Choosing a Church

The Christian Chronicle has recently reported that the number of Church of Christ adherents (members and their unbaptized children) continues to decline.  Since 2003, the number is down 102,000 or 6.2%.  During the same time, the number of congregations fell by 708, or 5.4%.

That’s not a “decline.” It’s a free fall.

The number of members hasn’t fallen as fast, meaning that we’re declining more rapidly among children and young couples. That’s a really bad sign, indicating that the rate of decline is likely to accelerate.

We’re having congregations close their doors at a rate of about 1 every 4 days – over 7 per month. We’re losing on a nationwide average about 35 adherents per day.  That’s 35 souls leaving the church every time the sun goes down.  Tomorrow morning when we open our eyes ands get out of bed, there will be roughly 35 members of the Lord’s church who will never walk through the doors of a congregation of the Lord’s church again.   

Where are our youth going?  There are only two possible answers to this question.  They are either transferring to denominational churches or leaving Christianity all together.  The trend is that the youth who leave Anti congregations are just dropping out of Christianity altogether while the mainstream churches of Christ are losing their youth to the denominations who offer more flash and excitement and less accountability for sin. 

We should be concerned for our youth in this congregation.  We have a substantial number of young adults in this congregation who are just a few  short years away from being on their own.  They are soon going to be making decisions that will be effecting them, their future spouses and their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren for generations to come.

When I grew up and left home to find my way in the world, encountered some circumstances in my life that tempted me to look to other churches in order to find my way.  I was young and eager to live my life as I saw fit I thought I wanted something more than what I thought the church I grew up in had to offer.  I wanted something more exciting, I wanted something different, I wanted something a little more accepted by the religious community in general.  I hated it when people made comments to me like, “you are one of those people who don’t use musical instruments” or  worse yet, “you are one of those people who think you are the only ones who are going to heaven”.  When I was young, comments such as these bothered me.  They bothered me because people who were not religious at all thought I was ignorant because I was a Christian, and people who were religious to a degree but members of other churches also rejected me as somewhat of a religious fanatic and a kook.  As a young adult, rejected by both general groups of people, there was almost no support group I could turn to in order to find any companionship with.  I attended some denominational churches and eventually just stopped attending church altogether for many years. 

I eventually found my back.  Thankfully I was given the time to find my way back.  Not every one gets that chance.  We have all seen the little memorials set up alongside the roads the parents and others have lost their loved ones to accidents on the roads.  We have all seen the news reports of the senseless killings of innocent people.  We hear of soldiers dying overseas in attacks.  There is no guarantee any of us will be alive this time tomorrow.  It is unwise at best to wager your soul on the time you think you may have to get things right. 

This lesson this morning is primarily for the youth but it has an application for everyone here.  What we are going to do in this lesson is to pick out a church.  Let’s forget for just a while that we are setting in an assembly of the church of Christ and let’s look at what the Bible says about this and let’s just pick out a church to attend.  Let’s all pretend that we have never stepped a foot into any old church anywhere in our whole life and we want to choose one from out of all the choices there are out there.  Since the Bible is the inspired written record of God’s will for man, then we will let God tell us what He wants in His church by using it and only it to guide us in our selection.  When we boil it all down to the basics, it doesn’t matter what we believe, or how we feel, if it isn’t in harmony with all the written will of God, then we are wrong and we need to adjust our thinking and our actions to what the Bible teaches.  

The first thing we need to understand is whether or not we are free to choose just any old church out there that we like the looks of.  Perhaps one is more exciting, perhaps it has more young people to socialize with, perhaps it’s more popular, perhaps its more fun.  Does the written record of God’s word say we are free to choose any old church we want?  No it does not.  In fact, there are some things the word of God does say which forbids choosing just any old church out there. 

Matthew 15:8-9
8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

This is Jesus speaking to a group of Pharisees and scribes when He made that remark.  The Pharisees and scribes were known to add a whole bunch of nonessential things to the religious practices of the day.  There is an application for us today which is unmistakable.  These Pharisees and scribes were worshipping God, they were honoring them with their praises and worship but Jesus says “their heart is far from me”  Why?  Jesus tells us why.  Because they were “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men“.  Jesus said “in vain they do worship me“.  The word vain means ‘to no purpose’.  In other words, Jesus accused these people of worshipping Him for nothing because they were teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 

So we need to recognize the application here for us today.  If people in the 1st century could worship God for nothing because of the commandments of men, then we can today as well.  It didn’t matter how much they praised God, it didn’t matter how good they felt about it in their hearts.  Jesus said their hearts were far from Him and their worship was for nothing because they added the commandments of men to it. 

Does the Bible say anything about how we are to avoid following the commandments of men?  While praying to God on one occasion, Jesus said in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.”  So we understand that the written record of God’s word is the source of truth today.  In 1 Corinthians 4:6 we read, “Now these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes; that in us ye might learn not (to go) beyond the things which are written; that no one of you be puffed up for the one against the other.” (ASV).  God’s word is truth, and if we add to it, then we have added the teachings of man to the word of God.  Let’s keep in mind what Jesus said in Matthew 15:9, “in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” 

What about taking things away from the word of God?  John wrote in Revelation 22:18-19, “for I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:”  There’s that adding to the word of God which we have already looked at.  Now, what about the opposite? “And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

Notice carefully that John wrote “if ANY man shall add” and “if ANY man shall take away”  God gave us His word.  His word is truth.  And any additions to it, or subtractions from it is done by man.  It is a commandment of man and Jesus said in words impossible to misunderstand that such things make our worship vain, empty, of no effect, worthless, useless or basically just a waste of our time.

