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Which, if any, is the "true" Christian church?

The "true" church, according to some Mormons

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The "true" Christian church according to a group of Mormons:

A Mormon site 1 contains a list of 17 Bible references. The anonymous author(s) believe that these passages define certain features of the true church. All 17 seem to apply with remarkable accuracy to the LDS church. These points have been critiqued by Bill McKeever. 2 We found the identical list at Rapture Ready, a website that attempts to predict the timing of the rapture. 3The list is here attributed to a group of 5 men at the California Institute of Technology who assembled the list in the mid-1990's. This group was allegedly made up of an Atheist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic. We include a critique of their 17 points.

[Author's note: A reader of this essay informed us that they had heard an audio tape about this list perhaps as early as the mid 1970's. The tape was recorded by one of the original Cal Tech 5.]

bulletChrist founded the church: Ephesians 4:11-14: "And he [Jesus] 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...." This is not a useful indicator of the true church, because every denomination can trace its history back through preceding organizations to the 1st century.
bulletThe church's name includes Jesus Christ: Ephesians 5:23: "For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body." The passage indicates that Jesus is the head of the church; it does not state that Jesus' name forms part of the church's name. Again, this is not a useful indicator of the true church, because every Christian denomination claims that Jesus is their ultimate head and savior.
bulletIt must have a foundation of Apostles and Prophets: Ephesians 2:19-20: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets..." This passages can be interpreted to mean that the true church will have an organization like that of the LDS Mormon, with official positions named Apostles and Prophets.  But the passage could also be interpreted as a simple comment by St. Paul on the origins of the church at Ephesus.
bulletIt must have the same organization as Christ's Church: Ephesians 4:11-14: (See quotation above
bulletThe LDS Church, alone among Christian denominations, meets a literal interpretation of this passage. Their church hierarchy includes apostles and prophets. Based upon a statement of their founder, Joseph Smith, the LDS church considers, the office of Patriarch is as equivalent to the position of Evangelist as referred to in Ephesians. Similarly, members of the all-male Aaronic Priesthood are considered to be teachers and pastors. 
bulletHowever, many liberal interpreters 1 view the passage as not referring to formal job titles within the early New Testament churches. In the time of Paul, there was no precise church organizational structure that was shared throughout the movement. Apostles and prophets were often "ministers with a special vision;" evangelists were traveling ministers; pastors / teachers were local pastors. 
bulletStill another belief is promoted by the Roman Catholic church: that Jesus ordained the apostles who in turn ordained priests. Bishops were selected from among the priesthood from the earliest days. The titles mentioned in Ephesians were simply job descriptions for various types of priests.
bulletIt must claim divine authority: Hebrews 5:4-10: "And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God...Though he [Jesus] were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him; Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec." Jesus was selected by God to be a priest of the order Melchisedec, just as Mormon males are ordained into the Melchisedec priesthood. This might be interpreted as giving special stature to the LDS church. However, other theologians simply interpret the passage as referring to Jesus' selection by God to be the high priest of all.
bulletIt must have no paid ministry: Isaiah 45:13: "I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts." and 1 Peter 5:2: "The elders which are among you I exhort...Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind." Essentially every Christian faith group, with the exception of cell churches, house churches, and very few others, have paid staff. If these passages were interpreted broadly to require all officials in a faith group too be volunteers, then almost no denomination could be considered the "true church." The Isaiah reference is to Cyrus the Persian, head of the Babylonian empire.
bulletIt must baptize by immersion: Matthew 3:13-16: "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him...And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water..." Jesus was baptized by full immersion. So, apparently, was the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:38-39. But of the 32 references to baptism in the New Testament, none specified that new Christians must be baptized by full immersion; none prohibit "sprinkling". In early Christendom, both new members and their baptizers were naked during the ritual. No Christian faith group performs naked baptisms today. If denominations can change the clothing requirements of the participants, then it can be argued that they can change other details of the ritual.
bulletIt must bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands: Acts 8:14-17: "..the apostles...sent unto them Peter and John: Who...laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost." Some faith groups practice this; others do not. There are passages in the book of Acts which describe Christians receiving the Holy Spirit without hands being laid upon them. (Acts 4:31; 10:44 & 11:15.). The practice appears to have been optional.
bulletIt practices divine healing: Matthew 3:14-15: This passage, which describes Jesus' baptism by John does not seem to refer to divine healing. Mark 16:18 does: "They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." But this passages appears to be a forgery, added by an unknown author after Mark was completed. Some faith groups do practice healing. Many others regarded such miracles as a function of the very early Christian church and not present today.

