Christianity today is now divided into thousands of sects, each claiming to be the true church. The Roman Catholic church has the largest membership. It claims to be the oldest, largest church that can guide the course of world destiny, and calls herself the "Universal Church." The Vatican exerts enough influence to tip the balance in world aggairs, because it is a religious as well as a political power, having diplomatic relations with over a hundred nations. This fact alone proves that it is not God's true church. For Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world." John 18:36. Many more Bible texts prove that the Vatican cannot be God's true church.
1) The title of our study is "Identifying the True Church." Why do you say at the outset that the Catholic church is not the true one? Are you not showing disrespect for that church?
Answer: When you see a man that endangers people's lives, if you still respect him and dare not warn others of him, you fail in your public duties. We are to bear witness to the truth. Truth is bound to expose error. Rev 13:3 says, "All the world marvelled and followed the beast." The international prestige of the pope continues to rise, so wherever he goes, the public media of that country says nothing wrong about him. But all who know their Bibles do not marvel and follow him. If the true features of the beast show up in the face of truth, it is not because any one disrespects him, but because truth has exposed error, helping those who have been deceived to wake up.
Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheeps' clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. You will know them by their fruits." Matt 7:15,16. "And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light." 2 Cor 11:14.
"And let it be remembered, it is the boast of Rome that she never changes. The principles of Gregory VII and Innocent II are still the principles of the Roman Catholic Church. And had she but the power, she would put them in practice with as much vigor now as in past centuries. . .
"God's word has given warning of the impending danger; let this be unheeded, and the Protestant world will learn what the purposes of Rome really are, only when it is too late to escape the snare. She is silently growing into power. Her doctrines are exerting their influence in legislative halls, in the churches, and in the hearts of men. She is piling up her lofty and massive structures, in the secret recesses of which her former persecutions will be repeated. Stealthily and unsuspectedly she is strengthening her forces to further her own ends when the time shall come for her to strike. All that she desires is vantage ground, and this is already being given her. We shall soon see and shall feel what the purpose of the Roman element is. Whoever shall believe and obey the word of God will thereby incur reproach and persecution." The Great Controversy, p. 581. In order to discharge our responsibility to every seeker of the truth, we shall first use Bible texts to show that the Vatican is the largest and most dangerous false church. Then we will find Scripture to identify the only true church. For God has already revealed this in the Bible, and it is irrefutable.
2) Don't you sound a bit too arrogant? The Chinese say, a melon hawker is bound to say his melons are sweet. Are you really certain of the truth? And nobody knows more than you?
Answer: There are others who know more, and can find more evidence to prove that the Vatican is the Antichrist of Bible prophecy. But no one is able to use Bible to refute this truth. Let us first examine what the Catholics use to prove that Peter was the first pope ordained by Jesus. Read Matt 16:15-19. "He said to them, 'Who do you say that I am?' And Simon Peter answered and said, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'" Here are three questions that need to be answered: a) Who is the rock? b) What are the keys of the kingdom? c) Does heaven really act according to human directions?
(a) Peter's name petros is a masculine Greek noun meaning "stone," But the Greek for "rock" is the feminine noun petra. Though it is related to Peter, it does not mean his person, but rather his affirmation of truth: "You are Christ the Son of the living God." For there are several texts that say Christ is the rock. An epistle written by Peter calls Christ the "Rock." 1 Pet 2:6-8. In 1 Cor 10:4 Paul says, "that Rock was Christ." The church is invincible only as it is built on Christ.
The statement by Peter was immediatley affirmed by Christ, who then "began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." "Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!' But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.' " Matt 16:21-23.
Peter was first inspired by God and uttered a great truth, then he was used by Satan to become a stumbling block to Jesus. So you see he was a stone easily pushed around, not a strong and dependable rock. Later when Jesus was mocked, Peter denied Him thrice, again showing up to be unstable, certainly not an infallible pope that the Catholics claim.
