To most people, the idea that there is only one true Church seems preposterous. Of all the religious institutions in the world, is it possible only one is led by God? What does the Bible say on this matter?
During His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church [singular]; and the gates of hell [or, the grave] shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Christ established one Church and promised that it would never die. If we believe Christ’s own words, that Church must still be in existence on Earth today!
“Throughout the Church’s history, though many fell away, Christ always led the faithful few. … There has never been a time that God’s Church did not exist after Christ built it. Its work may have been hidden, slowed down or nearly stopped. But the true Church always survived and revived!” (Philadelphia Trumpet, November 1996).
Not only did Christ found the Church, the Bible also reveals that He is its living Head (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 5:23). That means He actively guides it.
Does it make sense that the Church Christ founded would be divided into many different sects and denominations? That Christ would be Head of many different organizations, each teaching different doctrines? God is not the author of confusion; He does things “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40; the word “churches” in verse 33 merely refers to various congregations of the one true Church, as we shall see later). Teachings that contradict one another cannot all be true, and could not be inspired by Christ!
In fact, God inspired the Apostle Paul to write, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). That is a deep level of unity! And we should expect to see that unity within the Christ-led Body of believers. There must be no division in what is believed, taught or preached (Ephesians 4:13).
Do the many differing and opposing churches of Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Protestantism “all speak the same thing”? Why is Christianity divided into many different churches, denominations and sects? Why do these different Christian groups believe such vastly different doctrines?
Not All Christians Are True Christians
In addition to commanding unity, Christ also explicitly warned that there would arise false churches claiming to speak in His name. He specifically told, not the world at large, but His disciples—“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5).
Many people today claim to be Christian. They proclaim Christ. They come declaring His name, but in the process, they deceive many.
The Bible has a lot to say about false Christianity. This deception plays a major role in the biblical narrative foretelling the time from Christ’s first coming to His return.
In the first Church era (Ephesus), those who followed Christ witnessed Church leaders changing the gospel message. Rather than continuing to preach the same gospel Jesus Christ preached, these leaders focused on preaching a report about Christ. A false Christianity arose within decades of Christ’s death and resurrection. This false religion would go on to oppose God’s true Church for 2,000 years, right up to the present day.
In The True History of God’s True Church, Gerald Flurry explains the meaning of the four horsemen of the apocalypse described in Revelation 6. Many think the first of these, the white horseman, represents Jesus Christ. In truth, it represents “a war-making religious power,” Mr. Flurry writes. It represents false Christianity!
Revelation 6:2 describes Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and what he subsequently did with religion throughout the Roman Empire. History shows that Constantine was only a type of what was to become a regular occurrence in the succeeding years of apostate church history. Many people were put to death at the hands of the rider on the white horse—that is, false Christianity!
To this day, false Christianity prevails. The Bible warns true Christians to beware of it. But how can you take heed against this deception? You must know the teachings ofJesus Christ and the Bible. Those doctrines will identify God’s true Church—and any false ones.
Let’s examine some of the foundational proofs of God’s true Church.
Belonging to God
The New Testament identifies the Church Jesus Christ founded as the “Church of God.” It uses this phrase 12 times. Twelve is the biblical number indicating organizational beginnings.
In Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “In five passages where the true name of the Church appears, the entire Body of Christ—the Church as a whole—is indicated. Thus when speaking of the entire Church, including all its individual members on Earth, the name is ‘The Church of God.’”
Many churches are named after their founder, such as the Lutherans and Wesleyans. Others are named after a particular doctrine, such as Baptists or Catholics. But the Bible reveals that the true Church will go by the name “Church of God.” The name denotes ownership, signifying who is the Head of the Church—God Himself.
Yet many organizations lay claim to the name “Church of God.” Mr. Armstrong continued, “Yet none is truly the Church of God, unless it is God’s Church, continuing in doctrine, practice, organization, in all ways on the original biblical pattern, headed by Jesus Christ, yet belonging to God the Father, empowered by the Holy Spirit, having God’s truth, fulfilling Christ’s commission of proclaiming His good news of the Kingdom of God to the world as a whole” (op cit).
