Category Archives: Christianity Questions

Questions about Christianity: What Is Seventh-Day Adventism (SDA), and What Do Seventh-Day Adventists Believe?

There seem to be different “degrees” of Seventh-day Adventism. Some Seventh-day Adventists believe identically to orthodox Christians, other than believing that worship should be held on Saturday and that the Saturday Sabbath should still be observed. If these are the only differences, then, yes, a person could be a Seventh-day Adventist and still be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, some Seventh-day Adventists believe in much more than a Saturday Sabbath / worship day. Seventh-day Adventists have been known to believe in the annihilation of the wicked instead of an eternal hell, and believe that believers who die enter a state of soul sleep and that a person must observe the Saturday Sabbath in order to be saved. Other problems with some Seventh-day Adventists are belief in Ellen G. White, the founder of Seventh-day Adventism, as a true prophet of God, even though many of her “prophecies” failed to come true, and that Jesus entered a second phase of His redemptive work on October 22, 1844, as “prophesied” by Hiram Edson.

So, what is Seventh-day Adventism, and what do Seventh-day Adventists believe? Should a Christian attend a Seventh-day Adventist church? Due to the potential doctrinal issues mentioned above, we would strongly encourage believers to not get involved in Seventh-day Adventism. Yes, a person can be an advocate of Seventh-day Adventism and still be a believer. At the same time, there are enough potential issues to make attending a Seventh-day Adventist church questionable at best.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is Westboro Baptist Church?

The Westboro Baptist Church is a congregation in Topeka, Kansas, started by Pastor Fred Phelps. They are an independent church, not affiliated with any denomination. They are known for their virulent protests against homosexuality and anything and anyone they consider supportive of the “homosexual agenda.”

The Westboro Baptist Church is well known for picketing places and events they see as supporting either homosexuality or Jews. This has grown to include actual gay and lesbian events, churches and organizations they feel do not repudiate homosexuality sufficiently, and the funerals of soldiers (who fought in a war they say was caused because of America’s tolerance for homosexuality). Although known in Topeka since the picketing of Gage Park in 1991, they came to national attention in 1998 after the horrific murder of admitted homosexual Matthew Shepherd who was beaten and left to die tied to a fence outside of Laramie, Wyoming. Members of the Westboro Church protested at Matthew’s funeral and his murderers’ trials and created a website saying Matthew was burning in hell.

In addition, members of the Westboro Baptist Church believe that natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and war are all God-initiated judgments on the evil in the world. They state that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. occurred because God wanted America to enter into a war they couldn’t win, thereby losing the lives of countless soldiers. Every tragedy, they claim, is judgment because of support of homosexuality or Jews or because of attacks on Westboro Baptist Church members.

Westboro Baptist Church: The Messages

1. “God hates [everybody]”

What began as the rallying cry “God hates fags” has now devolved into a comprehensive inclusion of nearly every group, every nation, and every person who is not involved in Westboro Baptist Church. They are quick to assert that God hates anyone who does not believe exactly as they do and who does not act as they do.

Does God hate everybody? Because of who God is, and the fact that He is holy, He has no choice but to hate sin and the sin nature—that deep part of an unbeliever that incites rebellion against God. But God also loves everyone. Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Laying down one’s life for another is the highest expression of love; therefore, Christ’s sacrifice is His demonstration of love to people still burdened with a sin nature—unbelievers.

God also shows His love through His common grace to all His creation. “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). Jesus said God causes “his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) and God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). Barnabas and Paul would later say the same thing: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17). In addition to His compassion, goodness, and kindness, God also shows His patience to both the elect and the non-elect. While God’s patience for His own is undoubtedly different from His patience with those whom He has not chosen, God still exercises “longsuffering” toward those whom He has not chosen (Nahum 1:3). Every breath that the wicked man takes is an example of the mercy of our holy God.

God also exhorts His followers to love, even to love those whose natures and objectives are diametrically opposed to our own: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven …” (Matthew 5:44–45b). Also, “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (verse 48). God wants us to love our enemies so we can be more like Him, showing compassion to others as He has had compassion upon us.

2. “[Everybody’s] going to hell”

The members of Westboro Baptist Church are quick to assert that those they name are going to burn in hell. The problem with this is that although we are to measure others’ actions by the Word of God and encourage fellow believers toward maturity, we are never to make a judgment about another’s salvation (Matthew 7:1–2). Jesus warns His disciples against proclaiming the guilt of others before God. To be a condemning judge of others is to show that one is still under the condemnation of God. We are not the absolute standard. We are not the final word on the matter. To make such a dogmatic pronouncement is to usurp the place of God.

The vehemence with which Westboro Baptist Church denies God’s compassionate love for all people and declares others’ position of salvation reflects their belief in hyper-Calvinism. Calvinism states that man can do nothing to save himself from judgment; God elects those He will save (Romans 8:29–30). Hyper-Calvinism takes this further, saying since God alone elects those He will save, witnessing is futile. It also denies the concept of common grace—the beneficence God shows toward all His creation by providing good things (Matthew 5:45b) and holding back evil. This is a dangerous misconception about God’s grace that leads to great anxiety and doubt of a person’s own salvation. Westboro Baptist Church’s extreme hyper-Calvinism also explains why they do not care about offending people. They believe if a person is elect, he/she will believe, no matter what. They believe if a person is non-elect, he/she has absolutely no possibility of salvation. Therefore, hateful, angry, and vehement rhetoric does not matter, as it could not possibly change a person’s eternal destiny. Westboro Baptist Church rejects the idea that offending people could turn them away from faith in Jesus Christ.

Westboro Baptist Church: The Method

The way in which Westboro Baptist Church spreads its message is mostly through websites and picketing. They are proud of their ability to picket several different places every day, often bringing their children along with them. They hold signs declaring “God hates ___”, and yell at passersby. Their websites are filled with declarations about the judgment of God and the specific sins they believe public figures have committed. They include much vile name-calling and usually come around to accusations of support of homosexuality. Christian leaders, churches, and para-church organizations are as quick to attract their wrath as any secular institution. This tone is completely contradictory to the teachings of the Bible (Ephesians 4:1–6, 29–32; 1 Corinthians 13:1–2, 4–7).

