In our most recent article, we examined the vital role that the local
church plays in a Christian’s life. The importance of the local church is
something I learned very early in my Christian walk, and it has become
one of the real passions in my life. I am a firm believer that many
spiritual shipwrecks that occur in people’s lives could be avoided if
they were plugged into a good church. I wanted to do a supplemental
message dealing with the most commonly raised questions, objections, and
misconceptions concerning the Christian’s relationship to the local
church. Please understand the purpose of this message: It is not my
intention to make church into some sort of legalistic ritual. A good
church is not a bondage, it is a freedom! That being said, le’ts look into
the Word together!
1. “I worship God at home, why do I need the church?”
You certainly should study, pray, and worship God at home. That’s a
given, but this is not an “either/or”, its a “both/and”. Jesus certainly
worshipped the Father in His personal life, but He still saw a need to
attend public worship (Luke 4:16). If the perfect Son of God needed it,
don’t imperfect folks like us need it all the more? In reality, our
worship at church should be an overflow of our personal worship taking
place in our own lives. There are certain impartations that God reserves
for the times when His saints are assembled together. (1 Corinthians
14:26). Some say “I worship God in my own way”. But the fact is, God will
only accept worship when it is done HIS way (see Mark 7:7). If we are
going to truly worship God, then it is non-negotiable that the church be
a part of that worship.
2. “I can study the Bible for myself. I don’t need men to teach me”
As important as personal Bible study is, isn’t it a bit arrogant to
assert that we don’t need the help of people who know it better than we
do? Jesus said “Blessed are the meek” (Matthew 5:5). Being meek does not
mean being a wimp or a doormat. Rather, it means being willing to admit
we don’t know it all, not being too proud to ask for help. That is why we
go to school. That is why we need training on our jobs. Would you hand
the keys to your car to a 5 year old child, and say “Go figure it out for
yourself?” Of course not, and God doesn’t do that to us, either. God sets
up governments within the church (1 Corinthians 12:28), and He gives us
the ordained ministry as a gift, to help bring us to maturity in the
faith (Ephesians 4:11-12). We need mature, doctrinally sound teachers to
help us grow. True ministers are placed into their respective offices by
the Holy Spirit Himself (Acts 20:28). They are to feed and oversee the
flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2) maintain doctrinal purity (Titus 1:9),
and protect the church from spiritual harm (Titus 1:10-11; 2 Peter 2:1).
I believe in the priesthood of the believer. I believe every Christian
can approach God freely and openly. However, some have taken this concept
to such an extreme that they don’t recognize legitimate, God ordained
spiritual authority. We are commanded by God to honor, support, and
cooperate with the spiritual leaders that God has placed over us (1
Corinthians 11:1-2; 16:15-16; Philippians 3:17; Colossians 4:10; 1
Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17) . Spiritual leaders are fallible
human beings, of course, and we must judge anything we are taught in
light of Scripture (Acts 17:11). Yet the fact remains that without
leadership, there will be anarchy. When Moses was away, he returned to
find the Israelites worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32). This is as
much a danger today as it was back then.
3. “What does it mean to be a member of a church?”
A common misconception is that church membership is “just a piece of
paper.” The New Testament church clearly kept records of its membership
(Acts 1:15; 2:41, 47). In addition, we see letters of commendation from
one church to another (Acts 18:27; 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians
3:1-5).This is where the custom of “transferring your letter” comes from.
Joining a church is a sign that you are entering into covenant with that
particular church. By doing that, you are pledging your loyalty to the
church, that you will cooperate with its leadership, and that you will
honor it with your prayers (Ephesians 1:1, 16; 1 Thessalonians 5:25;
Philemon 22,), attendance (Hebrews 10:25), service (1 Corinthians.
12:4-27 [cp. 1 Corinthians 1:2]; Ephesians 4:7; 11-12; 16; 1 Peter.
4:10-11), and financial support (see statement 5 below).
Once you make this commitment, it is important to stick with it. I have
talked to people who believe that God leads them to change churches every
three months. People who think this way will never grow consistently in
their walk with God. Don’t be a “church tramp.” There are legitimate
reasons why God could lead you to change churches , but God will NOT
lead you to change churches sporadically, or on whims (see Proverbs
24:21). Biblical concepts such as faithfulness and loyalty come into play
here. We will discuss this in more detail later in the message.
4. “I have been hurt in church. How can I overcome this?”
I have also been hurt in churches. At some point, we have all probably
had our feelings hurt, and hurt someone else’s feelings too. Sadly, that
is a basic part of human interaction.
