|This is an opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.|
Adelaide, a city in Australia, is known as "the city of churches".
Just across the road from our unit, there was an Italian Pentecostal church. On Sunday we could hear the service - a loud voice, speaking Italian, would surround us, followed by multitudes of voices chanting songs and speaking in tongues. Finally the parishioners would exit and drive away in their cars with the universal sound of the horn to say goodbye. Unfamiliar with both the Italian language and charismatic worship, we never made it to a service there.
About fifty metres down the road, there was a Baptist church. The sign outside it was faded, and the doors were locked. It appeared that this church had shut down some years previously. Perhaps it had remained standing whilst its members fell away from faith, or perhaps the congregation had just aged, until all had died? In either case, given this church was now just a building of stone and glass, it wasn't for us.
A short walk along our street, and on the other side of the main road, we found an Anglican church. The following Sunday, we made our way to its evening service. The car park was almost empty. We peered through the door, and could see a small gathering of six people. The minister beckoned us in and we joined the group. It was near Christmas, and the topic of the service was the birth of Jesus. After reading from the gospel according to Luke, the minister gave a short talk. He touched on the issues of the importance of women and the fact that "of course Mary wasn't really a virgin" and then prayers were offered to Mother Earth. My wife and I left that night with lots to talk about, but disillusioned by the liberal theology that can infiltrate into church teaching.
If you look in a typical Australian street directory, you will find small black crosses dotted though-out the pages. Each cross represents a church building located at that location. My wife and I looked happily at our 12 year-old road map and found within two or three square kilometres there were dozens of churches. But as we drove past each church our disappointment grew. One church was gone, another had become a florist, one had a "for sale" sign displayed, two had become bridal shops, some appeared to have shut down, and the few remaining were either from denominations we had decided not to attend, or were not Christian churches at all, but belonged to quasi-Christian organizations.
So we returned to our old church, not satisfied with this city of churches. We wondered, did this lack of churches represent a lack of the church - a lack of believers in Jesus Christ?
The meaning of The Church
What is the Church? Some of us never really stop to think about this.
When we talk about the church, we tend to use the word in many different ways - Do you go to Church? What sort of church is it? Look at that church! The protestant Church teaches salvation by faith alone.
None of these examples tell us the meaning of the Church in its truest and original sense. When Jesus said "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18) He was not referring to a building. And when Luke wrote, "Great fear seized the whole church" (Acts 5:11), he was not referring to an institution. It is clear that they were not talking about a building or an institution, but about a people.
The word used for church in the New Testament in the original Greek is ekklesia. This word literally means "called out". It is used to describe an assembly of people.
In Matthew 16:16, the disciple Simon Peter proclaims to Jesus, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God" and Jesus responds, "On this Rock I will build my Church". So here Jesus talks about His Church being built on the foundation that He is the Christ, the son of the living God.
In Acts 20:28 Paul encourages the elders of the Church in Ephesus, "Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood".
A clear picture of the Church begins to emerge with examination of the New Testament. It isn't a building within which people worship God. It isn't an organization that we belong to, and that has a set of doctrines that it teaches. It's not an event that happens each Sunday. The Church is none of these. It is simply the group of people who believe that Christ is their Lord, and that he has redeemed them by his death on the cross.
So when people ask the question, "What is the one true church? Which one is the correct one?" we can realize that this question doesn't really make sense. There might be many denominations, but there is only one church.
I read a quote once that said, "Every day people are straying away from the Church, and going back to God". I hope that this means that people are not placing their trust in a church denomination, but are realizing that their salvation is dependent upon their faith in Jesus Christ.
There certainly are millions of nominal "Christians" around the world who, because of their association with a church group, call themselves Christian. Wherever there tends are established national churches, you will find many people who identify themselves as Christians, but have no real and personal faith in Jesus Christ. In Germany, many Lutherans fall into this category. In England, there are Anglicans who don't know Christ. In Spain, there are Roman Catholics and in Greece there are Orthodox adherents. In my own country, Australia, migrants from Italy and Greece have brought their Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox cultures, but sadly, many have not brought Christ.
We all need reminding that despite some of the odd beliefs of various Christians and unscriptural teachings of some churches, ultimately what counts is that a Christian is simply a believer in Christ who is redeemed by him, and the church is merely this group of believers.
Different views of The Church in Different Denominations
What is the church - what do different denominations often teach
- Protestant - The Church is all the people who belong to Christ, and therefore there is no organization that has final authority, but instead authority rests on the Bible
- Roman Catholic - Although the Church includes all the people who belong to Christ, the true Church is the Roman Catholic Church - this was instituted by Christ and his Apostles and it has final authority. It's continuity is maintained by apostolic succession and it is the dispenser of Grace
- Orthodox Churches - Although the Church includes all people who belong to Christ, the Orthodox Churches of the East are the true Church - they were instituted by Christ and his Apostles and their continuity is maintained by apostolic succession
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