance, there are other alternatives:

bulletPerhaps one of the tens of thousands of existing Christian groups can be determined to be the one true church.
bulletPerhaps none of them are. All of the Christian denominations may have strayed so far from Jesus' original intent, that all may be deeply flawed.
bulletPerhaps many faith groups are different manifestations of the true church - even though their beliefs, rituals, and practices differ.
bulletPerhaps a historical faith group, now defunct, was the rightful owner of that title. There have been a lot of religious groups wiped out by genocides down through the ages, perpetrated by whichever religious group was in power at the time.
bulletPerhaps Jesus did not intend to found a church at all; in that case, there has never been a true church. Many theologians believe that Jesus had no intention of creating a church.
bulletPerhaps Jesus regarded his mission to Jews only. There is evidence for this in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). In his travels through the Galilee, he visited only Jewish towns, avoiding Greek ones. He instructed his disciples to do the same. He at first rejected an appeal by a Gentile, referring to her as a dog -- a despised animal in the Jewish culture. If Jesus had no desire to spread his teachings beyond the Jews, there would never have been a true Christian church.

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What criteria can we use identify the "true" church?

We can approach this question in many ways. There are many criteria that can be used. Unfortunately, they lead in many different directions. For example, we can examine:

bulletWhat some very conservative denominations say: Some faith groups already claim to be the one true church. It is possible that one of them is correct.
bulletWhat other groups say: Some conservative, mainline and liberal denominations believe that the true church is composed of many individual faith groups, each representing a different version of the true church. There might not be a single "true" church; there may be many.
bulletWhat Yeshua of Nazareth said: Perhaps Jesus' words in the Gospels can be used to identify the true church.
bulletJesus' behavior towards social outcasts, the sick, the poor, the orphans, etc.: Perhaps the "true" church deals with people in the same way that Jesus did. By studying how Yeshua treated others, we might identify a modern-day church that interacts with people in the same way.
bulletWhat Jesus asked of his disciples: Perhaps the expectations of a modern-day Christian church are similar to what Yeshua expected of his disciples.
bulletThe example of Jesus' disciples: At Jesus' execution, his disciples knew more about his thoughts, goals and intentions than anyone else. Perhaps today's true church is the one that is closest to the religious organization that they formed.
bulletWhich is the most successful Christian faith group?. God might have made certain that the true church would be the largest in membership.

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References:

  1. J.G. Melton, Ed., "The Encyclopedia of American Religions," Triumph Books, (1991). A 3 volume set.

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Site navigation:

Home > Christianity > Christian faith groups > the true church > here

or Home > Important essays > the true church > here

or Home > Religious information > the true church > here

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Copyright 1999 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-JAN-13
Latest update: 2007-JUL-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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