Which, if any, is the "true" Christian church?
Criteria for selecting the true church
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
||Those 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:
||Perhaps one of the tens of thousands of existing Christian groups can be
determined to be the one true church.
||Perhaps none of them are. All of the Christian denominations may have strayed so far
from Jesus' original intent, that all may be deeply flawed.
||Perhaps many faith groups are different manifestations of the true church - even though
their beliefs, rituals, and practices differ.
||Perhaps 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.
||Perhaps 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.
||Perhaps 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.
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:
||What 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.
||What 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.
||What Yeshua of Nazareth said: Perhaps Jesus' words in the Gospels can be used to
identify the true church.
||Jesus' 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
||What Jesus asked of his disciples: Perhaps the expectations of
a modern-day Christian church are similar to what Yeshua expected of his disciples.
||The 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.
||Which is the most successful Christian faith group?.
God might have made certain that the true church would be the largest in
J.G. Melton, Ed., "The Encyclopedia of American Religions,"
Triumph Books, (1991). A 3 volume set.
Copyright © 1999 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 1999-JAN-13
Latest update: 2007-JUL-27
Author: B.A. Robinson