How can I find a true biblical church?
The true church of Jesus cannot be determined by a name or label. It cannot be identified by its denominational association or absence of an affiliation. The true church cannot be identified by the size of its congregation or the charisma of its leader (Romans 16:18). The true church and its spiritual leaders are those who are faithful to the faith given by Christ and the apostles. Jude writes,
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. Jude 3 (NASB)
Is the Roman Catholic Church the True Church?
Some teach that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church and the pope is its spiritual leader or God’s representative on earth. This claim cannot be supported by a careful examination of scripture. It should be noted that the Church of the Latter Day Saints makes the same claim and their religious leaders claim to speak for God. Some teach that according to Matthew 16:16-20 Jesus said that Peter would be His representative and subsequent leaders stand in the place of Peter. But a closer look at the passage reveals that Jesus was claiming He was the head of the church and not Peter.
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. Matthew 16:16-20 (NASB)
It should be noted that Peter announces in the first verse, verse 16, that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. Then Jesus stated that Peter is blessed because the Father revealed this to Him. Next Jesus makes a distinction between Peter and Himself. It is a comparative statement. Peter was a rock and “upon this rock I will build My church.” This is an important and critical point that is usually missed. Note that Jesus referred to Peter and then refers to Himself when He says upon this rock the church would be built. It is usually assumed that Peter is the one upon whom the church will be built.
It is important to notice that the Greek word for Peter’s name is petros which means “stone.” Then Jesus makes a contrast and uses the Greek word for “rock” which is petra. This same Greek word is used in Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 10:4 and 1 Peter 2:8. In each of these passages Jesus is called the rock or petra. Here is 1 Peter 2:8.
“A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed. 1 Peter 2:8 (NASB)
This helps us understand that Jesus was referring to Himself as the rock and not Peter. That means that Peter was not the leader of the church of Christ, nor was Paul or any other apostle. Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the church is built. The Roman Catholic’s claim of being the true church is not valid.
How To Identify A True Church
Therefore, how do we identify the true church? The answer is any church that faithfully teaches and practices the faith given by Christ and the apostles (Jude 3). In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul writes,
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Timothy 2:1-2 (NASB)
That is, the apostle Paul both encourages and warns us. He encourages us to pass on the doctrines taught by Christ and the apostles. He also warns that these doctrines need to be taught to faithful men. It is sad that there are few faithful men. So many are false teachers or poorly taught teachers who are not concerned about teaching error (James 3:1).
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. James 3:1 (NASB)
One must be careful of false teachers who do not understand the Bible because of they themselves have never been taught and do not diligently study the Word of God. (1 Peter 3:15
Therefore, a true church is one whose pastor faithfully explains the Bible and applies it. He is committed to truth and not creating a big church. The church he pastors may be small or large. The important point is that he faithfully explains the meaning of the Bible verse-by-verse Sunday after Sunday and does just read a passage and then apply the passage. That means that the pastor is the key to finding a “true church.”
What Will A True Church Teach?
Therefore, we must ask what is the content of the faith that was given to the early church? What will this pastor be teaching? The answer is the entire Word of God. Unfortunately, to determine the content of the faith requires a life time of study. Therefore, the following books are recommended as a shortcut to understanding the truth. These books were written by men who have studied the Bible throughout their entire lives.
John McArthur. Biblical Doctrine. Crossway. 2017.
Wayne Grudem. Systematic Theology. Zondervan Publishing. 1994.
Here are some doctrine points that will be taught in a biblical church. The church and its leaders will believe the following:
Bible Is Without Error – The Bible was written by God and it is without error and is completely trustworthy (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). For a more complete explanation visit “What Is The Bible?”
God Is A Trinity – God is a plural-one or a trinity. That is the testimony of Genesis 1:1 and Deuteronomy 6:4. It is also confirmed by Isaiah 48:16 and many other passages. God is God the Father, God the Son or Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit. For a more complete explanation visit “Who Is God?”