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bullet It teaches that God and Jesus Christ are separate and distinct individuals: John 17:11: "And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee..." Here, Jesus talks about coming to God. That might imply that Jesus and God were separate entities. But the verse continues: "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are." The latter appears to indicate that Jesus and God are one. also John 20:17: "...Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." This verse seems to imply that Jesus must travel to get to God, and that the Father is God of both Mary Magdalene's and Jesus. Certain passages in the Bible appear to support the unity of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; others appear to support the concept that Jesus and God are separate. The Christian church argued and debated for centuries over this point, and finally settled on the Trinity concept: that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are unique persons, within the unity of the Godhead.
bulletIt must teach that God and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bone: e.g. Luke 24:36-39: "...And he [Jesus] said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." This passages describes Jesus visiting with the disciples after his execution and resurrection, during which he shows that he has a normal body. In other passages, he is described as having a spirit body, being able to pass through walls. Also, the Bible teaches in various places both that God is a spirit and that God has body parts. So, the Bible can find support for just about any belief system concerning the physicality of the Father and Son.
bulletIts officers must be called by God: (Hebrews 5:4, Exodus 28:1, & Exodus 40:13-16): All faith groups believe that their clergy is called by God.
bulletIt must claim revelation from God: Amos 3:7: All faith groups claim revelations from God. Some believe that this is a direct instruction, e.g. orders from God to the head of the LDS church, as when the LDS received instructions to eliminate polygyny and later, racism from the church.  Other faith groups rely on individual and group prayer to ascertain God's will.
bulletIt must be a missionary church: Matthew 28:19-20: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them..." Many faith groups engage in major missionary activity. Others believe that this instruction was applicable only to the early Christian church, when Christians formed a very small minority.
bulletIt must be a restored church: Acts 3:19-21: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." Mormons and others believe that this passage refers to the true church having been lost and later restored. Others interpret it as referring to continuing refreshment that the believer receives from God, and that "restitution of all things" refers to Jesus' healing of "every disorder and divisions caused by the fall of man" 4 at the time of his second coming. The passages can clearly be interpreted in many ways.
bulletIt must practice baptism for the dead: e.g. 1 Corinthians 15:29: "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" Some Christians interpret this passage as requiring baptism of the dead. But Paul uses "they" to refer to the baptizers; he apparently did not do it himself. Baptism of the dead was generally unknown in the Christian movements, except for Corinth. It would appear that baptism for the dead is an optional practice, neither condemned nor practiced by St. Paul.
bulletIt will be known by its behavior: Matthew 7:20: "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." Studying the present and past behavior of various faith groups (Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Southern Baptists, Presbyterian, Methodists, Islam, Hinduism, etc.), one would see many instances of  behavior that actively discriminated against people: racism; support of slavery; polygyny; sexism; homophobia; denial of childhood inoculation; suppression of birth control information; campaigns against racially mixed marriage, racial integration; etc. Of course, only a sub-set of these forms of discrimination are to be found in any one given religious group -- and then often only in the past. The full evil of these policies often was not recognized for many decades afterwards. The immoral nature of some of the faith group's "fruits" has been so widespread, that it is debatable whether many denomination would qualify even to be considered as the "true church." If they are to be judged by their behavior, then it could be argued that the true church would be one which has consistently fought for human rights against the rest of Christendom. The European Free Church family of denominations (e.g. Mennonites, Quakers) and liberal denominations like the United Church of Christ come to mind. To this list may be added the Unitarian Universalist Association, except that only about 10% of their membership consider themselves to be Christian.

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  1. "Points of the True Church," at: http://www.lds-mormon.com/
  2. W. McKeever, "Examining the '17 points of the true church'," at: http://www.mrm.org/
  3. Todd@novia.net, "Mail I have Received, " Rapture Ready, at: http://www.novia.net/~todd/rap37.html
  4. J.D.Douglas, Ed., "New Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume" Tyndale House, (1990)

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Copyright © 1999 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1999-JAN-13
Latest update: 2007-JUL-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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