Part of the methodology of picketing with intentionally offensive signage is to antagonize people to the point of violence. When this occurs, Westboro Baptist Church is quick to take legal action. Westboro Baptist Church has a team of experienced lawyers at their disposal. Sadly, some of Westboro Baptist Church’s activities are funded by the financial gains from this litigation.

Westboro Baptist Church: The Misrepresentation

The members of the Westboro Baptist Church claim to speak in God’s name, but do so in a way contradictory to what God shows us in the Bible. They see themselves in the same role as the prophets of the Old Testament and associate prophecies about Old Testament nations to America. But God’s prophets rarely warned without also giving a chance of redemption or the promise of a future hope (even if the prophets didn’t want to (see Jonah 4:2). The “prophecies” of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church are much more straightforward:

“Our message to this evil world is that God hates you, and you better prepare for the return of Christ in power and glory. Jesus came the first time to save; and Jesus will come the second time in vengeance, because you do not obey the Gospel. It will be soon, and you will experience the wrath of the Lamb, face to face.” (GodHatesAmerica.com)

Even when God told the prophet Jeremiah not to pray for the deliverance of Israel from the Babylonians (Jeremiah 7:16), He still gave the promise that Israel would be restored (Jeremiah 51). God will separate Himself from those who choose to reject Him, but His message is one of hope and reconciliation, not violent dismissal.

Most disturbing is the way Westboro Baptist Church claims to represent God to the world. God’s primary concern regarding the world is not homosexuality. He is much more concerned with the hearts of anyone who rejects Him and indulges in continual sin. And when Jesus did confront someone with a chronic sin, the message was simply, “Stop” (John 8:1–11).

By asserting that every tragedy from Hurricane Katrina to the death of children is a direct judgment of God either for homosexuality or attacks on Westboro Baptist Church members, they present a picture of God completely contradictory to His true character. God is not the cause of all the tragedy in the world. He graciously interacts with people living in a world damaged by sin, using circumstances created by evil to draw people closer to Himself.

If anything is to be learned from Westboro Baptist Church, it is the importance of seeking God’s wisdom and grace in interacting with others. We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We are to defend the faith with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Love, gentleness, and respect are completely lacking in the methods and message of Westboro Baptist Church.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is an Evangelical Free Church?

In 1950, the Evangelical Free Church of America (Swedish) and the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Free Church Association combined to form the Evangelical Free Church of America. Churches often shorten their affiliation to “EvFree” or “E-Free.”

The “evangelical” of Evangelical Free reflects the assertions that the scriptures are the inerrant word of God, people are born into a sinful condition, and salvation comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as a commitment to spreading these beliefs. They also believe in the premillennial return of Christ, the bodily resurrection of the dead, and the celebration of water baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

The “free” means that EFCA churches are congregational in governance. Each church is governed and financially supported by its own members. This is as opposed to being ruled by a presbyter, or board of elders, or an episcopate, which is a central leader over several churches. Although EFCA churches typically have a senior pastor and a board of elders, the pastors and elders receive their authority by the vote of the congregation.

Local churches may be involved in regional ministries with churches of other denominations. The EFCA also supports the reconciliation program Samaritan Way, and the national and international missions programs ReachNational and ReachGlobal. Chuck Swindoll was ordained as an Evangelical Free pastor, and his ministry Insight for Living began as a radio broadcast of his messages at the First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, California.

The EFCA only ordains men to be pastors. Baptism is generally not required for communion or membership into the church. Although the EFCA supports many ministries, they do not emphasize secular political involvement. Personal responsibility and holiness are stressed over adherence to strict behavioral guidelines. The church is inclusive; that is, salvation is through faith in Christ alone, and church membership is not dependent on acceptance of minor issues. The association takes no stance on Calvinism vs. Arminianism, worship style, or spiritual gifts. Music styles vary from full choir and orchestra to guitar-based worship teams. Preaching varies from verse-by-verse exegesis to topical messages with illustrations—sometimes in the same church.

In the face of downward trends in church attendance, the EFCA has held its own. The number of congregations has nearly doubled in the last thirty years (to 1,480), and attendance has more than tripled (to 350,000). In the last decade, both congregation numbers and members have seen modest increases. The headquarters of the EFCA is in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The association is divided into eighteen districts. Although most E-Free churches are concentrated in the Midwest, California has the greatest number.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Is Roman Catholicism?

The Roman Catholic Church portrays itself as the one legitimate heir to New Testament Christianity, and the Pope as the successor to Peter, the first bishop of Rome. While those details are debatable, there is no question that Roman church history reaches back to ancient times. The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans about AD 55, and addressed a church body that existed prior to his first visit there (but he made no mention of Peter, though he greeted others by name). Despite repeated persecutions by the government, a vibrant Christian community existed in Rome after apostolic times. Those early Roman Christians were just like their brethren in other parts of the world—simple followers of Jesus Christ.

Things changed drastically when the Roman Emperor Constantine professed a conversion to Christianity in AD 312. He began to make changes which ultimately led to the formation of the Roman Catholic Church. He issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which granted freedom of worship throughout the empire. When doctrinal disputes arose, Constantine presided over the first ecumenical church council at Nicaea in AD 325, even though he held no official authority in the churches. By the time of his death, Christianity was the favored, if not the official, religion of the Roman Empire. The term “Roman Catholic” was defined by Emperor Theodosius on February 27, 380 in the Theodosian Code. In that document, he referred to those who hold to the “religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter” as “Roman Catholic Christians,” and gave them the official sanction of the empire.

The fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Catholic Church are really two branches of the same story, as the power was transferred from one entity to the other. From the time of Constantine (AD 312) until the fall of the Roman Empire in 476, the emperors of Rome claimed a certain amount of authority within the church, even though it was disputed by many church leaders. During those formative years, there were many disputes over authority, structure, and doctrine. The emperors sought to increase their authority by granting privileges to various bishops, resulting in disputes about primacy within the churches. At the same time, some of the bishops sought to increase their authority and prestige by accusing others of false doctrine and seeking state support of their positions. Many of those disputes resulted in very sinful behavior, which are a disgrace to the name of Christ.

