How to Identify the True Church

How to Identify the True Church

Christians need a way to identify the true church. This is because Christ founded a church, Christians are meant to belong to it, and more than a few false teachers have chosen to spread their own fake versions of the religion. They lead many astray.

Now, most people who bother to discern the true church cannot be trusted. This is because they begin with the assumption that their own church is the right one. Then they construct a self-serving method for identifying the true church. The thign they create then allows them to justify their own beliefs while denouncing anything they happen to dislike.

So where do we look for an answer to the question of how we might know the church which Christ built? Who can be trusted to give one?

Well… I’ve chose to trust an early Christian monk to provide the answer. He lived before the Christian factions of the modern era arose, so his views cannot be biased for or against any extant Christian group.

Here’s what the monk has to say:

The true church has three traits: antiquity, consent, and universality. Antiquity means that its lineage can be traced to Christ and the Apostles. Consent means that its teachings are consistent over time. And universality means that it claims authority over all Christians.

Now, this is the method for identifying the true church that was posited by a Gallic monk who lived durign a time when many heresies were plaguing the church. Below, we’ll cover a bit about who he was and the writing she left behind.

Tag: How to Identify the True Church

How to Identify the True Church: Commonitorium (Vincent of Lerins)

Vincent of Lerins was a Gallic monk who lived in what is now Southern France. Being a monk, he was one of the few literate men of his setting. So he wrote several works to expound the Christian faith. The Commonitorium is one of them.

A General Rule for distinguishing the Truth of the Catholic Faith from the Falsehood of Heretical Pravity.

Heresy exists. The fact that it’s the 21st century doesn’t mean that it went away. A heretic is someone who leaves the church that Christ founded and pretends that their views are the proper ones. These dissensions have been a problem for Christians since the faith’s beginning. Therefore, Christians are needful of a rule which they may use to recognize heresy.

The need for the ability to recognize the True Church

I have often then inquired earnestly and attentively of very many men eminent for sanctity and learning, how and by what sure and so to speak universal rule I may be able to distinguish the truth of Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical pravity.

Many Christians believe that they follow the correct church. Yet these same people rarely ever bother to think about those traits which would make a church “the True Church”. Instead, they assume their church is the right one because it happens to be the one they belong to.

Yet countless factions of people calling themselves Christians exist, and they can’s ALL be right because many of their views go against each other.

Now, most people never bother to think deeply enough about their religion to notice this. Not that deep thought is required for one to see it.

So many people go along with weird teachings and support the strange views of other sects as well because the notion that “true church” exists and that it would need to possess certain traits never passes through their heads.

Neither a Catholic nor an Orthodox Christian may do this. Both groups affirm the Nicene Creed, and this requires them to believe that only one church may be. And that church will have certain qualities, and it will forbid others.

Church leaders are aware of this, and they review the beliefs of their flock in order to ensure that heresies do not abound therein. Yet many people see these inspections as excessive displays of authority by their leaders. So they reject the authority of the clergy when the leaders of their church begin to look for heresy and find unsavory things.

The common view on how one should detect and defend against heresy

And I have always, and in almost every instance, received an answer to this effect: That whether I or any one else should wish to detect the frauds and avoid the snares of heretics as they rise, and to continue sound and complete in the Catholic faith, we must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways; first, by the authority of the Divine Law, and then, by the Tradition of the Catholic Church.

So people who have not given the topic of the traits of the true church much thought tend to default to two methods for recognizing it.

They review scripture and church traditions.

This is *roughly* the view which the Catholics and the Orthodox have maintained over the years. But Protestants claim to have rejected tradition in favor of scripture alone. The name for this heresy is Sola scriptura.

The Protestant Defense

But here some one perhaps will ask, Since the canon of Scripture is complete, and sufficient of itself for everything, and more than sufficient, what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church’s interpretation?

This is the view Protestants often espouse. Usually, they like to point to places within the New Testament in which the authors have stated that scripture is good for teaching. Then they lie and pretend that to assert that scripture is good for teaching means that nothing aside from it may be used.

The example of the Protestant who pretends to believe this is like that of a person who pretends that to say pizza tastes good is to say that nothing else does or may as well.

It should be noted here that the people who wrote the Bible did not realize that their writings would later be used to construct the Bible. So when they use the word scripture, they can’t be referring to their own writings.

The authors of the Bible did not know their own writings would be called holy scripture centuries after their deaths!

The Problem with Protestants

For this reason — because, owing to the depth of Holy Scripture, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another; so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are interpreters.

One sentence produces ten different meanings when it is read by ten different people. And more views than those are always ready to be found.

Some Early Heretics as Proof

For Novatian expounds it one way, Sabellius another, Donatus another, Arius, Eunomius, Macedonius, another, Photinus, Apollinaris, Priscillian, another, Iovinian, Pelagius, Celestius, another, lastly, Nestorius another.

