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Determining which, if any, is the "true" Christian church?

Using Jesus' disciples and
church success as guides

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What did Jesus ask of his disciples?

Jesus expected his disciples to abandon their family, give away their possessions, accept a life of poverty, and follow Jesus as an itinerant preacher who relied on the charity of others. There are major anti-family aspects involved in this message. Some passages which mention this are:

bulletMatthew 19:27-30: Peter said that he and the rest of the disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. He asked what would happen to them in the future. Jesus replied that his followers would sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Verse 29 continues: "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Some ancient manuscripts of Luke said "everyone who has left...mother or wife")
bulletMark 10:28-30: This appears to be the source for Matthew 19:27-30; its wording is almost identical.
bulletLuke 9:59-62: "Then He said to another, 'Follow Me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.' And another also said, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.' But Jesus said to him, 'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'" (NKJ) Jesus seems to be implying that to attain the kingdom of God, one is expected to drop everything and follow Jesus. This was considered so important that a person should violate a major Jewish law by not giving priority to burying their father.

Some might argue that the true church of today is that faith group that follows the demands that Jesus required of his disciples: abandon their family, give away all of their possessions to the poor, travel around as itinerant preachers of the gospel, and rely on the generosity of others. This accurately describes an American faith group without a formal name, which is sometimes called the Body of Christ, The Brotherhood, Church of the Brotherhood, Brothers and Sisters, or the Roberts Group. Counter cult groups, disaffected parents of Body of Christ members, and others frequently call them by the derogatory term Garbage Eaters.

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The example of Jesus' disciples:

After the death/suicide of Judas, the 11 surviving disciples of Jesus elected a twelfth man to their group: Matthias. James, one of four brothers of Jesus headed the movement; Peter was an important leader. Centered in Jerusalem, they spread Jesus' teachings to their fellow Jews. They were called Nazoreans or Nazarenes (Notzrim in Hebrew) by the Jews, and Christians (Christianoi or Nazoraioi in Greek) by the Gentiles (non-Jews). They were observant Jews. They continued to follow the Jewish laws concerning circumcision, diet, festivals, the Saturday Sabbath, and ritual. They had animals ritually sacrificed at the temple on their behalf.

The Jewish Christians considered themselves to be a reform movement within Judaism. They had followed Jesus and formed close emotional bond with him for at least a year (according to the synoptic gospels) and three years (according to the gospel of John). They knew more about Jesus' teachings than anyone else. It can be argued that they tried to carry out his wishes when they organized the Jewish Christian movement. Perhaps the "true church" is not a Christian church at all, but is today's Reform Judaism.

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Which is the most successful denomination or family of denominations?

Since the various denominations have widely varying beliefs and practices, and since all Christian faith groups believe in God, then it might be argued that God would favor one denomination (or group of denominations) over all others. If so, then one might expect the true church to be the group that has the greatest number of members.

In the very early years of the Christian movement, i.e. the first few years after Jesus' death, this would have been the Jewish Christian movement, centered in Jerusalem under the leadership of James, the brother of Jesus. But within about five years, Pauline Christianity surfaced as an alternative movement within Christianity. It eventually triumphed, and became the Catholic Church, centered in Rome. Since then, it has continually had the greatest number of members of all of the faith groups within Christianity. At the moment, the Roman Catholic church membership is in decline, and the Pentecostal movement is experiencing the greatest growth. So, using the criteria of popularity, one might argue that  the Roman Catholic church currently represents the true Christian church. In a few decades, it might be denominations within the Pentecostal movement .

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Depending upon the approach used to determine the "true church", one can come up with answers as diverse as the Anglicans, Fundamentalists and other Evangelicals, Mennonites, Methodists, the Metropolitan Community Church,  Mormons, Pentecostals, Quakers, Reform Judaism, Roman Catholic church, Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Christ, and Unity Church.

There appears to be no clear, obvious choice. However, we suspect that many of the readers of this essay will assume that their own denominations is the true church; it is only human nature.

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Related essay:

bulletWhich is the "true" religion?

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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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