Two weeks ago in the Sunday morning bulletin article I began a discussion concerning the defining marks of a true church. Jesus gave the promise “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” We take this promise as one of perpetuity for the church, so that in every age since Christ began His church, it has been present in the world. The church age will end when Christ returns and takes His people home to heaven. Since we have His promise, we should be able to find the true church among the many groups that claim to be successors to the apostles.
The identification of the true church is established by its adherence to New Testament doctrine. This of course means the doctrine of salvation must be correct because the church is made up of a regenerate membership. But there are other doctrines that are essential as well. For example, the doctrine of baptism is important since believers were first baptized and then added to the church (Acts 2:41). By this we understand that baptism is the entrance into the church. Baptism, therefore, must be administered properly and by those who have authority to administer it. We believe this authority rests with the true church and the biblical method is complete immersion in water. If the baptism is administered to unbelievers such as infants, and if the method is something other than what the New Testament demands, the baptism of that church is not valid. The practice of that church is not valid and therefore the church itself is not valid.
We believe the identifying criteria of true churches can be found among people today known as Baptists. If we did not believe this, we would keep searching until we found the group that meets the criteria because it must exist. Credible historians of other faiths agree there have been people like Baptists in every century back to the time of Christ. However, it is not the name that makes the church. Many churches carry the name but their doctrines betray the name. We have to look more closely to see if the church still holds those New Testament principles that Baptists have believed and died for through the centuries.
What we are also looking for along with the right doctrine is the historicity of the church. Its history is as important as its doctrine if it is in fact the church that Christ started. Since these articles are short and cannot address the many historical facts involved in the history of the church, we recommend the booklet “The Trail of Blood,” written by J.M. Carroll. These are available through the church office if you should desire a copy. Other works such as “The History of the Baptists” by Thomas Armitage and “The History of the Baptists” by David Benedict are more complete but harder to obtain. We reject any history that considers the Roman Catholic Church at any time a true church and a predecessor to people today known as Baptists. In other words, we are not Protestants! While we do not believe it is possible for any individual church to trace its history in an unbroken line to the apostles, we do believe churches of like faith and order to the apostles have continuously existed based upon the promise of Matthew 16:18 and many other scriptures.
Be sure when you choose a church that you start with doctrine. Please do not start with music programs, children’s programs, and social activities. Start with the word of God and then couple your investigation with history. The true church exists and you can find it!
Pastor V. Mark Smith