How Do I Know Which Church To Join?

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Most Christians will ask themselves this question at some point in their lives. You might be asking yourself this very question right now. Maybe you just committed your life to God. Maybe you got a new job or went to college and moved to a new town. Maybe the 45-minute drive you have been making just isn’t possible anymore. Whatever the reason, you are looking for a new church to be a part of and aren’t really sure where to start or what to look for.

Part of the reason you’re unsure might be because there isn’t exactly a “how to know which church to join” passage in the Bible that answers all the questions you have and gives you step by step instructions on how to find the place where God is calling you. The reality is that during New Testament times, “how do I know which church to join?” wasn’t a question anyone was asking. Even in the larger cities like Galatia where we know there were multiple house churches meeting in the same city, we don’t ever see Paul write about what made certain people go to one house church instead of another. Most of the time, Paul writes more broadly to “the church of God that is in Corinth” or to “the saints who are in Ephesus”. We know that many early churches met in the homes of wealthier members but we know very little about exactly how many local churches there actually were in each city. For early Christians, “choosing a church” was a foreign concept. There weren’t dozens of churches of all varieties on every corner. There was likely only one group of believers to which a new Christian could possibly belong – the group of believers that was closest to them. Realizing this certainly helps us appreciate the doctrinal and relational struggles that arose within the early church, doesn’t it? Imagine if there was only one church for you and your family to join whether or not they had great kids programs, decent music, solid preaching, or even completely biblical doctrine (many of the NT churches didn’t, as we learn from Paul’s writings).

The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of churches in America – way more than there were in Paul’s day. Another reality is that long distances that took hours or even days to walk back then now only require a brief car ride. The Internet and social media have also allowed the modern person to be significantly more aware of just how many options for churches there really are to choose from. Along with many other factors, these three modern realities have altered the way that people find a community of believers to join. Even a hundred years ago, the lack of Internet and transportation meant that families only had a few churches from which to choose. But the culture has changed; the world has changed; technology has changed; and with that the process for finding a church has changed. So in 21st century America, how do we know which church to join?

First, lets answer the question, “What does the Bible have to say about this?” Because of the historical realities of the early church, “choosing” a church wasn’t something that happened. Since most early churches met in houses and many were under the threat of persecution, times and locations of church gatherings were probably not posted on a huge sign somewhere. Churches were local gatherings of believers who sought to follow the commands of Jesus and the writings of Paul in community together. It is most likely that when early believers found a group of believers near them, they committed to that group for the rest of their lives. They probably had contact with other nearby churches, but weekly church life was limited to the one group of believers within walking distance. As a result, the Bible speaks little about “how to know which church to join”, but a great deal about how groups of random people who have nothing but their faith in Christ in common are supposed to function collectively as one, united body.

What is clear from Scripture is that it is impossible to follow the commands of Jesus and the writings of Paul without committing to a local, specific group of Christians. Church hopping or shopping is fine for a while as long as its purpose is to find the best group of believers to commit to. God’s desire for each child of his is that the Christian life be lived out in loving, committed relationship with Him through a local church.

But this doesn’t mean that the Bible is useless in helping us decide which church to go to. In fact, it is incredibly helpful. Much of the New Testament is made up of letters written by Paul, Peter, and other apostles to local churches about the kind of people and churches they are to be. As a result, the Bible gives us a very clear picture of what a healthy, Godly church should look like. That doesn’t mean any church is perfect, because no church is or ever will be this side of heaven. But there are healthy churches and there are unhealthy churches. Asking “How do I know which church to join?” is really asking the question, “How do I know which churches are healthy?”

Here are 10 characteristics of healthy churches. As you search for a church, see how many of these criteria are met.

