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 (Manna 85: TJC at 100 – Towards the Triumphant Church)
In Search Of The True Church
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Philip Shee—Singapore

The Christian world comprises diverse denominations that have emerged or evolved because of historical, political and doctrinal developments. Whilst modern ecumenical movements may seek to bring these groups together in a bid for commonality, it remains undeniable that some of the differences are fundamental. Indeed, the diversity of belief among the denominations is at odds with the biblical concept of the church.

The Bible’s stance is that the church is the body of Christ (Eph 1:23; Col 1:18) and that there is but “one body” (Eph 4:4). This concept is reinforced in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.…But now indeed there are many members, yet one body” (1 Cor 12:12, 20). The question is, can different Christian denominations be reckoned as members of the same body?

In expanding on the teaching of the one body, Paul highlighted its link to “one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father” (Eph 4:4–6a). It leads us to reflect that, while different denominations may claim to uphold one hope, one Lord, one God and Father, it is debatable whether they have the same Spirit and baptism. These churches have differing views about receiving the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, on baptism, some advocate immersion, while others endorse alternative modes; some perform infant baptism, while others oppose  the practice. The diverse characteristics of various denominations mean that they do not uphold a common faith. In light of this, it is incorrect to conclude that all denominations are members of the same body. Against this backdrop, it is important for us to understand the attributes of the church from a biblical perspective, in order to determine the true church of God.

The church established in the apostolic era is clearly the model we should use as a benchmark as we navigate the plethora of Christian groups that exist today. After all, the apostolic church was established as one integrated organization with a common set of beliefs, even though she gradually branched out geographically. In contrast, the denominations we see today have emerged as a result of complex social, political and religious developments over the course of history.


The apostolic church was established when the Holy Spirit was poured down on the day of Pentecost, according to the plan and promise of the Lord. Heeding Jesus’ instruction, the apostles and early believers, about 120 in total, were gathered with one accord in Jerusalem, waiting for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4–5). After the Holy Spirit was poured down (Acts 2:1–4), Peter stood up to testify for the Lord. Three thousand were converted, and the apostolic church was established. Thereafter, the believers gathered regularly for worship and preached the gospel actively, resulting in the Lord adding souls to the church daily (Acts 2:38–47).

This entire sequence of events, from the resurrection of Christ, His appearance and instructions to His disciples, to the downpour of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, reinforces the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit in the commission of the church.

After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to His disciples and gave them a series of instructions. One of them was the great commission to go into the entire world to preach the gospel and to baptize (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15–16). But interestingly, instead of hastening their despatch into the world, He instructed them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to first wait for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4–5). He added that when the Holy Spirit came upon them, they would “be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Since the commission to preach the gospel was undeniably urgent, why did the Lord hold them back until the downpour of the Holy Spirit?

For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom 10:13–15)

This passage states that only those who are sent shall preach. And this is the reason why the Lord held the disciples back. They had to receive the Holy Spirit in order to be “sent.” Likewise, only the church with the Holy Spirit is “sent” to preach the gospel.


1.      The Remission of Sin

When Jesus commanded His disciples, “Go into all the world to preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15), He followed with the teaching, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk 16:16a). From these words we understand that, after believing in Christ, we have to receive baptism to be saved. Peter explained why on the day of Pentecost. When the people, cut to the heart by Peter’s message, asked what they should do, he responded, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). These verses highlight that baptism is for the remission of sins, and is necessary for salvation.

2.      The Blood of Christ

Baptism is a clear instruction from Christ, which we need to fulfill for the remission of sins. But how do we reconcile this with the understanding that it is ultimately the blood of Christ that has the power to wash sins away (1 Jn 1:7)?

This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. (1 Jn 5:6–8)

The gospels tell us that John the Baptist came only by “water,” meaning that the baptism he performed did not have the efficacy of blood. In contrast, Jesus came by “water and blood.” Not only did He institute baptism and command His disciples to administer it, He also shed His blood for remission of sins. Without this sacrifice, the remission of sin cannot happen. But with it, baptism is the avenue by which one’s sins are cleansed by His blood.

