I was browsing through local church websites the other day, looking at their statements of faith. Basically, that’s a list of what they believe. Most had predictable statements about believing in one God, Jesus is his Son, and the Bible is God’s Word, etc. You know, traditional Christian theology.
But I did stumble upon one that really caught my attention:
GOD – “God is divine energy, continually creating, expressing and sustaining all creation.”
Um, okay. I already feel my legs involuntarily folding into the lotus position.
JESUS – “We believe that Jesus expressed his divine potential and sought to show humankind how to express ours as well.”
Well, I’m really glad Jesus lived up to his “divine potential.” Would have been a real disappointment if he’d skipped class too often and flunked out of Divinity High School before he got his diploma. But they put nothing about him being God, his cross or his resurrection.
THE BIBLE – “We study the Bible as history and allegory and interpret it as a metaphysical representation of humankind’s evolutionary journey toward spiritual awakening.”
Uh…I’m looking for my thesaurus. I know I’ve got one here somewhere…
Although this church represents itself as Christian, it is anything but. In fact, from these and the other statements on its webpage, it has much more in common with Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy than biblical Christianity.
But you don’t get as many people coming for Sunday services if you announce, “Hi, we’re a new age cult in total opposition to traditional biblical Christianity.” Instead, you take Christian terminology and symbols and “reinterpret” them in light of what you think is truth.
So when you say “Jesus,” you don’t actually mean the one and only Son of God (big “S”, big “G”) who said “No one comes to the Father but by me.” Instead, you mean a hippie guru jesus (a son of god) of your own construction who’s just one of many possible paths to God (the Universal Mind or Cosmic Muffin).
This reminds me of a restaurant downtown called the Chapel Grille. It’s closed now, but when it opened, it rehabbed an old church building into a swanky new restaurant. Out of curiosity, I always wanted to eat there, just to see what it felt like. That’s because it used to be a church, it looks just like a church, but now is anything but.
It was once the First Baptist Church of our city, but no more. There was music playing there, but it was no longer hymns. The platform that Billy Graham once preached from is gone, and busboys took his place. And they were not serving up the spiritual meat He had served, but instead something much more temporal and common.
Just like the Chapel Grille, there’s a lot of places in your town that look like churches, but they truly aren’t. They have the structure, even some are still singing the same hymns. But according to the definitions set down by Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles, they are not churches at all but just quasi-religious social gatherings.
So what should you look for when looking for a church?
Find A Church that Proclaims God’s Truth, Not Its Own Guesses
I had lunch once with a former pastor who’d just visited my church the previous Sunday. As a fellow minister, I was interested to know his reaction to our service. What he told me came as a shock…
“Dave, I like your church because it’s one of the few I’ve visited here that actually preaches from the Bible.”
With a curious expression, I asked, “Just what do they preach about then?”
“Oh, they may throw in a Bible verse or two along the way. But most of the pastors came up with a positive thinking, pop psychology message they knew people would like, and then stuck some Bible verses on top just to validate what they said. Few of the churches I’ve visited so far used a Biblical passage, and then extracted the message from the text using the Bible as their ultimate source and authority.”
More than flattered at what he’d said, I was stunned and horrified.
Let me say this clearly: the Bible is the Christian’s sole authority for understanding the world, others, and himself. All things are to be interpreted in the light of Scripture, not the other way around. When the Bible contradicts how I think, my job is to change how I think, NOT to try and change the Bible!
Times change, culture fluctuates, opinions vary. But God’s Word is the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth. It is the only source that can hold the full weight of my trust. It’s eternal Truth is unchanging, regardless of the whims of culture or waves of human sentiments.
Honestly, if I want to go to a real heaven when I die, I want something more than just some guy’s opinion. I’ll only trust what God himself has told me with something that eternally important.
Find A Church Where You’ll Attend Faithfully, Not Occasionally
Some argue church attendance is not important. They say, “The church is not a building, it is people.” That much is very true. However, while God gives no requirement about what kind of building we visit, he in fact commands that we be faithful to a weekly assembly of ourselves somewhere together with believing Christians. This is not optional.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25
This was written because some Jewish Christians were avoiding going to worship together in the First Century because of harsh persecution. The writer of Hebrews is warning them to continue going to church, even though their lives and property are being threatened.
What do you think his response would be then to those of us who skip church not because we fear for our lives, but because we’ve found something more fun to do that weekend? You know, “Sunday Funday?” If believers were supposed to attend church even under fear of death, how does God look at it when we miss because we’re “just not feeling up to it today?”
Regular weekly worship attendance is essential for a growing Christian. True, you can be a Christian and not go to church each Sunday—I know several who don’t. However, you cannot be a growing and faithful Christian without attending. The Bible simply does not give you that option.
Before you accuse me of being a legalist, think about how little influence God gets during your own week. Just speaking for myself, I’m around people every day who don’t hold to Christian values. They talk about things that mock a Christian lifestyle, they accept lifestyles which blatantly contradict Scriptural teaching. And to be honest, after a while it starts to influence me, even though I’m a pastor and know better.
I start to look lightly at things God says are evil. I lower my standards of what I’ll watch for entertainment, because I want to know everything everyone else is talking about. Like my lost friends, I begin saying, “Sure it’s sin, but everybody’s doing it. What’s the big deal?”