  1. Doctrinally sound – Healthy churches are doctrinally sound. This means that the church is defined by a Bible and gospel focus and is Christ centered in every aspect of the church – from its finances to its teaching. They are clear and open about what they believe and every ounce of it is rooted in Scripture and the person of Jesus Christ. It means they don’t waver from God’s truth, even under the pressure of today’s culture. The church is clear about what it believes and holds firm to the sound doctrine of the Bible.
  2. Visible love – Healthy churches display, visible love for God, each other, their community, and the lost. You can tell from the moment you walk in that the people genuinely care about you, your family, and each other. But even more important than that is their visible love for God made evident through their worship and their encounters with one another. This love motivates them to spend their lives in service to God and one another.
  3. Strong, healthy leadership – Healthy churches have strong, healthy leaders. They don’t need to have PHDs or even seminary degrees. Of course they should be adequately prepared and biblically qualified to lead a church. But what makes a person qualified to be a church leader is less about education and natural ability and more about character and humility. Strong, healthy leaders meet the Bible’s standards for leadership, love their families, love their churches, and humbly obey the Lord.
  4. Wise, generous stewardship – Healthy churches uses the resources that God has blessed them with wisely. Many churches, simply put, are poor stewards of what God has given. Churches ought to be open about their budget, their finances, and how they spent the “talents” that they have been given. Healthy churches are almost always generous churches that use their resources wisely for the kingdom of God.
  5. Strong against sin, strong for holiness – Healthy churches do not tolerate sin and even practice church discipline when necessary. God has commanded his people to be holy like he is holy. Healthy churches teach what Paul called “what accords with sound doctrine”. In other words, they teach that Godly living always accompanies true faith. They don’t let sin reign in the lives of their members who have been set free by Christ, who now reigns instead of sin. They lovingly rebuke sin and strongly exhort one another to Godly living.
  6. Authentic God-worshippers – Throughout the Bible, the two things that are condemned in the people of God over and over again are idolatry and hypocrisy. Idolatry is loving and worshipping something other than God or in addition to God. Hypocrisy is fake, two-faced religion. People who put on a religious mask but then live completely contrary lives. Healthy churches are filled with people who don’t worship the common idols that plague churches today. They are also filled with genuine people whose entire lives reflect the truth of God they claim to believe.
  7. Disciple makers – The primary command of the Lord to his church is to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Healthy churches never lose sight of their primary objective as the body of Christ. They are mission minded and regularly support mission work throughout the world. They are constantly looking for new areas in need of ministry and consider starting new churches or second sites in order to bring the gospel to more people. Throughout their church programs like small groups, kids & youth programs, and Sunday schools, they emphasize discipleship and spiritual growth. Healthy churches always make disciples.
  8. Prayer reliant – Jesus himself was reliant on prayer as he sought to accomplish his mission on earth. So too Paul taught that churches should pray without ceasing. Prayer is the lifeblood of the Christian faith and healthy churches don’t lose sight of this truth. They pray regularly during services, small groups, and everything else that they do. They pray as individuals and with other people, rightly understanding that without prayer and the Lord’s direction, all our effort is in vain.
  9. Vibrant worship – Healthy churches are characterized by their vibrant life and joy. Their focus on Christ and the gospel message constantly drives them into exuberant worship of God Almighty. Their worship services are marked by loud singing (not necessarily loud music), smiles, and genuine, passionate love for their King. You can tell almost instantly when you walk into a church how alive they really are and how passionate their worship of God really is – not just in church services, but all the time.
  10. Self aware and forward looking – Healthy churches are not clueless about what lies around the corner. Of course God likes to take our plans and transform them into what they were originally supposed to be, but healthy churches spend time praying about and reflecting on what exactly God has called them to do and how he has called them to do it. They know their church identity and have developed a clear, concise mission statement that describes their specific purpose as a church. Likewise, they are constantly looking forward to whatever might be next. They have some sort of clear plan in place for how to get from point A (where they are) to point B (where God wants them to end up) and make known to the church where exactly point B is. They take an honest look at themselves and constantly evaluate, in order to keep all distractions aside and remain focused on being a healthy church.

There are many more important factors described throughout the New Testament about what makes a healthy church, but these stand out as particularly important. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are particularly helpful for further reading, as Paul was focused on helping an unhealthy church become a healthy one as he wrote. So as you continue to search for a church and ask yourself which one you are supposed to join, look for a healthy church that possesses these 10 characteristics.

What would you add to the list? How do you identify a healthy church from an unhealthy church? What has helped you know which church to join?

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Royal Ambassadors

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How often do you think of yourself as a representative of King Jesus? How much of your life is spent on the mission that he has given to you?

Throughout the Bible we see many powerful metaphors to help us understand what it means to be the church and what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Some of the most common are the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the family of God, the temple of God, etc. But one of the best and most unsung is the embassy of Christ.

An embassy is:

Embassy

  1. A body of persons entrusted with a mission to a foreign government, especially an ambassador and his or her staff.
  2. A body of diplomatic representatives

And an ambassador is:

Ambassador

  1. An authorized messenger or representative.
  2. A diplomatic official of the highest rank, sent by one sovereign or state to another as its resident representative

Where is this in the Bible? Though this example is not nearly as common as some of the others, it is nonetheless very present in Scripture. Throughout Exodus and Deuteronomy the Israelites are “sojourners” in a foreign land. In Hebrews, the author reminds believers that they, like Israel in the time of Moses, are strangers in this world and their true home is the city God is preparing. In Philippians and Ephesians, Paul refers to himself as a “citizen” of heaven and an ambassador for Christ. And perhaps most clearly, in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul reminds the church that they too are ambassadors and that God is “making his appeal” to the world through the church.

God has called Christians to be his ambassadors, his authorized representatives; and he has called churches to be embassies; groups of ambassadors that all have the same objective. Churches ought to be little localized outposts of the kingdom of God. Churches are supposed to look like, act like, and function in the same way that the kingdom of God does. Christians, as ambassadors, are likewise called to live the same kind of lives that we will when out citizenship in the future kingdom becomes complete.

So what exactly does that mean for us? Who and what do we represent? Where is our “homeland”? How long are we on this mission? How are we supposed to go about it?

1. We represent a King and a kingdom

As Christians, we no longer live for ourselves but for Christ and his kingdom. We should look different, act different, speak different, and live different than the culture in which we live. We should be representing Christ’s character, his love, his commands, and his purposes to the world around us. We have been sent to the foreign land of this world in order to represent our King and our kingdom’s interests. The problem is that most of us look just like everyone else. We spend our money the same way, we dress the same way, we talk the same way. But that isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Just like you can tell when someone isn’t a native to where you live, the world should be able to look at Christians and say, “That person clearly isn’t from here. Where are they from?” Would people say that of you?

