WHERE IS THE ONE TRUE CHURCH?
What the Bible Actually Teaches
by Bishop Ryle
Where is the one true Church? What is this one true Church? What are the marks by which this one true Church may be known?
The one true Church (Messianic Community) is composed of all believers in the Lord Jesus (Yah'shua). It is made up of all converted men and women, of all true Christians. It is a Church of which all the members have the same marks. They worship differently, and after various fashions, some worship with a form of prayer, and some with none; some worship kneeling, and some standing; but they all worship with one heart. They are all led by the one Spirit (Ruach); they all build upon one foundation; they all draw their religion from one single book -- that is the Bible. They are all joined to one great centre -- that is Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah).
It is a Church which is dependent upon no ministers upon earth, however much it values those who preach the Gospel to its members. The life of its members does not hang upon Church-membership, and Baptism, and the Lord's Supper -- although they highly value these things, when they are to be had. But it has only one Great Head -- one Shepherd, one chief Bishop -- and that is Jesus Christ (Yah'shua the Messiah). He alone, by His Spirit (Ruach), admits the members of this Church, though ministers may show the door. Till He opens the door, no man on earth can open it -- neither bishops, nor presbyters, nor convocations, nor synods. Once let a man repent and believe the Gospel, and that moment he becomes a member of this Church. Like the penitent thief, he may have no opportunity of being baptised, but he has that which is far better than any water-baptism -- the baptism of the Spirit (Ruach). He may not be able to receive the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper; but he eats Christ's body and drinks Christ's blood by faith every day he lives, and no minister on earth can prevent him. He may be excommunicated by ordained men, and cut off from the outward ordinances of the professing Church; but all the ordained men in the world cannot shut him out of the true Church.
It is a Church whose existence does not depend on forms, ceremonies, cathedrals, churches, chapels, pulpits, fonts, vestments, organs, endowments, money, kings, governments, magistrates or any act of favour whatsoever from the hand of man. It has often lived on and continued when all these things have been taken from it. Its existence depends on nothing but the presence of Christ and His Spirit (Ruach); and they ever being with it, the Church cannot die.
This is the only Church which possesses true unity. Its members are entirely agreed on all the weightier matters of religion, for they are taught by one Spirit (Ruach). About God, and Christ, and the Spirit (Ruach), and sin, and their own hearts, and faith, and repentance, and necessity of holiness (set-apartness), and the value of the Bible, and the importance of prayer, and the resurrection, and judgement to come -- about all these points they are of one mind.
It is not the Church of any one nation or people; its members are to be found in every part of the world where the gospel is received and believed. It is not confined within the limits of any one country, or pent up within the pale of a particular forms or outward government. In it there is no difference between Jew and Greek, black men and white.
This is the only Church which is truly apostolic. It is built on the foundation laid by the Apostles, and holds the doctrines which they preached. The two grand objects at which its members aim are apostolic faith and apostolic practice; and they consider the man who talks of following the Apostles without possessing these two things to be no better than sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.
This is the only Church which is certain to endure unto the end. Nothing can altogether overthrow and destroy it. Its members may be persecuted, oppressed, imprisoned, beaten, beheaded, burned; but the true Church is never altogether extinguished; it rises again from its afflictions; it lives on through fire and water. When crushed in one land it springs up in another. The Pharaohs, the Herods, the Neros, the Bloody Marys have laboured in vain to put down this Church; they slay their thousands, and then pass away and go to their own place. The true Church outlives them all and sees them buried each in their turn. It is an anvil that has broken many a hammer in this world, and will break many a hammer still; it is a bush which is often burning, and yet is not consumed.
This is the only Church of which no one member can perish. Once enrolled in the lists of this Church, sinners are safe for eternity; they are never cast away. The election of the Father, the continual intercession of the Son, and the daily renewing and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit (Ruach haQodesh), surround and fence them in like a garden enclosed.
This is the Church which does the work of Christ upon earth. Its members are a little flock, and few in number, compared with the children of the world: one or two here, and two or three there -- a few in this district and a few in that. But these are they who shake the universe; but these are they who change the fortunes of kingdoms by their prayers; these are they who are the active workers for spreading the knowledge of pure religion and undefiled; these are the life-blood of a country, the shield, the defence, the stay, and the support of any nation to which they belong.
This is the Church which shall be truly glorious at the end. When all earthly glory is passed away then shall this Church be presented without spot before God the Father's throne. Thrones, principalities, and powers upon earth shall come to nothing; dignities and offices, and endowments shall all pass away; but the Church of the Firstborn shall shine as the stars at the last, and be presented with joy before the appearing, when the Lord's Jewels are made up.
Reader, this is the true Church to which man must belong, if he would be saved. Till you belong to this, you are nothing better than a lost soul. You may have the form, the husk, the skin, and the shell of religion, but you have not got the substance and the life. Yes; you may have countless outward privileges; you may enjoy great light and knowledge -- but if you do not belong to the body of Christ, your light, your knowledge, and privileges will not save your soul. Alas, for the ignorance that prevails on this point! Men fancy if they join this Church or that Church, and become communicants, and go through certain forms, that all must be right with their souls. It is an utter delusion; it is a gross mistake. Take notice, you may be a staunch Episcopalian, or Presbyterian, or Congregationalist, or Baptist, or Methodist, or Plymouth Brother -- and yet not belong to the true Church. And if you do not it will be better at last if you had never been born.
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 29 January 2011
Copyright © Bishop Ryle