It’s only because I have a weekly Sunday assault on my conscience by God’s Word that I am jarred back into the reality of what God says is right and acceptable. I’m reminded every Sunday…
…that I really should have been studying my Bible every single day.
…that the problem that dogged my mind for days should have been prayed over and released to God.
…that the burden I’m struggling beneath could have been given into God’s hands so I could experience his strength to endure it.
In midst of other believers who’ve walked out the same faith last week, I see I’m not alone. And in the sweet presence of God’s Spirit which comes in like a flood when his children are gathered together, I finally see my problems from God’s perspective. Every care melts away as insignificant, and “the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
Find A Church That’s A True Family, Not An Audience
Lots of folks walk in a church building every Sunday. They sit at the back of the room, shake a couple of hands, mumble through a few songs and endure a 30 minute sermon. As they look at their watches, they know from experience they’ll be walking out the door soon. From there, it’s a stock car race with the Methodists to see who gets to the lunch buffet first.
Tipping the hat to God on Sunday? Check! Now you’re good to go.
Church was never supposed to be winnowed down to the lowest common denominator: mere attendance. And sure, at least they got up, got dressed and made it to a church. I guess that much is commendable.
But in the Bible, church is about “fellowship.” That means there’s supposed to be a give and take, an interaction with other believers. It’s not just attendance at a religious concert and lecture. If not, we could all just sit home and watch it on the internet…which unfortunately is all some people do now, and think they’ve “been to church.”
The reason some think attendance is all that’s required is they’ve believed the wrong reasons for going to church.
They think we go to church to learn the Bible. Sure, that should happen at a church service. But couldn’t you actually learn the Bible better by staying home and studying Bible commentaries by learned theologians? Couldn’t you google a bazillion sources and learn everything ever written about a particular Bible passage or doctrine?
They think we go to church to worship, but can’t you worship alone? Surely there’s better worship music on iTunes than anything my church produces on a Sunday. Just head out into nature, put on a set a headphones and have your own private worship time, right?
They think we go to church to make us good people. But don’t we all know people who don’t go to church who are actually much better human beings than some we’ve known at church? I sure do. Some of the lousiest humans I’ve ever encountered sat in a pew every Sunday…and never changed! So if church attendance makes you better, how did it not affect them?
None of those are valid reasons alone for going to church. Biblically, we should go to church because God says we need each other. We need a Christian community.
In church, we “stir up love and good works,” like the passage earlier said. We go through our lives together, like a real family of faith. We take care of each other spiritually. When someone’s absent for a few Sundays, we check in on them to see if they’re sick or depressed, or God forbid that they are straying from God.
And that’s when we do the other thing in that passage: we “exhort” each other. That word can mean encourage, but it also implies kicking someone’s butt when they’re not doing what they ought. I’ve noticed when a fellow believer starts failing to follow Christ, it usually shows up in their church attendance. That’s because most of us don’t want to hear about following Christ if we’re currently running from him.
So as believers, since we know we are weak, we hold each other accountable for living right. Not in a judgy, hateful way. But in a way where we say, “I know it’s tough, and I’ve screwed up just like you’re doing. But I know you can do it, so get up and let’s try again!”
No TV preacher can do that for you, and he’s certainly not going to visit you in the hospital when you’re sick. No internet meme is going to be enough when your loved one has died, or your kids have done something stupid and life-altering. For the big-ticket trials of life, you need a church. Anything short of that, and you’ll go through a world of pain prone and alone.
And, By the Way, Satan Will Do Everything to Make You Stay Home
Last Sunday while I was in the midst of preaching a sermon on this very subject, I saw a friend through the window walking toward the front door of our church. She’d been at church before a few years back, but had stopped attending. I was so thrilled to see her returning, I’m sure I grinned while I was preaching.
As I tried to keep my mind on my sermon, I watched as she walked on. I expected then to see the door open and for her to take a seat. But instead, I watched sadly as she turned and suddenly walked the opposite direction back to her car. She never came in the door.
This woman had taken the trouble to get up and get dressed on a Sunday morning. She had driven all the way to church, parked, and exited her vehicle only then to turn and drive away. She did this even though she knew she’d have a warm welcome from friends inside, thrilled to see her.
This is how hard Satan will work to keep you away from church. He will give you every excuse, every possible diversion.
He will make your boss give you hours on Sundays, and then guilt trip you when you ask for time off to worship.
He will make your kids act out and whine to stay home and watch TV. They will want to invite friends to stay over on Saturday nights, and then make you feel like a religious fanatic if you suggest they get up the next day and get ready for church.
He will put recreational events almost exclusively on Sundays. Every 5K run, brunch, or community event will be purposely scheduled on a Sunday morning. It is absolutely not a coincidence.
And he will put voices in your head from the past—a mother who told you that walking into a Christian church made you a traitor to your heritage and family, a father who said all church members were hypocrites, and why on earth would you want to be one too.
He will put every possible obstacle in your way, every excuse in your own mouth, and every distraction in your mind to keep you from God’s house.
If he’s working that hard to keep you away, shouldn’t that tell you just how important church really is?
So…stop the excuses. Clear your calendar. Push aside all the many “good” things in order to make room for what God calls the “greatest” thing you can do on a Sunday.
Get up, Be the Church, and Go to church!