2. We have the King’s mission and message

In Matthew 28 and Mark 16 Jesus commissioned his disciples and believers everywhere of all time for a specific task – to go, baptize, teach, and declare the message of reconciliation to the world. Our mission is to declare the gospel message to the foreign land around us so that they too might become citizens of the kingdom. God has entrusted to us, as stewards, the treasure of the gospel that we are to share with the world. We are to be a city on a hill, a light in the darkness, drawing people toward Christ.

3. We have the King’s authority

Jesus sent his disciples out with his own power and authority in Luke 9. He has given the church the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16) and told us that the gates of hell will not prevail against us and that it is through us that the “manifold wisdom of God” becomes known (Ephesians 2). He has gifted us with his Spirit so that we might possess his power and authority. He has not sent us out on this mission empty handed, for he has given us his very own authority.

4. We have the King’s protection

We have been granted asylum as refugees. We fled from our former lives of slavery to sin and to the kingdom of God where we were granted access because of Jesus’ love and sacrifice on the cross. We have been given protection through our citizenship. Though we may be afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, ad struck down, we will never be crushed, driven to despair, forsaken, destroyed, or totally overcome. As citizens of heaven, no matter what happens in this life, we have been given the promise that God is with us and our citizenship is secure.

5. We are on temporary assignment

We are resident representatives, but only for a while. This foreign land is not our home, for our true homeland is the city that God is preparing for us while we are away on the mission. We are always waiting and longing for the return of our King and our entry into the completed kingdom of God. Because this is true, we shouldn’t get too comfortable in this life because we won’t be here for long. If you were going on vacation, you would pack light. In the same way, we should “pack light” in this life and instead store up for ourselves treasure in heaven. This treasure is accumulated through obedience to Christ’s mission and message.

6. We are not to isolate from culture

While the people of Israel were in Babylonian captivity, they were not called to isolate from culture but to seek the good of their neighbors and captors. Though we are called to represent Christ’s kingdom and interests in this world, that does not mean that we are to totally isolate from culture. We cannot possibly be successful ambassadors for Christ if we are not involved in, familiar with, and connected to the culture around us. We should understand, contribute to, and strive to better the culture while we are here in this land. We have a different King, a different mission, a different drive in life – but in order to represent our King and his kingdom, we must be a visible part of our culture.

7. Citizenship is only possible because of Jesus

Lastly, and most importantly, we must always remind ourselves that our citizenship is only possible because of Jesus. He is our passport; he is the one that vouches for us and grants us citizenship. And he is the only way into the kingdom. There will be a day when many who want to enter the kingdom will come and Jesus will say to them, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Jesus is the only entrance, the only path to citizenship. Knowing the King himself is the only way in.


What does it mean to you to be an ambassador for Christ? How often do you embrace your role as an ambassador? Do you think you and your church do a good job of representing Christ and his kingdom to the world?

How to Combat False Teaching

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Jesus warned the church about false teachers. Paul warned the church about false teachers. Peter warned the church about false teachers. James warned the church about false teachers. Jude warned the church about false teachers. John warned the church about false teachers. I recently wrote about 10 warnings and characteristics of false teachers. But how should churches and Christians respond to false teachers?

1. Watch out for them (Romans 16:17, Matthew 7:15)

Expect them to come and be ready to respond when they do. We must be paying attention and “watching out” for false teachers. Christians and churches must keep their eyes open so that we are able to identify false teaching immediately. If we are going to combat false teaching in our churches, we must be aware of its presence among us and constantly keeping watch.

2. Avoid them (Romans 16:17)

After we identify false teachers, what do we do then? When they do come (and they will) we should give them no platform, no authority, no voice, and no way in. They should be avoided at all costs. The New Testament writers had no patience, tolerance, or kindness towards false teachers. We shouldn’t try to “nice” them to God – we should avoid them.

3. Test them (1 John 4:1)

See whether or not they are from God. If we are to refute false teaching, we must know true teaching well enough to identify it when we hear it. Test all teaching against Scripture in order to discern whether or not they are of the Lord.

4. Look for Godly fruit (Matthew 7:15-20)

If they are true believers and teachers, there will be fruit. False teachers give off a vibe and facade of fruitfulness, but once their lives and hearts are closely examined and exposed they are found to be fruitless. Examine the scriptures, know what Godly fruit is, and look for it in the lives of all teachers, especially those who might be false.

5. Focus on Christ, the gospel, and God’s word (Galatians 1:8, 1 Timothy 6:20-21, Acts 17:11)

If we are so familiar with and so knowledgeable about Christ, the gospel, and the Bible, false teaching will not be able to take root in our hearts. Through such focus, we will guard ourselves against false teaching. That way, even when we hear false teaching, we will be able to identify and refute it immediately.

6. Contend for the true faith, rebuke false teaching (Jude 1:3, Titus 1:9)

When false teaching does arise, we must combat it fiercely and contend for the true faith. Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John have stronger words against false teachers than we usually hear taught in churches today. We mustn’t be soft or gentle when it comes to fierce attacks on truth itself. We ought to fight for truth without fear or reserve.