As the Church belongs to God Himself and looks to Him for guidance in everything, it believes the Bible is His inspired Word and seeks to “live by every word” (Matthew 4:4).
Today, the entity through which God works is named “Philadelphia Church of God.” This name conveys deep meaning. God names things for what they are. Philadelphians not only express brotherly love, but also adhere and cling to the Philadelphia standard (this is explained in detail in Malachi’s Message to God’s Church Today; request your free copy). While the Church of God is a spiritual organism, a corporate organization is needed for the work of the ministry. God has raised up a work that lives up to its name.
In Malachi’s Message, Mr. Flurry writes: “Mr. Armstrong’s greatest fear was what would happen to the wcg after he died. Some of his worst fears have been realized. Still, we know it’s all done according to God’s master plan. Christ is still very much in control. We shall soon see this demonstrated forcefully! Christ raised up the Philadelphia Church to trumpet the warning to the wcg.”
The word philadelphia, meaning brotherly love, accurately describes God’s Work today. What greater love is there than to warn our Laodicean brethren of where they are headed? What better name than Philadelphia Church of God to remind them of the standard they have forsaken?
A Sabbath-keeping Church
The religious teachers of Christ’s day did not teach the plain truth of the Bible, and that is why people were astonished when they heard Christ’s teachings (Matthew 7:28; 13:54; 22:33; Mark 1:22). Today it is no different. People, religious or not, are similarly astonished at the message of God’s true Church. They have never heard anything like it.
For example, God’s true Church teaches the biblical doctrines of the resurrection, Jesus Christ’s gospel of the Kingdom of God and the God Family rather than a pagan-inspired teaching about an immortal soul destined for either heaven or an ever-burning hellfire. God’s Church understands the true origins of such paganism that has crept into deceived, counterfeit religion.
A church that claims to follow God must keep the laws of God. Many people offer hundreds of excuses to reason around God’s commandments and laws. The true Church of God teaches the importance of commandment-keeping in letter and spirit.
One of these laws is the Sabbath day, established at creation, kept by the Israelites prior to the Old Covenant and after, observed by Jesus Christ (e.g. Mark 1:14-15, 21-22), and maintained by His apostles and the early Church even after His death.
God’s true Church keeps the weekly Sabbath. It also keeps the annual Sabbaths, or holy days (Exodus 20:8-11; Leviticus 23). It holds to the revelation that these annual observances picture God’s master plan—a plan much different from what most churches teach.
In Exodus 31:13, God says the Sabbath is a “sign” of His people. Isn’t this helpful? God actually gives a sign indicating the identity of His true Church. His Church keeps the Sabbath. So if you want to find the true Church, then it must be a Sabbath-keeping Church.
God’s Church does not keep festivals like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Lent, Easter or other observances that originated in paganism. These are traditions of false religion and not the commandments of God.
God’s people must be an obedient people. God gives us the Sabbath as a test commandment and has always tested His people on this.
The Bible affirms that anciently the Israelites were conquered repeatedly because they committed idolatry and because they broke the Sabbath commandment (e.g. Ezekiel 20:10-26; Jeremiah 17:21-27; Nehemiah 13:15-18). “God had put special emphasis on two of His Ten Commandments—idolatry and Sabbath-breaking,” Herbert W. Armstrong wrote. “The first four of the Ten Commandments regulate man’s relation to God. The last six regulate man’s relation to man. Idolatry and Sabbath-breaking are the two which, above all others, cut humans off from contact with God” (Plain Truth, September 1966). How easy it is to set up false gods when we let go of our Head.
If you want to identify God’s Church, the Sabbath is an excellent place to start. Thanks to this one biblical command, a person can quickly eliminate the vast majority of churches.
Flooded With Revelation
Upon rejecting God in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were cut off from God (Genesis 3:24)—together with all their descendants. Yet God has reserved the prerogative to communicate His will and instruction to those He chooses.
In biblical times, God revealed truth directly to His prophets and apostles. The Bible itself is largely a record of revelation and instruction from God to these human servants (Ephesians 2:19-21; 2 Peter 1:21). Today, God still reveals truth to His Church—through His government (Ephesians 3:5; Amos 3:7).