Just like today, some of those who lived in the leading cities tended to exalt themselves above their contemporaries in the rural areas. The third century saw the rise of an ecclesiastical hierarchy patterned after the Roman government. The bishop of a city was over the presbyters, or priests, of the local congregations, controlling the ministry of the churches, and the Bishop of Rome began to establish himself as supreme over all. Though some historians tell these details as the history of “the church,” there were many church leaders in those days which neither stooped to those levels nor acknowledged any ecclesiastical hierarchy. The vast majority of churches in the first four centuries derived their authority and doctrine from the Bible, and traced their lineage directly back to the apostles, not to the church of Rome. In the New Testament, the terms “elder,” “pastor,” and “bishop” are used interchangeably for the spiritual leaders of any church (see 1 Peter 5:1–3 where the Greek root words are translated “elders,” “feed,” and “oversight”). By the time Gregory became pope in AD 590, the empire was in a shambles, and he assumed imperial powers along with his ecclesiastical authority. From that time on, the church and state were fully intertwined as the Holy Roman Empire, with the pope exercising authority over kings and emperors.

What are the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that distinguish it from other Christian churches? Whole books have been written on this subject, but a sampling of the doctrines will be outlined here.

Roman Catholicism

Biblical Teaching

The bishops,   with the Pope as their head, rule the universal Church.  Christ, the   head of the body, rules the universal church (Colossians 1:18). 
God has   entrusted revelation to the bishops.  God has   entrusted revelation to the saints (Jude 3). 
The Pope is   infallible in his teaching.  God alone is   infallible (Numbers 23:19; Acts 17:11). 
Scripture and   Tradition together are the Word of God.  Scripture   alone is the Word of God (John 10:35; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:20, 21;   Mark 7:1–13). 
Mary is the   co-redeemer, for she participated with Christ in the painful act of   redemption.  Christ alone   is the Redeemer, for He alone suffered and died for sin (1 Peter 1:18, 19). 
Mary is the   co-mediator, to whom we can entrust all our cares and petitions.  Christ Jesus is   the one mediator to whom we can entrust all our cares and petitions (1   Timothy 2:5; John 14:13, 14; 1 Peter 5:7). 
Initial   justification is by means of baptism.  Justification   is by faith alone (Romans 3:28). 
Adults must   prepare for justification through faith and good works.  God justifies   ungodly sinners who believe (Romans 4:5). Good works are the result of   salvation, not the cause (Ephesians 2:8–10). 
Grace is   merited by good works.  Grace is a   free gift (Romans 11:6). 
Salvation is   attained by cooperating with grace through faith, good works, and   participation in the sacraments.  Salvation is   attained by grace through faith apart from works (Ephesians 2:10). 
No one can   know if he will attain to eternal life.  The believer   can know that he has eternal life by the Word of God and the testimony of the   Holy Spirit who indwells believers (1 John 5:13; Romans 8:16). 
The Roman   Catholic Church is necessary for salvation.  There is   salvation in no one but the Lord Jesus Christ, “for there is no other name   under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts   4:12). 
Christ’s body   and blood exist wholly and entirely in every fragment of consecrated bread   and wine in every Roman Catholic church around the world.  The bread and   wine are symbols of the body and blood of Christ, and He is bodily present in   heaven (1 Corinthians 11:23–25; Hebrews 10:12, 13). 
The sacrifice   of the cross is perpetuated in the Sacrifice of the Mass.  The sacrifice   of the cross is finished (John 19:30). 
Each sacrifice   of the Mass appeases God’s wrath against sin.  The   once-for-all sacrifice of the cross fully appeased God’s wrath against sin   (Hebrews 10:12–18). 
The   sacrificial work of redemption is continually carried out through the   sacrifice of the Mass.  The   sacrificial work of redemption was finished when Christ gave His life for us   on the cross (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 1:3). 

These doctrines don’t date back all the way to Constantine, except for perhaps in seed form, but were slowly adopted over many years as various popes issued decrees. In many cases, the doctrines are not even based on Scripture, but on a document of the church. Most Roman Catholics consider themselves to be Christians and are unaware of the differences between their beliefs and the Bible. Sadly, the Roman Catholic Church has fostered that ignorance by discouraging the personal study of the Bible and making the people reliant on the priests for their understanding of the Bible.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: What Was the First Great Awakening? What Was the Second Great Awakening?

The First and Second Great Awakenings (c. 1735–1743 and c.1795–1830, respectively) were theologically significant in that they helped to shape Christian thinking by the intense revivalism they created. Each had leaders who were noteworthy in history, with Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield being two of the prominent names in the First Awakening (which was characterized by Calvinists), and Nathaniel Taylor and Charles Finney in the Second (far less Calvinistic and more closely attuned to the Arminian beliefs of many in the newly-formed United States).

Whitefield and Edwards believed churches should be organized to be entirely distinct from New England governments. They preached that salvation was only of God and that humans did not possess any ability whatever toward salvation; it came only as a result of God’s saving call. In other words, man’s “righteousness” would not save him no matter how many good deeds he has done. Furthermore, the Doctrines of Predestination/Election (Romans 8:28–30) were regularly espoused, which upset many as well as drew in many, for God’s decreeing from eternity past who would be saved and who would not was an electrifying concept to them. Edwards’ propounding of these biblical truths as he saw them was the longest-lived theological result of the First Awakening.

The Second Great Awakening gained much interest by its support of important theological themes such as salvation and the church’s role in society. Nathaniel Taylor moved away from the beliefs of Whitefield and Edwards, maintaining that man possessed a “power to the contrary” when faced with moral choices, which strengthened the belief that man had a free will and therefore did play a part in his own salvation.

At the same time, “voluntary societies” sprang up, which were separate from church denominations; they were formed to help Christianize and reform America. Their successes moved many people to great feats of Christian service. In turn, this overall atmosphere caused many to believe that the end of the age was approaching, which generated even more good works and seemed to validate the concept of these societies even more.

