The True Church not an Institution

one-true-church
• The New Testament teaches that the attributes of the true church are soteriological (determined by faith in Jesus) and not institutional.

• The church is one because the atonement that Christ made on the cross has “brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” (Eph. 2:14, 15).

• So, the barrier which separates fellow believers according to class, race and sex has been removed by Christ’s death on the cross. The risen Lord is therefore the exalted Head of “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) which is His “one body” (Eph. 1:16, 19-23; 2:14).

• The community of believers in Christ is the fellowship of “who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord” (1 Cor. 1:2). So, the “saints” are those who have put their trust in Christ as Saviour, who have been born again by the Spirit, who have been reconciled to God and to each other and whom God has separated from the world to be His people (2 Thess. 2:13, 14; 2 Tim. 1:9, 10).

• The church is catholic (i.e. universal) because Christ has made atonement (payment) on the cross for the sins of the whole world and because this good news is now being proclaimed “to every nation, tribe, language and people” (Rev. 14:6).

• So, the universal church of God consists of all believers in Christ throughout the world. These are they who have received forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ’s name (Acts 10:43) and who have been born again into the family and kingdom of God (John 1:12, 13; 3:1-8). Local congregations are but the local manifestations of the one universal church of Christ.

• The church is apostolic because its faith and life are grounded solely on the testimony of the apostles whom Christ sovereignly appointed to witness and proclaim His saving work (Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, 21, 22; John 14:26; 15:26f; 17:20).

• The New Testament has preserved for the church the content of the apostles’ teaching concerning Christ, His redemptive work on the cross, His triumphant resurrection from the dead, and His ascension to heaven where He was exalted by the Father to sit at His right hand.

• Just as the church was founded upon the apostles’ witness, so it is nourished and grows by continuing in the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). The strongest condemnation rests upon anyone who would corrupt the purity of the apostolic Gospel (Gal. 1:6-9).The apostles’ interpretation of the Gospel is the final norm of sound teaching (2 Ti. 1:13-14; Tit. 1:3, 9).This is “the faith that was once (for all) entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3), and insofar as the Christian Church upholds the true Gospel as proclaimed by the apostles, it is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).This commitment to the apostolic witness alone will safeguard the unity, holiness of the church.

Roman Catholicism

• Rome interprets the attributes of the church in institutional terms. Unity means lockstep conformity and submission to the demands and teachings of the hierarchical Roman structure.

The Reformers

• The Reformers denied Rome’s claim that its organization constituted the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church because they had discovered a vital truth in the New Testament—that the attributes of the church are not institutional but soteriological.

• Therefore, according to the New Testament and the Reformers, Christ’s true church is the community of all who have put their trust in Him. The marks by which we may know the true church are: it believes and faithfully proclaims the pure and unadulterated Gospel as recorded in the Scriptures by the Lord’s chosen apostles, and it faithfully administers baptism and the Lord’s Supper (by which the gospel is portrayed).

Sectarian Claims

• Certain religious institutions claim to be Christ’s only true church to the exclusion of other Christian groups, which are regarded as apostate Babylon. In attempts to find scriptural support for such self-commending claims, appeal is made to certain isolated proof-texts upon which dubious interpretations are imposed. For example, Roman Catholicism appeals to Matthew 16:18 (“And I tell you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”) in an effort to establish its supremacy.

• Some religious groups make the name of their denomination the mark of the true church (e.g.“The Church of Christ”).

• Sectarianism is contrary to the principles of the Bible by denying the unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the Christian Church as depicted in the New Testament Scriptures. It denies the unity of all who believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and that all believers have a common Father in heaven and share a common new life in the Spirit constituting them members of one family. Thus does sectarianism bring division into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 3:16, 17).

• It denies the holiness of the church because it ignores the fact that the imperfections in belief and practice seen in the different segments of the Christian community are covered by the blood of Christ. It usually claims perfection for the doctrines it promulgates referring to them as “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” According to them all other denominations are steeped in darkness and error.

• It denies the apostolicity of the church by its claims to have light and knowledge in advance of the rest of Christendom and sometimes even of the chosen apostles of Christ to whom were revealed all the truth the church needs to know this side of eternity. This advance light and knowledge is usually based on an extra-biblical authority.

Seventh-day Adventism

• In many respects the Adventist understanding of the church is very much like that of Roman Catholicism.

The True Church and Remnant

• Adventism regards itself not merely as “a church” but as “the church.” It claims that its denomination is the only true church on earth today. All other denominations it denounces as Babylon.Therefore, according to Adventism, it is the only legitimate visible church in the entire world. As stated above, such claims are only made by sectarian cults of which the Roman Catholic denomination is the greatest.