7. Help prevent those close to the edge from “departing” from the truth (1 Timothy 4:1)

Teach and enforce sound doctrine. Correct small missteps when they occur. Disciple church members and people in your life into the truth. False teachers prey on the naive and weak in the faith. We have a responsibility to guide and direct new and young believers in truth and away from false teaching.

8. Focus on the truth, even when it is hard to hear (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Paul warns Timothy that people will “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions”. Some people look for teachers who will only tell them what they want to hear – we must avoid this in order to combat false teaching. Christians must focus on the truth and welcome the truth even when its harder to hear than the lies of false teachers.

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What else would you add? What must churches and Christians do in order combat false teaching? Have you ever faced false teaching in your church? If so, how did you respond?

Is Church Membership REALLY Biblical?

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We live in a culture that glamorizes non-commitment. We hate cell phone contracts, cable contracts, or any other type of contract that might “tie us down”. We want to be able to change our plans, hop around, and do whatever we want whenever we feel like doing it. While this is not necessarily wrong, it certainly causes some problems when it comes to living the Christian life. The Bible is God’s written word that details how followers of Jesus are to live. The problem is that much of what the Bible teaches about community and church is the opposite of our natural and cultural inclinations when it comes to commitment.

But is church membership really biblical? How could it be if we never see the words “church membership” or the command “you should be a church member” anywhere on the pages of the Bible? Well, you also never see the word “Trinity” in the Bible anywhere and yet it is very visible and clearly seen throughout the pages of Scripture that God is one God, three persons: Father, Son, Spirit. This is a foundational theological truth that lies at the foundation of most believers’ faith. So we must be careful not to assume something is unbiblical simply because we don’t see the word in the Bible.

In order to answer this question we must remind ourselves that our Trinitarian God cares about community, established the church community, and in himself exhibits perfect community. Too often we focus on the “me and God” and neglect the “we and God” – we emphasize our own personal relationship with Jesus and forget that we are called into a community that God established called the church. To be a Christian, according to the Bible, is to be in community and in relationship with God and others believers. This involves suppressing the individualism that runs rampant in our hearts, minds, and culture and instead embracing the community of God – the church.

But what is this community of God? If we are going to answer the question “Is church membership really biblical?” then we must define what the church is. The Greek word for church in the New Testament is “ecclesia” or “ekklesia”. The root of the word means “called out” and the whole word means “a gathering or assembly of called out ones”. Maybe you’ve heard the whole universal church (every believer everywhere) vs. local church (specific local gathering of believers) discussion before. The New Testament uses the word “church” to describe both the universal church and the local church. But implied in the definition of the word itself is a physical gathering of some kind. By definition, church requires gathering. Though we may get a taste of the universal church in our daily lives – maybe on an international mission trip or even worshipping with another congregation while on vacation, the way that we most commonly experience church in our daily Christian lives is on a local level.

With that mind, please allow me to offer up a basic definition of church. Many wiser and more educated men have provided better definitions, but here is my attempt:

Church – A local, organized gathering of believers who are in a loving and committed relationship with Jesus Christ and one another.

Your first thought might be, “Wait, organized? I’m not sure about that.” I’ve frequently heard the argument that organization kills churches or kills the Spirit’s movement in churches. Many view organization as a bad thing. At a certain point, this can be true – when things are over-structured we might miss the Spirit’s leading. But the early church was organized and the modern church should be as well. Most of Paul’s ministry revolved around establishing new churches, raising up leaders, teaching sound doctrine, and teaching local, organized gatherings of believers (in places like Ephesus, Corinth, Colossae, Galatia, etc.) how to be Christians in the church community. Here is some evidence that the early church was organized:

  • Galatians 1:2 – Paul wrote to the “churches in Galatia”. Not just to the universal church in Galatia, but to local and organized gatherings of believers in the region.
  • Acts 2:47, 5:14, 6:1, 11:24, 16:5 – Acts records that the early church kept track of members and numbers and updated how many Christians there were in churches regularly.
  • 1 Timothy 5:2-16 – The church in Ephesus had an organized ministry plan. Specifically, they had a structure and procedure for how to provide for some (but not all) of the widows.
  • Acts 6:1-6 – The church in Jerusalem organized deacons to help meet the physical needs of the church members so the apostles could remain devoted to preaching.
  • Acts 13 – The first church organized missionary teams to be sent out. Paul didn’t go rogue on his own – he was sent out by a church, as should missionaries be today.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 – Paul taught all the local churches he planted to participate in an organized display of generosity through the offering. In several places in his writings, Paul says that he taught all the local churches he planted to operate the same way.
  • Acts 6:1-6 – The church in Acts formally selected leaders. They did not declare themselves as leaders – there was an organized process.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:40 – Paul reminded the church that their gatherings were to be “decent and in order”. In the same passage he says that God is not a God of chaos but of order. Therefore churches too should be a place of order.

This list is just the beginning of the biblical evidence that churches are to be organized and conduct their work orderly. No matter how you slice it, the Bible teaches that churches should be organized. But just because the church should be organized doesn’t necessarily mean that church membership is required, does it?