In summary, the First Great Awakening stimulated a revival in Calvinism, due in no small part to the preaching and teaching of Jonathan Edwards. The Second Great Awakening is characterized by its stressing Arminianism rather than Calvinism, and its encouragement of revivalistic and democratic theology, which were seen to be essential ingredients in the shaping of American Protestantism. Ever since those days, both Awakenings have provided an enduring legacy for modern evangelicalism.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Should Christians try to force the kingdom on others?

As a background, please read our article on Christian reconstructionism, which is closely related to “dominion theology” and “theonomy.” This line of theological interpretation states that biblical Christianity will rule all areas of society, personal and corporate, and that the goal of Christians is to help create a world-wide kingdom patterned after the Mosaic Law. Those that hold these views believe that Christ will not return to earth until such a kingdom has been established, a view that is completely antithetical to the Bible’s teaching on the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The principal goal, then, of dominion theology and Christian reconstructionism is political and religious domination of the world through the implementation of the moral laws, and subsequent punishments, of the Old Testament (the sacrificial and ceremonial laws having been fulfilled in the New Testament). This is not a government system ruled by the Church, but rather a government conformed to the Law of God.

God has never called Christians to establish a physical kingdom ruled by His laws, commands, and statutes. The mission of Christians is to share the Gospel of salvation with the whole world (Matthew 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). When people are saved, the Holy Spirit will begin the work in them of changing their lives into conformity with God’s Word (Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:13). It is only when a society or culture is populated with born again Christians that the society is changed, one heart and one life at a time. That is why Christ put an end to the Old Testament law (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:24–26; Ephesians 2:15) and instead instituted the law of Christ (Matthew 22:37–40; Galatians 6:2). The law of love and grace is what is needed in the hearts of men who, once their hearts are changed, can corporately effect change in their society.

Attempts to change societies and cultures from without will always fail. Changing people on the inside is God’s work through His Holy Spirit, and therefore no one can be forced into the kingdom. God is more interested in saving people’s souls than He is in forcing people to obey His laws. For an unsaved person to obey God’s law, he would be doing it out of fear and obligation. God wants a person to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) and then to obey His commands out of reverence and love (1 John 5:3). So the answer to your question is no. God has not called us to enforce His commands on an unredeemed world. Rather, he has called us to proclaim the message of salvation—the redeeming power and life-transforming message of Jesus’ death on the cross (Romans 5:8).[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Is the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) a good biblical church?

The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is an historically African-American Holiness-Pentecostal church. The church has congregations in nearly 60 countries around the world. With a membership of over 5 million in 2007, it is the largest African-American and largest Pentecostal church in the United States. The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) was formed in 1897 by a group of Baptists, most notably Charles Price Jones (1865–1949) and Charles Harrison Mason (1866–1961), who broke fellowship with the Baptists over the doctrine of Holiness. Mason became associated with a group of men who would become the early African-American leaders of the Holiness Movement in the late 19th century.

An examination of the statement of faith from COGIC’s official homepage reveals that the group holds to many of the traditional doctrines of Christianity such as the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, the triune nature of God, repentance and faith in Christ for the remission of sins, the rapture of the church, and regeneration of the Spirit necessary for salvation. However, other doctrines held by COGIC are at odds with traditional, biblical Christianity: healing of the body in answer to believing prayer; the baptism of the Holy Spirit in response to prayer separate from salvation; and the ability to live a holy and separated life in the present world. Each of these beliefs are contrary to the revealed Word of God, as explained in the articles on the Got Questions site linked above.

There is no doubt the COGIC churches and headquarters are involved in many wonderful ministries, to the African-American community in particular, including global outreach, prison ministry, urban outreach and health/wellness. But as with all groups in the Holiness movement, they adhere to Latter Rain teachings which depart from Scripture. We do not question the faith of COGIC members, nor do we doubt the sincerity of their love for Jesus Christ. Due to some important doctrinal differences, though, we cannot recommend COGIC churches as good, biblical churches.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Is the Church of Christ a good biblical church?

There is no doubt that many in the Church of Christ denomination are genuine believers in Christ who desire to truly worship, follow, and obey Him. At the same time, there are others in the Church of Christ who are borderline cult-like in their preferences, practices, and doctrines. We are by no means disparaging the entire Church of Christ denomination. The purpose of this article is to express some concerns and answer some questions about the Church of Christ that we have observed and experienced.

One “minor” issue is the Church of Christ policy of not allowing musical instruments in their church services. While we entirely agree that a church is well within the freedom God gives to not use musical instruments in worship, the problem is that some within the Church of Christ are fanatically against musical instruments. Some are fanatical to the point of declaring any church that uses musical instruments as not being a true, biblical, or godly church. Such dogmatism on a clearly non-essential issue is often the mark of a cult, not the mark of a good biblical church.

A second issue is the fact that some in the Church of Christ claim to be “the one true church,” outside of which there is no salvation. By no means do all Church of Christ members believe this, but it is prevalent enough to warrant concern. Some go so far as to argue that since the name is “Church of Christ,” that indicates that the church / denomination is the one and only true Church of the Lord Jesus. This is completely unbiblical. There is no one church or denomination that encompasses the entire Body of Christ. The “one true church of Christ” is comprised of all those who have, by grace through faith, personally received Jesus Christ as Savior. The Church is composed of true believers everywhere, no matter the local church or denominational affiliation. The claim of exclusive access to salvation is another common identification of a cult, not the behavior of a good biblical church.

A third and most important issue is the Church of Christ’s emphasis on baptism as being necessary for salvation. Church of Christ advocates point to Scriptures such as Acts 2:38, John 3:5, Mark 16:16, 1 Peter 3:21, and Acts 22:16 as biblical evidence that baptism is required for salvation. There is no denying that baptism is very important. Baptism is intended to be an initial act of obedience to Christ, an illustration of Christ’s death and resurrection, a public declaration of faith in Christ, a step of identification with Him, and a
proclamation of desire to follow Him. In the minds of the apostles and early Christians, baptism was so inextricably linked with salvation that the two were viewed as inseparable. The idea that a person could receive Christ as Savior and not be baptized was completely foreign to the early church.

