The Marks of the Church of Jesus Christ
Basket of Figs, May, 1990
Only God knows those who are His (II Tim. 2:19), but it is so important for us join a body of believers that those who neglect it always suffer spiritually. God has given certain marks so we can know the false from the true, that we might obey His word in Romans 12:9: “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”
The church exists any place these marks are seen, for the church is essentially spiritual in character and is not an organization formed by men, as Ephesians 1:22,23 says: “the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” The church is the work of Jesus Christ Himself, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her (Matt. 16:18). She is the temple of God: (II Cor. 6:16), “for ye are the temple of the living God.”
I. The Church confesses the truth. It is a difficult intellectual and spiritual labor to seek the truth, especially in a democratic age, where we pretend that each man's opinion is equal to every other man's. It is much easier to say, “There are so many different opinions about the Bible, that I am just not going to bother with it.” This is very much the American way, but it is not the way of the Church. We are commanded to “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding” (Proverbs 23:23).
“If thou seekest her [Wisdom] as silver, and searchest her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:4,5).
We have all been repulsed by the ignorant or proud man who claims to be the champion of truth. Such are not real champions of truth, but of themselves. True wisdom carries a meekness (James 3:13-18), that is “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). But we must not abandon loyalty and zeal for truth because some are foolish. The banner of Christ's kingdom is truth (John 18:37), and the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of Truth.” (John 14:17)
Though every Christian bears witness of the truth, yet it is God's ordinance that ministers are especially called and ordained to this ministry (Ephesians 4:8-16). It is through the ministry that the church is edified, and we “come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man.” (Eph. 4:13)
The Christian faith is not a do-it-yourself project. We are to submit one to another in the fear of God (Eph. 5:21).
II. The Sacraments are Properly Observed. The two sacraments that Protestants accept, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, are a visible preaching of the Gospel and were given by Christ for this purpose. The church is the “pillar and ground” of the truth (I Tim. 3:15), and the sacraments speak the heart of gospel truth. God testifies in baptism that salvation is not by our own works, but by the Spirit of God, who baptizes us into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13). John the Baptist testified that he baptized with water, but that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Ghost (Luke 3:16).
The Lord's Supper teaches the necessity of daily feeding on the Gospel. The truth about the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ is the heavenly bread upon which the soul feeds (John 6:53-58, 62-63).
III. The Administration of Godly Discipline. This was treated in our last letter, so we will be brief here. The Church testifies that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). Discipline is discipleship--or the government under which the people of God live.
The officers of the church administer godly discipline for the following reasons:
A. So that Christ's Name Is not Blasphemed in the Earth. We are not to say one thing and do something else. This discipline is not for light or frivolous matters, but “if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat” (I Cor. 5:11).
B. To teach others who may be tempted. “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (I Timothy 5:20).
C. For the restoration of those that stray. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
These are the marks of the Church. They will never been seen in perfection until we are in heaven, but where any of them is missing, the church does not exist.