There is an old saying, “There’s safety in numbers.” The Bible underscores the need the church has for each of the members and distributes the gifts of the Spirit all around for the sake of the Body. All gifts are not simply doled out to the pastors and elders. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts the saints not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” - Heb. 10:25
For many believers, especially those new to the faith, finding a good church fellowship to attend within reasonable driving distance from home can be a daunting task. But it is a worthwhile quest because without Christian fellowship, one is not connected to the Body of Christ, but is left an amputated limb dangling somewhere. This statement makes more sense when you read the Bible’s metaphor for the building of the church.
“For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us…” – Rom 12:4-6a
Pretty simple: born-again believers are one together in Christ. And we come together to minister to one another using our various gifts to bless each other. Both Romans and 1 Corinthians lay out what the gifts of the Spirit are. They are not natural talents, but supernatural abilities and callings we received when we were saved and spiritually baptized into the Bride of Christ.
"For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free--and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many." – 1 Cor. 12:12-14
That’s how the Bible describes our relationship. True believers want to live that out. So, where do you fit in?
As mentioned earlier, the true church is made up of born-again believers – the invisible church. The visible church is what would be called Christendom, the institutional organizations, denominations, etc., that all have mixed congregations of true and mere professing Christians. These organizations vary in the true/false percentages. The quest for born-again believers who want to follow the Master and find their place in the Body is more difficult in today’s church climate than ever before in this writer’s opinion.
To find a congregation with the possibility of the larger percentage of true Christian worshipers, here are some things to look for:
Services do verse-by-verse Bible study – that way a pastor covers the whole counsel of God and can’t hobbyhorse on pet topics.
Is not tied in to liberal organizations such as the National Council of Churches (NCC) or the World Council of Churches (WCC).
No dress code or division of the sexes.
Pastor and elders do not wear ecclesiastical garb or backward white collars over black vestments.
You’re greeted warmly and feel welcome by friendly people.
Everyone either brings their Bible or there are Bibles in the pews.
The marquee outside the church or the bulletin inside does not have any message that says “all are welcome” or “we love diversity.”
Doctrinal statement clearly shows the anticipated return of the LORD Jesus Christ to set up His Millennial Kingdom and fulfill all Bible prophecy.
Church leadership is male, but women are not suppressed from full participation alongside the men.
The band leading worship does not look like a secular rock band playing so loud you can’t hear yourself think.
Praise and Worship focuses on Jesus and not on the self.
No corporate tongues, slaying in the spirit, or other so-called spiritual manifestations that create chaos and are out of order.
If the cessation of the gifts of the Spirit is on the doctrinal statement, don’t stick around.
If pastor wants to be called “reverend” or “father” or other superior titles, not a good sign.
Liturgy and prayers by rote are bad indicators of a discerning church.
If church teaches ecumenism with other faiths or the Roman Catholic Church, keep looking.
The church has evangelistic outreaches into the community and beyond.
The church supports missions that not only help the needy, but gives them the gospel of salvation.
The church practices biblical discipline and removes the wicked from fellowship until they repent and are restored to fellowship.
Church has biblical counseling is a plus – and does not refer their problems to the field of psychology.
You can create your own list of boxes to check, but finding an organized church that ticks all the boxes will not be easy. Finding a few like-minded believers and meeting together regularly in a home might be a solution. But going out and witnessing to others should be a high priority. Home fellowships have a way of stagnating due to closed doors. Jesus said to His disciples, “He who does not gather with Me, scatters.”
The culture has invaded the church today. The most popular megachurches have a party atmosphere. This is done intentionally and systematically to appeal to worldly people – particularly the youth.
After coming out of the dregs of society, a new believer has felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit to renounce his old ways and be separate from the world. But what happens when s/he goes to church and it doesn’t look any different than the old nightclubs and bars s/he used to hang out in? What if all the girls in church are gyrating to the music of the praise band that, in some cases, is even performing secular songs? What if a new Christian man sees the women in church in such a state, dressed no differently than the women of the night with whom he used to party? And then the message from the pulpit is a watered-down motivational speech telling him God will make him rich and successful.
This is exactly what is happening in Christendom today. The biggest church in America is Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, pastored by the most popular TV pastor/author Joel Osteen. These are the mega-churches that entertain and do not differentiate between the saved and the lost. All are welcome. Being saved is no prerequisite to being a member of this church.
This market-driven business model of church growth is all the rage today. It caters to the goats in the church and forsakes the building up of the saints of God. They are worldly, carnal – and they are proud of the fact. They go on the notion that size counts – the biggest is the most successful – they are numbers oriented. Jesus told His followers, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself,” but the numbers game does not promote Jesus, but it promotes the program.
The seeker-sensitive model of Church Growth started with just a handful of wolves and spread like wild fire. These men hijacked the visible church – at least the new and exciting mega-churches that are the fastest growing congregations in America. But it didn’t stop here; it has been exported world-wide.
The Paradigm Shifted
How did the church in America transmigrate from a bible-centric, house of prayer and worship of the Triune God to the self-focused arenas of entertainment and motivational messages we see today? The simple answer is that when the church ceased to be a light on a hill for the world to see Jesus, the world – the culture – set the standard for the organized church to follow.
