By Baoda, Australia
Theonce prophesied the signs of His return, “For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7–8). Now disasters are growing greater and greater. Famines and earthquakes have happened, and plagues, fires and floods have befallen one after another. For example, the new coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China in December 2019, has rapidly spread to other parts of the world in two months. Australia’s bushfires have burned for about 6 months, killing hundreds of millions of animals, and then 700,000 bats have swarmed many major cities in Australia. East Africa has suffered the worst locust infestation in 25 years and tens of millions of people are facing food crisis. In January 7, 2020, Puerto Rico has been hit by the strongest earthquake in 102 years and two-thirds of the country lost power. In January 28, 2020, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake has struck the Caribbean … The disasters fulfill the prophecies of the Lord’s return. Many Christians have felt that the Lord has already returned.
As we all know, the Bible predicts that when the Lord returns, only the church of Philadelphia is the church which will be raptured before the great tribulation, and that the church of the Laodiceans is the church which will be forsaken by the Lord. That is to say, if we wish to be raptured before the tribulation, we should find a church which is in line with God’s will. Seeing pastors provide no light in sermons and believers become indifferent in their faith, talk about eating, drinking, and making merry, and follow the trends of the world, many people worry that their churches are false churches and will be forsaken by the Lord when He returns. However, some people think that there still are many believers in their churches, and that when their churches organize biblical knowledge contest and the Holy Communion, the atmosphere is lively, so their churches can’t be false churches. So how should we distinguish between true and false churches? How can we find the true church? Let’s focus on these topics.
The First Principle of Distinguishing Between True and False Churches: Whether a Church Has the Holy Spirit’s Work and Whether Believers Pursue the Truth
The Bible says, “[Church] is His body, the fullness of him that fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). Jehovah God said to Solomon, “For now have I chosen and sanctified this house, that My name may be there for ever: and My eyes and My heart shall be there perpetually” (2 Chronicles 7:16). The Lord Jesus said, “Again I say to you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the middle of them” (Matthew 18:19–20). From these verses we can see that the true church is the church with the work of the Holy Spirit. It is formed by those who truly believe in God and pursue the truth, and at the very least most of them are those who thirst for the truth. They focus on seeking God’s will, practicing and experiencingin all things, and they seek to fulfill God’s desire, so that they can often gain the guidance and work of the Holy Spirit, have the enlightenment and illumination of the Holy Spirit when they fellowship in meetings, and their spiritual lives grow up ceaselessly. Besides, when they make a mistake, God will chasten and discipline them, so they have a God-revering heart. Just like in the temple in the Age of Law, because it was filled with Jehovah God’s glory, people did not dare act wildly, and they revered Jehovah God and obediently worshiped Him in the temple, and no one dared violate the law. In such a church, people’s faith can increase and their lives can grow up constantly. The false church surely doesn’t have the work of the Holy Spirit. The pastors are always preaching about the same old things and there never is any new enlightenment. Believers can’t obtain true sustenance, and they are weak and negative and their faith starts to wane. Even when they gather together, they don’t fellowship about how to practice God’s words but only talk about things that are unrelated to the truth. They are believers in name only. Such a church shall never gain the recognition of God.
Nowadays in many churches, what the pastors and elders preach are biblical knowledge and spiritual theories, which can’t resolve believers’ actual difficulties at all. Meanwhile, fewer and fewer believers go to the church and they busy themselves with making money and they covet the enjoyment of the flesh. However, when they encounter something dangerous, they will go to the church. In fact, they don’t sincerely seek the truth but only want to gain grace and seek personal safety. Some believers are not interested in fellowshiping the truth, they are only active when their churches organize all kinds of dinner parties or activities, and they go to the churches only for fun, for establishing interpersonal relationships or for promoting products they want to sell. Believers get together to compete in what they wear and eat, and they do not fellowship on spiritual matters, and have no reverence for God. Such churches are like the stagnant waters and can’t gain God’s blessings and guidance even if there are many believers or the churches appear lively. These churches are simply false churches, just like the temple at the end of the Age of Law which was no longer the place where people worshiped God, and which became a marketplace for trading livestock and a den of thieves rejected by God. Just as the Lord Jesus said, “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but you have made it a den of thieves” (Mark 11:17). So, to distinguish between true and false churches, we mainly have to look at whether a church has the work of the Holy Spirit, and whether it is formed by those who love and pursue the truth and whether the believers seek to worship God and satisfy His will. Only the church which is comprised of those who truly believe in God and practice God’s words, is the true church and will be recognized by God. If the church is comprised of those who are not interested in the truth, then even if it has many believers and appears fervent on the surface, it is a false church and will be abandoned by God sooner or later. Just as John wrote to the church of the Laodiceans under God’s revelation, “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I would you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16).
