The False and the True Church

2 Timothy

The False and the True Church

August 5th, 1987 @ 7:30 PM

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

2 Timothy 4

8-5-87    7:30 p.m.


And may the Lord bless in an unusual way the presentation of the truth of the Lord God tonight:  The False and the True Church.  As a background text, reading in 2 Timothy chapter 4:

I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick, the living, and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom;

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;

And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

But you, watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

[2 Timothy 4:1-5]

And you would have thought he was speaking of the present day in which we live:  “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” [2 Timothy 4:2].

A quote:  “False cult addicts spread the pernicious parasites as they unwearyingly mill among the millions, parading their evil wares.  They hang like barnacles on our doorsteps as they trade dross for gold, error for truth, disease for health, blindness for sight, bondage for liberty, curse for blessing, and death for life.  Their zeal is wonderful; their dope is detestable and abominable.”  That was one man’s presentation and description of false churches, false religions.

Now let me give you an instance of it.  This is taken out of a news story that appeared in one of the great newspapers, daily newspapers, of America.  I quote:

A former theological professor, who said he does not believe that Jesus physically arose from the dead, has been ordained as one of the highest ranking bishops in America.  ‘One of the glories of our church,’ said his archbishop, as he spoke to reporters Friday after ordaining the bishop, ‘is that it has always allowed many different shades of opinion within it.’  Nevertheless the appointment has created one of the fiercest controversies in decades.  The new bishop has said he believes that some central elements of the Christian creed, such as the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus, are symbolic rather than literal truths.  He also said in a television interview that while he believes Jesus was both God and man, other Christians are not obliged to do so.  ‘You can believe anything you like, and still belong to the church.’

This, to us who are in our communion and in this fellowship, is almost unthinkable.  So I have prepared here some of the marks of a false church; and then the marks of a true church.

First, some of the marks of a false church:  one, a repudiation of past church history.  The great theologians and the wonderful saints of the past are disregarded; they alone have discovered the truth—which in itself is an amazing psychological phenomenon.  There are 1,987 years of history in the Christian church.  And yet, through all those past years, with some of the greatest theologians and men of God that you could ever conjure up in imagination or thought, they are nothing; but these new ones, they alone have discovered the truth, and they alone possess it.  That’s the first sign of a false church.

A second mark of a false church:  a refusal to accept the Bible as God’s final and authoritative revelation in faith, in practice, and in worship.  They must add to it—the Bible is not final—and they place alongside the Word of God some other work that they claim is equally authoritative.  For example, here is the Bible and here is the Book of Mormon, handed down to a man named Joseph Smith on golden plates; and the Bible is not complete in its revelation.  We must find its ultimate revelation in this other book; in this instance, the Book of Mormon.

One of the funniest things that I can remember, theologically, is visiting with Cameron Townsend.  Cameron Townsend was the founder of the Wycliffe Bible movement and one of the sweetest, dearest friends God ever gave to me.  He began his ministry among the Indians in Central America, and from that beginning, finally gathered together something like three thousand men and women who dedicated their lives to translating the Bible into tongues and languages that were never written down.  So he was talking to me—I went with him on several visits; we’d go to South America and visit those tribes down there living in the jungles or living in the desert—he said one time a man came up to him and placed in his hands the Book of Mormon, and said, “This is the final and ultimate and later full revelation of God.”  And Cameron Townsend said to me, “He opened the book, and it just happened to be on the first page of the book, he read where the Indians of South America immigrated north and to [the] North American continent on ox carts.”  And he said, “When I read that, I closed it and threw it away.”  What was he talking about?  The Indian never saw a wheel.  One of the strangest things about Indian culture:  they never used the wheel; they never invented the wheel, they never saw the wheel.

My first pastorate out of the seminary was about sixteen miles from Anadarko, Oklahoma.  And once a year they have a tremendous convocation of the Indians in this part of the world at Anadarko.  And when you see them come, not one time will they come on something that rolls on a wheel; they will drag it along behind them.  And their household goods and all the things that they’re going to use during those days, they tie it to those poles that they drag along.  That was the Indian culture of North and South America.  Yet the Book of Mormon, the basis of their story is that the tribes of Israel, when they were supposedly lost, immigrated, came across the South Atlantic to South America, and then came up to North America in ox carts.  That’s the Book of Mormon.  That’s just one little instance, which is supposed to be, which book is supposed to be the final authority and revelation of God.