This is supported by Paul’s explanation to the Romans that through baptism one dies with Christ, and is buried and raised with Him (Rom 6:3–4). In the process, the old man is crucified with Him, so that the body of sin may be done away with (Rom 6:6–7).

But how can the blood of Jesus be in the water during baptism? The passage above states the three entities on earth that bear witness: “the Spirit, water, and the blood.” While a human minister on earth physically administers water baptism, the Holy Spirit is at work to enable the blood of Jesus to be present in the water. For this reason, water baptism is effective for the remission of sins. Hence, Paul says, it is “by one Spirit [that] we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13a).

The next question is, what role has the church in all of this?


1.      The Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven

[A]nd on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:18b–19)

The keys of heaven have been given to the church and, with them, the authority to bind or loosen on earth, triggering corresponding results in heaven. Hence, the church plays a key role in facilitating our entry into the kingdom of heaven through the removal of sins. This is further reinforced in the message of Jesus, when He appeared to His disciples after His resurrection:

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:21–23)

This aligns the authority of the church “to bind” with that of retaining one’s sins, and “to loose” with the forgiveness of sins. This authority is given through the Holy Spirit. When the church administers water baptism, the church releases or loosens the recipient from sin. Likewise, when the church decides against administering baptism, or exercises church discipline through the ex-communication of erring believers, the church binds or retains the sins of believers (Mt 18:15–18).

In short, we can see that having the abidance of the Holy Spirit is an indispensable attribute of the true church. This is the reason that Jesus instructed His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit before setting forth to preach and baptize. It is only through the Holy Spirit that the church has the authority to carry out this commission in His name. Without the Holy Spirit, the administration of baptism is not effective for the forgiveness of sins.

2.      The Holy Spirit and the Truth

Another indispensable attribute of the church is the complete truth that leads to salvation. As Paul says, the church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15), which means that the role of the church is to uphold the truth.

The importance of upholding or continuing in the truth was a constant theme in Paul’s epistles to the church and her leaders. He warned the Galatians on the severity of deviating from the gospel that was first delivered to them by the apostles (Gal 1:6–9). He reminded the Ephesians that the church had been “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). He added that the church was to be mature “in the unity of the faith…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…[where they are no longer] children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4:13–14). He exhorted the Philippians to “[hold] fast the word of life” (Phil 2:16). He told the Colossians, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit…according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8). And he reflected to the Thessalonians on how God had “[chosen them] for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13).

As we recognize the complete truth as an indispensable attribute in the church, we should further appreciate the significant role of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus assured His disciples that He would not leave them as orphans after His departure, He revealed that they would be given another Helper—the Holy Spirit—who is also the Spirit of truth. The Holy Spirit would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance the words spoken by the Lord Jesus (Jn 14:16–18, 24). Jesus further reiterated, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (Jn 16:12–13a).

From these passages, we know that the Holy Spirit plays a key role in helping us understand the complete truth as taught by Jesus. This is illustrated by how it was only after His resurrection that the disciples remembered and understood what Jesus really meant about the temple being raised in three days (Jn 2:19–22). Subsequently, when John wrote his first epistle and discussed the discernment of spirits, one practice he advocated was to test if the spirit is of truth or of error. To do so, one has to compare the teachings being espoused with the teachings of the apostles (1 Jn 4:1–6). This aligns with Paul’s warning that one should not believe any other gospel besides that which was originally delivered, not even if Paul himself or an angel from heaven should happen to be the bearer of the message (Gal 1:6–9).

Paul also pointed out that when he and the apostles preached, they did so “not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor 2:4). He further mentioned that the content of his preaching was the “wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages...which none of the rulers of this age knew” (1 Cor 2:7–8a). He explained why he was able to expound God’s message:

God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except by the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Cor 2:10–13)

Given the intention of the Lord that “the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church” (Eph 3:10a), and the role of the Holy Spirit in revealing the mysteries of God, teaching and guiding us into all truth, we can further appreciate why it is so important for the church to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot understand the complete truth relating to salvation.

