- What is a church? A gathering of believers authorized for the power of the keys.
- But not every group who claims that power is truly authorized.
- Revelation 2:1-7: threat of removal of lampstand.
- Revelation 3:1-6: Dead, with a flickering remnant of life; Christ threatens judgment.
- How do we identify true churches and false churches?
WHY THE QUESTION MATTERS
- Will the church in Lehi baptize people who convert from Mormonism? Why/why not?
- If you move to a new area, do you join an existing church or start a new one? Why/why not?
- How do we as a church determine levels of cooperation with other churches?
- How do we maintain our standing as a true church of Jesus Christ?
FOUR HISTORIC ATTRIBUTES OF THE CHURCH
- Nicene Creed: “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Four historic attributes:
(1) Unity: Christ established one church, and only one.
(2) Holiness: The church is devoted to God, distinct from the world.
(3) Catholicity: The church is for all kinds of people everywhere.
(4) Apostolicity: The church is built on the foundation of the apostles of Christ.
ROMAN CATHOLIC INTERPRETATION
- The RC interpretation of unity and apostolicity is very significant.
- Pope = Vicar of Christ; there is no true church outside submission to his authority.
- Why not? Jesus gave the keys to Peter (Matt 16:18-19); authority passes through succession.
- What makes the church one? Organizational unity under the Pope
- What makes the church apostolic? Apostolic succession
APPLICATION TO LOCAL CONGREGATIONS
- How do you identify a true church?
- Is it under the authority of a Roman Catholic bishop (himself under the Pope)? That settles it.
- True churches have the power of the keys to confer grace through the sacraments.
SALVATION OUTSIDE THE CHURCH
- Cyprian (3rd century): “Outside the church there is no salvation.”
- Narrow interpretation: only Catholics can be saved.
- Broad interpretation: Church is the primary mediator of grace, but there are remnants outside it.
- Pope Pius IX (1854): Invincible ignorance excuses those outside the Roman Catholic Church.
- Modern RCC: “Implicit desire” (votum ecclesiae implicitum) saves many outside the church.
CATHOLIC VIEW OF NON-CATHOLIC CHURCHES
- Are we a true church? No.
- But we have the vestigia ecclesiae among us, the “remnants of the church”
- Rome is the true and only church, the surest path, but not the only path, to salvation.
- Protestants likewise affirm “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”
- Define terms differently: “one” does not require organizational unity
- Key difference: “apostolic” means holding to the teaching of the apostles.
- Clowney: “The Reformation made the gospel, not ecclesiastical organization, the test of the true church.”
- Augsburg Confession: “The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments are rightly administered.”
- Calvin: “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists.”
- The Belgic Confession: “The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in chastening of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church.”
IS THIS A BIBLICAL VIEW OF THE CHURCH?
- Gal. 1:6-9: It is the message, not the man, that matters. The gospel is central to the church.
- Matt 16:17-18 and 18:18-20: Power of the keys (includes ordinances) given to congregations.
- Discipline is closely tied to the ordinances.
- IMPORTANT: No church is perfect; churches can be more or less pure.
- Another mark: fruit of the Spirit: Revelation 2:1-7
- Some “churches” are not churches: Mormon wards, Kingdom Halls, etc.
- What about the Roman Catholic Church?
- Trent’s decree on justification:
CANON XI. “If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.”
CANON XII. “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ's sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.”
- Explicit denial and condemnation of justification by faith; publicly/officially, anti-gospel.
- Any church that holds to that teaching is a false church.
- However, it is possible that there are true believers in false churches.
- Some gatherings are true Christians but not churches.
- Example: Salvation Army, Quakers (no sacraments/ordinances at all)
- Every church is disordered in some ways.
- Some are disordered in their baptism practice, but are true churches.
- We recognize them as churches but cannot accept infant baptisms.
- We must hold fast to the marks:
(1) Right preaching of the Word
(2) Right practice of the ordinances (keys)
(3) Right practice of discipline
(4) Producing the fruit of the Spirit