• Adventism not only claims to be the only true church on earth today, it also claims to be God’s remnant—His end-time church. The two main proof texts for this claim are Revelation 12:17 and 19:10. Based on these two texts it states that the true end-time church—the remnant—must observe all ten commandments and have a prophet. Accordingly, Adventism claims that it alone qualifies as “the remnant church.”

Adventism’s 1844 Theology

• The above claims by Adventism are also based on its unique interpretation of its cardinal text of Scripture—Daniel 8:14. Mrs. E. G.White, Adventism’s end-time prophetess, states: “The scripture which above all others had been both the foundation and the central pillar of the advent faith was the decla ration:‘Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.’ Daniel 8:14” (GC 409).

What can be said of Adventism’s 1844 theology? Just as Christianity stands or falls on the resurrection event (1 Cor. 15:1-4), so Adventism stands or falls on the “1844 event.” If there were no resurrection, there would be nothing salvage- able in Christianity. If no event of redemptive significance occurred in heaven on October 22, 1844, there is nothing salvageable in Adventism.

• Adventism is adamant that God had revealed the true meaning of Daniel 8:14 to its pioneers and Mrs. White and that He has entrusted it to the Adventist denomination as His end- time message to Christendom and the world. This is the basis of Adventism’s triumphant self-image:“a special people with a special message for a special time” (to quote a popular Adventist slogan).

• Not only, however, is there no biblical data—a clear ‘Thus saith the Lord’—to support the 1844 date and Adventism’s explanation for the Great Disappointment debacle, the 1844 theology is contrary to the New Testament Gospel.

• Christ’s finished work of atonement (redemption) on the cross and His once-and-for-all entrance into the heaven itself—Heb. 9:24 to sit down at the Father’s right hand exclude a redemptive event beginning on October 22, 1844 (such as the ‘final’ atonement, the blotting out of sins started from 1844, the transfer of sin onto Satan, justification ‘full and complete’, the latter rain, the final seal of God, etc).

• In proclaiming such an event and exhorting people to place their faith in it, Adventists are preaching “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6-8)—a gospel with features not found in the writings of the New Testament apostles.

• At best, Adventism’s 1844 theology can only rest on an extra-biblical authority—that of its prophetess, Mrs. White. Raymond F. Cottrell, one of Adventism’s leading scholars, frankly admitted this. (See his paper submitted to the Glacier View Sanctuary Review Committee, August 10-15, 1980, entitled, A Hermeneutic for Predictive Prophecy, esp. pp. 28-30).

• So, in promulgating their 1844 theology, Adventists go beyond the apostolic witness as recorded in the New Testament. It cannot therefore claim to be a church based on the apostolic teaching of the Gospel.

• The remnant motif first appears in the Old Testament in reference to the minority in Israel who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18).

• But the New Testament apostles employed the remnant motif to describe the New Testament community. (Acts 15:14- 18; Rom. 9:27-29; 11:1-5). Therefore, in the light of the New Testament, the Christian Church or Body of Christ IS the remnant since its inception on the day of Pentecost and will remain so until the last day when Christ will come again.

• The pioneers of Adventism developed their 1844 and end- time-remnant doctrines on the assumption that the last days did not arrive until 1798 (1844 era).

• But the apostles declared that they were already living in the time of the end and that the Gospel they were preaching was God’s end-time message for the world (Acts 2:17; Heb. 1:1, 2; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 1:1

• Therefore, Adventism’s claim that the last days arrived when it arrived on the scene in 1844 is way off the mark by about 1800 years! No, the last days arrived when Jesus arrived on the public scene 2000 years ago. This is the witness of His apostles.

• To now go beyond what the apostles preached and wrote is cultic. Adventism has officially denied what the New Testament says in this regard in order to maintain its unique 1844 theology and all that goes with it.

Conclusion

• In view of the above, what arrogance is manifested in Adventism’s claim to be the remnant church while not possessing that which alone makes a person part of God’s remnant—the true Gospel of Christ as promulgated by the New Testament apostles. Faith alone in this Gospel made the Gentiles part of the end-time remnant.

• The Jews had the Ten Commandments, observed the Sabbath and boasted the possession of more than one prophet (outdoing Adventism on this point).Yet they were excluded as a nation from the remnant because they rejected the Gospel concerning Christ and His saving work.

• Therefore, when weighed in the balances of the apostolic witness of the Gospel as recorded in the New Testament, Adventism is found wanting. Not only does it not have the true Gospel, the three or more divergent theological strands within Adventism (conservative, progressives, liberal, Sequeiran SDA gospels preached in the church) constitute nothing less than Babylonian confusion.

• And then it has the audacity to label all other Christian denominations Babylon!

• Adventism does not therefore qualify as the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” as per the attributes stated in the Bible.

(Adapted: The True Church not an institution by Christ Badenhorst (appeared on Proclamation Sept/Oct 2006)

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