Let’s take one other, just taking instances of it, false churches who place alongside the Word of God their own books.  Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy—it just depends on which one of her husbands that you want to call her by; she was married three different times—so Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy has these books on health and science, and they are as authoritative to them in that congregation as the infallible and inerrant Word of God.  That’s one of the marks of a false church: refusing to accept the Bible as final in its revelation of the truth of the great God who made us.

A third mark of a false church:  it is divisive in the extreme.  They attack and they discredit Bible-believing, gospel preaching in the churches and the pastors of these churches that try to uphold the truth of the Almighty.  In [Romans 16:17-18], Paul writes to the church at Rome:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own selves; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

[Romans 16:17-18]

They don’t bring to the body of Christ a wonderful, loving brotherhood and fellowship; but they are divisive and highly critical.

Four, a fourth characteristic mark of a false church:  they have a pronounced tendency to major on minors; they have a “one-track mind.”  In 1Timothy 1 and verse 4, Paul says to Timothy, “We should not give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in the faith” [1 Timothy 1:4].  Let me give you instances of that.  If you have ever heard Herbert Armstrong on radio, or ever read after him, he has a persuasion of the British-Israel theory; namely, instead of the Book of Mormon with all of those lost, supposedly lost, tribes of Israel coming to America and they are the American Indians, they have it, he has it, Armstrong has it that they went to Great Britain, and that the British people are now the chosen Israelites and family of God.  Or, take the Russellites:  they constantly expound and persuade themselves that they are the one hundred forty-four thousand chosen elect of God spoken of in the seventh chapter of the Revelation [Revelation 7:1-8].  Or, the charismatics, with their endless emphasis on speaking in unknown languages and in indescribably gibberish tongues.  The false church emphasizes those things, and they are discordant in doing it.

A fifth characteristic of a false church:  they seek a revival of past heresies which were settled long, long ago.  For example, the description of Jesus as being a creation and not the eternal God Himself; that’s the Arian controversy, which was settled at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  And they bring that to pass as though it were new:  Jesus is not God, He is a man.  Sometimes they are legalists:  they preach salvation not by grace but by works.  Sometimes they repudiate the revelation of the Trinity, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  They distribute literature, they knock at the door, they are heard on radio and seen on television.  They proliferate among people who are not taught in the true doctrine of our Lord God.  These are marks of a false church.

Now to turn to a far more wonderful assignment:  what are some of the marks of a true church?  Number one—and to me it is number one—it is Bible-believing.  In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All revelation is theopneustos, it is God-breathed, God-breathed, theopneustos.”  It is the breath of God.  This is the effusion of the mind of the Almighty.  It is verbally inspired. That gives birth to what we call exegesis:  when a minister stands up in the pulpit and takes the Word of God and he speaks of its words, and he expounds the words of Scripture.  That’s called eisegesis, and it is a marvelous way to bring God’s message to the people.  You must believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture before you can do that.  If you don’t believe it is verbally inspired, eisegesis would be an anomaly; it’d be ridiculous.  But if you believe in the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, the words of God are inspired, then you can stand in the pulpit and expound those words [2 Timothy 3:16-17].

Plenary inspiration:  all of it is inspired, all of it is infallible, all of it is inerrant.  That gives birth to what we call “exposition”:  you take the Scriptures and expound them.  Your pastor is an expository preacher; taking the Bible, and section by section, piece by piece expounding it.  Plenary is a Latin word plenarius, which means “full.”  All of it is fully inspired [2 Timothy 3:16].  To me, the mark of a true church is one that believes the inspiration, the inerrancy, the infallibility of the Word of God.

