"I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in...the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).
Jesus Christ proclaimed, almost 2,000 years ago, "I will build My church." He declared that His Church would never die out, promising that "the gates of Hades [the grave] shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
As we will see in the pages that follow, the institution to which Jesus referred was not an earthly building or a mere physical organization. Rather, the Church was and remains the called-out assembly of Christ's spiritually transformed and faithful followers.
Jesus assured His disciples that He would guide and preserve His Church until His return, promising them, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
What happened to the Church Jesus built? An eyewitness tells us that immediately after Christ ascended into heaven following His resurrection, His apostles "went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs" (Mark 16:20). The Church had a powerful beginning.
Millions of people profess Christianity; they claim to be members of the Church Jesus founded. But Christianity is a divided religion, comprising hundreds of denominations and schisms. Through the centuries, most of Christianity's branches have assimilated many nonbiblical traditions—philosophical, cultural and religious—into their teachings and practices, spawning even more variations.
How can we account for the explosion of contradictory practices and conflicting factions in the world of Christianity? Is it possible to reconcile competing denominational groups with the standards and objectives Christ established for His Church? Can we know whether Christianity's bewildering variety of customs and teachings faithfully represents those of Jesus Christ?
Remember, Jesus not only promised He would build His Church, but He assured His disciples that His Church would not perish. Is the divided Christianity we see around us that Church? Only the Holy Scriptures can provide a reliable answer to this question.
If Christ's promise that "the gates of Hades shall not prevail" against His Church should be considered a guarantee that those who believe on His name could never be misled or corrupted, then we would have every reason to accept the collective sum of the various divisions of Christianity as the Church Jesus built.
But He guaranteed no such thing. Instead, He warned His disciples that "false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Mark 13:22, emphasis added throughout). Later the apostle Paul expressed his concern to Christians in his day that their minds could be "corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ" by the preaching of "false apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:3-13).
Jesus spoke even more plainly, explaining that "narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:14-16).
In these pages we examine the fruits Jesus and His apostles said would identify His Church. We look at the contrasting fruits that identify those who are influenced by a different spirit and preach a different gospel. We will learn, not from human tradition or opinion but directly from God's Word, how we can distinguish "the church of the living God" (1 Timothy 3:15) from those who follow "false prophets" in sheep's clothing.
For clarity throughout this booklet, the word Church (with a capital C) refers to the faithful Church that Jesus Christ founded. The word church (with a small c) refers to local groups of believers or other physical organizations. Since church is not capitalized in the Bible translations quoted, all scriptural quotations—whether referring to the Body of Christ or a local congregation—use church with a small c.