By Ralph Woodrow
“When I find the perfect church, I will join it! ” one man said. Someone else spoke up: “Better not do that, if you join it, IT WILL NOT BE PERFECT ANYMORE!”
Scattered all over the world, there are literally thousands and thousands of families who do not attend any church–even though they believe in Jesus Christ. They do not believe exactly the same as the churches in their area, so they attend no church at all!
An example of this practice, may be seen in the case of Keith and Marie, a Christian couple, who were parents of a boy and girl, ages 10 and 13. Keith spent a lot of time studying the Bible. He seemed to see things in the Bible that were not being taught the same in the local churches. Admittedly, some of the points were of minor importance, but the differences were enough that he felt he could not belong to any of the churches. So, neither did his wife–or children!
But, being a believer in Jesus Christ, Keith should have realized that there were many more areas of agreement–than disagreement–with almost any of these churches: God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. He rose again and ascended into heaven. He is Lord. Through him we can have everlasting life. He is coming again. These are major doctrines–certainly separating those who believe them from the world that has not this faith!
By attending a local church–even if there was not agreement on all points–Keith and his family could be consistent partakers in fellowship with other believers, public worship, payer, hymn singing, an opening of the Word, with at least basic teaching on right and wrong, values, family, Christian living, faith, hope, and charity. For the children of this family, there could be wholesome activities that center around the church fellowship. Here they could make friends with other children being raised with spiritual values. But for Keith and Marie, and their children, all of these things were sacrificed for a few doctrinal differences.
Over and over the Bible gives examples of believers assembling together for worship. It is a basic Christian practice. But even in the first century, there were “some” who were forsaking this practice, prompting the writer of the book of Hebrews to say:
“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith….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” (Heb. 10:23-25).
Those who failed to assemble together with believers were not unsaved people, or pagans, or atheists–none of which would be expected to attend services anyhow. Those who had this “manner” or custom, were professing believers in Christ. But, probably, because of some doctrinal disagreement, they felt justified in staying home. They wanted a perfect church, and not finding it, like some today, attended
no church at all!
While living at Nazareth, Jesus was a regular at religious services. “…as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day” (Lk. 4:16). This does not imply chat the synagogue was perfect or that people there understood all doctrines perfectly. Nevertheless, at Nazareth this was a center for the worship of God–and Jesus was a pert of it! He didn’t refuse to attend because the rabbis had less understanding than he did!
Those who require a perfect church apparently forget that even the original churches–churches founded by the apostles–were not perfect. They had their faults and failures also.
Take the church at Corinth for example. Some of the members were confused about the resurrection, some even denying the resurrection. Having been saved from an ungodly background, some supposed celibacy was God’s requirement. There was carnality, envy, strife, and divisions–some saying, “I am of Paul,” and others, “I am of Apollos.” Services were disorderly and lacked structure. Gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as speaking in tongues and prophecy, were being misused and abused. Paul’s writing of the “Love Chapter” implies there was weakness in this area. Their communion service had become a mere supper, with the rich having much and the poor being shamed. One of their members was involved in incest. Quite a church! Yet–and this is our point–this was “the church of God at Corinth.” Had we lived in Corinth at the time, we might have felt justified in staying home and not attending services there. But there is not the slightest hint, Biblically speaking, that this would be proper.
Within a family there may be babies as well as older children who know more and are more mature–yet they all have the same father! So is it in the family of God–not everyone has attained the same degree of knowledge. Some are mature; some are babes in Christ (Heb. 5:12-14). But when we have God as our Father, we are all a part of his family. Can I accept my brother in Christ who does not see everything the way I do; can he accept me? Differences of opinion or understanding should not build walls between the members of God’s family.
Let me tell you about a Christian woman (we will call her Alice), who was married and had three children. Her husband was not a Christian. Alice’s beliefs would have fit well with any of the evangelical churches in her community–except for one thing. She believed that in partaking of the Lord’s supper, one cup should be used–not individual cups. At the last supper, she pointed out, Jesus used one cup.
The closest one-cupper church was forty miles away. Because of the distance involved, she and her children could only attend there occasionally. The rest of the time they went to no church at all. Because of this technical point, Alice felt she was right in not attending church services regularly. But notice how being “right” (supposedly) on this one point actually short circuited many things that were more important. Because of the distance involved–she missed church attendance most of the time, her children could not be involved in the young people’s activities of this church, and chances of her husband becoming interested in attending church were greatly hampered. In situations like this, people have strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel (Matt. 23:24).