A second characteristic of a true church:  it presents the whole and full picture of God.  He is light, 1 John 1:5.  He is love, 1 John 4:8.  He is one, Deuteronomy 6:4.  He is revealed to us as a Trinity, the triune God.  You have an instance of that in 2 Corinthians 13:14:  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.  Amen”; all three of them.  But also, He is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:29:  “Our God is a consuming fire.”  If a church presents the full picture of God, God must also be presented not only as love and light, but as a God of judgment before whom someday we shall give an accounting of all we have done and believed and wrought in this life [1 Peter 4:5].

A third characteristic, a third mark of a true church:  it has in the pulpit a full-orbed presentation of Jesus, always that.  It speaks of His deity, John 1:1.  John 8:58:  “Before Abraham was, I Am.”  Philippians 2:5-8:  “Jesus, who was in the morphē of God”—whatever morphē of God is; morphē, the morphē, the form of God, the shape of God, the being of God, whatever morphē is—“Jesus, being in the morphē of God, the form of God,” whatever God is, Jesus was, “thought it not a thing to be grasped, to be held on, to be equal with God; but poured Himself out, made Himself of no reputation” [Philippians 2:5-7], and all the rest of that beautiful revelation of our Lord [Philippians 2:7-11].  A true church will always present the deity of Jesus Christ; God of very God [John 1:1, 14].

A true church will always present the virgin birth of our Lord [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35, 2:7-16].  If He was not virgin-born, He is a sinner like the rest of us.  It is because of the miracle of the virgin birth that we could ever present Jesus as being separate and apart and sinless [Hebrews 4:15].  Always He is presented in His atoning death.  “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:27-28].  Always His atoning death:  He died for a purpose [1 Corinthians 15:3], and that purpose was that we might be washed, cleansed from our sins [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5].  Always the true church will present Jesus in His glorious resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7; John 20:2-8].  He is alive and He is in heaven [Luke 24:5-8], there for our justification to see to it that someday we arrive in that same glorious home that He inhabits in glory.

And finally, presented in His coming again:  in Acts 1:11, “This same Jesus that ye see go away into heaven, shall so come in like manner”; in the same way that He went away, in the same way He is coming again [Acts 1:9-11].  A true church will present that full-orbed presentation of Jesus our Savior.

A fourth characteristic mark of the true church:  the true church, to me, the true church will always preach, “We are saved by faith and not by works.”  Ephesians 2:8-9:  “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:  it is a gift of God:  Not of works, lest any man should say, I did it.”

When we get to heaven, no one in the presence of the great God and Savior shall say, “I’m here because I was worthy of it.  I did works to obtain it.  I wrought good things in order to deserve it.”  When we get to heaven, what we will do, we will say, “Unto Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood . . . to Him, not to us, to me, to Him be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen” [Revelation 1:5-6].  That’s the true church:  preaching salvation by the love and grace of God, not by our own merit or works.

You know, ever since I’ve been a little boy have I heard people say, “If I believe that, that I was not saved by trying to be good, I believe that I was saved just by faith, just by grace, just by the love and goodness of God, if I believed that and that works had nothing to do with it, you know what I’d do?  I’d go out here and I’d cuss, and I’d gamble, and I’d steal, and I’d lie, and I’d carouse just all I wanted to.”

You know what I say?  That’s right; I do that.  I cuss, and I carouse, and I gamble, and I drink, just all I want to.  The thing that has happened is I have a new heart, and a new spirit, and a new love, and a new devotion, and a new life.  I’ve been saved.  And I don’t what to cuss, and I don’t want to gamble, and I don’t want to get drunk, and I don’t want to carouse, and I don’t want to live like the devil; I’m just not interested.

You know, not to be in any wise judgmental, but you can’t help but see some things.  We were, last week, as you know, on a boat; and those boats are floating casinos.  They are, they are, they are bars that have about as much liquid in them as on the outside of them.  They are unusual phenomena.  And I could not help—and I don’t think any of these kids can that are up here—you could not help but see the vast difference between that group on the boat that were gambling in the casino and drinking from the bars.  You could not help but see and sense the contrast between these young people and the adults that went with them, and all of that other bunch that in the day and in the night were gambling and drinking.  There’s a difference.  And the difference isn’t coercive; it’s not by the fist of God, it’s by the heart, it’s by the love, it’s by the interest.  It’s a new day, it’s a new life, it’s a new way to be a Christian.  And that is the preaching of a true church.