But wait, there’s more! There are also a number of vital teachings and commands of both Jesus and Paul that cannot possibly be fully obeyed and lived out apart from church membership. Doubtful? Lets take a closer look at some key doctrines of the church that are extremely difficult and perhaps impossible to obey fully outside commitment and submission to a local, organized gathering of believers.

1. Leadership

Hebrews, 13:7, Hebrews 13:17, Titus 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

In Hebrews 13 the author tells us that we should remember, imitate, submit to, and obey church leaders. He also tells us that church leaders will give an account for those in their care. How could these commands possibly be followed apart from local church membership? Are we as Christians supposed to imitate all leaders? Are we supposed to submit to the teaching  of anyone who claims to be a Christian leader anywhere in the world with any doctrine even if we’ve never met them before? And from the leader’s perspective – are leaders going to give account for the whole universal church? Will I, as a pastor, be responsible for the souls of every believer in the world, even if I don’t even know them? Without committed and covenantal church membership, knowing one another and sharing in relationship together, leaders cannot give an account and Christians will not know whom to remember, imitate, submit to, and obey.

2. Church discipline

Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 2:5-8, Hebrews 12

No one likes to talk about, think about, or carry out church discipline – but it is nonetheless a biblical command of both Jesus and Paul. Church discipline is the process of correcting sin within a local church. Because the church is the holy body and bride of Christ, sin cannot be allowed to persist. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul teaches that church discipline is to be done to the unrepentant inside the church, not to those outside. He concludes by commanding the church in Corinth to “expel the wicked person from among you”, also adding that they should not even dine with the man. Paul is commanding the church to remove this sinful member from “insiderness”. Clearly to Paul there was a formal “inside” and “outside” of the church in Corinth. If someone was never actually in, they cannot be removed. Without some degree of church membership, church discipline becomes impossible. If there is no formalized “in” group, then a person cannot be removed from it. Church discipline is necessary to keep the church pure and holy, and church membership is necessary to properly perform church discipline.

3. Baptism & the Lord’s Supper

There are many Scripture passages about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are known as the “ordinances” of the church. In other words, they are formal and ordained practices of the church designed to be carried out for the church of God. The New Testament shows us that every believer should be baptized and every believer should participate regularly in the Lord’s Supper. Both of these extremely meaningful spiritual practices were designed to be observed within a local church context. These are not only opportunities for individual Christians to identify with Christ, they are also opportunities for local churches to affirm the authenticity of the faith of those individual believers. At my church, we don’t just baptize anyone. We baptize people who have displayed evidence of a transformed life and a genuine encounter with God. Apart from the context of church membership, even such spiritually meaningful practices struggle to find their complete biblical fulfillment.

4. Spiritual Gifts

Romans 12, 1 Peter 4, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4

Spiritual gifts are supernatural gifts given by God, to believers, for the building of the church or “for the common good”. Spiritual gifts are not intended to be used for the recipient but for the good of those around them – particularly those of the household of God. Though spiritual gifts tests can be helpful, the best way to learn what your spiritual gifts are is to have people who know you well speak into your life. I don’t have a spiritual gift simply because I say I do or a test says I do. Spiritual gifts are the gifts that God has given to us that when we use them – the church is built up. I may think I have the gift of faith but if the believers in my life closest to me are not having their faith strengthened by me, then I either do not possess that gift or I am neglecting the proper use of that gift. The best way to understand our own spiritual gifts is by committing to, submitting to, serving alongside, and participating in the life and ministry of a local gathering of believers. Likewise, the best way to use our spiritual gifts is to build up the local group of Christians to whom we have committed our lives.

5. Protection from false teaching

Romans 16:17, 1 John 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:3, Galatians 1:8, Jude 1:4

Almost every New Testament book warns Christians about false teachers and gives advice for how the church should respond to them. Churches should have agreed upon doctrine, agreed upon leaders, and agreed upon practices for many reasons – one of which is protection from false teachers. Jude warns that false teachers “creep in unnoticed” and Peter warns that they “operate in secret”. A “whoever wants to come” mentality is mandatory when it comes to outreach and ministry to unbelievers, but foolish when it comes to church membership. With no examination or vetting process it becomes virtually impossible to protect against false teaching and poisonous influences in local churches. Church membership is perhaps the single best way to prevent against false teaching in local churches.

6. The “One Another” commands

And finally, every “one another” command (I found 18 in a brief search) that the New Testament gives us is most fully obeyed in the context of church membership. It becomes very difficult to “bear one another’s burdens, “be devoted to one another”, “meet with one another regularly”, “confess your sins to one another”, or “stir one another up to good works” apart from being in a loving and committed relationship with God and a local group of believers who meet regularly together.


So in conclusion, is church membership really biblical? Not only is it biblical, but being a Christian without submitting and committing to a local church is unbiblical and unhealthy.

What are your thoughts? What do you think about church membership?

10 Characteristics of False Teachers

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When was the last time you thought about false teachers in the church? Have you had to combat false teaching recently? Is there false teaching in your church? Is it possible that you have been influenced by false teaching? These are important questions for every believer and every pastor to address. Much of the power of false teachers lies in the shadows of secrecy and disguise. If false teachers/false teaching is never openly discussed, warned against, or rebuked, we run the risk of slowly but surely allowing ourselves to be influenced (or overcome) by false teaching.