Another identifying sign of God’s Church is that it would receive understanding and revelation from God Himself. The Bible says God’s Church would have the “testimony of Jesus … the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). In other words, the true Church of God would receive deep understanding of the prophetic mysteries of the Bible.
Many churches deny that God continues to give revelation to His Church. Some few believe that God is giving them revelation, but their teachings do not square with the inspired Word of God. Only God’s Church has the office of Apostle through which God delivers new revelation. He continually guides and reveals new and deeper understanding built on previous revelation, squarely supported from the Bible.
The end-time era of God’s Church (called Philadelphia in the prophecy of Revelation 3:7-13) had humble beginnings: It sprouted from an era that barely survived spiritually (Sardis—verses 1-6). It blossomed as God began to restore all things through an apostle who was willing to believe God and draw all doctrine from the pages of the Bible.
Today, only a remnant of the Philadelphia era remains that clings to those biblical truths. For faithfully preserving that truth, God has blessed this remnant with even more biblical revelation, through the office of Apostle, building on the truth of the previous era. An abundance of literature containing new revelation is full proof of that fact.
Key examples of God’s revelation are the understanding of the prophesied split in God’s Church following the death of Mr. Armstrong. At that time, Satan was cast down and immediately persecuted the Church (Revelation 12:9, 13). The world also entered a time of “no more delay” (Revelation 10:6). End-time events have accelerated at breakneck speed ever since. The significance of events such as the rise of Iran (Daniel 11), the reemergence of Russia (Ezekiel 38-39), and the results of Brexit were all topics God’s Church commented on years in advance. How? Only because of the “more sure word of prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19).
The same is true for events happening inside God’s own Church. Not only was the split in God’s Church prophesied, but also the victory in obtaining Mr. Armstrong’s key writings that explain the doctrines of the Bible in great clarity and simplicity. Also prophesied was the astonishing placement of David’s throne within God’s own Church.
God can reveal His truth only to those who are of a childlike mind (Matthew 11:25). This is why no other church receives God’s revelation, yet the Philadelphia Church of God is flooded with new and deeper understanding that builds on the truths that God gave Mr. Armstrong.
Another identifier of God’s Church is how its members live. Many people claim to believe in the Bible, but how many do what it says? A Christian is one who follows Christ. Yet surprisingly few people follow the upright, uncompromising, balanced principles that Jesus Christ taught and lived by.
Christ’s conduct and speech were fit for a king. As a child, He showed respect and obedience to His physical parents, as He did throughout His life to His heavenly Father. He understood that His fleshly body was the temple of the Holy Spirit and looked after it with diligence. Jesus strove for excellence and balance in everything while avoiding extremes.
He condemned religion of appearances (Luke 18:10-14). He set the example of true meekness and humility, always seeking to do the Father’s will.
People are known by their fruits (Matthew 7:20). Jesus forewarned that men would profess His name, but would refuse to obey what He said (Luke 6:46; Matthew 15:7-9).
True Christians are bought with a tremendous price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). Our attitude and will must be subjected to God’s rule in our personal lives if we are to be living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2).
A true Christian knows he or she must literally be conquered by God. True Christians are doers and overcomers, striving daily with God’s help to become perfect in character (Matthew 5:48). They strive to submit themselves to God’s law, which means His way of life, of mind, of heart, of attitude. It is not just a “religion” they think about once a week. Their lifestyle is different from the world’s. They are called out of this world to live the lifestyle of the future today. That requires total repentance. They strive to walk worthy of their calling. They are growing, developing, changing and overcoming. If you have found the true Church, you will have found a group of people working actively to conquer their sins and weaknesses and to allow God to perfect them. God’s true Church knows it must continually surrender itself to Jesus Christ —the Head.
Authority in God’s Church
When God created the first man, He revealed Himself as the Creator, Sustainer and Ruler over His creation, including mankind.
God commanded Abram (later named Abraham), “I am the Almighty God;walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1). The Hebrew for “Almighty God” is el Shaddai, meaning “the Mighty God.” Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon defines it as: “Most Powerful … Strong, Mighty, Mighty One.”
