Church. I vouch to say one of the most substantial issues of the time for Christianity is church. Since church is such a broad term these days, I’ll be more specific and use the term denomination. See church isn’t such a highly controversial term, but when we crawl towards the topic of denomination, we start to feel some separation. When it becomes known during conversation that I am a Christian, there are specific questions that people tend to first ask me. A very common question is, “oh, where do you go to church?” This question is perfectly normal that is formed from curiosity and interest. Although, from experience, I have encountered a shift in questions. The question I receive more frequently now is, “oh, what are you?” I always want to answer that question by saying: “I am a species of Homo sapiens from the kingdom of Animalia, pleased to meet you earthling” but it is clear what they mean. So instead I answer, “I am …” Wait, should I answer? I wonder if it’s worth it, because the second it is heard what, “I am” will the attitude and thought behind anyone reading this entire post now change? Not that this ever happens in politics, but why take the risk? There is nothing specifically wrong with the question, “what are you?” My concern is not the question itself, but the change in social norm causing the shift to this question. The question is often asked, not always to learn about someones relationship with Jesus, but to figure out what his or her beliefs are. That is the problem I am addressing.
Well everything that is an issue today, seems to somehow or another be addressed in the Bible. In fact, a very similar instance was occurring not too long after Jesus’ life on earth. Around the year 55, Paul the apostle wrote a letter to the Christians in Corinth concerning the same idea:
10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. – 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Place denominations such as Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Church of Christ, or Non-denominational (Baptists with a cool website – Tim Hawkins) in the quotations of verse twelve and read it again. Christ is not not divided, so neither should we be. Even though we attend different denominations, we are all following the same God. We should be of the same mind and thought. So if God knew all these religious sects would occur where differences and discord would take place, did He make a mistake with the idea of church? Absolutely not.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:15-17
God’s word mentions the benefit and purpose of Christians congregating together many times. As we stick together, we become stronger in faith, just as a threefold cord remains strong. As the verses say, we are all of one body and should teach and admonish one another. The word admonish comes from the Hebrew word “yacar.” Yacar means to chasten, discipline, instruct, or admonish. So as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are supposed to discipline each other and keep each other from ungodly conduct! Then, with singing and praise, we express our gratitude toward Gods unfailing love and mercy. Church is a necessity for teaching, admonishing, and worshiping.
Now that we understand the purpose of the church, I want to explain how the church is to be conducted.
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. – Colossians 2:6-8
I am going to jump straight to verse eight in this passage. Now most churches do not preach the wrong message, but through weekly patterns in our forms of worship, we can deceive ourselves into believing in wrong philosophy. Our church practices should not be our belief! We should not put tradition and spiritual rituals over what is right, good, and true. Traditions are for the purpose of acknowledging God and, again, are not to become our beliefs. Communion, baptism, confirmation, hand movements, church membership, fasting, or any other church sacraments will not give you salvation! They will not make you any more holy or deserving of Gods grace. These sacraments are simply to express our gratitude of God’s love for us, and allow us to become closer to Jesus in our personal relationship with Him.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. – James 1:26-27
These verses explain that if we cannot even control our language, then our religious performances are worthless. The ability to bridle ones tongue is a result of spiritual cleanliness. If we are performing the sacraments of the church, yet do not control our tongue, then we are still acting in impurity. The next few passages continue to support this truth.
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” 3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:1-8
9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” 11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:9-12
People neglected to see the true meaning of the Sabbath. God meant for the Sabbath to be a blessing, yet they put its laws over the Lord. They allowed legalism to take a higher stand than God. Lets not do the same thing with church. In verses eleven and twelve, Jesus explains that the need of a person is more important than the restrictions of the Sabbath. In the same manner, our personal daily walk with Christ is more important than the sacraments we can burden ourselves with. Rather, our sacraments should bring us joy and be used to support our spiritual journey.
Church should not just be a place to go and receive a heart-warming word. It is not a place where you go and appease God. It is a place to learn, a place of thanksgiving, love, encouragement, praise, and an opportunity to become spiritually closer to Jesus. Regardless of our denomination, we shall not be divided, just as Christ is not divided. Our sacraments shall never be used as a tool to enter heaven, but rather a symbol of our gratitude toward Gods unfailing grace. Church is a place for Christian community, in order to strengthen our faith, for the purpose of spreading Gods word to the world and worshiping Him in everything we do.
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17