With that said, however, baptism is not required for salvation. There are biblically plausible and contextually valid interpretations of each of the above Scriptures that do not indicate baptism as being necessary for salvation. There are many Scriptures that declare salvation to be received by faith / believing, with no mention of baptism or any other requirement (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8–9). If baptism is necessary for salvation, these Scriptures are in error and the Bible is contradictory.

Church of Christ advocates argue that when the Bible speaks of salvation “by faith,” it is speaking of a living faith, a faith that produces works of obedience, such as baptism and confession (Romans 10:9–10). They do not claim that baptism is a work that earns salvation, or in any sense makes a person worthy of salvation. Rather, the Church of Christ teaches that baptism is a work that God requires before He grants salvation, which clearly contradicts their statement that it is not required for salvation. For the Church of Christ, baptism and confession are no different from faith and repentance—they are what God requires before He grants salvation to a person. The problem with this is that while it is may seem to be a subtle difference from the biblical doctrine of salvation by faith, it is in fact a crucially important difference.

A person who has genuinely received salvation will produce good fruit. Good works are the inevitable result of salvation (Ephesians 2:10). What differentiates a “living faith” from a “dead faith” in James 2:14–26 is the presence of good works. Church of Christ advocates are right to denounce churches that teach intellectual assent to the facts of the Gospel as sufficient for salvation. The Church of Christ is right to reject the idea that a dead faith, a faith that produces no good works, is what saves a person. Faith / trust in Christ as the Savior is what saves a person, but this faith is a living faith that always results in and produces good works. To say that good works must be present BEFORE a person is saved is to make salvation dependent on our obedience, which is works-salvation, not salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. As Titus 3:5 declares, “He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

So, is the Church of Christ denomination a good biblical church? This is a question that cannot be answered with an all-encompassing response. With an extreme over-emphasis on the absence of musical instruments, with a claim of exclusive access to salvation, and with a doctrine of salvation that is borderline (at best) works-based—no, as a whole, we cannot endorse the Church of Christ as a church that should be attended / participated in. Again, let us reiterate, there are many within the Church of Christ who have genuinely received Christ as Savior and are trusting in Him alone, not in their obedience, for salvation.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: Are the teachings of Witness Lee and the Local Church biblical?

Witness Lee was the protege of his predecessor, Watchman Nee, a well-known missionary in China. The “Local Church” movement was founded in China by Nee and brought to America in 1962 by Witness Lee. Thus began a long and strange saga of charges, counter-charges, lawsuits, strife, and misunderstandings between the “local church” movement and the Evangelical community that has left much wreckage in its wake, and has yet to be fully resolved. Foremost in the controversy is whether the LC is a legitimate movement within Christianity or a cult. Statements made by Lee over the years have caused his organization to be described as a cult by such counter-cult organizations as the Christian Research Institute—under both founder Walter Martin and current president Hank Hanegraaff—and the Spiritual Counterfeits Project. However, a 50-page series of articles in a 2009 edition of the CRI Journal has come out strongly in favor of Lee’s teachings and the local church movement.

The history of the conflict between Witness Lee and his “local church” movement—also known as the “Lord’s Recovery Movement,” along with their publishing arm, Living Stream Ministry (LSM)—and the counter-cult establishment is far too long for a detailed recounting here, but those who are interested in the full story can access it through the CRI website http://journal.equip.org/issues/we-were-wrong. Since the publication of CRi’s retraction of their former stand, churches and ministries, including GotQuestions.org, have had to rethink and reinvestigate their stand on Witness Lee and the Local Church.

For the purposes of this article, the major causes of controversy between the Local Church and the Christian community in the West will be addressed. The concerns raised by counter-cult organizations about Lee’s teachings center primarily on four areas: the nature of God, the nature of man, the legitimacy of Evangelical churches and denominations, and the lawsuits brought against Evangelical churches, publishers and individuals by the Local Church. We will look at them one by one.

Regarding Lee’s views on the theological doctrines of God and man, the controversy centers around statements which are “red flags” to Evangelicals, particularly those in the West. This is an important factor to keep in mind in this discussion because it appears much of the controversy could have been avoided if only Lee and his followers had made an effort to understand the Western Christian culture into which they were moving. Part of the training of Western missionaries sent to foreign countries is sensitivity to other cultures. Unfortunately, in bringing their doctrines to the West, no effort was made to “Westernize” them, and this was the source of much of the confusion, misunderstandings, and recriminations that resulted. For one thing, Lee’s method of teaching—to make radical statements and then balance them elsewhere in his teachings—proved to be antithetical to the Western idea of “say what you mean and mean what you say.” Lee’s doctrinal statements on the nature of God and the nature of man are perfect examples. In one of his messages, he states: “The traditional explanation of the Trinity is grossly inadequate and borders on tritheism” (Life Messages, p. 164). Naturally, this is enough to inflame Western Evangelicals, who proudly affirm the doctrine of the Trinity as it has been passed down from the great theologians of our Western Christian heritage. To judge it to be “grossly inadequate” by Lee raised legitimate concerns about Lee himself. Closer scrutiny of the Lee’s teachings elsewhere, however, bring to light that they actually agree with, and can be squared with, Evangelical orthodoxy.

