THE TWENTY-SIXTH DAY OF JULY IN THE YEAR OF GRACE TWO THOUSAND AND FIFTEEN.
A gracEmail subscriber has encountered at least two groups of Christians, each claiming to be the only true church. “What is that all about?” the subscriber asks.
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The year 1054 is remembered in church history as the year Pope Leo IX excommunicated Patriarch Michael Cerularius of Constantinople and declared himself head of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Patriarch responded in kind and the Great Schism was under way, thereafter with East (Constantinople) and West (Rome) both contending for primacy as head of the exclusive true church. The Reformers promised the right of individual biblical interpretation, which in turn brought a multiplicity of churches. Soon, Protestantism had its own contenders for “the true church.”
Most cults claim to be God’s only true or faithful people. Mormons teach that the true Church went into apostasy shortly after the original Apostles died, but that God restored it about 1830 through the prophetic ministry of Joseph Smith, Jr. Mr Smith is said to have translated the Book of Mormon from ancient inscriptions on gold plates under instructions from an angel named Moroni. Jehovahs Witnesses claim that Jesus returned to earth invisibly in 1914 and set up his kingdom, with their Watchtower Society as its visible form.
The Philadelphia Church of God is but one of several offshoots of the Worldwide Church of God which claims that it alone represents Gods government (and New Testament Church) today, based on the unique doctrines of the late Herbert W Armstrong whom they see as the last-days Elijah the Prophet of Old Testament prophecy. (Happily, the original Worldwide Church of God has denounced its cultic past and has udergone a Christ-centered reformation of its own.)
Amid all these confusing and contradicting claims, we do well to remember Jesus warnings concerning would-be messiahs. We do not need to go running here or there in search of the true teacher or the true church. The Bible does not envision Lone Ranger Christians who intentionally avoid fellowship with others. But while church is very important, no particular brand in the Yellow Pages has any exclusive claims on God or his salvation. Jesus not any religious institution or ecclesiastical organization is the door to the Father. Whoever has Jesus has life, and whoever remains in union with him is complete in the eyes of God.