Jesus warned the church about false teachers. Paul warned the church about false teachers. Peter warned the church about false teachers. James warned the church about false teachers. Jude warned the church about false teachers. John warned the church about false teachers. Here are 10 timeless warnings and characteristics of false teachers:

1. They creep in unnoticed (Jude 1:4)

Not every false teacher is easy to spot. In fact, most are not. Most false teachers sneak in quietly without being noticed. They blend in, look like everyone else, and no one usually looks twice at them. Then, when opportunity strikes, they begin to influence a church negatively.

2. They operate in secret (2 Peter 2:1-3)

They enter into churches unnoticed and they slowly and quietly introduce false teaching and ideas contrary to Scripture. The false teachers we ought to worry about are not the loud, obvious ones; they are the quiet, sneaky ones that operate under our noses without detection.

3. They have many followers (2 Peter 2:1-3)

False teachers are not likely to be despised, hated, or ridiculed. Rather, they are usually likable, amiable, popular, and easy to follow. The Bible warns us that false teachers will often gain a loyal following of those led astray. If possible, they will even lead astray the elect of God (Mark 13:22)

4. They create division and obstacles (Romans 16:17)

False teachers are known for causing division and creating obstacles within churches. They cause arguments, quarrels, and disagreements over theology, practices, and anything else they can get people to argue about.

5. No matter what it seems like, they do not have God (2 John 1:7-11)

John makes it clear that no matter what they say and no matter what it seems like, false teachers do not genuinely have God. They are masters of disguise and manipulation and purposely masquerade as true believers, but their faith is not real.

6. Some began in sound doctrine (1 Timothy 4:1-5)

Some false teachers began in sound doctrine and true faith but then wandered away from the truth. This may be a pastor or a small group leader who was teaching sound doctrine when they began, but has since wandered into teaching falsities.

7. Their words seem intelligent (1 Timothy 6:20-21, Colossians 2:8)

False teachers are not only amiable and popular, they are also usually intelligent by worldly standards. They come across as wise and convincing in their false teaching, so that many mistake their worldly wisdom for spiritual wisdom.

8. They look like legitimate apostles of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, Matthew 7:15)

Most false teachers will look on the outside like authentic followers of Christ. Jesus himself says that they will look like sheep on the outside, but on the inside they are wolves seeking to destroy. Many false teachers creep in unnoticed, operate unnoticed, and remain unnoticed because they appear to be legitimate followers of Christ.

9. They target the spiritually naive (Romans 16:17-18)

False teachers are cunning and covert and will set their sights on churches and people that are spiritually naive and susceptible to false teaching. We must guard the impressionable among us (new believers, children, etc.) Like a wolf attacking the smallest and weakest deer, false teachers will attack the smallest and weakest believers.

10. They twist Scripture (1 Timothy 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 4:3-4)

 

False teachers make the Bible say what they want it to say. They are masters of twisting the words, warping the meaning, and convincing their audience that the Bible says something other than what it says. They are masters of convincing people that they are teaching biblical truth when in reality they are teaching falsities or half truths, which are often more dangerous than complete falsities.

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Churches must be on guard against false teachers. If we do not keep our eyes open, focus on the truth of the Bible, and consciously rebuke false teaching when we encounter it – we run the risk of being led astray or perhaps even completely overcome by wolves and the schemes of evil.

What has been your experience with false teaching in the church? How have you had to combat it? What other identifiers would you add to the list? What should churches do to protect against false teaching?

9 Crucial Teachings of Jesus Christians Tend to Ignore

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Following Jesus is hard. Obeying Jesus is hard. Sometimes even hearing his teaching can be hard. When we hear these hard teachings we grimace, raise our eyebrows, open our eyes wide and say, “Surely, Jesus doesn’t really expect me to do THAT!” Here are some of the hardest, but most central and critical teachings of Jesus that so many Christians and so many churches seem to ignore.

1. You cannot serve both God and money – Luke 16:13

We have probably all heard this one before and yet most of us have probably spent a good part of our lives living like it isn’t true. Jesus makes it very clear that it is not possible for us to fully love and serve God and money at the same time. We must choose. If we choose to love our money, our stuff, and our jobs that provide us with money more than we love serving God and doing gospel ministry – we might as well declare to the Lord that we don’t really worship and serve him because we’d rather serve our money.

2. Love and pray for your enemies – Luke 6:27-28,35

An enemy is a person who is actively opposed or hostile to something. As Christians, our “enemies” are therefore many. Jesus not only encourages, but commands that his followers both love and pray for those who are hostile and actively opposed to everything that they stand for. Are you regularly praying for and seeking to do good to those who are actively fighting against religious freedom in America? Those who seek to kill Christians worldwide? Those who post on Facebook about God’s “non-existence” and ridicule and condemn all who believe in such “nonsense”? In recent months it has become more clear to me than ever how many Christians in our country seem to think that evangelism means condemning the unbelieving world. Jesus doesn’t command us to sit on our computers and condemn those who disagree with our beliefs or are even hostile and actively opposed – instead he commands us to pray for them and do good to them.