I realize that many Christians carry deep emotional scars due to being
hurt or disappointed by a fellow church member, or even worse, by a
church leader. I am certainly not minimizing that. However, God’s Word
does not change because of our negative experiences. The church is not
perfect, because it is made up of imperfect people. Lumps and all, the
church is still His Body, and He still calls all Christians to be part of
it. Offenses happen in all areas of life, and church is no exception. I don’t
mean to sound overly simplistic, but the only thing to do is forgive,
forget, and go on in God (Matthew 6:14-15; Mark 11:25-26: Ephesians
4:31-32: Colossians 3:13).
5. “Churches are just after my money”
Out of the huge number of churches in this country, only a very, very
small percentage have actually shown any evidence of unethical financial
conduct. Its just that the ones who have usually get lots of media
Money is a part of life, and churches, like any other institution, must
have it in order to operate. What does the Bible say about this? Plenty!
We are required by God to support the church through our financial support (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 8, 9; Hebrews 7:8). Even Jesus had a donor base during His earthly ministry (Luke 8:2-3). It is also noteworthy that when Jesus was in the Temple, He personally observed the offering being taken (Mark 12:41-44).
In addition, our giving reflects our priorities. Jesus said that where our treasure is, our heart is also (Matthew 6:21). If our heart is truly set on God’s Kingdom, it will reflect in how we use our treasure.
6. “Should ministers be paid?”
Yes, our giving to the church includes financial support for the
ministry. Many people take offense at the idea of a Pastor receiving a
good salary, living in a nice home, etc. I once even heard of a church
getting angry with their Pastor for buying his little boy an ice cream
cone! This is far from Biblical, and is, in fact, sinful and harmful. If
a man of God shares God’s life changing Word with you, should your
response be to let him and his family live in poverty? The Bible teaches
that those who share God’s Word with us are worthy of “double honor.” (1
Timothy 5:17-18). The word “honor” in this verse is the root of the word
“honorarium,” and is connected, both by context and by definition, with
financial support of the ministry (see Strong’s # 5092.) For more this,
see Matthew 10: 10; Luke 10: 7; Galatians 6:6, and Hebrews 7: 1-11.
7. “How and when should I change churches?”
Commitment to a church is a serious thing, and we should never be
flippant or frivolous about it. Covenant breaking is a very serious sin
in God’s eyes (Romans 1:31-32).
There are, however, circumstances in which changing churches is
justifiable and even necessary. There are obvious things, such as if you
move to another city, but in focusing more on the spiritual points, some
reasons for leaving a church would include:
- The church falling into serious doctrinal error
- The leadership getting involved in some sort of gross sin, such as sexual or financial misconduct
- Progressions in your own spiritual growth (yes, it is possible to “outgrow” a church)
If it does become necessary for you to change churches, try to be as low
key as possible about it. Leave quietly, don’t cause unnecessary strife,
and don’t speak against the church’s leaders. Always take the integrity
8.”Should I stay in a spiritually unhealthy church and try to change it
No, and this is important. Christians who join churches for this reason
usually mean well, but this is both unscriptural and spiritually
unhealthy. As we stated earlier, when you join a church, you are entering
into a covenant relationship with that church. You are agreeing before
God that you will abide by what that church teaches, and that you will
cooperate with that church’s leadership. To join a church, and then work
to undermine the church’s leadership, even if the leadership is in the
wrong, is dishonest. (see Jeremiah 48:10). In fact, numerous times in the
Bible, God specifically commands us not to join or fellowship with
certain types of people and groups. (1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Thessalonians
3:6; 2 Timothy 3:5). In addition, being part of an unhealthy church means
giving your time and resources in support of that church’s sins, and
therefore, becoming a partaker of them (2 John 9-11).
Two things that are absolutely necessary for growth are proper
environment, and proper food. Without these things, you will gradually
die. This is true in both the natural and spiritual realms. .A
Christian’s walk with God is a priceless treasure, a treasure which must
be fed and cultivated. Our choice of a church must reflect that.
9. “How can I find a healthy church”?
There are a number of principals to keep in mind when looking for a
- Ask God to lead you
- Study what the Bible teaches about the church, and how it is to function, and make that the criteria for your search.
- Don’t choose a church based on superficial factors, i.e. popularity, convenience of location, etc.
- Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Remember: God will stretch you!
- Take time to ask questions about the church to its leaders. Find out about the church’s doctrine, vision, etc.
For a more detailed look at this question, see my forthcoming post
“Scorecard For a Healthy Church.”
Obviously, this is not an all inclusive list, but hopefully there are
some things here that will bless and help you. The importance of this
issue cannot be stressed strongly enough. There is a growth process in
which the Christian goes from simply being a convert into being a
disciple. Although it will vary from person to person, it has been
estimated that it takes about five years in a good, solid church to get
fairly well grounded in the faith. But this is just the beginning. Once
you are grounded, it gives you totally fresh and new avenues to serve God
and His church. It is a walk that gets richer and richer. As the beautiful
exhortation from Psalm 92:13 reminds us:
“Those that are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the
courts of our God”
“Keeping It Real” with James H Boyd
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