Some additional scriptures we need to consider while on this topic are: Romans 10:1-3, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my supplication to God is for them, that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God“. (ASV)  The people in Paul’s view here were rejecting the faith of Christ and trying to follow after the teachings of men instead.  They had zeal, they had all kinds of feeling and devotion but it was for nothing because they substituted God’s righteousness with their own.

And now let’s look at 2 John 9-11, “Whosoever goeth onward (goes too far, NASB) and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son.”  When we go onward beyond the word of God, and go too far, we are adding the teachings of men to our work and worship to God.  John went on to say in verse 10, “If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into (your) house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works” (ASV).  Not only are we not to go beyond the word of God, we are not to approve of or go on with those who do go beyond it. 

So let’s say we have never been in a church in our life and we woke up this morning and decided we wanted to pick out a church, we know from this handful of scriptures we have looked at this morning that we need to pick one that precisely follows the word of God, adding nothing to, nor taking anything away.  No commandments or teachings of men included.  Anything that they do which cannot be found in the word of God is too much.  Anything they may leave out of the word of God is not enough. 

So now, on our quest to pick out a church to go to, if we are going to use the word of God to direct us, then we now know that we cannot choose one that adds to or takes away from His word.  So now what else do we need to look for? 

When we look into the new testament we do not read of the inspired writers teaching about more than one church.  Paul was not a member of a denominational church.  Peter was not a member of a different church than John was.  James, Timothy and the rest of the faithful Christians were members of and taught about one church.  Paul wrote a great deal concerning the church in his letter to the Ephesians.  He wrote in Ephesians 1:20-23, “which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (NKJV)   Notice Paul said the church was the body of Christ.  Later in the same letter Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:4, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling” (NKJV).  Paul taught the Ephesians that the church is the body of Christ and that there is only one body.  Since the body of Christ and the church is the exact same thing, there can be only one church. 

There was only one church written about in the new testament.  Paul belonged to it, Peter belonged to it, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John belonged to it.  If we are going to set out to choose a church, we need to choose the one they belonged to.

The one church belongs to Jesus Christ.  It is His possession.  Let us consider the words of Jesus as he was speaking to his disciples one day. Matthew 16:18, “and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  Notice two things Jesus said here.  He said he would build “my” church, meaning it belongs to Him.  Notice also, He said “church” singular.    How many churches did Christ promise to build?  He said only one.  How may churches did Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, James Timothy belong to?  They belonged to the church that belonged to Jesus Christ.  they belonged to the Lord’s church.

So what’s going to happen to those who choose the wrong one?  Does the Bible have anything to say about that?  Let’s consider Paul’s words in Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (NKJV).

Let’s back up and look at the word “heresies”.  Notice those who are guilty of heresies will not inherit the kingdom of God.  That’s pretty plain.  The original Greek word for that is, ‘hairesis (hah’-ee-res-is) which carries the meaning of a sect.  This is the exact same word used in Acts 5:17 in reference to the sect of the Sadducees.  The Sadducees were a sect or a denomination of Jews who believed there was no such thing as a resurrection of the dead.  It is also the exact same word used in Acts 15:5 in reference to the Pharisees who were for the most part guilty of a whole bunch of manmade doctrines added to the law of Moses.  The Pharisees were a sect, a denomination in modern English, of the Jewish faith.  Paul said in Galatians 5:20 that those who were guilty of sectarianism, or denominationalism would not inherit the kingdom of God.  That is what Paul said in the original language. 

People in the new testament times who added to or took away from God’s word were called “hah-ee-res-is” which is where we get the English word ‘heretic’ which Paul said would not inherit the kingdom of God.   Those who do not inherit the kingdom of God will not be saved and will not spend their eternity in heaven. 

If we are going to choose a church, not only must we choose the same one Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter and the rest were members of, we must avoid the ones which they were not members of.  We need to reject them, we don’t want to be any part of them.  God said in His word that they won’t get us to heaven, they can’t get us to heaven. 

And lastly, let’s look at what Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, “and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels,
8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power
” (NKJV).  And now let’s look at Romans 2:5-10, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek;
10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek
” (NKJV).

The gospel must be obeyed.  The truth must be obeyed.  God must be obeyed.  In our search for just the right church, we need to seek one that teaches us to be obedient to the will of God in all things.  Those who do not teach this are not teaching the whole counsel of God.  Sometimes the truth is hard to hear.  Sometimes obeying the truth requires sacrifice on our part.  Sometimes obeying the truth is not going to be popular and will result in persecution and rejection by others.  Sometimes obeying the truth is not what we want to do.  Obeying the truth means we have to change who we are and how we live.  Obeying the truth means we have to set our own personal wishes and desires aside and submit to the authority of God.  We must honor God by obeying Him and submitting to His rules.  We can’t do it our way.  Hell is full of people who did it their way. 

We must choose the Lord’s church.  There is only one.  And that’s the one we need to be a part of.  We need to choose correctly and wisely.  The choices we make in life are going to effect us the rest of our lives on earth and in the eternal hereafter.  We must choose the right path.  We must choose the narrow way.  And for the youth in here, you need to choose the path that you know will help guide your loved ones yet to come on a path which will get them to heaven so they can live forever.  It’s not about just you and what you want.  It’s about what is best not only for you, but for whoever you marry and whoever your children are and whoever else is in your life that you love enough that you don’t want to see them suffer eternal condemnation. 

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