While the ideal is chat we all see “eye to eye” (Isaiah 51:8) and all “speak the same thing” (1 Cor. 1:10), yet the New Testament allows room for certain differences of understanding as we grow in Christ (Romans 14). We must keep in mind that truth is vast; it is not limited to a few points of doctrine. No one person has all the truth or every divine gift. The Holy Spirit divides these to every member of the body of Christ as he wills (1 Cor 12:11-17). It ends up we all need each other. No man is an island. An arrogant, know-it-all attitude short-circuits the flow of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. As the Psalmist, we should pray Renew a right spirit within me” (Psalms 51: 10).
A person who can’t fit in with any church, who supposes that he alone has all the truth, is like the man who said: “Every one is wrong except you and me, and sometimes I wonder about thee!”
There are differences of opinion–on some points more than others. Let me throw out a classic example: the 144,000 mentioned in the book of Revelation! There have been groups that claimed they are, or will become, the 144,000. Most never reach the number: some have passed the number. I met a man once who said God had called him to train the 144,000. He had purchased some property in a remote area of California for this purpose. A friend of his asked where all these people were going to stay, pointing out that the house on the property only had one toilet!
Some believe the 144,000 will not appear until after the rapture–and will then become the greatest soul winners ever. Futurists place the 144,000 in the future; historicists place them in the past. These are some of the differences.
In Chapter Five of my book HIS TRUTH IS MARCHING ON!, I give what I feel is the best explanation concerning the 144,000, but add: “I would stress that in commenting on the book of Revelation we are dealing with much symbolism. How one interprets symbols, or even what is symbolical and what is not, can lead to different conclusions. On such things I will not be dogmatic. Nor is a study such as this intended for any division or strife. We should take a stand for truth as we come to see it, yet always ‘endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…speaking the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:3,15).”
I wrote those words in 1977 and I believe they still hold true today. It is no time for Christians to fight each other or put one another down. It is no time to split hairs, to major on minors. If we disagree, we need not be disagreeable. Having had the opportunity to speak for many different churches, I would not take advantage of another man’s pulpit.
In essentials, there must be unity; in non-essentials, liberty in all things, charity. Salvation is not based on having all doctrines figured out it is not based on whether we understand everything in the book of Revelation!
But this should not discourage Bible study. Over the years I have shared what I consider to be neglected and little-known truths, some of which are controversial. I don’t suppose that any one person or church would agree with all of these things. I have no problem with this. As people pass through the cafeteria line, they can take what they choose. They can eat the meat and throw away the bones, if that be the case. We are all learning, growing, sorting things out–no one person has the full or final answer on all things.
For me to say each Christian should be a part of a local church–even if there is not agreement on all points–in the eyes of some, will be considered controversial. To them it seems like compromise. But I have seen a lot of people, many living in smaller communities with only a few churches to choose from, who do not attend any church–for reasons we have mentioned. Without the fellowship with other believers, many of these eventually dry up spiritually. There are good reasons why the Bible says not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together!
I am not saying to just attend any church. I am not recommending fellowship with cults and extremist groups that shame the gospel. One should seek to find a church that comes the closest to what he believes, as well as one that is being blessed by God in a community, one that is victorious and loving, one with Spirit! If there are children in the family, a church with a good young people’s group, is a must.
Some of my own early, deeper spiritual experiences involved church camps. Young people in Christian camps can interact with other Christian youth. They can see that the devil does not have all the youth. In this environment the Holy Spirit can deal, work, direct lives, as times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord. But Christian families who refuse to attend any church, miss out on these things.
Parents who do not set an example of church attendance, breed a critical attitude in their children, robbing them of a spiritual heritage. I knew a couple young men who grew up in a home like that. The father read the Bible a lot, his main objective, seemingly, being to study doctrinal points that differed with others. While admitting to me that neither of his sons (now grown) were living for God, he seemed pleased to tell me that where they worked, occasionally the subject of religion would come up for discussion and his sons could set the others straight~quoting Bible verses to prove what is wrong with the churches!
Even some families who attend church, go home afterwards and have “roast preacher” for lunch–something was bad about the sermon, they didn’t like this, he was wrong on that! Was anything he said right or good?
I am reminded of a story about a man who shook hands with a minister as he left church. “Doe, there were only three things I didn’t like about your sermon,” he said. The minister asked what the three things were. “Well,” the man replied, “first of all, you read your sermon. Second, you’re not a very good reader. And third, I didn’t like what you read!”
The pastor is in a precarious position; he can’t please everyone! It has been said:
If he is young, he lacks experience; if his hair is grey, he’s too old for the young people.
If he has several children, he has too many; if he has no children, he’s setting back example.
