Do you want to come to my church?
This is often an earnest question that you have probably been asked at some stage, or if you are so bold, have asked someone you know. Now, the answer to the question should be simple and binary; yes or no. However, the truth – and the depressing truth at that- is that in the current ‘church climate’, the answer to this question really must now depend on whether you are receiving a genuine invitation to a church, or the many bodies that call themselves churches. In truth, the person extending you the invite could be inviting you to a movement, a group of believers, a weird personality cult or even a company.
The sad truth is that it is becoming increasingly hard to decipher what ‘church’ is. Those that know and study the Word of Truth increasingly feel like Elijah in the bible. To Elijah, it appeared that he was alone in preaching the whole counsel of God. Today it is the same; most churches do not preach all that is found in the Word of God. So then we are often ill-equipped in making these decisions. With church increasingly social, and with peoples’ life so deeply interwoven into the tapestry that is the church, it is hard to separate yourself from a church that you are not at peace with, and one that does not match the biblical portrait that God paints – even if you know what it is. This article may help, however, it is the spirit of God that will guide us in all truth (John 16:13)
There are many places to start, but perhaps it might be helpful to get some things out of the way. These are things I hear frequently and which, although felt sincerely, are sincerely wrong.
1) My Church is Legitimate Because: We have done/achieved lots of good things.
What follows this is a list of accomplishments that people may attribute to the church. They may say: we have brought people off the streets; we have removed people from gangs; we have helped people go through rehabilitation; we have built orphanages and helped families. People who read this list as necessarily legitimising the validity of a church are wrong. Now it is true that God accomplishes much of his work through people, however, taking note of that order is important. God uses people. It is God that that did these things, not the people. Just like the moon reflects the light of the sun and generates no light on its own accord, it is in the same way that God uses ‘believers’ and ‘non-believes’ to accomplish His purposes.
Here is what is important. If God will use a donkey or birds (1 Kings 17, John:12-14), then He can use anyone and anything. It is God’s commitment to saving souls that saves souls, and not our intellect and wise planning. It is God that controls every single part of salvation (Ephesians 2:8, John 12:32, Revelations 7:10). It is his doing that people make it through rehabilitation, his doing that people are brought out of gangs. This means God’s use of a body does not legitimise their position as a church. Although these acts may be a helpful indication, nevertheless, a church must be judged by how closely it adheres to the biblical portrait of church and leadership that God paints, and the fruits said believers who go to the church display (1 Corinthians 12:13), Galatians 1:1-2: Ephesians 1:22-23, Acts 2:42-47, Matthew 7:15-20). This is important because what people often do is think that, so long as ‘good’ things are happening there, it must be a church in which God is working. We are not to trust our sight, but instead, the blueprints as laid bare in the Bible for every believer to judge for his/herself.
Churches don’t change lives. God changes lives THROUGH churches. It may seem pedantic, but confusion about this order leads to churches that breed confusion.
2) My Church is Legitimate Because: We have a Global Presence and a ‘powerful’ leader.
This is something that is often said. With the mixing of churches and business, some churches have adopted a certain franchising mentality to church growth. This also leads to members confusing the body of Christ (which is the global body of true believers) to their particular local church or in many cases, their international, mega, super, world domination movement. It makes them scared to visit other churches, talk to members of other churches, or in some cases become friends with people that don’t worship at their church or submit to their Bishop.
In this vein, churches seek legitimacy not in how closely they adhere to the Bible portrait of church painted by God, but instead, to their growing number of members and the perceived power of their Bishop.
Over many years, pastors have erroneously equated congregational growth with church growth. The former is simply an increase in the population of the weekly assembly, whereas the latter is evangelism of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who otherwise would have been lost – and maturity and growth in the relationship with God through Christ. These churches seek legitimacy, advancing the argument that, a following with so many committed members worldwide cannot be corrupt, right? I mean if so many people say it, it must be true right?
These modern-day preachers have blurred the meaning of church by radically pursuing the building of stadium-like “worship facilities” and “anointing sons and daughters” to extend their “apostolic influence” – all as monuments to their greatness. As I’ve said in the past, often times megachurch pastors end up “trading members” as opposed to growing the church with new souls. What God calls church is clearly laid out in (Acts 2:42).
Jesus declared that He would build a Church that Hell could not conquer (Matthew 16:18). He didn’t say He’d build a building – He spoke of a living Body. Still, no man can glory that he is the “sheep herder-in-chief” for a region – only God is responsible for the growth of His Body (1 Corinthians 3:7-8).
Just because your pastor boasts that “we are 1 church in 32 locations”, or he has a network of “sons and daughters” who have “submitted under his covering”, does not mean that he is a church planter. In fact, often he is nothing more than a franchiser. Think about it: McDonald’s sells franchises by charging a fee for a franchiser to rightfully represent themselves as an official representative of the franchise. That was a mouthful.
The result of this kind of argument is that genuine believers get lost in the superstructure that is their international movement. They begin to equate the department they are in, to Christian service. Worrying about the choir, ‘will pastor like this song?’, working out how close they are to the next rung of leadership whilst missing the whole point of fellowship. It is hard to recognise this because as described, it is often a superstructure and many can become lost in it.
So what is a church?
The word ‘church’ as rendered in the New Testament, comes from the Greek term ekklesia which is formed from two Greek words meaning “an assembly” and “to call out” or “called out ones.” This means the New Testament church is a body of believers who have been called out from the world by God, to live as His people under the authority of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:22–23).
This group of believers, or “the body of Christ”, began in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost through the work of the Holy Spirit, and will continue to be formed until the day of the rapture of the church.
What is the purpose of a church?
The purpose of the church is two-fold. The church comes together (assembles) for the purpose of bringing each member to spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:13).
The church reaches out (scatters) to spread the love of Christ and the gospel message to unbelievers in the world (Matthew 28:18-20). This is the Great Commission; to go out into the world and make disciples. So, the purpose of the church is to minister to believers and unbelievers.
The church, both in the universal and local sense, is important because it is the primary vehicle through which God carries out His purposes on earth. The church is the body of Christ—His heart, His mouth, His hands, and feet—reaching out to the world: (1 Corinthians 12:27)
Thinking about leaving a cult or a church that is not right for you? Here are some helpful links:
How to leave a church well:
How to tell your pastor you are leaving a church:
It is important to note that, though no church is perfect, some churches are simply not churches. We are all ultimately imperfect people trying to do perfect work, and so we will always get things wrong. We must cut our leadership base. This being said, there is a large difference between a church that is growing and maturing, and structures built on dubious foundations. It is by applying the Word as guided by the Spirit that we have any hope. It should be noted that the Devil’s primary ploy in our age is deception; presenting the appearance of Godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5).