“Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ ”
phesians 2:20 tells us that God builds His church “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.” Thus, we recognize Apostolicity as an essential characteristic of the true church—that the teaching and practice of the covenant community must conform to what our Lord teaches in and through His inspired prophets and Apostles, which we find only in sacred Scripture. In considering the Apostolicity of the church, however, the Protestant Reformers delineated additional marks of the true church based on the Apostolic teaching. That is, the Scriptures give further definition to the mission and purpose of the church, and to recognize a true Apostolic church, Christians must look for certain things beyond a mere claim of Apostolicity. Many groups claim to be following the Apostles, so there must be a way to test this claim if we are to be a part of God’s true people. We test this claim by evaluating different church bodies according to what the Apostles say the church should do.
The first mark of the church that the Reformers recognized as a consequence of true Apostolicity is the preaching of the biblical gospel and the teaching of the whole counsel of God. In other words, a true church of God is committed to faithfully teaching the Word of God. Martin Luther writes in The Councils and the Church that “this Christian, holy people is to be known by this, that it has God’s Word.” Luther does not refer to the mere possession of the Scriptures; he means that the real church of Christ has a true commitment to the Word of God as the only infallible authority. It makes preaching and teaching the gospel and all of its implications a priority in church life. By making this assertion, Luther and the Reformers were simply following Christ’s command in the Great Commission. The church’s divinely given mission is to make disciples of all nations, and the church does this by seeking to understand and teach all that Christ has commanded (Matt. 28:18–20). And because Christ is God (John 1:1), this entails teaching all of Scripture, for all of Scripture is the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
John Calvin writes, “Wherever we see the word of God sincerely preached and heard . . . there we cannot have any doubt that the Church of God has some existence” (Institutes 4.1.9). A church that is not committed to preaching the Word is a church in name only.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
What are you looking for in a church? Many people choose a church based on its music, programs for children and youth, and other concerns. While paying attention to these things is important, the primary criterion we should have if we need to find a church is faithfulness to the Word of God. A church with excellent programs but bereft of the Word of God is not a church but a social club.