The same can be said of his teachings on the nature of man. Some of his most inflammatory statements are in regard to what appears, on the surface, to assert the deity of man. In an LSM publication, A Deeper Study of the Divine Dispensing (p. 54), Lee states “My burden is to show you clearly that God’s economy and plan is to make Himself man and to make us, His created beings, God.” On page 53 we read: “We are born of God; hence, in this sense, we are God.” In the same publication, Lee refers to the Triune God as now the “four-in-one” God, with man as the fourth person. Nothing raises a red flag to Evangelicals faster than any notion that man is God, because we are rightly taught that it is the original lie from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:5) and is the same lie propagated by cults and false religions such as Hinduism, New Age, and Mormonism throughout history. To the Western mind at least, imparting the idea of any kind of godhood to those who struggle against the sin nature is disastrous. Western Christians, already steeped in the philosophy of freedom, autonomy, individuality, and the triumph of the human will—and the pride such thinking inevitably produces—need not be encouraged to see themselves as divine. But the CRI researchers found that a closer examination of context and terminology reveals that Lee’s views on the “deification” of man (another unfortunate choice of words and red flag term) do not really mean that at all. The sentence after the “in this sense, we are God” quote reads “Nevertheless, we must know that we do not share God’s Person and cannot be worshipped by others.” Herein lies the problem. In other words, putting the two statements together, Lee is essentially saying we are God, but we are not God. It is no wonder that confusion is rampant.

Regarding the third area of controversy, this is what Witness Lee has said in his own publications about Christians and Christianity: “We do not care for Christianity, we do not care for Christendom, we do not care for the Roman Catholic Church, and we do not care for all the denominations, because in the Bible it says that the great Babylon is fallen. This is a declaration. Christianity is fallen, Christendom is fallen, Catholicism is fallen, and all the denominations are fallen. Hallelujah!” Once again, Lee’s unfortunate choice of words, possibly due to English not being his native language, has caused consternation among American Evangelicals. To say that Christianity is fallen is seen as painting with a far-too-broad brush and accusing the entire of the body of Christ of being false and fallen creatures. But here again, we have to dig deeper to find what Lee really meant by that statement. Context and terminology are once again at the center of a true understanding of Lee’s doctrine. After careful and diligent examination, the CRI researchers came to the conclusion that Lee’s pattern of the use of “certain hot button words associated in our minds with heresy or cultism” has led to misunderstanding of his meaning.

As one of the LSM leaders expressed it, “We are not out to proclaim that the denominations are Babylon.” However, Lee’s own statement, quoted above, that “we do not care for all the denominations, because in the Bible it says that the great Babylon is fallen” seems a direct contradiction, whether intentional or not.

The fourth major area of controversy between Evangelicals and the Local Church centers on the number of lawsuits brought by the Local Church and LSM leadership against individuals and ministries that were critical of them, despite the clear New Testament teaching against suing a Christian brother (1 Corinthians 6:1–8). This led to allegations of a “history of litigiousness” on the part of the Local Church and charges that they forced some of their opposing ministries into bankruptcy by the litigation expenses they were forced to incur. This is a complicated situation that has gone on for more than a decade and the details—who sued who when and how often—are still in dispute among the parties. For a complete history of the litigants and legal decisions, the reader is once again referred to the CRI article.

Summing up the crux of the conflict, it would appear that both parties bear a share of the responsibility. Lee and the Local Church leadership do not share the Western heritage that has shaped the thought processes and approaches of the Westerners among whom they settled. English was not their first language, particularly of the early leaders, and both the cultural differences and language barrier led to much misunderstanding. At the same time, the Local Church’s distinctively Chinese approach to Christianity was so unfamiliar to Westerners that it smacked of cultism, whether or not any actually existed. The Local Church leadership was unaware of the impact the use of certain “hot button” words would have on cult-wary evangelicals in America, while Western Christians were unaware of the tremendous impact that labeling a group a cult had on the Chinese. The Local Church resisted any changes in their terminology and for the most part refused to provide contextual explanations for some of their doctrines, an unfortunate approach that led to even deeper rifts between the two sides. At the same time, the counter-cultists failed to be as thorough as they could have been in their research. Thus, both sides developed an “us vs. them” mentality which negatively influenced both their thoughts and actions.

What is the conclusion of the matter and what are Christians to believe about Witness Lee and the “Local Church” movement? Elliot Miller, editor-in-chief of the Christian Research Journal, declares at the end of the 50-page treatment “We were wrong” and concludes that the Local Church is not an “aberrant Christian group” but a “solid orthodox group of believers.” Since Got Questions Ministries has a cordial and respectful relationship with CRI, we have no doubt their conclusions are based on extensive and diligent research and are therefore valid. It is left to the individual Christian to decide whether the thousands of man-hours, not to mention the expense of defending the various parties in court, the decades of charges, defenses, counter-charges and acrimony have not been, at best, a waste of time and at worst, a blot on the face of Christianity. How much more profitable it would have been if the hundreds of people and thousands of hours had been dedicated to knowing, loving, and obeying Jesus Christ. No doubt the counter-cult organizations thought they were providing a much needed service to the Christian community. No doubt the Local Church and Living Streams Ministry felt they were justified in their quest to clear their names and set the record straight. But as alluded to above, much of the controversy could have been avoided in the first place by more careful attention by both sides to the details of cross cultural communication. The old saying “the devil is in the details” finds its verification in this sad situation. The fear is that the devil may have profited from this controversy more than the body of Christ and for that, all parties are culpable.[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: How do I convert to Christianity?

A man in the Greek city of Philippi asked a very similar question of Paul and Silas. We know at least three things about this man: he was a jailer, he was a pagan, and he was desperate. He had been on the verge of suicide when Paul stopped him. And that’s when the man asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

The very fact that the man asks the question shows that he recognized his need of salvation—he saw only death for himself, and he knew he needed help. The fact that he asks Paul and Silas shows that he believed they had the answer.

That answer comes swiftly and simply: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved” (verse 31). The passage goes on to show how the man did believe and was converted. His life began displaying the difference from that day forward.

Note that the man’s conversion was based on faith (“Believe”). He had to trust Jesus and nothing else. The man believed that Jesus was the Son of God (“Lord”) and the Messiah who fulfilled the scriptures (“Christ”). His faith also included a belief that Jesus died for sin and rose again, because that was the message that Paul and Silas were preaching (see Romans 10:9–10 and 1 Corinthians 15:1–4).

To “convert” is literally “to turn.” When we turn towards one thing, we by necessity turn away from something else. When we turn to Jesus, we must turn from sin. The Bible calls the turning from sin “repentance” and the turning to Jesus “faith.” Therefore, repentance and faith are complementary. Both repentance and faith are indicated in 1 Thessalonians 1:9—You turned to God from idols.” A Christian will leave behind his former ways and anything pertaining to false religion as the result of a genuine conversion to Christianity.