The Holy Spirit Is God – The Holy Spirit is a person who is God. He ministers among us here on earth (). The Bible study “The Spirit’s Ministry – Tongues and Prophecy” will provide an important insight into the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. For a more complete explanation visit “The Holy Spirit.”
Salvation Is By Faith – The apostles taught that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-10). Salvation is not obtained by works and baptism. One does not need to believe and then work hard to not lose one’s salvation. True salvation occurs when someone believes that Christ did all that was necessary for a person to be saved. True faith will be obvious when a person submits themself to Christ (Romans 10:9) and continues (1 John 2:19). A person cannot lose their salvation. Those who believe a person can loose their salvation actually believe in works-salvation. For a more complete explanation visit “Sin and Salvation.”
The Church Is Led By Elders – The true church is led by elders (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:17). Deacons will also be present as support or helpers to the elders.
Christ Is Returning – It is clear from both the Old and New Testament that we are now waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:29-31; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2:8; 2 Peter 3:4; 1 John 2:28). Before that occurs, He will rapture the church from the earth. Following that event will be the tribulation, then the second coming of Christ and the millennial kingdom. For a more complete explanation visit “Prophecy of the Future.”
Future Judgement – The scriptures also teach that every person will stand before God and be judged. Christians will be evaluated to determine what rewards they will receive (2 Corinthians 5:7-10). Christians will then enter a new heaven and a new earth. Non-Christians will stand before God and the judgment they will experience will demonstrate that they deserve to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire. For a more complete explanation visit “Prophecy of the Future.”
For a more complete explanation of the doctrines visit What We Believe.
How Will A True Church Teach?
The Bible is typically taught in one of two ways in churches. The first and most common method of teaching the Bible is called topical teaching. One Sunday the pastor will teach from one passage of scripture and then next Sunday he will skip to another passage in another book. He will skip around. For example, one Sunday he may be in Genesis 11 and the next Sunday he is Daniel 2. The next Sunday he may be in John 3. He bounces around. This style of teaching is popular because application is what the pastor is seeking, and it is easier to prepare.
The second method of teaching is verse-by-verse teaching of the Bible. This method requires the pastor to teach the Bible book-by-book, chapter-by-chapter and verse-by-verse. Pastors use this method when they want their congregation to learn the Bible. They are more interested in explaining the Bible so that the congregation will know what the Bible teaches. Application is still important, and the climax of the sermon is application. This type of teaching is much harder and more involved. The pastor spends more time preparing. This was the style use by the apostle Paul and the writer of the New Testament. “Five Priorities of the Church” will provide a more complete explanation. Since topical teaching bounces around the Bible from passage to different passage this method will never teach the entire Bible, but verse-by-verse teaching aims to accomplish that.
The true church for Christians is called the body of Christ (Romans 7:4; 1 Corinthians 10:16; 12:27; Ephesians 1:23; 4:4, 12; Colossians 1:24). The church is also called the bride of Christ in the book of Revelation (Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 21:2, 9; 22:17). That is, all Christians are spiritually part of a church that spans the world and time.
Please read the Bible studies in Revelation 2-3 about seven churches that existed in Asia Minor. In these studies you will discover that of the seven churches there were only two churches that good. You will find that the good churches were being persecuted. The other churches suffered from false doctrine and sin. The worst churches had a reputation for being great and the worst one of all was complacent and comfortable. It was the church of Laodicea. We encourage you to listen and read the book by John MacArthur and then investigate the Bible studies in this Q&A.
Remember a true church will be determined by the pastor who teaches.
Reference Links:What Is The Bible? – Discipleship Series
How Accurate Is the Bible?
The Spirit’s Ministry – Tongues and Prophecy
Who Is God? – Discipleship Series
The Trinity – The Plural One - sermon
Saved By Faith and Not By Works, part 1 - sermon
Saved By Faith and Not By Works, part 2 - sermon
Saved Only Once or Always Saved?
Overview of Church Leaders – Elders and Deacons
Is there one true church? Jesus prayed for unity.