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The True Church of Jesus Christ

What are the shortcomings of Institutionalized Christianity?

What does the Bible say about false churches at the end of the age?

And what are the characteristics of the true church - the one loved by Christ?


Apostasy

"When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18.8)

In Lk 18.8 Jesus implies that at the end of this age many will fall away from the true faith. And in the context of the revealing of the 'man of lawlessness' (2 Thes 2.8), Paul writes:

"Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first ..."
(2 Thes 2.3)

Apostasy means 'a falling away from, and often deliberate rejection of biblical truth'. The man in the street no longer seeks truth - 'truth is fallen in the street' (Isa 59.14). For example, Britain, despite her Christian heritage, has now largely abandoned biblical statements on morality, creation and marriage (in 2011, an ICM poll found that 45% of Britons approved of legalising gay marriage). UK Church attendance reflects this 'falling away' and is now just 6% of the population [WhyChurch 2010].

Apostate Christianity

Of those who still regularly attend church, we should ask 'what church?' Jesus warned of deception from end-time false prophets (Mat 24.11). Today we see this in modern cults, like the Word of Faith movement, promising 'health and wealth'. Of course, such teaching is very attractive:

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine ... they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires ... and will turn aside to myths." (2 Tim 4.3,4)

We also see a liberal church, one that has departed from true biblical doctrine. Such churches take a 'politically correct' stance on interfaith, homosexual acts, gay marriage, evolution and replacement theology (concerning the church and Israel).

"... in later times some will fall away ... paying attention to doctrines of demons ..."
(1 Tim 4.1)

The End-time World Church (Ecclesiastical Babylon)

Apart from false prophets and liberal churches, there is an even worse end-time apostate church. Scholars agree that Christ's messages to the seven historic churches in Asia (Rev 2 and 3) also apply to the state of the church at any one time; there are always suffering (persecuted) churches, faithful churches, and apostate churches. But they also see the messages depicting the historical progression of the church, with the Laodicean church being the main end-time church. It is the only church not indwelt by Christ; He stands outside, waiting to be asked in by any in that church who repent and ask Him in (Rev 3.20). 'Laodicea' means 'men's opinions ruling in place of God'. This is how Christ sees such a church:

"You say 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing', and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked ..." (Rev 3.17)

We can identify such a church today from Rev 17.1-6. Here we see an end-time 'ecclesiastical Babylon' - a worldly, wealthy, powerful, political church. Many see this final apostate church as being headed by the Roman Catholic Church. This church claims that it is the only true church, all others being 'defective':

"The Catholic Church is the one, holy, apostolic Church of Christ. This one Church of Christ ... constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in (is) the Catholic Church ... " [Vatican doctrinal congregation]

Rome's claim to be the one true church was recognised as unbiblical by Wycliffe, Huss, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Whitefield, the Wesley's, and others. The Reformers were 'Protestant' in that they 'protested' against and rebelled from the supreme authority of the pope. Unfortunately, the Reformation led to many forms of Protestant Church: Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, Charismatics, Unitarians, Methodists and so on.

So today there is a strong move to unify all churches - eventually to be under Rome. The Ecumenical Movement (EM) is led by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and promotes worldwide unity between all the major Christian groups:

"A united church is no optional extra." [Desmond Tutu, WCC, Brazil, 2006]

The Anglican Church claims that "Ecumenism is at the very heart of Anglicanism". And the UK Methodist Church wishes to work with ecumenical partners wherever possible. Its ecumenical strategy includes:

"A vision of one Church for one World; a desire to share in a common life with all Christian people; and a commitment to seeking the full visible unity of the Church."

The restoration of unity among all Christians was one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Note that the word 'ecumenical' literally means 'the inhabited earth' or 'the whole world', so here we have the birth of a World Church.

Clearly, the Ecumenical Movement will eventually absorb 'Institutionalized Christianity', as found in the mainstream Protestant churches. So where is the true church of Christ?


Characteristics of the True Church

Christ sees the end-time World Church (or ecclesiastical Babylon) as "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked". So where is the true end-time church? In Rev 2 and Rev 3 Christ avoids chastening just two of the seven types of church. These are the suffering church (Smyrna) and the faithful church (Philadelphia). The true end-time church will be like Smyrna and Philadelphia combined:

Like Smyrna:

Jesus said the end-time church will be rejected by the world, even hated, and it will need to 'endure' (Mat 24.9-13). He didn't paint a picture of world-wide 'Holy Spirit revival' at the end of this age, as some do. Note that, whilst the Holy Spirit was 'poured out' upon the church at Pentecost, giving the church great power to witness (Acts 1.8), the pouring out of God's Spirit in Joel 2.28-32 may well apply in its fullness to God's chosen people Israel as they at last recognise Christ as Saviour when He returns at the very end of this age.

The true church will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12). But even in poverty and persecution Jesus sees it as 'rich' (Rev 2.9). Jesus sees faithfulness even to martyrdom as leading to 'the crown of life' (Rev 2.10). Currently over 200 million Christians are being persecuted worldwide, and some 176,000 Christians were martyred in 2008-2009. [The Voice of the Martyrs].

Like Philadelphia:

In contrast to the apostate World Church, the true end-time church will not be powerful, wealthy, liberal and politically influential. Rather, it has 'a little power', 'keeps God's word' and 'lifts up the name of Jesus' (Rev 3.8). And because of this, Jesus opens doors for such a church to work in the world. He sees this relatively small church as 'holy and true' (implied from Rev 3.7).

Jesus promises to protect this faithful church from the end-time judgements coming on the world (Rev 3.10). This may be a reference to the rapture of the true church prior to the 7-year tribulation period.

The Non-Institutionalized Church:

An 'Institutionalized Church' is one that exists independent of its members. It is the traditionally accepted form of church in Western culture since the Reformation. It is organized religion that meets in the weekly worship service. Clearly, there are true followers of Christ in such churches. But, as discussed, this form of church will eventually be absorbed by the Ecumenical Movement into an apostate World Church. In contrast, a non-institutionalized church is simply an ordered assembly of its individual members, much like the Acts 2 church. Today we might identify this in the house churches and in the underground church. Will these be the true end-time churches of Christ - churches that reflect the characteristics of Smyrna and Philadelphia?

In Summary:

The true end-time church may well be more like an Acts 2 church than one of the more formal Protestant churches we see now. It will be free of institutional rules, like limits on breaking bread and preaching the word, and it will be free of institutional opinions, like policy towards Israel, Ecumenism, or gay marriage.

  • it will be a suffering, enduring, persecuted church, but seen by Christ as holy and true
  • it will have little worldly power, but it will see the power of God (Acts 2.43)
  • it will be known for its love for people (Jn 13.35) and for the presence of God
  • it will keep God's word and lift up the name of Jesus as Savour and Lord (Rev 3.8)
  • it will seek God in sustained prayer with a desire to know Him (Jn 17.3)

Today, it is all too easy to be deceived: to follow false, cultish teaching (as in the Word of Faith Movement), to accept politically-correct worldviews (as in the liberal church), to promote 'church unity' at the expense of truth (as in the Ecumenical Movement), to promote 'cheap grace' (through lack of emphasis on sin and forgiveness), or to attempt man's methods to build the church rather than rely upon the Holy Spirit to convict (Jn 16.8). The true end-time church must therefore move in the gifts of the Spirit, especially in the gifts of wisdom and discernment (1 Cor 12.8-10):

"test everything; hold fast what is good." (1 Thes 5.21)


Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible