What is sin? The very word is quickly disappearing from our collective vocabulary. Those who still believe sin exists apply the term in different ways. The simple bible application is given in 1 John 3:4 where sin is called the transgression of the law. Sin is anything that violates the law of God. But what does that mean? In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, we learn about sin by looking at some of its “synonyms.”
Are you a member of a local church? If so, do you think it’s a strong church? Is it a congregation that measures up to the strength, fidelity and vitality of the church as we read about it in the New Testament? That begs the question: how do we measure a strong church anyhow? What criteria do we use?
I don’t think you can do any better than to measure a church like the inspired apostle Paul did. Paul’s desire was the same as Christ’s; that is, to see the church be grounded in the truth, to be growing and working and strong.
Ephesians 4:11-16 “And he 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 of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Members of the early church were endowed with spiritual gifts that brought the church as a whole to maturity. Whether in the age of supernatural gifts (the first century) or today (when the effects or products of those gifts are realized and enjoyed through the word that those gifts produced and left for us), the church is to function in such a way as to become strong and mature. Are you part of a church like that? How did Paul measure a strong church? I’m going to discuss five ways in which Paul referred to the church that give us some insight as to what constitutes a strong congregation.
The church of Christ is not a building; rather, it is a congregation of people. Universally, the word church refers to all of the saved in Christ. In a visible, organized and functioning sense, the church is a local congregation of baptized believers who worship God together and who work together in the spread of the gospel and the edification of one another. It is God’s will that every Christian be a part of such a local congregation. In fact, one cannot serve Christ without being part of His body.
Ephesians 1:23 “Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”
The church is the receptacle through which we enjoy and exercise the blessings that are found in Christ Jesus. By being a member of the local church, I assemble with others to worship the Lord, as did congregations in the first century.
Hebrews 10:25 “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.”
Acts 20:7 “And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.”
I am taught and edified within the local church.
1 Corinthians 14:12 “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.”
It is there that I receive the encouragement and exhortation to be faithful to Christ and to live the Christian life.
Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:”
But it’s not that I am just merely a part of the local church because of what I receive, but also for what I can give. It is there that I contribute my own abilities, talents and opportunities that the Lord has given me to serve and to build up others, and we all possess those unique abilities. It is within the local church that I sometimes receive the corrective discipline that I need when I sin or stray from Christ (1 Corinthians 5, Galatians 6:1-2).
With all of that said, we want the church we are a member of to be strong and healthy. We certainly want it to be one approved of God. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Sometimes, a church has the reputation of being strong when God doesn’t see it that way at all. Jesus said to the church at Sardis in Asia Minor:
Revelation 3:1 “…I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”
Jesus said this to the church at Laodicea:
Revelation 3:17 “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:”
They were oblivious as to how they appeared in the eyes of God. What they saw and what God saw were two entirely different pictures. Could that be the case with the church you are a part of? Does it have a name that it’s alive and vital, but in the sight of God it is dead and profitless? How would we know? Well, some measure a church by some pretty worldly standards and that’s part of the problem.
For example, don’t let a building deceive you. Churches today are spending millions and millions of dollars—unwarranted, in my estimation—on campuses, complexes and cathedrals, and people are attracted to all of that. They think, if they can afford a multi-million dollar complex, they are a church on the move, a church that God is working among! They MUST be doing something right! Friend, churches of the first century often met in homes and private dwellings or temporary spaces. There is certainly no emphasis placed in the New Testament upon the location where a church happened to meet. So, don’t be fooled by a building.
Some say that crowds are a good gauge of a strong church. That’s not true either. God’s faithful people, whether in the Old or New Testaments, have ALWAYS been the minority. I can’t think of an exception to that.
Some will point to all of the various programs, committees, departments and attractions that modern-day churches seem to boast of. Such is never mentioned of the church we read about in the New Testament, much less used as a measure of its strength. No, rather the Bible places a completely different emphasis on a strong church. What makes a strong church are not its physical properties, but its spiritual properties.
The apostle Paul often commended churches for their strength and faithfulness. I wonder what made them so in his estimation. I think it’s a better measure of what the church is supposed to be when we think of the church in the terms that the apostle Paul used to describe it. He used at least five metaphors to describe the church of Christ: a body, a family, a temple, the kingdom and a bride. When you think about it, each of these descriptions are very practical, and they highlight a unique feature of the church that makes it what God expects it to be in this world.
One: A strong church is one that functions like a body.
It is the body of Christ. Paul, on several occasions, referred to the church as a body. It was one of his favorite metaphors for the church, particularly in I Corinthians 12. That shows us that the church is more than an organization; it’s an organism. You can have an organization without necessarily having life. A functioning body lives and breathes, moves, feels and acts. It is not just an organization of independent parts, rather those parts have interdependent function as they are directed by its head. That causes that body to not only live, but to also function.
1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
A few verses earlier, Paul shows how the different parts of the body—such as hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose and mouth—all work in cooperative concert to allow a body to live and function (1 Corinthians 12:14-19). And the church is to be that way. Every member of the church is a vital part of that body. Not everybody is a preacher or even a public teacher. In fact, some are forbidden in the scriptures to even be public teachers. But that doesn’t make them any less important to the kingdom of God. Not everyone is suited to be a leader in the worship. Not everyone is suited to effectively do certain kinds of work that needs to be done in the church. But every single member supplies a necessary and vital part.
So, a strong church is one that has an involved and working membership. Not a paid staff to work while everybody else turns out on Sunday to observe and go home. Every Christian is a participant in the work of the church. Every Christian is to participate in public worship. It is not a form of spiritual entertainment, even though some churches seem to be making it that. We don’t come together to hear people perform. That’s not the New Testament design. We come together to participate together in the worship: to sing together, to study together, to pray together.
Today, we’ve seen the rapid progression of the “megachurch” movement—churches with hundreds, sometimes thousands of members, and those are often thought of as the strongest churches, are they not? It’s hard to imagine that in a church that size, every member finds a vital place of service. It’s not just that you have a body of working members, or an innumerable number of members who are all just busy working; it’s that you have a body of members who work together. In a physical sense, if you have a body whose members or parts are simply moving and operating, you might have chaos or something that is a danger to itself and others. But if a body works together under the oversight of its head and in coordination, then you have a wonderful thing.
There are those who claim membership in a local church, but they don’t go to worship every Lord’s Day. They are really not involved in the work and outreach of the church. They don’t really have a place in the church. The church may be so large that they’re hardly recognized as members of that church. Nobody knows who they are.
Is that the Bible picture of a strong and healthy relationship of believers? Do you occupy a scriptural, vital, effectual role in the local church? Do you supply something by being there? Let me ask you this: does the church miss you when you’re gone? What about when you’re sick and unable to attend, or when you are away worshipping at another congregation? Does that church of which you are a member feel your absences and miss your presence? Just like your body would miss a hand or foot or an eye? A strong church is not necessarily a large church; rather it is one that functions like a body.
Two: A strong church loves like a family.
Paul referred to the church as the household or family of God.
1 Timothy 3:15 “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
This speaks not only of blood relationship, but also of love, concern and care for one another. Paul also commended the church at Thessalonica in this way:
1 Thessalonians 4:9 “But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.”
2 Thessalonians 1:3 “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;”
The church there was commended not only for their strong faith, but their boundless love for one another. Jesus said His disciples would be known by the love they have for one another.
John 13:35 “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
This isn’t the same kind or intensity of love that we are to have for all men. It’s not the kind of love that we may speak of in a general sense. Rather, this speaks of a very wonderful, working, effectual and intimate love amongst that body of believers to whom Paul wrote in his letters to Thessalonica.
Again, the churches that are touted as the strongest, the biggest, the most effectual are often the ones that are so large. I have friends who attend churches with hundreds and sometimes thousands of members, and it’s almost amusing when I ask them of someone else that I know attends that congregation. I’ll say, oh, do you know so-and-so? And they’ll say, no, I can’t say that I know who that is. In some cases, they’ve attended services together for years! But that church is so large that they haven’t even met one another. Friend, a strong church is made up of people who not only know one another, but are involved in each other’s lives, struggles and spiritual battles. They know each other’s temporal and physical needs.
Sometimes the argument is made about the worship of the church. People will argue against the Bible pattern for communion, for example. Jesus communed with His disciples with a loaf of unleavened bread and a cup of fruit of the vine, but they’ll say, we can’t do it that way, even from a practical standpoint. How do you expect a large church to commune with one loaf and one cup? But the size of the church doesn’t determine the pattern; the pattern determines the size of the church.
Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that a church can become too large to function like God desires for it to function? To have the closeness and the intimacy, the oversight and involvement in one another’s spiritual lives that the church is intended to have? Friend, a church that is strong is a church that loves like a close family.
Three: A strong church worships like a temple.
Paul called the church God’s temple in this dispensation of time.
1 Corinthians 3:16 “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”
Peter also used this terminology when he said that all Christians are priests who offer spiritual sacrifices and offer up worship within that temple (I Peter 2:5). Today, God doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, as Paul preached on Mars Hill (Acts 17:24), but the church is His temple. Priests don’t go to a literal temple to sacrifice and worship for us in the temple as they once did under the law. Rather, every Christian is made a priest unto God and is therefore expected to serve Him within the church.
You see, worship is not a spectator event. It is not something that is done vicariously by one on behalf of another. Each Christian worships God in the temple and Jesus requires that all such worship be done in spirit and truth.
John 4:23-24 “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Never in the history of man—whether the age of the Jewish temple, the patriarchal dispensation, or today in the Christian age—NEVER in the history of man has God left it up to man to worship in his own way or as man saw fit. God has ALWAYS directed man in the kind of worship He desires and will accept. There is no exception to that. For those under the Old Law, the priests who profaned the worship of God in the temple by offering unto God that which He did not require or command suffered serious consequences. Just read the account of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10.
Well, the church is the temple today. We come together, each of us as priests unto God, to offer up praise and worship to God, and that has to be according to a pattern and in spirit and in truth. A strong church is just as faithful to God in worship as the priests in the Old Testament were expected to be in that temple of old.
Can you read how your church worships in the New Testament? Is everything that is done–from the singing to the teaching to the Lord’s Supper–exactly as Christ gave it and as the apostles revealed it in the New Testament? A strong church worships like a temple.
Four: A strong church submits like a kingdom.
The church is referred to as the kingdom of God in Matthew 16:18-19. The Bible teaches that the Lord adds the saved to the church.
Acts 2:47 “Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
Paul also likens the church to a kingdom.
Colossians 1:13 “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness (delivered or freed from our sin), and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”
So, to be in the Lord’s church is to be in His kingdom; the church constitutes the kingdom of Christ on this earth. Well, what does a kingdom suggest? It suggests a king to which its subjects bow and submit allegiance and obedience. We might’ve lost sight today of what a kingdom really was in the times in which the Bible was written and when Jesus established His kingdom because we live in America, where we have a democratic form of government. We live in a republic where the citizens elect people to go to Washington or to the state houses and make laws and so forth.
But a traditional kingdom is not that way, and neither is the kingdom of God. Jesus is the absolute monarch in His kingdom and the church is to obey Him in all things.
Colossians 1:18 “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.”
Unfortunately, many churches today are like the kingdom of England, you might say. Where the king and queen are more of a symbolic office or figureheads, but decisions are made and policy is set by the parliament and carried out by the Prime Minister. Consequently, many churches don’t look to King Jesus for authority in their worship and work; rather they look to their councils, conventions and other creed-making bodies.
Colossians 3:17 “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of (or by the authority of) the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
Jesus decides how our worship is conducted, He decides when and how we commune. King Jesus assigns the work of the church. He sets the boundaries of fellowship. He directs the affairs of the kingdom. And a strong church recognizes that and submits to King Jesus alone.
Five: A strong church is pure like a bride.
2 Corinthians 11:2 “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
Paul not only likens the church here to a bride, but to a pure, untouched bride. One adorned in the snow white garments of purity and fidelity. Just as we’re cleansed from unrighteousness by the blood of Jesus when we’re washed in baptism (Acts 22:16), we are to remain pure and holy as the bride of Christ. Paul uses that metaphor again.
Ephesians 5:25-27 “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
According to Paul’s measure of a strong church, a church keeps itself pure in doctrine and practice and in daily living. A strong church emphasizes the need for faithfulness, holiness, godliness and righteousness, and shuns the works of the flesh. Strong churches are pure like a bride.
Does the church where you worship measure up? Are you part of a strong church? A biblical church? A godly, healthy, vital church? If not, we want to help you open the scriptures and come to understand what the Bible describes as a strong church because that’s what you need to be a part of.
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How do you measure a church? Does a young, large crowd filling a beautiful sanctuary and complex indicate a strong church? Does the modernity and progressiveness of a congregation speak to its strength and vitality? Or is possible that God measures the church differently than men do? In his epistles, Paul uses five metaphors to describe the church and each one can be used as a measure of a healthy congregation. In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, we look at Paul’s Measure of a Strong Church.
I am sometimes approached by people who are greatly troubled by what is going on in their home church. They are very disillusioned with the direction the church is going, perhaps saying that the church is spiritually dead or that there are sins prevalent in that church that they simply feel they cannot tolerate. Sometimes people begin to see scriptural problems with the church where they worship, but they really don’t know how they should react or what they should do about it.
That begs the question: is there a time, in the eyes of God, when I should leave a local church? I want to consider with you some of the principles of scripture that I think will help us to make that determination. Let’s begin by looking at Jesus’ words to the seven churches of Asia Minor, particularly to the church at Sardis.
Revelation 3:1-4 “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.”
Obviously, here is a church that was fraught with a number of problems. We know they were serious problems because verse 4 tells us that there were a few even in Sardis who were innocent in regard to those sins. They had not defiled their garments. So, where did that leave them in their relationship to the remainder of that local church? Where does that put a person today who may be in a congregation where unscriptural things are practiced or where things are not what we would have them to be? Is it ever appropriate, and if so when should I leave a local church? When should I change congregations?
This is admittedly a rather difficult and sensitive subject. We should approach it very carefully and circumspectly for several reasons. First of all, I don’t want to minimize the importance of being a part of a local church. To the contrary, membership in the local church is not only good, but necessary. That is God’s plan. When we are baptized into Christ, we are added to the universal body of Christ, the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:47). Then we are to be part of a local congregation of that church, which is the visible, organized manifestation of the church in this world. So, I can’t be faithful to God and serve the Lord acceptably without being a faithful, active, involved part of a local body of believers, and worshipping and working within the confines of the local church. That runs contrary to what many preach and believe today, but it is what the Bible teaches about the Christian’s relationship to the church. I do not want to minimize the importance and necessity of that.
Secondly, many are very flippant and careless when it comes to their relationship to a local church and I don’t want to encourage that either. Some change churches about like they change shoes, you might say ‘church shopping’ like they do for businesses that peddle various products. Always looking for the latest, greatest, cutting edge trends in religion. As a result, churches today are trying to market themselves to people based on all the various benefits, attractions and ministries that they offer, hoping that people will pick them as a local church. I don’t want to encourage that mindset. Our choice of a local body of believers with which to be joined together is not only a very important choice, but it is an eternal choice. It is a matter that boils down to what the Bible teaches—not just what I want or prefer.
On the flip side of that, some are to the other extreme, to the point of being not only careless with the church, but careless with their souls. Regardless of whatever error may persist or what sin or digression may be being practiced, they wouldn’t think of leaving that church because of family ties, friendships, long-lasting personal or family traditions, community or business ties. Some are unfortunately spiritually or even intellectually lazy, not willing to investigate the scriptures and honestly compare what the Bible says to the beliefs and practices of the church that they call home. They are just content to be part of that certain religious body for whatever reason, and scriptural considerations are very minimal, if they exist at all.
Believe me, I understand. I really do understand the emotional and sentimental ties that bind a person to a particular religious tradition or group of people. It is very hard to stand up against friends and loved ones who may be in error. It is incredibly difficult to leave what we have been comfortable with for perhaps our entire lives, for something that represents a total change in spiritual direction and philosophy. I know it’s a struggle that is very real, perhaps even in your heart today. I hear concern from many of our audience over the direction that their church is going. It distresses you to see what is happening in the church that you have loved and long been part of. It is so hard to make a decision that will have such a long-lasting and radical impact on your life and the lives of others. Thus, we need to approach this question very carefully from a Bible standpoint.
The third reason we have to be so careful is that the Bible doesn’t explicitly address the notion of leaving a congregation of the Lord’s church and becoming part of another congregation. It certainly addresses the need to leave false religion and to embrace Christianity, but what about the church that claims to be the Lord Jesus Christ’s church, but is betraying that claim by its doctrine and its practice? What are we to do? We may not have explicit examples of what others did in ancient times if similar circumstances arose, but the Bible does give us ample principles to deduce what is right and appropriate and pleasing to the Lord.
Let me hasten to say that there is no such thing as a “perfect congregation.” Some people are always in search of the perfect church. Any flaw in any member of any church becomes an excuse for them to leave and go somewhere else. I am not suggesting that at all. In fact, the seven churches of Asia are identified as having some major problems (Revelation 2 & 3). Most of those congregations were strongly rebuked by Jesus for one reason or another, and were in danger of losing their candlesticks if they didn’t turn around and repent. You will notice if you read through those seven letters that the goal of Jesus’ rebuke was repentance and reform.
Our goal should be the same. Our first hope should be to reform a wayward church. Unfortunately, many will not be reformed. That is the sad reality. Much of the change that we see in the Lord’s church today and in religion in general is the result of a very slow, methodical and calculated agenda being carried out by what you might call ‘change agents.’ That is not easily countered or reversed. In many cases, those changes have been subtly creeping in for a long, long time now and carrying people along with them, and it is hard to row against that tide. Our hope should be to bring a wayward church back into the pathway of right and duty. To ask for the old paths and for people to gladly say, we will follow in those paths. But, as we noted recently in Jeremiah 6:16-17, that was not the reply of the ancient Israelites.
Jeremiah 6:16-17 “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.”
You are going to find a great resistance. Many will not be reformed, unfortunately. It is possible to be in a congregation where members are personally weak, where problems exist in that church, but where you can still acceptably live for the Lord. Revelation 3:4 illustrates that, as we noticed.
Revelation 3:4 “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.”
So, whatever the problems were in Sardis, there were members of the church there who remained unstained; they were not participating in the wrong themselves. Paul wrote to the Roman brethren to forbear with one another in matters of individual Christian liberties (Romans 14). There are areas of personal discretion, of liberty as Paul describes them, and in those areas, we are to be patient and tolerant and forbearing one with another. But offering to God false worship is NOT a liberty. Doctrines that pertain to our salvation and doing the will of God in truth are not things under consideration in Romans 14 when Paul was discussing the regulation of Christian liberties.
What about a situation where a person cannot remain without defiling their spiritual garments? What about a congregation where things are being practiced that merely by my participation in that congregation, I cannot remain unspotted? It is possible to become partakers of other men’s sins. This is written concerning the sins of Babylon:
Revelation 18:4 “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”
And Paul wrote this to the church at Ephesus:
Ephesians 5:11 “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
You see, the Bible teaches that fellowship with others in Christ is found in a mutual fellowship with God through Christ, and is thus contingent on truth. John ties all of that together for us.
1 John 1:6-7 “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
You can’t be in fellowship with God and live in sin and remain and persist unrepentantly in error. Ultimately, fellowship with one another is based upon our relationship with Jesus Christ, which has to do with believing and abiding in the doctrine of Christ, the truth of God’s word. Let’s consider some situations where you may need to seriously consider leaving a local congregation. In fact, with many of these things I’m going to describe you NEED to leave if that congregation will not repent and be what the Lord wants it to be.
First, if your church boldly embraces evil, what the Bible calls wickedness, and refuses to repent, then you are in the wrong place. Sadly, sometimes that is the case. Members who unrepentantly live in sin and immorality are to be withdrawn from and disciplined, the Bible says. Not welcomed or applauded. If your church is embracing what God has called wickedness or abomination, you don’t belong there if they will not repent and get back on the right road. We see much of that in the religious world today, unfortunately.
Secondly, if your church is part of a denomination, you need to get out of that situation. I say that very plainly because denominations are foreign to the word of God. You will not find the idea of denominations within the model of the New Testament church, particularly in the book of Acts and throughout the epistles. Jesus told His disciples that He would build “My church” (Matthew 16:18). We’re told in Ephesians 4:4 that there is “One body.” God’s ideal and His expectation for that body is found in I Corinthians 1:10.
1 Corinthians 1:10 “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
Everything that Paul said there runs completely counter to the whole idea of sectarianism and denominationalism. By definition, the church is only spoken of in the New Testament universally and locally. In other words, the word church can refer to ALL the saved people who have ever lived upon the face of the earth, who now have a redeemed relationship with God through Jesus Christ. OR the church is spoken of in the local sense, where it becomes a literal, organized entity or congregation. Those are the only two instances to which the church is referred. Anything that is in between is foreign to the Bible. A denomination is not the universal church because every denomination claims that there are saved people in other denominations. Neither is a denomination the local church because many local churches make up a denomination. Therefore, a denomination is something that is foreign to the teachings of the Bible.
Denominations were created by men and founded on varied and conflicting creeds, dogmas and conventions that were convened and devised by men instead of using the scriptures as their creed. If you are part of a denomination, you are not in a congregation of the Lord’s church and you need to leave that system. You need to seek out the church that Jesus established using the New Testament as the standard of measurement.
Thirdly, if I cannot worship and serve God acceptably within a local church, I need to leave that church. Many aspects of my life as a Christian are inseparably tied to the corporate church. For example, take public worship. The church comes together to offer worship unto God and we’re told in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake that. We’re told in Acts 20:7 that the disciples in Troas came together to break bread. Paul told the Corinthian brethren this:
1 Corinthians 11:18” For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.”
Paul also speaks of the church coming together for edification.
1 Corinthians 14:26 “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”
So, the church is to come together to participate in these matters of worship and edification. You can take your Bible and begin all the way back in the book of Genesis after man left the garden, and see that worship began to be offered by man to His Creator, and NEVER in all of that time has the manner of worship been left up to the worshipper. In fact, Jesus said this regarding the manner of worship:
John 4:24 “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Even some churches of Christ today are beginning to depart from that principle and ideal. Some of them are beginning to entertain the idea of introducing instrumental music into the worship. If you respect the authority of the New Testament and the silence of the scriptures as a member of Christ’s church, you cannot go along with that. You can’t participate in that, as it is an unscriptural innovation.
We will see more and more women filling the pulpits of churches that once did not allow such because of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:36. You are going to see women ordained as preachers and elders and placed in roles of leadership that the New Testament reserves for men. You will see more of that because it has swept over the denominational world, and we are now seeing it encroach upon the Lord’s church. The trend is in the wrong direction, not the scriptural direction.
Some churches of Christ are trending toward a contemporary worship, in the sense of this new emotion, experience-driven encounter that is replacing simple worship in Spirit and in truth and the patterns and inspired traditions of the apostolic church. Therefore, if a church is not worshipping according to the scripture, I as a participant in that worship CANNOT worship in an unscriptural manner. If a church does not worship as the Bible teaches, I can’t participate in that worship and remain unspotted myself.
Fourthly, if sound doctrine is not taught, I need to think about my relationship to that church. Granted, there will always be disagreements about various issues, but as for anything that is germane to my salvation and the salvation of others, there MUST be unity. We mentioned Romans 14 and Paul’s discussion about liberties a moment ago. There are misunderstandings that Christians have about certain teachings of scripture and when the Bible doesn’t legislate regarding those things, liberty exists. But on the other hand, there are requirements spelled out in God’s word, commands that are given, examples that are laid out for us to follow. So, in those areas that are germane to my obedience to God and my salvation, we must strive for unity in those things. Some churches today are drifting from the very core message of the gospel. Many preachers deny that obedience is a necessary part of the gospel, despite what the Hebrew writer said.
Hebrews 5:9 “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;”
We’re being told, even in some pulpits of the Lord’s church, that we’ve really misunderstood and baptism is not as important as we once believed. Peter said something different.
Acts 2:38 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…”
We learn later in the book of Acts that sins are not washed away until one is baptized, as Saul was told by Ananias so long ago.
Acts 22:16 “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
There are doctrines such as eternal security and salvation by grace and faith alone today. You hear many doctrines taught about grace that exploit and cheapen the grace of God, as Jude spoke about.
Jude 4 “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.”
Friend, these are serious matters. I need to be concerned about what’s coming from the pulpit in the congregation where I attend. As we recently discussed, churches are changing today. I know that disturbs many of you and you don’t know what to do or where to turn. Have you been left behind by all of the change and upheaval? Do you feel like a stranger perhaps where you have worshipped for years? Do you feel like a hostage to change agents and those who are executing an agenda to transform the Lord’s church into a denomination?
I want you to know there is an alternative. There are still people who ask for the old paths (Jeremiah 6:16). They are still trying to follow closely the examples and commands of the Lord and His apostles—not only in daily life, but in the work and worship of the church. If you’d like to investigate that further, I hope you’ll reach out today.
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As churches change and in some cases, drift away from the truth in doctrine and practice, what are faithful Christians to do? Can they remain faithful to God in the midst of digression and apostasy? Is there a point where such an one needs to leave and find another congregation to be part of? The goal of any true believer should be to correct and reform those who have lost their way. But what if repentance and reformation do not occur? These questions often involve not only truth but also emotions and strong ties to other people. In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, we consider principles that may help us answer the question: When should I leave a church?