Something occurred in the “collective consciousness,” so to speak, that made this transformation possible. The long awaited “paradigm shift” that new age sociologists of the 70s and 80s said had to occur before mankind could evolve into the new super-being indeed happened, both in the culture and in the professing church.
While new age mystics hyped up their vision of a new age of peace and harmony led by evolved spiritual leaders, so-called Christian seers were heralding a kingdom on earth led by new apostles and prophets who would lead the youth into becoming the new breed of perfected believers who would ultimately defy all sickness and even death. This new “church” would then take dominion over the entire planet as their change agents rose in the ranks of what they call the “Seven Mountain Mandate.” One website dedicated to the seven mountains explained the origin of the ideas this way:
In 1975, Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade, and Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission, had lunch together in Colorado. God simultaneously gave each of these change agents a message to give to the other. During that same time frame Francis Schaeffer was given a similar message. That message was that if we are to impact any nation for Jesus Christ, then we would have to affect the seven spheres, or mountains of society that are the pillars of any society.
These seven mountains are business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family and religion. There are many subgroups under these main categories. About a month later the Lord showed Francis Schaeffer the same thing. In essence, God was telling these three change agents where the battlefield was. It was here where culture would be won or lost. Their assignment was to raise up change agents to scale the mountains and to help a new generation of change agents understand the larger story. [http://www.reclaim7mountains.com ]
The Great Commission of the Church is to preach the Gospel, not to change a culture. But this evangelization of the culture caught on in many streams, including the “Mother Church.” All Kingdom-Builders latched onto the idea, thinking if they could change the culture, they could be “the head and not the tail” in the new world order. Those in the Word/Faith camp could utilize their magic powers to realize Schaeffer’s vision of cultural conquest.
The New Age occult message of a so-called spiritual law, “the law of attraction,” seemed to have discovered the same magical formula, except that these ideas started in the occult. The Bible refers to such things as “doctrines of devils.” New Age celebrity, Oprah Winfrey, popularized these doctrines on her daytime talk show by hosting many of these occult practitioners such as the authors of a book called, “The Secret.” This book was supposedly a channeled message from superior beings who repackaged the occult doctrine of the divinity of humankind. Their “secret” showed the reader how to harness their powers to get what they want out of life with the force of the mind to “call those things which are not as though they were.” And the carriers of those thoughts are words.
The Word/Faith element of the visible church has dominated “Christian” television and exported these false teachings around the globe. The demonically inspired dogma of “Positive Confession” had already made its way into the “Christian Collective” by the late churchman Norman Vincent Peale in his popular book, The Power of Positive Thinking. Peale had been influenced by movers and shakers in the Mind-Science cults such as Ernest Holmes and Phineas Quimby. Peale was the mentor of the Crystal Cathedral visionary, Robert Schuller, who wrote about what he termed, “possibility thinking.” Schuller then influenced mega-church movements started by household names such as Rick Warren and Bill Hybels, whose followers tag their offshoot “churches” as “Purpose-Driven” and “Seeker-Sensitive” respectively.
America’s most successful pastor of the largest church in America, Joel Osteen, built a bridge from the visible Christian church to the occult goddess, Oprah Winfrey. He announced that her occult creed and his watered-down churchianity creed were one and the same. They both served a god of forces that could be manipulated by little gods wielding the power of mind and mouth.
By the time Osteen and Rick Warren appeared on Oprah’s program in 2012, the paradigm shift was complete. The popular repackaged view of Christianity became just one among many various expressions of religion – each ism supposedly containing a part of the overall Truth. The only holdouts were Christian fundamentalists, whose voices became marginalized as they were labeled as narrow-minded, old-fashioned, old-order, Bible worshipers, and not worth the time of day to the progressive open-minded spiritually evolved intelligencia.
New Believers’ Guide to the Universal Church
This new popular, open-minded, evangelical visible church that has sprung up over the past 30 years or so has many streams flowing into one poisonous river. There is an unwritten law that directs the flow of each one: “Thou Shalt Not Judge.” In keeping with The Pilgrim’s Progress allegory, I’ll personify these streams with proper names. There’s “Lord Hierarchy,” “Duke Democrat,” “Apostle Agnostic,” “Prophet Purpose,” “Mother Metro,” “Mr. Golden Feather,” and “Ms. Tele-Lucre,” among others.
“Lord Hierarchy” rules over what is known as the “high church” – Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations that have a clergy caste system that elevates the ministers above the laity. Jesus referred to this in the Book of Revelation as Nicolaitanism: lording it over the people, one thing He says He hates. Prayers are said by rote in their liturgy and simple symbols of the faith such as baptism and the LORD’s Supper have been sacramentalized into rituals that only the clergy-class can administer. All the superstitious props are used that supposedly brings the laity closer to the Divinity can be seen: stained-glass windows, icons, statues, holy water, incense, prayer beads, hosts, clerical robes and vestments, etc.