The Second Principle of Distinguishing Between True and False Churches: Whether the Truth or False Shepherds Are in Power Within the Church
There is another important principle of distinguishing between true and false churches—we should look at whether the truth or false shepherds are in power within the church. The church comes into being because of the work of God, so God and the truth are of course in power within the church. In a church, if the leaders are people who pursue the truth, then they can surely consider God’s will, exalt God and bear witness to God in all matters, and can lead believers to practice and experience God’s word, bringing people to God. Meanwhile, believers can magnify God in their hearts, seek God’s will and act in accordance with God’s words in all things, and they don’t blindly worship their leaders. Such a church is ruled over by God’s words and the truth. On the contrary, in false churches controlled by false shepherds, the leaders don’t serve God sincerely, they work for their own status and income, vie with each other for fame and gain, and engage in jealous disputes. They often exalt themselves to maintain their own prestige and make people worship them. They flatter, exalt and are only nicest to whoever contributes a lot of money, and they suppress and reject those whose fellowship is enlightening and who are honest and upright to make suggestions, making these people unable to properly fulfill their function in the church. Besides, most believers lack discernment and blindly worship and look up to the leaders. Though it appears that they believe in and follow God, in reality they believe in pastors and elders. Thus, this church is controlled by false shepherds and is a false church. Just as this passage says, “Those within the church who practice the truth are cast out, unable to give their all, while those who disturb the church and spread death run rampage within—and, what’s more, most people follow them. Such churches are ruled by Satan, plain and simple; the devil is their king. If the congregants do not rise up and reject the head demons, then they, too, will sooner or later come to ruin. From now on, measures must be taken against such churches. If the congregants of a church are capable of practicing a little of the truth but do not seek to, then that church will be expunged” (“A Warning to Those Who Do Not Practice the Truth”).
Now, many pastors and elders don’t lead people to practice and experience God’s word and can’t resolve the believers’ difficulties in their entry into life, and nor do they allow those who possess the work of the Holy Spirit to lead the church. In order to protect their status, pastors and elders only preach biblical knowledge and spiritual theories to show themselves off and make people worship them. What’s more, they talk about some major events in the world and health care knowledge to attract believers, and they only focus on explaining man’s words in the Bible and teach believers to observe some religious rituals. Some pastors and elders appear very devout, but they secretly steal offerings and are sexually promiscuous. To draw in believers and expand their influence, some pastors and elders arrange meal activities, promote products and open factories, leading believers onto a secular path and fostering a foul atmosphere in the church. Such a church is no different from the world, and is the same as the great city Babylon in the Bible. It has offended the disposition of God and has been abandoned by the Holy Spirit, and will be cursed by God in the end. Just as the Bible says, “And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (Revelation 18:2–3). It can be seen that whether the church leader is a correct person is crucial. If a church is controlled by false shepherds, the Holy Spirit won’t work within it. It is the blind leading the blind and eventually everyone falls into a hole.
How to Find the True Church
At this point, many people may realize that there are many churches without the Holy Spirit’s work. Then where can we find the church which has theand the Holy Spirit’s work? Facing this actual difficulty, let’s first look back to the time when the Lord Jesus appeared to work. The temple also became desolate. This is because, on the one hand, the Jewish chief priests, scribes and Pharisees did not lead believers to walk the correct path, and the temple was forsaken by the Holy Spirit, and on the other, because the Lord Jesus did the new work, and the Holy Spirit reclaimed His work from the temple and worked in those who could follow the Lamb’s footsteps. Those who followed the Lord Jesus received the provision of the living water of life, while those who remained in the temple fell into darkness. Just as the Bible says, “And also I have withheld the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest: and I caused it to rain on one city, and caused it not to rain on another city: one piece was rained on, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. So two or three cities wandered to one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied: yet have you not returned to Me, said Jehovah” (Amos 4:7–8). It can be seen that when God returns to do new work, the churches of the old age will become desolate. However, God’s will is behind the desolation of the church, that is, God compels us to search for His footsteps. Now disasters are getting worse and worse, and the prophecies of the Lord’s coming have been basically fulfilled. Besides, the religious world has become desolate and lost the Holy Spirit’s work. So, the Lord might very well have already appeared to work in a certain church. If we can find God’s footsteps, we can certainly find the true church.
Then how can we seek God’s footsteps? There is a passage of words that speaks about it clearly. “[S]ince we are searching for the footprints of God, it behooves us to search for God’s will, for the words of God, for His utterances—because wherever there are new words spoken by God, theis there, and wherever there are the footsteps of God, God’s deeds are there. Wherever there is the expression of God, there God appears, and wherever God appears, there the truth, the way, and the life exist” (“The Appearance of God Has Ushered in a New Age”). From this, we can see that if we want to search for God’s footprints, we should seek God’s utterances and pay attention to listening to God’s voice. The Bible says, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7). “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20). This shows that the Lord will express new words to the churches when He returns. If any church preaches that the Lord has returned to express new words, we should quickly seek and see whether these words are God’s voice. If we recognize God’s voice, we should accept His work soon. Only thus can we follow the Lamb’s footsteps and find the true church.
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