One of the great themes of the Bible is that true Christians must submit to God’s authority. God charged Abram to walk before Him and be perfect, and Abram willingly submitted to God’s government.
Today, most so-called Christians do not retain God in their mind as the one who actively rules their everyday lives, their church and their nation. True Christians are those who, like Abraham, subject themselves to God as their Ruler—those who, in the words of Joshua, stand up and say, “[B]ut as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
God rules over and intervenes in individual lives, in families, in nations and in empires (Daniel 2:20-21; 4:17). Will you unconditionally surrender to God and let Him rule your life?
God also rules His Church. God rules by calling each member and placing him or her in the Body where it pleases Him (John 6:44; 1 Corinthians 12:18, 28), within an organizational structure.
Ephesians 4:11-12 show how God’s true Church is governed: “And he [Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” These offices within the Church carry the authority of God.
The Apostle Paul submitted to God’s rule, which enabled God to give him authority to build God’s Church (1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Corinthians 10:8, 12-13). Paul used that authority as God directed him (Romans 11:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). Yet many churches today admit that they experiment with church governance, even using voting to decide what they believe. This pushes Jesus Christ aside: He is not the living Head of those churches!
In Paul’s day, some dissidents tried the same thing (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Yet a faithful remnant always will remain submissive to God and not follow rebellious practices. It is only through them that Christ accomplishes the Father’s Work on Earth today (John 5:17; 9:4).
Only the Church ruled by Christ as the Head is God’s true Church.
One Man Under Christ
Another identifying sign of God’s Church is its pattern of leadership. Matthew 16:18 states that God’s true Church would be founded on the Rock—referring to Jesus Christ Himself. This Rock would be the foundation of government in the Church.
Concerning this verse Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The churches of this world of Satan are organized according to humanly devised patterns. But the Bible gives explicit directions in regard to Church government. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. God’s form of government is, indeed, hierarchical. God the Father is head over Christ—the sole Lawgiver and supreme authority.
“God explains in 1 Corinthians 12 functions, offices, administrations and their officers as God set them in His Church” (Mystery of the Ages).
From God the Father to Jesus Christ to the man He uses to the leaders who support that man to the individual members to parents and children, God’s government is essential. Not every top-down government is God’s, of course, but God’s government is top-down. It is not a matter of whether it is one-man government, but of whether God is at the head directing His chosen apostle (1 Corinthians 11:3).
Consider one example. The early Church faced challenges and disputes that had to be settled by those in authority in the Church. The most famous of such challenges is recorded in Acts 15. “And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (verse 1). Unordained men, affected by their previous religious teaching, began to divide the Body of Christ. Paul and Barnabas were unable to convince them of their error. It became necessary to bring this matter to the authority at headquarters in Jerusalem (verse 2).
It was Peter, the chief apostle, who made the decision (verses 7-9), upholding the government of God. James, as pastor for the Jerusalem congregation, confirmed Peter’s decision publicly, thus resolving the dispute (verses 13-21).
Was this just a matter for the first-century Church? Reinforcing this principle of organization and government, Mr. Armstrong wrote, “[T]he Church conducts various operations. For these in the one Church there are also various administrations or executive departments, with an executive manager over each department or operation [1 Corinthians 12:4-6]. Remember, an executive administrator does not set policy or procedures or doctrines. He administers—he carries out and directs—what has been already set from above. …
“To administer these many operations, God—not a vote of the members—‘hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers’” (ibid).
Government in the Church is there to keep the unity of the faith. Through God’s government, God preserves the unity of the Church. It is the only way that unity can be preserved. It helps to overcome obstacles, settle disputes and reach decisions. Without it there would be confusion. There could be no smoothly functioning Body nor effective Work of God. Jesus Christ would not be its Head.
We learn a lot by coming under God’s government today. It perfects those who submit to it. God uses it to serve those under it (Luke 22:25-27). Human beings who hold offices in that government hold those positions to be “helpers of your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24).
God’s people are admonished to esteem the officers of God’s Church highly (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). This does not mean exalting the physical man, who is a sinner like us all, but the office, which is God’s.
