By Wayne Reynolds, Pastor
You are not the first person to begin such a search and neither will you be the last. There are many different kinds of churches in this world, all of them with a little different message. How does one find the kind of church Jesus organized during his own personal ministry? This is such a confusing issue.
What NOT to look for in a church
This may sound strange, as Godís people should and will be friendly. Being friendly is not the most important quality of a church. Friendliness can be found in all religious and non-religious groups. Do not make the mistake of assuming that a religious body is teaching Bible doctrines because they happen to be "nice and friendly". Religious cults are notorious for practicing what is known as "love-bombing", that is, where a potential member is hugged, fed, given the impression that everything is pleasurable, involved in endless discussions and receives constant attention. Someone has rightly called this practice, "heavenly deception."
In addition, we can all attest that there are some very friendly and caring people in the world.
Support and Encouragement
Members of local churches should be supportive. There is also support, encouragement, a listening ear, a pat on the back, financial help, etc., in virtually every group of people that exists, religious and non-religious.
Do not make the mistake of thinking, "these people supported me, therefore, God automatically approves them." God has revealed that even sinners can be very encouraging and supportive.
I Kings 21:4-7, 25 reveals that King Ahab had a very wicked wife, and yet no one can say that she wasnít "supportive". Our society is filled with various support groups, and people do benefit from them, but "support" is a quality that lost and saved, saint and sinner, right and wrong, all give. Even the devil can be very "supportive."
We need to realize something about "support and encouragement". God commands in Galatians 6:2 that Christians "Bear one anotherís burdens." Galatians 6:5 completes the picture of burden bearing by stating, "For every man shall bear his own burden".
Eloquent, Enthusiastic, Entertaining, Charismatic Speakers...
From the beginning of time, many have fallen into the trap of being enthralled with the messenger without paying attention to the message. Some of the most charismatic speakers are found on the side of evil. From Genesis 3 and Matthew 4, we learn that the devil is a very persuasive and smooth talking speaker. So was Jonadab, 2 Samuel 13:3, who counseled Amnon to rape his half sister, Tamar.
Godís children are warned in Romans 16:18 about a class of men who, "Öserve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple".
In contrast to human religious leaders that look "polished", we find some individuals in the Bible who would not fit such a mold.
ōIsaiah 53:2 states concerning Jesus Christ, "Öhe hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him." Those qualities many believe are requisite for leadership were not found in Christ
ō1 Corinthians 2:1 declares concerning the speech of Apostle Paul, "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God."
ōI Corinthians 2:3-4 states concerning Paulís personal appearance and charisma, "And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of manís wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:"
ōII Corinthians 10:10 declares what others said about the Apostle Paul, "For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible."
The warning is clear, donít be overly impressed about a manís appearance, presentation, or delivery, but really listen to see if he is preaching the truth.
Fun, Games, Recreation, Entertainment
Some religious groups seek to lure people in by a flurry of social activities. Church sponsored potlucks, ski-trips, bowling parties, dances, etc. The truth is, all groups, religious and non-religious offer these types of things. When we open the Bible, we find the New Testament church refuses to use "fun and games" to draw or keep members. Paul rebuked the Corinthians in I Corinthians 11:22 for turning the Lordís Supper into a potluck by saying, "What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not." What would Paul say about a congregation who wants to build a place of worship with the Lordís funds that can be quickly transformed into a gymnasium or dining room 15 minutes after the worship of God is over? Have twentieth century religious bodies found a loophole in Paulís teaching?
Preaching that doesnít require you to change...
If you are looking for a religion that doesnít require much of you, that involves little personal and monetary sacrifice on your part, then you will find plenty of religious groups that will be very eager to accommodate you. Most religions today preach a religion of ease and convenience, a religion of pleasantness, happiness, and prosperity. The people of God in both the Old and New Testaments had to constantly battle those who preached a "religion of convenience".
Isaiah 5:20 declares, "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! 22 Woe unto them that are mighty to drink wine, and men of strength to mingle strong drink: 23 Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!"
Isaiah 30:10 declares that the rebellious people commanded their prophets and preachers, "See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:"
Jeremiah 6:14 states that the prophet and the priest prophesy falsely and "They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace."
II Timothy 4:3 declares that New Testament saints also want their preachers and pastors to give them soothing words. "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; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."
Religious groups will always exist, which are only too eager to inform you that you donít have to have Scriptural baptism, even though the Bible commands it. Mark 16:16. You donít have to give up your sinful ways, even though Acts 17:30 states "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:" You donít have to be faithful in church attendance. Forget that Hebrews 10:25 declares, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."
There were religious teachers in every century who encouraged people to continue in their sinful practices. II Peter 2:18, 19 states, "For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage." Jude 4 states, "For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ." Donít be surprised when you find certain religious bodies which permit and or defend sex outside of marriage, homosexual relationships, idolatry, drunkenness, profanity, and even murder (abortion/suicide). 1 Corinthians 6:6-10; Ephesians 5:4-6 makes it very clear that God does not approve of any of these things!
When you are tempted to follow a messenger who says, "we only preach positive and uplifting lessons", remember: many of the greatest sermons recorded in the Bible didnít end on a positive note. Peterís sermon on Pentecost, Acts 2:36, ends with: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ." Stephenís sermon, Acts 7:51-53, ends with: "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. 52 Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: 53 Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. 54 When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth." Paulís sermon on Mars hill, Acts 17:30-31, ends with: "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: 31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead."
What To Look For In A Church
Lord willing, we will bring this portion of the message next newsletter.