"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « "Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live?" | Main | Can't keep the joy to myself! »

    The Marks of a True Church

    What are the marks of a true church? I have heard people say there are three: 1. The preaching of the gospel takes place. 2. The sacraments are rightly ministered. 3. Church discipline is exercised.

    I can see that all of these are biblical. But is that all one should look for? What about prayer, love, evangelism, discipleship and practical care for people, etc?

    Thanks for your question. Of course, many sects call themselves a "church." Such has always been the case throughout Church history. Because of this, the Protestant Reformers in coming to understand the true Gospel of Christ, sought to help people distinguish between true and false churches. Since early on in Church history Christians have used the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed as confessions of faith. If a Church has a problem affirming these basic doctrines found in these catholic creeds (the word catholic here means universal, meaning that all orthodox Christians would affirm these truths) it leads me to think that they do not embrace true and sound doctrine. If a Church cannot affirm essential truths such as the Trinity or the full deity and humanity of Christ, then it is embracing something else, and anything else is a heresy. A heretical church by very definition cannot be a true church. It is vital that we get our doctrine right on the essentials of the faith. We only have to read Galatians chapter 1 to realise that if a church preaches another gospel, it comes under the anathema (the eternal curse) of God. That is why Martin Luther called the doctrine of sola fide (justification by faith alone) the article upon which the church stands or falls.

    The Reformers were clear: The one true holy and apostolic church is present where (1) the word of God (and the Gospel) is preached and taught; (2) the sacraments of the church are rightly administered (namely baptism and the Lord's Supper) and (3) church discipline is faithfully exercised. By implication, this third mark necessarily requires the presence of godly leadership (elders) who provide a safe place for the sheep to grow in Christ and who can ward off any wolves who seek to devour (see Acts 20). That is why Christians simply getting together for fellowship, though wonderful, without the oversight and care of elders, it does not consititute the gathering of a true Church. Christ, the Chief Shepherd has established His under shepherds for the care, protection and spiritual well being of His precious sheep (see Hebrews 13:17).

    Other things are vital for church life as you rightly observed. We could add many more things to your list in fact. However these things flourish only where the three marks of the church are present.

    For instance, lets talk about love. Love is absolutely vital for the health of a local church, yet we need to ask "how do we distinguish true Christian love from all imitations?" We do so by being exposed to the word of God. When God's word is rightly preached and taught it actually cultivates true Christian love amongst the flock. It is a function of faithful shepherds of God's church to (at certain times) bring caring, Christ like and Biblically based discipline to the church's members, both as an act of love and as a means of cultivating genuine and authentic love among the church's members.

    I heard a good illustration some time back that I feel is worth sharing. Think of the three indispensable elements of a house: a foundation, a frame, and a roof. Many things may be installed in a house, such as couches, chairs, curtains, sinks, toilets, a bath or shower, a washer and dryer, an oven, electrical wiring, beds and so on. I am sure we agree that the list could be endless. Yet though I may have all of these things in a yard somewhere, I really don't have a house until I have the three essentials elements of a foundation, a frame, and a roof.

    There are many essential elements for healthy church life. Yet unless the Word of God is rightly preached and taught, the sacraments rightly administered, and church discipline is faithfully exercised, there is no true church present. Where these marks are absent, true holiness will be absent too. If even one of these three marks are missing it should not be considered to be a true church of Christ. - JS

    Posted by John Samson on February 29, 2012 02:00 PM


    Can someone in the Reformed tradition explain how the guilt Adam’s sin is imputed on my nature but not Christ? Doesn’t the Reformed tradition confess that Christ was fully human and fully God both nature full and complete? Christ as a man was born in the flesh well after the fall of Adam so it’s impossible to argue that Christ’s nature represents man’s pre-sin condition before the fall. That would make Christ’s human nature different from the rest of humanity who came after Adam.

    Scripture is clear that Christ had to be made like us in all things for the purpose of becoming a merciful high priest. The rest of humanity was not like Adam before the fall so how can Christ be made like us in all things? We must also remember that Adam was not born of a woman but formed out the dust of the earth by God. Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, but nonetheless born of a woman like the rest of us.

    Where scripture testifies that Christ did not sin, Christ did not sin because he simply did not sin by action or attitude having our full nature as a man. That is what makes Jesus Christ unique because he is the example who believers are to be conformed to-holy and blameless!

    It’s not that Christ’s nature was different, but that that Reformed theology is reprobate to the Word. Imputed guilt if it were a reality of scripture would pollute Christ’s nature lest one wants to argue Christ’s nature took on “essential properties” but not enough of the nature to be polluted by sin .

    And by the way that’s exactly what Article VIII of the Westminster Confessions of Faith states: Christ took on “essential properties”….. Reformed Theology has yet to explain how Christ’s human nature (or even ours) can be defined by essential and non-essential properties. Just what are the essentials?

    Article VI of the Westminster Confessions of Faith makes the confession that Adam’s sin was imputed upon humanity. It is this sin (original sin) that becomes the pillar of the entire Reformed perspective. At the end of the day it’s just bad doctrine that has corrupted the entire theological perspective and soteriology of the Reformed faith.

    Imputed guilt is a liability to the gospel because it forces Reformed Faithers to live dangerously close to the line of confessing that Jesus did not come in the flesh (viz having our full nature) which is one of two warnings indicative of the spirit of the antichrist. The other warning is a confession that rejects Jesus was from God (viz having God’s full nature).

    Reformed Theology has no problem confessing Jesus was born in the flesh like any other man that came into existence after Adam or that Jesus was from God. Reformed Theology simply has a problem reconciling the false doctrine of “imputed guilt” because Christ’s human nature being like us in all things gets in the way of that theology. Scripture is a reproach to those that have made imputed guilt part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    It seems to boil down to Gnosticism of the Dosetic flavor as best as I can see. Believers are called by mandate of scripture to test EVERYTHING. Reformed Theology included and it appears not to have passed the test on one of the most essential and fundamental truths of the gospel- the incarnation of God. The Word made flesh!


    You assume there is no satisfactory answer to your question and show no respect at all, and assume that no one in the Reformed traditon has thought through the issue before.

    I am not sure it is even worth conversing with you in that you have already made your mind up. However, here is a brief answer:

    There is much more that could be said, but in that you have already concluded there is no legitimate answer, I think that is where I will leave the discussion.

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