Signs of the True Church
Author: Hartshorn, Leon R.
The New Testament shows that in the meridian of time Jesus Christ established his Church with definite doctrines, principles, and ordinances, and specifically ordained officers, giving the Church recognizable features by which it could be known. Many of the signs or essential features evident in Christ's New Testament Church are also recognizable in the Church he restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith.
FAITH, REPENTANCE, BAPTISM, AND THE HOLY GHOST. One sign of Christ's Church is its insistence on the basic principles and ordinances of the gospel. Membership in the New Testament Church was obtained by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance from sin, baptism in water, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:37-38). Baptism was by immersion administered by one having authority, just as Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:11-16). Jesus said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5).
The gift of the Holy Ghost was bestowed through the laying on of hands by one having authority, as exemplified at Samaria when Peter and John encountered some newly baptized persons: "For as yet [the Holy Ghost] was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost" (Acts 8:16-17). The same procedure is demonstrated by Paul at Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6). These same ordinances are required for membership in the Church today (cf. A of F 4).
CHURCH ORGANIZATION. Certain presiding officers, such as apostles and prophets, are characteristic of the Church of Jesus Christ. Paul states that Christ "gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, Evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body [church] of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12; cf. 2:20). The Church of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth in the early nineteenth century through the Prophet Joseph Smith with "the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, Evangelists, and so forth" (A of F 6; see also Organization of the Church in New Testament Times; Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Seventy).
MIRACLES AND GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT. Jesus and the apostles performed miracles by faith and the power of God. Latter-day Saints believe that where there are apostles and prophets the gifts and signs of the Spirit will be present (Matt. 11:5). Where there is true faith, there will be miracles, and God's power will be manifest (Morm. 9:7-25). Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, wrote, "Miracles wrought by the power of God are the perfect proof of pure religion. They are always…without fail, found in the true Church. Their absence is conclusive, absolute, and irrefutable proof of apostasy" (pp. 374-75).
CONTINUED REVELATION. The New Testament Church of Jesus Christ experienced frequent revelation, such as the visits of angels (Acts 4:5-19;10:3;27:23), visions (Acts 9:3-8), and the workings of the Holy Ghost (cf. John 15:26-27;16:7-15). Through these means, knowledge was received from heaven. Continued revelation from God is necessary for the leaders of the Church and its members to learn the mind and will of the Lord and how to proceed from day to day. This view of revelation is stated thus in the latter-day Church: "We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God" (A of F 9).
PERSECUTION. The New Testament shows that true followers of Jesus Christ were inevitably persecuted. Jesus said to his apostles, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own,…but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19). Paul said that "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Tim. 3:12). Hence, a sign or characteristic of the true Church is rejection and persecution by the wicked (see Worldly, Worldliness).
SEALING POWER. Jesus gave his apostles the power to bind or seal on earth and in heaven. He said, "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18:18). This sealing power is a feature of the latter-day Church (D&C 128:8-10).
SALVATION OF THE DEAD. The true Church of Jesus Christ promulgates the doctrines and ordinances that provide for salvation of the dead. Evidence thereof is seen in 1 Corinthians 15:29 and 1Peter 3:18-20 and 4:6. Christ's mission would not be complete without such a provision, because so many persons die without even hearing the name of Jesus Christ, and without either knowledge or understanding of the gospel (see Baptism for the Dead).
TEMPLES. Jesus called the temple in Jerusalem "my father's house" (John 2:16). A temple is a facility necessary for the total implementation of the laws and ordinances of the Church of Jesus Christ; therefore, the latter-day Church builds temples for the benefit of the people. From the days of Adam to the present, whenever the Lord has had a people on earth, temples and temple ordinances have been a crowning feature of their worship. In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith regarding temples, endowments, and sacred ordinances, the Lord explained that these have been associated with the people of God in every dispensation (D&C 124:39-40; cf. MD, p. 780).
NAME OF THE CHURCH. Christ's Church bears his name, and believers in Jesus Christ take upon themselves his name by baptism (see Jehovah, Jesus ChristChrist: Taking the Name of, Upon Oneself). When the Nephites asked the Lord what the name of his Church should be, Jesus said, "How be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses' name it be Moses' church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel" (3 Ne. 27:8). The name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is symbolic of its author and ideal.
MISSIONARY ACTIVITY. Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world to teach his gospel and baptize those who believe (Matt. 28:18-20). Extensive missionary activity characterized the New Testament Church, as with Paul, Barnabas, Philip, and others. This characteristic is considered urgent by the Church today (D&C 58:64; see also Missions).
LOVE. True faith and obedience bring the fruits of the Spirit, the greatest of which is love. Jesus said, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35; cf. 1 Cor. 13).
Lee, Harold B. "Signs of the True Church." In Stand Ye in Holy Places, pp. 312-15. Salt Lake City, 1974.
McConkie, Bruce R. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol. 2, pp. 374-75. Salt Lake City, 1970.
LEON R. HARTSHORN