To put it simply, to convert to Christianity, you must believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for your sin and rose again. You must agree with God that you are a sinner in need of salvation, and you must trust in Jesus alone to save you. When you turn from sin to Christ, God promises to save you and give you the Holy Spirit, Who will make you a new creature.

Christianity, in its true form, is not a religion. Christianity, according to the Bible, is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Christianity is God offering salvation to anyone who believes and trusts the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. A person who converts to Christianity is not leaving one religion for another religion. Converting to Christianity is receiving the gift that God offers and beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that results in the forgiveness of sins and eternity in Heaven after death.

Do you desire to convert to Christianity because of what you have read in this article? If your answer is yes, here is a simple prayer you can offer to God. Saying this prayer, or any other prayer, will not save you. It is only trusting in Christ that can save you from sin. This prayer is simply a way to express to God your faith in Him and thank Him for providing for your salvation. “God, I know that I have sinned against you and deserve punishment. But Jesus Christ took the punishment that I deserve so that through faith in Him I could be forgiven. I place my trust in You for salvation. Thank You for Your wonderful grace and forgiveness—the gift of eternal life! Amen!”[1]

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Christianity: How is the Christian religion different from all the other world religions?

Religion is the practice of faith; that is, religion is the external or ceremonial observance of a set of beliefs. Technically, there is a difference between faith (the internal attitude) and religion (the external works), but for the sake of this article, we will define “Christian religion” broadly as “the faithful observance of the teachings of Jesus Christ and His apostles.”

James 1:27 says that religion that is “pure and faultless” before God is “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” In other words, care for the needy and personal virtue are externals which are present when one has a true love for God. And, since James specifies that he is speaking of “pure and faultless” religion, there must exist an “unclean and imperfect” type of religion as well—a religion not based on love for God.

Here are five reasons why the Christian religion is better than non-Christian religions (why observing the teachings of Jesus Christ is better than not observing them):

Christian religion—Jesus Christ is the Way to God.
The Christian religion is better than other religions because that which leads to God is better than that which leads away from God. We have sinfully wandered away from God (Isaiah 53:6), and we need a Guide to lead us back. Jesus is that Way (John 14:6), the One to seek the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus claims not to be one of many ways, but the one-and-only Way to God. He is, in fact, God Himself in human flesh (John 20:28), so to find Jesus is to find God. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” He said (John 14:9). The Christian religion is unique in that it offers a close, intimate relationship with the personal God of the universe.

Christian religion—Jesus Christ is the Truth.
The Christian religion is better than other religions because things that are true are better than things that are false. Jesus is “the Truth” (John 14:6). He is the embodiment of truth, the revelation of God to humanity (Colossians 2:9), and the conveyor of God’s words (John 17:8). The Christian religion is grounded in truth, being based on a historical Person whose acts were verified by eyewitnesses and recorded by four different biographers. Parodies of Christianity often spring up through the work of “false prophets” (1 John 4:1), but only Jesus is true. In following Christ, Christians have the utmost regard for truth, as opposed to hollow externals and the hypocrisy of false appearances. The Christian religion is unique in that it forces us to face the truth about ourselves and speak the truth with others.

Christian religion—Jesus Christ is the Life.
The Christian religion is better than other religions because life is better than death and heaven is better than hell. Jesus is “the Life” (John 14:6); He is the source of life, and without Him one cannot truly live (John 1:4; 3:36; 5:24; 10:10). Jesus provides what we need: the Bread that satisfies forever (John 6:35), the Water that gives eternal life (John 4:14; 7:37–38), and the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). These are more than empty claims; Jesus proved His ability to give life by raising from the dead Lazarus (John 11), Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5), and the boy from Nain (Luke 7). Then, after His own death on the cross, Jesus rose again the third day, having conquered death forever (Matthew 28). The Christian religion is unique in that it is based on the actual, physical resurrection of its Founder.

Christian religion—Jesus Christ transforms mankind.
The Christian religion is better than other religions because righteousness is better than wickedness. Other religions may impose conformity to a certain code of behavior, but they have no power to change the heart. Christianity teaches that the believer is “dead to sin” and now lives “in newness of life” (Romans 6:2, 4). The authenticating mark of a Christian is his transformation from practicing sin to having a zeal for good works (Titus 2:14; 2 Corinthians 5:17). The Christian’s zeal for doing good has resulted in the founding of countless orphanages, hospitals, clinics, schools, homeless shelters, and emergency relief agencies—all in the name of Christ. The Christian religion is unique in that it does not force change from without but revolutionizes lives from within.

Christian religion—Jesus Christ is loving.
The Christian religion is better than other religions because love is better than the absence of love. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Love is the greatest of His gifts to us (1 Corinthians 13:13)—not the fickle, so-called love of the world, but the selfless, unconditional love which always seeks to benefit the one loved. God showed His love for us in sending His one-and-only Son (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). Jesus showed His love for us in providing for our salvation by dying on the cross (John 15:13). Jesus gave His followers a new command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34–35). Love, not duty or debt, is what motivates the believer and impels him to greater humility and greater service for the kingdom of heaven. Christianity is unique in that it is not a system of rules but a celebration of unselfish love. “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10).

Man, in his creativity, has invented innumerable religions in his attempt to reach God. God, in His love, has given us the truth: the one religion, Christianity, in which God attempts to reach man.[1]

 

 


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Christianity: Are many practices and traditions in Christianity actually pagan in origin?

In their 2008 book Pagan Christianity, authors Frank Viola and George Barna present the surprising origins of many of the practices commonly found in churches today. The authors claim that many common church practices / traditions actually have their roots in paganism (non-Christian religions), not in the Bible. But is it accurate to claim that the practices of modern Christianity are pagan? Is what typically occurs in a church supported by what the Bible teaches about the church?