“Duke Democrat” is a very progressive, liberal leftist. He will tell you that the Bible is not the inspired Word of God, but merely contains the word of God – he will tell you which verses are authoritative and which ones to see as merely legendary. He says the rapture is merely escapism and that those who take the Bible seriously are backward. He loves liberal politics and his rhetoric is filled with tirades against the State of Israel and thinks the Palestinian Muslims have more of a right to the Land of Israel than the Jews. He can be seen in many older denominations that are under the banner of the National Council of Churches or the World Council of Churches. Evangelization to the duke means to be “missional” -- to feed and clothe the hungry while respecting their indigenous religions.
“Apostle Agnostic” caters to the “unchurched” by making sure that nothing that is spoken from the pulpit in their churches offends the goats and the tares they try to attract. They create an atmosphere in their services that would attract the community – in fact, he polls the community to see what the neighbors would like in a church. This means he has to avoid mentioning verses in the Bible that would offend anyone – the first chapter of the Book of Romans does not exist in his edited version of the Bible. Members of the worship team are selected according to how well they imitate the popular music artists of the day – and they must be attractive and put on a good performance.
“Prophet Purpose” is a close relative of “Apostle Agnostic.” He has a Peace Plan to unify all religions to work together to form a new world of tolerance and acceptance. He has a “three-legged stool” that he borrowed from “Pete Drunk Duck” that will topple over if one of the legs is missing. Government, business, and religion are the three legs that must come together for his Peace Plan to succeed. To make sure the religious leg plays its role, “Prophet Purpose” created his own pulpit sermon guide so that his inferior pastors in pulpits around the world could plagiarize his own messages with his blessing.
“Mother Metro” is all-inclusive and wears that badge proudly. The marquee in front of her church has friendly messages such as “LGBTs Welcome,” “Gay is OK” or “Marriage Equality is Good with God.” The feminine male pastor or masculine female pastor is openly gay and almost always arrayed in colorful church robes and clerical stoles to enhance their holy image as they pose for pictures with their same-sex partner. They wear their place in the community proudly. They encourage their flocks to lobby for the gay agenda in whatever arena of society in which they work.
“Mr. Golden Feather” reigns over chaos. His services resemble the scene from the 1950s film, “The Snake Pit,” when the camera pans out over the mental asylum’s rec room, showing frontal-lobotomy patients walking in circles, screaming at invisible phantoms, and bobbing their heads up and down or mindlessly rolling on the floor. The Bible sits on his pulpit but he never bothers to open it. He points his people to glory clouds, orbs, gold dust, dove feathers, or cheap gems showing up in his meetings. His audience laughs uncontrollably although not in response to anything humorous. They may run around the aisles of the church flapping their arms as if they could fly. They bob back and forth with a dazed stare. They fall to the ground and roll on the floor screaming. They get stuck to the floor unable to move in the most obscene postures. The wilder things get, the more animated “Mr. Golden Feather” gets – shouting and laughing and bowing from the waist over and over while shouting unintelligible syllables that no one understands, not even him.
“Ms. Tele-Lucre” is quite the television celebrity. She has a bouffant pink hair-do made up of several pink wigs piled up on top of one-another and make-up applied with a trowel. She and her side-kick husband, “Dr. Gray Galan” show up together on their huge TV network for appearances sake, but haven’t shared a bed together in decades. But that hasn’t stopped” Ms. Tele-Lucre” and “Dr. Gray Galan” from sleeping alone. They conduct regular telethons, each of them broadcasting from opposite coasts to raise money to support their opulent lifestyles. They love to highlight the teachings of the most obvious con-men who use well-proven strategies to rob widows of their pensions and convince the populous that the only way they can win the lottery is by sending all their money to them.
All Streams Converge
There’s an old song from the 80s by the band, Tears for Fears, called “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” That seems to be what motivates the unification of the visible church. If the one billion+ professing Christians, including cults such as the Mormon Church, could all come together, the Kingdom on Earth without the need for the return of the King becomes a reality. The only problem is – everybody wants to be at the top of the heap – unseating the incumbent, the pope.
The common denominator holding all muddy streams together is the mere profession of the name of Christ. The streams overlap in their dogmas – some professing believers wade and swim in several of them. Not much has changed since the day the Apostle Paul wept with the elders of Ephesus, saying that “after my departure, savage wolves will enter in, not sparing the flock.” John Bunyan saw this at work in his day and the wicked characters in his allegory still thrive and lead others into these streams. His characters are old hands and lead new converts into whatever stream they can push them into. You can see them at work today: “Ignorance,” “Superstition,” “Envy,” “Formalist,” “Hypocrisy,” “Turn-Away,” “Worldly Wiseman,” Mr. Money-Love,” “Mr. Save-All,” “Mr. By-Ends,” “Mr. No-Good,” and “Pickthank.”
The god of this age, the spirit of antichrist, is the force that directs the flow of all the streams to bring them together into one mighty muddy mystic river. God’s Remnant is seen in pockets of resistance, working together with the Restrainer to resist this evil. The Remnant is now the minority and is being pushed out of the streams for rocking the boat. These true believers in and among these streams are swimming against the current, waiting for the command of their Master to say, “Come out of her, My people, so you will not partake of her plagues.” That day is soon coming.