If he preaches from his notes, he has canned sermons and is too dry; if he doesn’t use notes, he has not studied and is not deep.
If he is attentive to the poor people in the church, they claim he is playing to the grandstand; if he pays attention to the wealthy, he is trying to be an aristocrat.
If he suggests changes for improvement of the church, he is a dictator; if he makes no suggestions he is a figurehead.
If he uses too many illustrations, he neglects the Bible; if he doesn’t use enough illustrations, he isn’t clear.
If he condemns wrong, he’s cranky; if he doesn’t preach against sin, he’s a compromiser.
If he preaches the truth, he’s offensive; if he doesn’t preach the truth, he’s a hypocrite.
If he fails to please somebody, he’s hurting the church and ought to leave; if he tries to please everybody, he’s a fool.
If he preaches about money, he’s a money grabber; if he doesn’t preach scriptural giving, he is failing to develop the people.
If he drives an old car, he shames his congregation; if he drives a new car, he is setting his affection upon earthly things.
If he preaches all the time, the people get tired of hearing one man; if he invites guest speakers, he is shirking his responsibility.
If he receives a large salary, he’s mercenary; if he receives only a small salary, well it proves he isn’t worth much anyway.
This is, of course, an exaggerated picture, but I think it makes a point. No pastor is perfect and no church is perfect, but in spite of imperfections, God uses pastors and churches.
Some say they don’t believe in the organized church. So what do they believe in: an un-organized church? No church at all? There are radicals who say: “If you put your name on a church book, you have taken it out of the book of life! ” This is ridiculous. Our names appear on all kinds of lists–for school, business, deeds, taxes, post office, organizations, phone, etc. What could be wrong in having one’s name, listed among other names, indicating he is in fellowship with a local group of Christians?
I think many of us feel there is too much government in churches. Nevertheless, the right kind of “government” does have its place (1 Cor. 12:28). Just recently I had indirect involvement with a church whose pastor died. He had founded the church and served as the pastor for 40 years. But no provision was made for a new pastor to replace him. There is nothing wrong with churches having bylaws and policy so the work of the church can go on. To simply say it is the Lord’s work and he will take care of it, might only be an excuse. God uses people to preach the gospel; he uses people to carry on his work.
As Christians we should all share in the great commission–to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Because missionary work–to feed the hungry, to help the needy, to preach the gospel–is often best done as a group effort, a systematic, consistent, organized outreach is more effective than a hit-and-miss effort by an individual here or there. A local church can have a great ministry in missions.
Even with their imperfections, it has been in churches that the Lord has saved many people through the preaching of the gospel. I will not venture a figure, but a large percentage of people who are now Christians made that commitment in a church. But the isolated, individual believer, who supposes God does not want him to go to church, seldom (if ever) wins any souls to Christ.
A local church is in a position to be a beacon of light in the community. At one time someone came and started that church, possibly at great personal sacrifice. I have known men who have started churches, labored long, receiving neither gold nor glory. They worked on a job, sometimes taking their own money to keep the church doors open. Should this be counted as nothing?
We know, of course, that the church or assembly is the people–not the building. Nevertheless, within those church buildings (or “churches” as they are now commonly called), many people have heard the gospel and found the Lord. Would our country be better if, instead of numerous church buildings in a community, there were only Jewish synagogues, Islamic mosques, and Buddhist temples? Would it be better to live in a strictly secular society with all churches closed down? I think the answers are obvious.
A person who has spent a lot of time studying the Bible may indeed come to see truths that others may not know or understand. And, since churches are not perfect, there is a need for correction and growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ. But influence from within is more likely to be effective than criticism from someone who isolates himself and boycotts the church by his nonattendance.
SEZ I TO MYSELF
Sez I to myself, as I grumbled and growled, “I’m sick of my church,” and then, how I scowled!
“The members unfriendly, the sermons too long; In fact, it seems that everything’s wrong.
I don’t like the singing; the church–a disgrace; For signs of neglect are all over the place.
I’ll quit going there, and I won’t give a dime; I can make better use of my money and time.”
Then sez my conscience to me, sez he, “The trouble with you is, you’re too blind to see That your church reflects YOU, whatever it be. Now come, pray and pay and serve cheerfully; Stop all your faultfinding and boost it up strong; You’ll find you’ll be happy and proud to belong. Be friendly and willing to sing as you work, For churches aren’t built by members who shirk.”
–Selected (source unknown!
The Above Material Was Published By Ralph Woodrow. This Material Ic Copyrighted And May Be Used For Study & Research Purposes Only.