No other ecclesiastical institution stresses the importance of government like God’s Church does. God’s government extends into every aspect of our lives. It is how He establishes and renews rule, order, purity and unity—in the past, in the present and on into the glorious future. It enables the Work of God on Earth, including the preaching of the good news of God’s soon-coming Kingdom. There will be no end to the increase of the government of God upon the throne of David for all eternity (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Focus on the Commission
The work of the Church is another sure sign of which church is the true Church of God. Many churches exist to “save” their members. This premise is focused inward. God’s Church has a purpose, a mission, that extends outward.
God’s Church is commissioned to deliver God’s message to the world. As a human being, Jesus Christ did His Work using a physical body. Today, He does His Work through His spiritual Body, the Church. Its mission is to believe, live and proclaim the same gospel message Jesus Christ taught.
Christ preached the good news of the coming Kingdom of God. He commanded repentance (Mark 1:15). Likewise, the true Church preaches the need for repentance—turning from our carnal ways to the ways of God—in preparation for His Kingdom.
“If you want to know what sets the Philadelphia Church of God apart from all other churches,” Mr. Flurry writes, “it is the message!” (Malachi’s Message).
We don’t just preach about getting salvation, but about giving God’s message to whomever will hear it.
“The greatest commission God ever gives to men is to take His message around the world and teach people about this new world!” Mr. Flurry writes. “God has given us the greatest commission He has ever given to man! In a time of increasing global crisis, we are here to deliver this message for God to this world” (The True History of God’s True Church).
God commands us to share His message of hope with the largest audience possible (Revelation 10:11). Following the death of Mr. Armstrong, only one group fought for the rights to distribute the doctrine God had placed in His Church through that man. Only the Philadelphia Church of God is sending that message again.
When we truly focus on the message, we begin to see that “[t]he commission God has given to His Church in this age may even be beyond what our human minds can fully comprehend at this time!” Mr. Flurry writes. “The mystery of God has to be declared today. But this work is also to teach all humanity that the mystery must be dispensed, or declared, to every person ever created. They must be taught not just the mystery, but taught to teach it” (Prophesy Again). What a blessing to have God’s true message, to understand it and to declare it!
Following the death of God’s end-time Elijah, Mr. Armstrong, who fulfilled Matthew 17:10-11 and Matthew 24:14, the Philadelphia remnant of God’s true Church is charged to support God’s apostle today in declaring this life-saving message to the largest audience possible—ultimately every human being (Ephesians 3:9). “We are to ‘prophesy again’ to the whole world. This commission applies specifically to reaching the largest audience possible with Mystery of the Ages.
“When God commands us to prophesy again to the world about the mystery, that is a direct command to deliver Mystery of the Ages! …
“This prophesy again commission, this work of dispensing the mystery, is building a mindset in us that God will use throughout eternity. What we are doing on Earth is a very small beginning.
“This is why it is so important for us to think deeply about our commission. … We live in the midst of the worst trouble ever on this planet. However, getting our minds into this mystery removes negative thinking. We all become negative at times, and understanding this mystery is the way to deal with that. This is the best age ever to be called. People can scoff, but Christ’s return is almost here. Most men on Earth today are going to experience the Tribulation—and the return of Jesus Christ, if they’re still alive. And when people in the World Tomorrow look back, they’re going to say, What an opportunity it would have been to have been called just before the return of Jesus Christ to this world!” (ibid).
God is about to gather in all mankind. All people need to be taught to teach and dispense the mystery of God forever. No other church or religion understands that. The vast majority of God’s people in this end time have abandoned God’s commission. It is up to a faithful remnant to carry out God’s Work until Christ returns. Thankfully, that event is just around the corner (Romans 9:28).
There are false churches. In fact, the overwhelming majority of churches are not led by Jesus Christ. He is not governing them, leading them, revealing to them, nor doing His Work through them. But He promised that His faithful group of called-out ones would never perish. Here on Earth, there is a Church of God being led by Jesus Christ under God the Father. It preserves and proclaims His revelation. It does its best to proclaim Christ’s message to as many as will listen and prove it from their Bibles.
Deeply study your Bible. There is a true Church of God—and with God drawing and guiding you, you can find that one true Church!