There are so many churches today and it can be difficult to know which one most accurately teaches God’s Word and obeys Jesus’ commands. Is there only one true church?
Founded on apostles and prophets
In Matthew 28, Jesus entrusted His church to the eleven apostles. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
This group of eleven disciples then chose one more apostle to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-26). And later on, Jesus Himself appointed Paul as an apostle in a heavenly vision (Acts 9). Beyond this group, however, there have not been any more apostles. These apostles evangelized, baptized, and taught as Jesus commanded them. And they appointed elders in the churches they started so that the ministry of Jesus might be carried on faithfully (Titus 1:5, 2 Timothy 2:2, 1 Thessalonians 4:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:6). The church has been founded on apostles and prophets, but these positions do not continue in the church today (Ephesians 2:20).
Up until the year 1054 AD, there was only one church. At that time, the church split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church because many churches did not accept the claim that the bishop of Rome (now called the pope) had sole authority of the entire church. Five hundred years later, many more churches (now called “Protestant”) separated from the Catholic Church. They protested that the Roman Catholic Church had corrupted the Gospel message and ministry that had been given by Jesus. In the successive years, Protestantism has split into many different branches and denominations.
So which one is the right one? In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation was under way. Pastor and theologian John Calvin had many people ask him whether they should leave their church or not. At the time, there were a number of churches that were somewhere in between Catholic and Protestant but not clearly one or the other. Calvin said a person should stay in his church if it is a true church. And work for further reform of that church, rather than leaving it just because it did not teach or do everything exactly according to the Bible.
Calvin defined a true church as one that preached the true Gospel and rightly administered the Sacraments, namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It would take too much time here to give a full explanation of the Gospel and Sacraments. But just briefly, if a church preaches repentance and faith for salvation by grace alone through faith alone through Christ alone, then it may be considered to be preaching the true Gospel.
The true Gospel of Christ
Beyond these basics of a true church, genuine Christians have differing convictions. Regarding other matters such as form of baptism, church leadership, the roles of men and women, and spiritual gifts.
If you are unsure about which church teaches the right way that Jesus left to his apostles, then find a church that preaches the true Gospel of Christ and rightly administers the Sacraments, and is correct on as many other issues as you can determine. Then commit to that church, learn from its teaching, love its people, submit to its leadership, and if there are areas where that church fails to conform to Scripture, then patiently work for change in the spirit of Christian humility.