In 2001, the World Christian Encyclopedia reported that there were, at that time, approximately 33 830 different Christian denominations in existence in the world. The number has undoubtedly grown much higher to the present day and further increases if we factor in the numerous sects and cults sprouting on a frequent basis. Moreover these denominations have widely divergent and in most cases conflicting teachings. Now such a situation naturally presents a challenge, for instance, to a person wanting to become a Christian, which church would he/she join? Are all these churches following the same God? Did the Lord Jesus set up these so many denominations?
These are important questions that demand answers, and for a safe and sure guidance we can only but turn to God’s Word, the Bible. At one time, the Lord Jesus while conversing with His disciples asked them what people thought about Him. The disciples responded telling Him that some likened Him to Elijah, some Jeremiah and others to a great prophet. Then Christ requested their own confession of His identity, and Peter gave that memorable response “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”, impressed with these words Jesus said “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:14-18. By the word “Rock”, Christ here refers to Himself as the chief cornerstone of the church. (see 1 Pet 2:6) . In this passage, the Bible clearly tells us that Christ would set up only one church (singular), one body of believers, not many; and He calls this “My church”. The apostle Paul later tells us “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism” Ephesians 4:4,5
Imagine for a moment, you have an enemy intending to harm you and he presents you with a bottle labeled “deadly poison” and asks you to drink, would you drink?
So we can see from the Bible that God only has got one church and the early apostles labored to preserve the unity of faith and doctrine amongst the believers. Paul for instance encouraging the Philippian believers says, “Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” Philippians 2:2. In other words, his prayer was that that there be no divisions and conflicting teachings amongst the believers. To help us understand the Bible goes on to give us the identifying features of God’s church. Writing to Timothy, he says “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” 1 Tim 3:15.
God’s church is the fortress or bulwark of truth, in other words it will at all times uphold truth and we are told that God’s Word is truth(John 17:17). In Christ’s days, the Jewish priests and rulers began teaching and enforcing man-made traditions and customs in religious services. Christ sternly rebuked them, classifying it as vain worship. He says “in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” Matthew 15:9. So we can learn; any form of worship or church that is not based on God’s Word but man-made traditions is vain or false worship.
Imagine for a moment, you have an enemy intending to harm you and he presents you with a bottle labeled “deadly poison” and asks you to drink, would you drink? Obviously no! No one, unless insane, would give up their life so easily! However, if the person were to add a little poison to your favorite fruit juice, packages it in a nice container and then offer you to drink, chances are high you would take it. Nevertheless the poison will still do its work of harming you. The Bible tells us that we have an enemy who works in a very similar manner. It says “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the Devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” 1 Peter 5:8. In the book of Revelation, in symbolic prophecy, John says “the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth.” Revelation 12:9
The Devil works by a method called deception. Deception is a mixing or co-mingling of truth and error, of that which is right and that which is false. Many of the church denominations in our present day, sad to say, present such a mixture of truth and error. While some of their teachings come from God’s Word, a number of them are man-made traditions. Now that makes these denominations even more dangerous, because like the poison in the fruit juice, the members are given the bread of God’s Word and at the same time also imbibe the deadly poison of error. This does not stop the venom of error from doing its work of destruction. The Bible warns against those who mix truth and error “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20
So how can one find God’s true church? Given that there are more than 30000 denominations in existence, it will certainly not be an easy task for one to go through assessing the doctrines of each and every one of them! Fortunately, God has given us specific identifying features, and these will help any sincere seeker to easily find God’s church. In the book of Isaiah, the Lord gives a guide; He says “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20. ‘Law’ is a reference to the God’s Ten Commandments and ‘testimony’ signifies the writings of God’s prophets in the entire Bible (see Revelation 19:10; 22:9). So any denomination that does not uphold God’s Law, the Ten Commandments, including the fourth commandment, which tells us to keep the seventh-day Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11), cannot be God’s church. “If ye love me, keep My commandments” Christ says, John 14:15. Moreover, all the teachings of God’s church will be based on His Word, the Bible, both the New and the Old Testament.
John, in the book Revelation, beholding what would take place in the last days just before Jesus comes, saw that there would be a worldwide system of false religion, called in the Bible Babylon. Babylon basically means confusion. John says he saw “a woman sit upon a scarlet colored beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.” Revelation 17:3. A woman in Scripture represents a church and a beast represents an earthly kingdom or power (see 2 Corinthians 11:2, Daniel 7). A pure woman represents God’s true church and an adulterous woman depicts a fallen, false church. The woman in Revelation 17 is called “the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth” Revelation 17:5. In other words, this false religious system has daughters, other numerous churches that follow her false teachings and practices.
In contrast John sees another woman (church) in Revelation 12, he says “there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” Revelation 12:1. This is a reference to God’s church, the sun and moon depict the light of God’s Word that the church has, and the twelve stars are a symbol of the twelve apostles that laid its foundation (Ephesians 2:20). The Devil fights against this church and here again we are given the identity marks of God’s true church. “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17. Again we see the same identifying features, the Commandments of God and the Testimony of Jesus.
An interesting word here is the word “remnant”. It comes from the same root word as “remain” and it can mean a leftover, a remainder. One dictionary defines it as “a small part or portion that remains after the main part no longer exists.” This means that in the last days God’s church will not be the biggest or largest denomination in the world but rather a small “remnant”. However, it will be present in all parts of the world, as Jesus commanded His disciples to go “and teach all nations” Matthew 28:19.
Referring to Himself and His followers, Jesus at one point said “I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep, and am known of Mine.” John 10:14 He then went on to say “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd” John 10:16. Christ here tells us that He has faithful followers that are scattered in the many different fallen systems, bodies and denominations of the world. However, they have not yet heard His voice, and when they will hear His voice they will come out and join His fold, His true church that keeps the commandments of God and has the testimony of Jesus. In unmistakable tones, John heard the message going to God’s people, calling them to come out of Babylon (false religious systems). He says “and I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. Revelation 18:4. Those who stay in false churches after hearing God’s warning will be destroyed.
So in sum, God’s true church will keep all His Ten Commandments, it will believe and obey the writings of all His prophets, and it will be present in all parts of the world proclaiming the everlasting gospel.