When viewing a large number of different denominations, how can a person determine which are reflections of the true church, and which not? This question requires a two-fold answer. Membership in the Church Invisible is a personal, spiritual matter between the Lord and a person's soul based on the scriptural marks and fruits of spiritual life - misery, deliverance, thankfulness, and love to God and others as described in Chapter 14.
When referring to the Church Visible, the true church can be distinguished from the false according to the following three visible marks.
THREE MARKS OF THE TRUE CHURCH VISIBLE
1. The pure preaching of God's Word
2. The proper administration of the sacraments
3. The faithful exercise of church discipline
No local portion of the church on earth is perfect, no church denomination is perfect, but to become as perfect as possible should be the aim of the church. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5 :48). The closer it comes to a faithful, biblical exercise of the three, the purer the local church or church denomination will be.
First, God's Word must be purely preached. Recognizing the Bible as the infallible Word of God that has authority over all matters of belief and practice is crucial to the health of a church. Preaching the full counsel of God as proclaimed in His Word is central to the church's well-being. When a church begins to minimize God's Word, its study and proclamation, and to place human feelings, ideas, or customs above the teachings of Scripture,. it begins to lose its purity and influence. (True preaching is discussed in more detail in Chapter 26 when considering the means of grace.)
Secondly, the proper administration of the sacraments is also an important mark. Through the use of the sacraments the church receives the sign and seal of God's covenant and expresses its faith
Why is there no perfect church on earth?
What clear warning did Christ issue to church members in the following verses?
Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me.
But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
- Matthew 15:7-9
They answered and said unto Him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.
- John 8:31-32
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.