(b) The keys of the kingdom are the words of Christ. "Thus says the Lord" unlocks the way to heaven. Whoever takes hold of Bible truth has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. "Christ is the Son of the living God" is the first basic key to truth. He who masters it, can show the sinner how to be saved.
(c) The words of Matt 16:19 were also spoken by Jesus to all the disciples in John 20:23, so it was not a sole prerogative of Peter. Jesus said to them, "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." When we understand the full meaning of the Greek text, this is not a special power given to men, but the ability that comes from a proper knowledge of God's word. He who is led by the Holy Spirit to grasp the correct meaning of God's word, is able to direct sinners to repent and be saved, and warn those who reject God's grace of certain destruction.
The translation of these texts do not fully convey the sense of the Greek future-perfect tenses. The tense in the translation "will be bound" is future. but the future perfect tense is, "will have been bound." It means that what the disciple declares bound on earth will be what God has already bound in heaven. The same applies to John 20:23: "What sins you forgive on earth, will be what God has already declared pardonable in heaven." It means that when man grasps the truths of God's word, he is able to lead sinners to seek forgiveness according to God's will. It does not mean that God will decide the fate of men according to the wishes of a human being.
3) The pope claims the power to decide the destiny of all mankind, saying, "Outside of the church there is no salvation." Man lives or dies at the word of the priest.
Answer: The strange thing is that many honest folk believe this most unreasonable, cruel and dictatorial system. They use the Bible to prove that the pope is Peter's successor. Yet in this they contradict themselves. Because in the Middle Ages Rome called the Council of Trent to find cause to prove that the authority of the church is higher than the Bible, to meet the "sola scriptura" slogan of the Reformers. Now they turn to the Bible to prove themselves to be the true church, thereby admitting that Bible authority is above the church, for without the Bible, they have no way to prove their claim. However, the Bible texts they appeal to do not prove them to be the true church, and do not prove Peter to be the rock. Peter was not a pope, much less the first pope. The pope does not marry, Peter was a married man. The pope lets people worship him, but when Cornelius worshiped Peter, he lifted him up with the words, "Stand up, I myself am also a man." Acts 10:26)
Peter was martyred in Rome. At the time the church was an illegitimate body without the semblance of an organization, there was no existing process to elect a successor to Peter. Moreover, In the Scriptures there is not one remark about Peter being the chief apostle. When the disciples contended for first place, Jesus taught them, "One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren." Matt 23:8.
Not only is it impossible to trace the line of papal succession to Peter, but the line itself is broken. In 1400 there appeared two and then a third pope to claim the throne. They accused each other of being the antichrist. The English reformer Wycliffe made an apt remark, "All three of them are right; all three are antichrists."
4) Now please cite Bible proof to identify the true church.
Answer: Due to limitation of space, I will quote only four texts to bring out the four distinctive marks of the true church. The first shows that the true church recognizes God's authority. "Here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus." Rev 14:12. The second mark is that God recognizes them as His children by speaking to them through the Spirit of prophecy.They "have the testimony of Jesus" and "the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy." Rev. 12:17; 19:10. (see Dialog 49, answer 4) Here are two distinctive traits of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Other Sabbath-keeping churches have no prophet, and churches who claim a prophet do not keep the Sabbath. In the letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea in Rev 3:14-22 Christ introduces Himself as "the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God." The "creation" is associated with the Sabbath. The "Witness" has to do with the testimonies of His Spirit.
5) You said that the true church has four distinctives. Keeping God's commandments and the spirit of prophecy are a double trait possessed by no other body. Are the third and fourth traits also distinctly theirs and shared by no other denomination?
Answer: Yes. The third mark of the true church in our day is its distinctive origin, as related in Rev 10. It foretells the great disappointment of the Adventists in 1844. This prophecy written 1900 years ago has no other incident in sacred or secular history that fulfills all its details. It is like a Yale lock with six plungers. Unless all six move to the right position, the lock will not open. These six plungers are:
(a) The “little book open” in the hand of the angel alludes to the sealed book of Daniel opened at the appointed time of the end.