The names given here are of various famous heretics who plagues the early church. The following list summarizes their views.

  • Apollinaris: Who denied that Christ was human with a human soul.
  • Arius: Who taught that the Father had created Christ as His son.
  • Celestius: The successor of Pelagius.
  • Donatus: Taught that clergy must be men of good character and that their personal faults invalidated their activities.
  • Eunomius: Taught a form of Arianism.
  • Iovinian: (Could not find anything on this one)
  • Macedonius: Tried to desecrate the tomb of Constantine I; later, his followers founded a sect which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. This is the only unforgivable sin in Christianity.
  • Nestorius: Tried to mediate between two early Christian factions on issue of Christ’s divinity. He created a third option between their views as a type of compromise, and he was declared a heretic by both.
  • Novatian: Held some forbidden views on how the church should handle lapsed Christians who wanted to return to the faith.
  • Pelagius: A man who taught that salvation could be obtained by knowledge and without God’s grace.
  • Photinius: Founded a sect which held that Jesus was the son of Mary and the Holy Spirit.
  • Priscillian: An Iberian who combined Christian and pagan views to form his own brand of asceticism.
  • Sabellius: Taught that The Son, The Father, and The Holy Spirit were different modes of the same God. He denied that they were three different entities with different wills.

The problems created by ancient heretics have proven the need for something other than scripture

Therefore, it is very necessary, on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation.

If ten people interpret the same text, then they will produce ten different interpretation. Some of these will contradict each other, yet each person is using the same writing. Clearly, something other than the text at hand must be used in order to produce truth.

Protestants reject this truth, they have done so for centuries,a dn the effect has been the rise of 10,000+ Protestant denominations all over the world. Each of these sects teaches its own theology, most of them go against each other, yet they all claim to have the truth.

The Need for Consistency

Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.

This assertion is of particular interest to an Orthodox Christian. The view we Orthodox hold is that the tradition of the church founders is the proper one to keep and that deviations, additions, and subtractions should not be placed upon it.

The Catholics have often rejected this notion. Catholic theology has been shaped enormously by the work of Thomas Aquinas, and the scholastic theology which has its root in him produces many novel views which have affected great changes within the Catholic Church over the years.

The Universal Church

For that is truly and in the strictest sense Catholic, which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally.

The word Catholic comes from the Greek word meaning “universal.” Orthodox Christians refer to their church as the Catholic church, albeit not the Catholic Church, because of the belief that only one church exists, and it holds authority over all Christians.

The Three Virtues Needed to Prevent Heresy

This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent.

We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses.

Antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers.

Consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.

The rules for recognizing the universal church can be memorized with the acronym ACU.

How to Identify the True Church: Look for Universality

The first of these, universality, requires that the true church will claim authority over all Christians. This makes sense. If a church holds authority over Christians, and if it is not the true church, then those Christians must be following a false church.

Moreover, if a church is the true church, then it is right that the entity should preside over all Christians. If something else were the case, then a certain portion of Christendom would be under a false power.

So the true church can and should claim dominion over all of Christendom.

How to Identify the True Church: Look for Antiquity

Meanwhile the true church must have existed in antiquity. Jesus Christ founded the church, and he entrusted its leadership to His apostles. These events happened 2,000 years ago. Therefore, any church which cannot trace its lineage back to this time must not be a successor to the apostles.

The Protestants are novel and, therefore, cannot belong to the true church.

No Protestant church hails from the needed time period, so none of the Protestants can follow the true church. Protestants know this, yet they struggle to admit their error. So they like to pretend that the true church is merely spiritual and not an institution.

The earliest Protestants knew this claim was a lie, but the Protestants of the modern age have forgotten the origins of their movement and do not realize that their entire religion is derived from the lies which Henry VIII, his clerics, and Martin Luther created to justify their heresies.

How to Identify the True Church: Look for Consent

The church may fall into error if it abandons its proper teachings. A church must descend from the apostles if it is to be the true church. Yet if such an entity begins to adopt heretical stances, then it ceases to be the true church. So a certain continuity must exist between the teachings of the church in the modern age and those it held during its early years.

If the true church moves away from its once-right teaching, then it is no longer the true church. This is the view of both the Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church. Moreover, the Orthodox believe that the Catholic Church has adopted many practices which have destroyed its connection to the church’s founders. It is for this reason that the Orthodox have rejected Catholicism; the Catholics were once right and then left the faith.

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Gene Botkin

Gene is the director of the Theosis Christian Project. He studied physics and military science before founding the Project. Gene is currently pursuing his doctorate in systems engineering at an engineering college in the Ozarks. The Theosis Christian Project is his attempt to expand Holy Orthodoxy in America.

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