Number five, a mark of a true church:  the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.  We could call the Book of Acts, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”  He brings conviction, [John 16:8-11].  He imparts the new birth, John 3:5.  He baptizes believers into the body of Christ, 1 Corinthians 12:13:  “By one Spirit were we all baptized into the body of Christ.”  He indwells individuals, 1 Corinthians 6:19.  He equips believers for effective service, [Ephesians 4:12].

A sixth characteristic of the true church:  the true church presents the doctrine of the church itself in the biblical revelation.  Sometimes ekklēsia, which is the word translated “church,” sometimes it is used for the invisible universal church.  We are coming someday to the general assembly and church of the firstborn [Hebrews 12:23].  Once in a while, rarely, once in a while the Book, the ekklēsia in the Bible will be used referring to the church universal.  But practically all the time it refers to the local church:  the church at Ephesus [Revelation 2:1-7], the church at Smyrna [Revelation 2:8-11], the church at Philadelphia [Revelation 3:7-13], the church at Laodicea [Revelation 3:14-22].  Always, almost always it refers to the local assembly.  And we are to meet together, the true church; and you will want to meet together for worship, for instruction, for fellowship, for prayer, for evangelism, for the observance of the ordinances.  In Hebrews 10:25:  “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.”  If you belong to a true church and you are genuinely converted, you will want to go to church; you just will.  If you are out somewhere and they’re having church, it’ll hurt your heart if you’re not there—the true church.

Number seven:  a true church will be looking for and waiting for the coming of Jesus.  Titus 2:13:  “Looking for that blessed hope”; what a beautiful way to describe the return of our Lord, “Looking for that blessed hope, the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Now if you don’t believe in the deity of Jesus, what are you going to think about a sentence like that?  “Looking for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” [Titus 2:13].

Now I have to close because it’s past time already.  Here are some practical characteristics from the Bible of a true church.  Number one:  it is evangelistic; it makes appeal.  I cannot understand how churches—and practically all of them are that way—meet together, go through the liturgy of the service, and never invite anybody to the Lord, when the Lord says, “I came to seek and to save that which was lost” [Luke 19:10].

“He died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and He was raised for our justification according to the Scriptures” [1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 4:25]—evangelistic.

Number two:  it is missionary; those great missionary sentences that close the gospel and opens the Book of Acts [Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8].

Three:  it has a regenerated church membership [Hebrews 12:23].  There is a confession of faith on the part of all of us, open, stated, unashamed [Romans 10:9-10]; and we’ve been baptized [Romans 10:9-10].  Number four:  it has a loving, caring fellowship.

  • In John 13:34-35:  “A new commandment do I give you: That you love one another.”  It is a caring congregation.
  • First Corinthians 12:26:  “If one member suffers, all the members suffer; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice”.  It is a forgiving congregation.
  • Ephesians 4:32:  “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God also for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
  • And last:  it is a forbearing congregation.  Ephesians 4:2:  “Walk with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love”; making allowance for the human weaknesses that characterize all human life.

I pray that our wonderful church will be just like that.  And in my humble persuasion, without boasting or being egotistical concerning it, I feel and believe that our church is as near to that beautiful ideal I’ve tried to present from the Bible as any church I have ever known in my life.  Think of the years and the years and the years of the assembly of God’s people in this sacred place; and there’s never been a fight in it, there’s never been a division in it, there’s never been a confrontation in it.  We have sometimes our problems, we have sometimes our difficulties, we sometimes have our brokenheartednesses and our tears; but we have always been a loving and caring people.  Jesus is here, and welcome, Lord, always [Matthew 18:20].

Now we’re going to sing us a song.  And while we sing the appeal, a family you coming into the fellowship of our dear people, a couple you joining our congregation, a one somebody you accepting Jesus as Savior [Romans 10:9-10], anybody you answering a call of the Spirit of God in your heart, when we sing this appeal, on the first note of the first stanza come and stand by me.  I’ll be right here.  You come and give me your hand and your heart in love to the Lord Jesus, into the fellowship of these dear and precious people.  Welcome, a thousand times, while we stand and while we sing.