Many Christians recognize that some pagan ideas and practices have infiltrated the Christian church. Sadly, much of what Jesus Christ abolished by His death and resurrection, the early Christians re-established. Jesus’ sacrifice fulfilled God’s requirements, ending the need for any further sacrifices (Hebrews 7:27; 10:10; 1 Peter 3:18). The early church, due to pagan influences, warped the celebration of the Lord’s Supper into a re-sacrifice / re-offering of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice abolished the need of a formal priesthood (Hebrews 10:12–14), creating instead a “kingdom of priests” (Revelation 1:6; 5:10). The early church, again influenced by paganism, re-established a priesthood that added a barrier between the “ordinary” believer and God (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15). These are just two of many possible examples.

Most Christians wholeheartedly agree that beliefs / practices such as these need to be rejected and the biblical truth upheld. Following are the primary issues Pagan Christianity raises.

(1) The Church Building. The New Testament records the early Christians meeting in homes (Acts 2:46; 5:42; Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Neither Jesus nor the Apostles encourage Christians to build temples / church buildings. In John 4:21–24, Jesus declares that a time is coming where worship will not be tied to any particular location or building. For the first few hundred years of the Christian faith, church buildings were very rare. It was not until Constantine and his succeeding Roman Emperors made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire that Christians began to build temples. In some instances, Christians, with the aid of Roman soldiers, took over pagan temples and “Christianized” them into churches.

Christians building church buildings resulted in multiple problems. First, people began to think of a church building as “sacred space.” This resulted in a separation between what goes on inside a church building, and what takes place outside of a church building. Among some, blatant evil and immorality was tolerated outside of the church as long as behavior inside the church was proper. Second, some people lost the idea of God’s omnipresence. The biblical fact that fellowship with God could be had anywhere was lost, and replaced with the idea that a church building and/or the altar inside a church building was the only place one could connect with God. Third, some people lost sight of the fact that believers in Christ are the church, and instead began to think of the church as the building.

But is the idea of a church building pagan? Since the Bible does not instruct Christians to build church buildings, does that mean it is wrong to have a church building? The fact that the Bible does not command something does not mean the Bible is opposed to that something. The Bible neither encourages nor discourages the idea of Christians meeting in buildings that are specifically designed for corporate worship. The question of a church building is one where it is crucially important to recognize the difference between description and prescription. The New Testament describes the early Christians meeting in homes. The New Testament does not prescribe that Christians should only meet in homes. A church building in which the biblical truth about the church is declared is in no sense unbiblical. The building is not what is unbiblical. It is the beliefs that are often attached to the building that are unbiblical.

(2) The structure of the church. In many churches today, there is a “set in stone” structure for how a service will proceed. The structure changes somewhat from church to church, but the core items remain the same: announcements, corporate worship, meeting and greeting, prayer, the sermon, a closing song. In some churches, the order of service is absolutely unbendable. In other churches, there is some flexibility. Whatever the case, the idea of a church meeting having such a rigid structure is not presented in the New Testament. When a church has such a rigid structure, it can stifle, rather than promote, true worship and fellowship.

First Corinthians 14:40 teaches, “but everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” Order and structure are not unbiblical. Rigidity and legalism are unbiblical. While a church should ensure that its services are reasonably organized, it is unbiblical for a church service to be so structured that it prevents any participation, freedom, or moving of the Spirit.

(3) Church leadership. The Bible undeniably teaches that the church is to have godly leadership (1 Timothy 3:1–13; 5:17–20; Titus 1:6–9; 1 Peter 5:1–4). Sadly, the early church took the concept of church leadership, and due to pagan influences, molded it into a priesthood. While most Protestant and Evangelical churches do not refer to its leadership as priests, in some instances, the pastor/preacher serves in much the same role as a priest. Pastors are expected to do all, or nearly all, of the ministry work. In some churches, the re-introduction of the idea of a priest into Christianity resulted in the biblical identity of all believers being saints, ministers, and priests, being lost. In church leadership, the result can be burnt-out pastors or overly authoritative pastors. The result in the congregation can be passivity and inactivity.

The idea that a Christian can unenthusiastically sing a few songs, lackadaisically shake a few hands, inattentively listen to a sermon, and reluctantly give an offering—and thereby fulfill his/her role in the church—is completely unbiblical. The church is intended to be a place of healthy fellowship, active participation, and mutual edification. First Corinthians chapter 12 likens the church to a human body. All of the parts of the body must be functioning for the body to do what it is intended to do. In some churches today, only the “head” is functioning. And as physiology teaches us, a head cannot survive on its own.

(4) The sermon. The Bible clearly declares that God’s Word is to be taught (1 Timothy 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:2). There is undeniably a place for a godly man teaching other believers in a sermonic / oratory format. One problem is that many churches fall into the trap of one man being the sole teacher. Another problem is when churches, whether intentionally or unintentionally, convey the idea that passively listening to a sermon is all that God expects. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul encourages Timothy to entrust teaching to others who are gifted by the Holy Spirit for teaching. The presence of a non-participatory sermon is not the problem. The lack of opportunities for others to teach and/or the lack of willingness to teach can be a problem. One of the goals of the church is to make disciples, not pew-warmers. Many churches could do a much better job at recognizing the gift of teaching in others and training and encouraging them to use that gift. At the same time, no one should seek the position of teacher unless he really has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, a fact which can be verified by the testimony of others who can give witness to the presence of this gift. In fact, James 3:1 warns us, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

It is undeniable that pagan ideas and practices have crept their way into the Christian church. To varying degrees, every church has practices that are not completely based in Scripture, either in the practice itself or in the understanding of the practice. But again, this does not mean these practices are pagan or wrong. Churches would do well to continually re-evaluate their methods and motivations, to make sure they are biblically solid. While no church practice should contradict Scripture, a church practice does not have to be explicitly biblical to be a viable choice. Nor does a practice not being taught in the Bible make it pagan. A practice having a pagan origin does not necessarily make it unbiblical. The key to avoiding “pagan Christianity” is comparing every belief and practice with Scripture and removing anything that contradicts what the Bible prescribes for the church. For those issues on which the Bible is silent, the church leadership should prayerfully consider whether or not to continue them.[1]


[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.