The existence of so many different denominations, which embrace and preach a diverse range of doctrines and practices, begs the question of whether they are all aligned with the original teachings of Jesus and the apostolic church. The Bible is clear that the truth must not be changed through time: there should be nothing added, subtracted or altered. The truth is “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3b). This links to Paul’s encouragement to Timothy: “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tim 4:16).

3.      The Holy Spirit and Signs, Wonders and Miracles

As the true church of God sets forth to preach the gospel and fulfill her ministry on earth, God is “bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will” (Heb 2:4). This was indeed the case in the early church, as evidenced by the words of Mark: “And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs” (Mk 16: 20).

While the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in signs, wonders and miracles is another key attribute of the true church, we must also be discerning. Not all manifestations in the world are necessarily of the Holy Spirit, and neither do they necessarily point to the true church. As Jesus Himself warned:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven….Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ ” (Mt 7:21–23)

Signs, wonders and miracles are not the main focus in God’s ministry. Rather, they go hand in hand with the gospel that is taught by the church; their purpose is to “confirm the word” and to “bear witness” of the genuine gospel. For one to determine the true church, one has to discern the evidence of both.

In summary, we must preach the truth first and then signs will follow; it is not the other way round. For this reason, a common Christian practice of leveraging “miracle rallies” as the main appeal of Christianity is clearly misaligned with the Bible. While the true church will be the conduit through which the power of the Holy Spirit is manifested in signs, wonders and miracles, we must also understand that these will only happen according to God’s will and mercy; they cannot be dictated by man through miracle rallies. And while we should certainly believe in miracles, we must be watchful and remember the Lord’s prophecy that, in the last days, “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24).


From a biblical perspective, we can conclude that the true church must have three key attributes:

1.   The true church must be established by and have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as in the case of the apostolic church.

2.   The true church must embrace and preach the complete truth concerning salvation, as preached by Jesus Christ and the apostles.

3.   The true church will have accompanying signs, wonders and miracles to confirm the word of God.

As we apply these criteria to the Christian world today and examine the beliefs and the practices of various denominations, there are obvious gaps when compared to the apostolic church. This is particularly evident in the different beliefs surrounding the Holy Spirit. For example, while most Christian groups advocate that one receives the Holy Spirit at the point of accepting Christ, the True Jesus Church upholds the original teaching of the apostolic church. While accepting Christ is the first step in one’s journey of faith, the Bible clearly records that receiving the Holy Spirit is a completely separate matter. This is shown in the Bible’s accounts of how the Samaritan believers received the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:5–17), and likewise the Ephesians (Acts 19:16). In both cases, they had accepted Christ, and the Samaritans had even been baptized, but the Holy Spirit had not yet been given to them; receiving the Spirit was a subsequent event. Also, in the True Jesus Church, as in the apostolic church, the belief is that receiving the Holy Spirit is evidenced by speaking in tongues (Acts 2:1– 4; 10:44–48; 19:1–6). 

Another difference between the True Jesus Church and other Christian denominations concerns the remission of sins. While most Christians argue that it occurs automatically upon one’s acceptance of Christ, and that baptism is merely an outward expression of the faith within, the True Jesus Church disagrees. The Bible is clear that baptism is crucial for salvation (Mk 16:16; 1 Pet 3:21), for it is through baptism that our sins are washed away (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Rom 6:3–8).

Besides the beliefs relating to the Holy Spirit and baptism, there are other areas in which the True Jesus Church aligns with the apostolic church and the Bible. As we reflect upon these attributes, we ought to have the strengthened conviction that the True Jesus Church is indeed the revival of the apostolic church and the only true church of the end time. We must also recognize that only the True Jesus Church is sent by the Holy Spirit to preach the complete gospel of salvation in these last days. This belief does not stem from arrogance, but from a thankful heart that God has restored the true church for humankind through His grace and love.

Importantly, as members of the True Jesus Church, this conviction should motivate and remind us to shoulder our responsibility to continue the commission of the apostolic church—to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. After all, “how shall they preach unless they are sent” (Rom 10:15a)?

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Author: Philip Shee
Publisher: True Jesus Church