3. Turn the other cheek – Luke 6:29

When was the last time someone hurt you or insulted you? I don’t mean called you a name, I mean really hurt you. How did you respond? For most people, our natural response is either to lash out and strike back or run away. But Jesus commands his disciples to fight the natural response and instead to simply take the beating, absorb the insult, and respond with kindness and love. Paul hints at this when he writes about Christians suing one another – he says, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” instead of striking back and suing a brother in Christ. Jesus also modeled this throughout his trial, torture, and crucifixion – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Christians are called to be hurt, wronged, defrauded, cheated, abused, and get hit on the cheek without retaliation.

4. Deny self, take up Christlike suffering – Luke 9:23

In a nutshell, Jesus explains what would-be disciples must do in order to become followers. They must 1) deny themselves, 2) take up their cross (meaning suffering for Jesus), and 3) follow Him. But if we’re being honest, many of us think we can jump straight to step 3 without denying ourselves or suffering. Paul writes extensively about Christian suffering in 2 Corinthians. He says, “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.” Paul is arguing that if we do not receive daily suffering for Christ we will not be able to receive daily life with Christ. Suffering brings life. Denying self brings life. Losing our life means finding it. If we are truly, honestly, authentically, sacrificially living a Christ-centered life focused on gospel ministry – there will be suffering. Do you suffer on a daily basis for Christ’s name and his mission in this world?

5. Following Jesus is more important even than family – Luke 9:57-62, 14:26, 21:16-17

This may be a difficult one to swallow and it is not always easy to explain even for someone who believes it to be true. Following Jesus and preaching the gospel is more important than caring for elderly parents (Luke 9:60). Following Jesus and preaching the gospel is more important than our relationships with our parents, our siblings, or even our spouses and children. Don’t believe me? In Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” Loving my wife more than I love Jesus prohibits me from being a disciple. Loving my children more than I love Jesus prohibits me from being a disciple. Jesus demands such a strong and resilient love from his disciples that our love for our families must by compassion look like hate. Think about how much you love your closest friends and family. Multiply that significantly and you are only beginning to scratch the surface of how deep your love for Jesus should be.

*It may sound harsh initially, but I believe that loving Jesus first and foremost is the only way to truly love our families.

6. Hell is real and most people are headed there – Matthew 7:13, 13:50, 25:46

Many who identify as Christians either don’t believe hell is real or don’t believe that hell is eternal. Hell is both real and eternal and it will be far worse than even the most creatively sadistic mind could begin to imagine. Jesus spoke more bluntly about the realities of hell than most churches and pastors do today. Even those of us that do believe that hell is real, eternal, and terrible rarely live our lives like we care about the many who are headed there. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” Many/most of the people around us – even the people that we love dearly and have strong relationships with – are on the highway to hell. But do we do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen? Do we pray every day for the unbelievers in our lives? Do we talk about God with them often and purposefully? Do we actually share the good news with them? You may believe that hell is real, eternal, and terrible – but do you share the gospel with your friends who are headed there?

7. We cannot be loved & accepted by both Jesus AND the world – Luke 21:17

Jesus told his disciples just days before his death,”And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.” Paul understood this when he wrote, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Most of us spend our whole lives trying to find love and acceptance from other people. The way we dress, the hobbies we take up, and the things we spend our money can usually be traced back to us trying to find love and acceptance from the people in our lives. But Jesus warned his disciples against this. If we are living lives that are truly obedient to Christ – the world will hate us. Being Christ’s servant rarely pleases the masses. So many Christians spend their lives trying to have both – love and acceptance from both Jesus AND the world. And in the process, many have found acceptance in the world while sacrificing obedience to Christ.

8. Forgive others, or God won’t forgive you – Matthew 6:14-15

Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but for Christians, it is always required. We have been forgiven a greater debt than any debt anyone on earth could possibly owe to us. We wronged God more severely than anyone could possibly wrong us – and yet he forgave us. Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” If we do not forgive those who wrong us even in the worst possible ways, God will not forgive our sins. 

9. Deny Jesus before men, get denied by him before God – Luke 12:8-9, Matthew 10:32

We must not be ashamed of Jesus. I always tell my youth group kids when no one will volunteer to pray, “Don’t make Jesus that person that you’re embarrassed to let everyone else know you’re friends with.” The point is that we cannot only identify with Christ quietly and internally. Part of following Christ is acknowledging him and identifying with him publicly to the world. Jesus says,I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels.” Again, many of us might claim to know Jesus and be Christians, but do we tell the whole world that we are? Do we publicly identify with Jesus and associate ourselves with him in spite of the rejection from the world that it will bring? We should – because if we don’t, Luke 12:9 will apply to us. 


 

These are just a few of the radical teachings of Jesus that so many Christians and churches have either chosen to ignore. What other major, crucial teachings of Christ would you say that many Christians fail to acknowledge regularly?