(b) John was ready to write what the seven thunders uttered, but was told not to, meaning that something was still sealed in Dan 8:14.
(c) The angel said, "there should be time no longer,." meaning that the longest prophetic time period in the Bible was the 2300 days that ended in 1844.
(d) John the last living disciple typified the remnant church eating the book of Daniel and meeting the great disappointment.
(e) After that, the angel said, "You must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings." meaning that the remnant church would regain their enthusiasm to spread the gospel.
(f) The impetus came from measuring the temple of God (the sanctuary truths) and its worshipers (the investigative judgment).
6) Now I see that the third identification of the true church is the disappointment of 1844. What is the fourth identification?
Answer: The fourth identification is the messages that this church preaches: the three angels' messages. It is strange that of all the bodies that study the book of Revelation, none of them except the Seventh-day Adventist church is preaching the messages of the three angels of Revelation 14. The first angel says, "The hour of His judgment has come," and “worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” Here the angel proclaims the judgment hour and calls on all to keep the Sabbath. The second angel says, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” This proclaims the fall of the churches that have rejected the first angel’s message.
“Babylon is said to be ‘mother of harlots’ Rev 17:5. By her daughters must be sumbolized churches that cling to her doctrines and traditions, and follow her example of sacrificing truth and the approval of God, in order to form an unlawful alliance with the world. The message of Revelation 14, announcing the fall of Babylon must apply to religious bodies that were once pure and have become corrupt. Since this message follows the warning of the judgment, it must be given in the last days; therefore it cannot refer to the Roman church alone, for that church has been in a fallen condition for many centuries. Furthermore, in the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation the people of God are called upon to come out of Babylon. According to this scripture, many of God’s people must still be in Babylon. . . . At the time of their rise these churches took a noble stand for God and the truth, and His blessing was with them. . .
“Many of the Protestant churches are following Rome’s example of iniquitous connection with ‘the kings of the earth.’---the state churches, by their relation to secular governments; and other denominations. By seeking the favor of the world. And the term ‘Babylon’---confusion---may be appropriately applied to these bodies, all professing to derive their doctrines from the Bible, yet divided into almost innumerable sects, with widely conflicting creeds and theories.” Op cit., pp. 382, 383.
7) The texts presented are convincing. Any honest mind who wants to identify the true church can see that it must be the Seventh-day Adventist church.
Answer: We use the method of Jesus. After His resurrection, although the disciples saw Him with their own eyes, yet He patiently explained the Bible prophecies to them, because mental perception is more dependable than sensual perception. Jesus said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” Luke 24:44.
Ps 40:7 records the words spoken by Christ before He came to earth, “Then I said, ‘Behold I come; in the scroll of the Book it is written of Me, I delight to do Your will, O My God, and Your law is within My heart.” Adventists today can say with Jesus, “In the scroll of the Book it is written of us.” The Bible proof of this people being the true church of God, was written on the scroll two thousand years ago. No one can erase it.
8) That may be true, but Adventists have nothing to be proud of, for they are split into many factions.
Answer: The splitting of the church started long ago. Paul wrote to one church saying, “Each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Then he explains, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” 1 Cro. 1:12; 3:6.
In Maranatha, p. 45, Ellen White wrote, “God will arouse His people, if other means fail, heresies will come in among them, which will sift them, separating the chaff from the wheat. The Lord calls upon all who believe His word to awake out of sleep; precious light has come, appropriate for this time. . . Believers are not to rest in suppositions and ill-defined ideas of what constitutes truth. Their faith must be firmly founded upon the word of God so that when the testing time shall come and they are brought before councils to answer for their faith they may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in them with meekness and fear."
In Christ's letter to the Laodiceans He does not once commend them, but has many words of rebuke. Yet He says, "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent." These are words of warning, and also of rebuke. In the letter to the seven churches, He tells the lukewarm one that needs most to be corrected that He loves her. John was the beloved disciple, the angel told Daniel three times that he was greatly beloved, and to these three beloved ones He confides important prophetic truths!