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The One True Church

Throughout history, many religions, from the large and famous to the small and obscure, have claimed to be the “one true church.” Without exception, none of them have fit the description of a true church, let alone the true church. But that is not to say that such a church does not exist.


There is a church outside of which there is no salvation, a church to which a man must belong, or be lost eternally. I lay this down without hesitation or reserve. I say it as strongly and as confidently as the strongest advocate of the Church of Rome. But what is this church? Where is this church? What are the marks by which this church may be known? This is the grand question.

The one true church is well described . . . as ‘the mystical body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people’. It is composed of all believers in the Lord Jesus.—It is made up of all God’s elect,—of all converted men and women,—of all true Christians. . . .

It is a church of which all the members have the same marks.—They are all born again of the Spirit. They all possess ‘repentance towards God, faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ’, and holiness of life and conversation.—They all hate sin, and they all love Christ. . . . They are all led by one Spirit. They all build upon one foundation.—They all draw their religion from one single book.—They are all joined to one great centre, that is Jesus Christ. . . .

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 favour whatsoever from the hand of man. It has often lived on and continued when all these things have been taken from it. It has often been driven into the wilderness, or into dens and caves of the earth, by those who ought to have been its friends. But its existence depends on nothing but the presence of Christ and his Spirit, and so long as they are with it the church cannot die.

This is the church to which the titles of present honour and privilege, and the promises of future glory especially belong.—This is the body of Christ.—This is the bride.—This is the Lamb’s wife.—This is the flock of Christ.—This is the household of faith and family of God.—This is God’s building, God’s foundation, and the temple of the Holy Ghost. This is the church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven. This is the royal priesthood, the chosen generation, the peculiar people, the purchased possession, the habitation of God, the light of the world, the salt and the wheat of the earth. This is the ‘holy catholic church’ of the Apostles’ Creed.—This is the ‘one catholic and apostolic church’ of the Nicene Creed.—This is that church to which the Lord Jesus promises ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’, and to which he says, ‘I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world’ (Matt. 16:18; 28:20).

This is the only church which possesses true unity. Its members are entirely agreed on all the weightier matters of religion, for they are all taught by one Spirit. . . .

This is the only church which possesses true sanctity. Its members are all holy. They are not merely holy by profession, holy in name, and holy in the judgment of charity. They are all holy in act, and deed, and reality, and life, and truth. They are all more or less conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. They are all more or less like their great Head. No unholy man belongs to this church.

This is the only church which is truly catholic. 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, nor pent up within the pale of any particular forms or outward government. In it there is no difference between Jew and Greek, black man and white, Episcopalian and Presbyterian;—but faith in Christ is all Its members will be gathered from north, and south, and east, and west, in the last day; and will be of every name, and denomination, and kindred, and people, and tongue, but all one in Christ Jesus.

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 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 God the Father,—the continual intercession of God the Son,—the daily renewing and sanctifying power of God the Holy Ghost, surround and fence them in like a garden enclosed. Not one bone of Christ’s mystical body shall ever be broken. Not one lamb of Christ’s flock shall ever be plucked out of his hand.

. . .

This is the church which shall be truly glorious at the end of all things. When all earthly glory is passed away, then shall this church be presented without spot, before God the Father’s throne. . . . When the Lord’s jewels are made up, and the manifestation of the sons of God takes place, Episcopacy, and Presbyterianism, and Congregationalism will not be mentioned. One church only will be named, and that is the church of the elect.

. . .

This is the church to which a man must belong, if he would be saved. Till we belong to this, we are nothing better than lost souls. We may have the form, the husk, the skin, and the shell of religion, but we have not got the substance and the life. . . . All were not Israel who were called Israel, and all are not members of Christ’s body who profess themselves Christians. Never let us forget that we may be staunch Episcopalians, or Presbyterians, or Independents, or Baptists, or Wesleyans, or Plymouth Brethren,—and yet not belong to the true church. And if we do not, it will be better at last if we had never been born.

—J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 240–247.

Posted 2017·06·06 by David Kjos
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