 

9 Reasons People Aren’t Coming to Your Church

 

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If you go to a small or struggling church (or any church for that matter), you’ve probably asked yourself, perhaps frequently, why more people (or anyone at all) aren’t coming to your church. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear that about 90% of churches aren’t growing. Many churches are about to die because of self-inflicted wounds and we must do all that we can to prevent such demise. There are quite a few reasons for this but here are 9 specific reasons why many churches have stopped growing and why more people aren’t coming to your church – even if you have sound doctrine, loving members, and good intentions (unfortunately, these things aren’t enough in our culture to connect with people).

1. You aren’t inviting them

A survey conducted several years ago revealed that 82% of unchurched people were “at least somewhat likely” to go with a friend to church if they were invited. Another survey found that only 21% of church members invite someone to church in a given year, and only 2% (yes, that is a real statistic) invite an unchurched person to church. There is a very good chance of someone attending church with you if you would only ask. Train yourself and the people in your church to ACTUALLY invite people into your community of believers; to actually invite someone to church on a Sunday morning or to a small group or event of some kind. One of the main reasons, perhaps the reason more people don’t come is because your church isn’t inviting them.

2. You aren’t praying for them

Prayer must be the heart and soul of every church’s evangelism strategy. Maybe no one is showing up to the things your pour so much thought, time, and money into because you haven’t poured out any prayer. Never stop praying that God would bring people to your church and never stop living out those prayers by inviting people yourself.

3. Your members are embarrassed of your church

“My church? No way. People love our church!” Yeah…maybe they do. Maybe they love it for themselves and their family, but the reason they don’t invite people is because they are embarrassed and afraid that it might do more harm than good to invite an unchurched friend or family  member to your church. Some of your most committed and invested members might not be inviting anyone because they are embarrassed of some (or several) parts of your church. Some of the reasons they might be embarrassed are listed below. If your church members are embarrassed to invite someone, you’ve got a major problem that needs fixing.

4. They don’t know who you are

Some churches are simply not visible in any way, shape, or form. Their websites are 10 years outdated, they have no social media presence, their buildings are unseen, and there is no effort at “advertising” your church to the community. If people don’t know that you exist, where you are, and what you are like, then they will never visit your church. If your church building isn’t visible, find a way to make it stand out or ask the city about putting signs up guiding people to your building. If your website is outdated, FIX IT. My little church has about 15x more people look at our website every month than come through our doors – your website is your first impression. Make sure people know that you exist, where you meet, and what you’re all about – especially online.

5. It isn’t the culture anymore

People may not be coming to your church simply because less people are going to church than ever before. It used to be that Americans who didn’t go to church had a feeling that they should, but didn’t for some reason, and felt guilt later. That is not the case today. There isn’t much we can do about this one on a grand scale, but people may not be coming to your church at least partially because fewer people are going to church in general.

6. Your church is all for you, not them

Many small, struggling churches are the way that they are because they have ceased to become focused on (or even aware of) visitors and unchurched people. No one wants to come to a church where they feel like an outsider. If you want your church to reach people, especially non-believers, then you must shift the focus from your member’s wants, needs, and preferences to the needs of the unchurched. Ditch the church lingo, stop referring to locations as “next to Mike’s classroom” when a visitor asks for the bathroom, and make some changes in your Sunday morning services that show your focus is on reaching people and connecting with new visitors, not on maintaining status quo.

7. You’re stuck in the past

A side effect of being an internally focused church is often falling quickly behind the times. I don’t just mean music, though that is part of it. I mean music, technology, social media, outreach methods, preaching styles, small group efforts, etc. Spend some time evaluating and take a good, honest look at your church and decide if there might be aspects of your church that are stuck in the past. People want to be part of a church that demonstrates relevancy and modernity without sacrificing truths and core traditions. Be willing to make some updates to your church life if you want to connect with the people of today.

8. You offer little or nothing for kids & students

Whether you like it or not, many churches ride on their children and youth ministries. Young adults are looking for a community where they can start and raise a family. Young families are looking for places where their children’s needs will be met. Middle age families are looking for places where their teens can be part of a strong youth ministry. In other words, adults age 22-50 are usually looking for a church that can meet the needs of their future and current children. Churches without strong children and youth ministries will have a hard time drawing people, especially families.

9. Your worship service isn’t connecting with them

In some cases, this might be putting it gently. Everyone is different and everyone has their own preferences and ideas about how a worship service should be done. But the fact is that music should be modern, engaging, prepared, and as professionally done as possible. Preaching should be interesting, practical, theological, and interactive. Giving should be emphasized, but not beaten to death. Fellowship should be natural and enjoyable, not weird and forced. People are looking for a worship service that connects with them. They aren’t necessarily looking for a recording artist worship leader and a conference speaking caliber pastor – they are just looking for Sunday services that connect with them personally and build them up in their spiritual lives. I know it might not be pleasant if you are a pastor or church leader reading this, but you need to open your mind to the possibility that people are just not connecting with your music,  your preaching, or any other part of the service.

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There are many more reasons and churches/pastors should take a good hard look at themselves. Way too many churches are dying deaths that could have been prevented. Self-inflicted wounds are causing church after church to close their doors because they have completely failed to connect with people. We must do all that we can, including giving ourselves the courtesy of an honest evaluation, in order to prevent more churches from perishing unnecessarily.

What thoughts do you have? What else would you add to this list?