True Church & False Ones
by Donald H. Pinnock
Many people believe that the term ‘church’ in reference to that which is of Christ encompasses “all" churches that believe in Christ. Thus, they find it very difficult to accept that there is only one true Church, and all others are false; they find such a statement he*retical, divisive, and offensive. But the teachings of the Holy Scriptures show a clear distinction be*tween the Church that truly belongs to Christ, and those that do not. How can those false churches be recognized? "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, dis*obedient, and disqualified for every good work" (Titus 1:16, New King James Version).
It is through their works, their deeds—and even their purported religious practices—that churches that are not of Christ can be identified. But how could this be? Aren't all acts done in the name of Christ accepted by Him? Doesn't the religios*ity of believers make them automatically worthy? No, because their zeal is misdirected, according to the apostle Paul: "I can say this about them: They really try to follow God, but they do not know the right way. Because they did not know the way that God makes people right with him, they tried to make themselves right in their own way. So they did not accept God's way of making people right" (Rom. 10:2-3, New Century Version).
Because of man's sins, he has been separated from God (Isa. 59:2), and is destined to be punished on judgment Day (II Pet. 3:7). So man needs to be reconciled to God through Christ (II Cor. 5:20). Thus, it is very important to know and follow God's way of having people put right with Him.
Some may point out that they go to the extreme to prove their servitude to God and the Lord Jesus. They af*flict their body with all kinds of pain and penance (e.g. self-flogging, exces*sive fasting, etc.), believing that such practices will make them worthy and acceptable. But is such the case? No, according to the Bible: "Such prohibi*tions are concerned with things meant to perish by being used [not by being avoided!], and they are based on man-made rules and teachings. They do indeed have the outward appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed religious observances, false humil*ity and asceticism; but they have no value at all in restraining people from indulging their old nature" (Col. 2:22-23, Complete Jewish Bible, emphasis ours).
Such asceticism or self-infliction is based on man-made rules and teachings, and thus does not make one of God or of Christ. Churches teaching these are therefore false ones.
Others have been duped by those who claim that they received visions or heard an angel of God speaking to them, or that even Christ had com*missioned them. But God Himself de*nounces such people: "Your 'prophets' describe false visions and speak false messages they claim are from God, when he hasn't spoken one word to them at all. Thus they repair the walls with whitewash!" (Ezek. 22:28, Living Bible). Churches founded and preached by self-ascribed visionaries like these are therefore false ones.
With so much falsehood concern*ing service to God, how can one en*sure that he is not being misled? In order to serve the Creator truthfully and eventually attain salvation, what should one be prepared to do? Apos*tle John instructs the following: "My dear friends, don't believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and exam*ine what people tell you. Not every- one who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preach*ers loose in the world" (I John 4:1, The Message).
One then has to carefully weigh and examine the various churches and self-professed preachers. One needs to determine that the ones he listens to are truly of God and of Christ. But one may very well ask, "What should be the gauge or standard in determin*ing who truly is from and of God?" By the Law and Testimony, according to the prophet Isaiah: "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20, King James Version).
The Law refers to the teachings or commandments of God (Ps. 119:104-105, The Complete Apostle's Bible). Thus any true preacher (and church for that matter) which belongs to God would preach solely the commandments of the Father. Even the Lord Jesus Christ, being the greatest messenger of God proclaims the following: "Jesus an*swered, 'My teaching is not my own. It comes from him who sent me'" (John 7:16, New International Version).
Even if a preacher claims that his teachings are in harmony with those of God written in the Bible, still he also has to prove that he has the testi*mony. Revelation 19:10 reveals which testimony this is: "And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, 'See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Wor*ship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy'" (NKJV).
This then is how the true Church and the true preacher can be recog*nized; they not only teach the true gospel without addition or subtrac*tion (Matt. 5:18), but they also have the testimony of the prophecy that they belong to God. Because of this, which is the only Church in our time that possesses these qualities? How can it be recognized? Christ says: "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shep*herd" (John 10:16, NKJV).
Before ascending to be with the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ proph*esied concerning His other sheep or true disciples who would eventually be called into the fold or flock, which is the Church of Christ: "Take heed therefore to yourselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, to feed the church of Christ which he has pur*chased with his blood" (Acts 20:28, Lamsa Translation).
At what time, and from where would these other sheep of Christ emerge? At a distant time and place, according to the apostles: "For it was to you that the gift was promised, to you and your children, and to all those in distant times and places whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39, Rieu Translation).
The prophecy mentions three groups that would comprise the Church of Christ in its totality—(1) "to you," (2) "and to your children," (3) and "to all those in distant times and places." The Jews who believed in the preaching of Christ and the apos*tles and became baptized members of the Church were the fulfillment of the first group. The second group was the Gentiles who also entered the true Church of Christ during the time of the apostles. They were non-Jews, or those who came from different races and cultures:
"A term used by Jewish people to refer to foreigners, or any other people who were not a part of the Jewish race" (Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 487).
Thus, the Jews and non-Jews who believed in Christ and became mem*bers of His Church at that time were the fulfillment of the prophecy re*garding the first two groups of people called by God (Rom. 9:24). The third group, meanwhile, would come from distant times and places. Which time and place are being referred to? The prophet Isaiah, in a related prophecy, informs us of the following:
"Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, And gather you from the west; I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' And to the south, 'Do not keep them back!' Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth" (Isa. 43:5-6, NKJV).
God would begin calling those to be recognized as His sons and daugh*ters who are the other sheep of Christ at the time "ends of the earth," firstly in the East then in the West. The East, specifically, is none other than the Far East: "From the far east will I bring your offspring, and from the far west I will gather you" (Isa. 43:5, Moffatt Translation).
How could the time "ends of the earth" be determined? In a conversa*tion with His apostles, the Lord Jesus made known the following: "Later, Jesus sat on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and asked, 'When will all this take place? Will there be any sign ahead of time to signal your return and the end of the world?' ... 'Just so, when you see the events I've de*scribed beginning to happen, you can know his return is very near, right at the door.' ... 'wars will break out near and far, but don't panic. Yes, these things must come, but the end won't follow immediately. The nations and kingdoms will proclaim war against each other, and there will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. But all this will be only the be*ginning of the horrors to come'" (Matt. 24:3, 33, 6-8, New Living Translation).
According to Christ, the time "ends of the earth" or when the end of the world is near, would be heralded by a series of events, beginning with a well publicized war. The fulfillment of this conflict is none other than the First World War which broke out on July 27, 1914: "The first great campaign on the southeastern battle grounds of the Great War began on July 27, 1914, when the Austrian troops undertook their first invasion of Serbia ..." (The Story of the Great War, p. 291).
The only Church in our times in which these prophecies have been fulfilled is none other than the Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ), that emerged in the Philippines—which is in the region known as the Far East, and was officially registered on July 27, 1914, prophetically coinciding with the outbreak of World War I. The Iglesia ni Cristo had its first worship service in the West on July 27, 1968 in Ewa, Hawaii, and is now firmly en*trenched in many countries and ter*ritories all over the world.
This is why the members of the Iglesia ni Cristo continue to invite people to follow the instruction of the apostles to "carefully weigh and examine" the teachings being upheld herein. By so doing we can clearly see that the "law" or true command*ments of God are being observed, and because of this, coupled with the ful*fillment of biblical prophecies, we are sure that we belong to God and to our Lord Jesus Christ. And since we are the children of God, then we can look with not only optimism but with full assurance to the following:
"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together" (Rom. 8:16-17, NKJV). •