by William J. Stewart
One encounter with a counterfeit bill is enough to make anyone appreciate the high cost of counterfeit currency. Banks will not and cannot honour counterfeits, for to do so would encourage criminal activity and damage the value of true Canadian currency. They will take your fake money, removing it from the market, but you receive nothing in return. A $5 bill may not hurt much, but imagine losing $20, $50 or even $100 to counterfeit. OUCH!!!
May I suggest to you there is a much more serious counterfeit operation going on in the world than counterfeit currency, one which most pay little or no attention to, and yet a problem which will affect us far beyond our pocketbooks. Would you believe that counterfeiting is more of a problem in the religious world than it ever will be with our currency? A common perception among people, whether religious or not, is that it really doesn’t matter—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc.. They’re all just different ways to the same end, right? Not so! These present different doctrines, different hopes, different philosophies. A prophet of God wrote many years ago, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?” (Amos 3:3) The prophet speaks of the agreement needed between God and those who will serve Him. There are not as many ways to God as there are religions in the world. We must come to God according to His will, not our own. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Any religion which excludes Jesus as the means by which eternal life is obtained is counterfeit.
Even in the realm of what is commonly called Christianity, we must carefully seek that which is authentic. Counterfeit churches have become a powerful tool of Satan. We hear and read statements such as: “Attend the church of your choice,” or “One church is just as good as another,” or “It really doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you believe.” These statements all proceed from the one whom Jesus identified as “the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Counterfeit Christianity has been a source of frustration for many, causing multitudes to give up on “organized religion.” Let me say bluntly, the denominational mess which surrounds us is contrary to God’s will. The apostle Paul specifically taught against sectarianism (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Jesus prayed for His followers, that “…they all may be one…” (John 17:20-21). Jesus came to establish ONE church (Matthew 16:18). The apostle Paul likewise spoke of just ONE church (Ephesians 4:4; cf. 1:22-23). If Jesus only built ONE church, and yet there are thousands in existence today, we have a problem. How do we know which church is the Lord’s?
Just as there are identifying marks to find a specific house, car, or person, there are identifying features of the Lord’s church.
It is important that we be added to the church Jesus built. Being part of a denomination will simply not do. Jesus purchased the church with His blood (Acts 20:28). Which church? His church. If we are in a church which was started by someone else, we are in the wrong body of believers. The Bible may be used, the worship may be uplifting, the people may be wonderful; but “…unless the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain who build it…” (Psalm 127:1).
Here are 10 identifying marks of the Lord’s church:
- ORIGIN. The church was built (Matthew 16:18) and bought (Acts 20:28) by Jesus in the first century. It began at Jerusalem (Acts 1-2). Any church which claims a different place, time or person of origin is not the Lord’s.
- NAME. Since Jesus owns the church, it ought to wear His name (Romans 16:16). Any church wearing the name of someone or something else doesn’t honour Him.
- STRUCTURE. Jesus is the only head of His church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Each congregation is to have qualified bishops and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-15). Elevating men with titles is condemned (Matthew 23:6-10). Men are to take leadership in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-12). A church which claims some earthly head, which has “a pastor,” which employs flattering titles, and which has women leading in worship cannot be the Lord’s.
- MORALITY. God redeemed His people to be holy (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 1:15-16). There are many churches which are soft on various moral issues, such as drinking, gambling, fornication, divorce, and homosexuality.
- SALVATION. The church that Jesus built preaches the same gospel that Jesus announced after His resurrection (Mark 16:15-16) and which Peter preached upon Pentecost (Acts 2:38). Any church preaching “faith only” is not His.
- AUTHORITY. The church teaches and practices only what is authorized in the Scriptures (Colossians 3:17). A church which goes beyond the Bible goes beyond the Lord’s law.
- WORSHIP. The church observes the Lord’s death each Lord’s day (Acts 20:7), not at irregular intervals. They give praise to God (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16) with their voices, not with instrumental music, which is foreign to the New Testament.
- DOCTRINE. The church abides in the teaching of the New Testament. Any church upholding extra-biblical doctrines (ie. Calvinism, Premillennialism) is not the Lord’s.
- PURPOSE. The church is commissioned to save souls from sin (Luke 19:10; Matthew 28:18-20). A church which acts like a social club is not the one Jesus built.
- FELLOWSHIP. The church obeys God’s instruction regarding fellowship (1 John 1:7). A group which fellowship anyone and anything cannot be the Lord’s.