Today, around the world, there are thousands of options available for people who want to attend or be part of a church. If you want a church that keeps Friday, you can have it. If you want a church that keeps Sunday as their special day, then you have hundreds of choices, and the same goes for Saturday. If you want a church that keeps Saturday but doesn’t keep the Holy Days of Lev 23, then again you have a few choices. If you want a church that keeps both the Sabbath and the Holy Days - you still have a number to chose from.

Most people don’t realize that in 2007 AD we are in a period of time when God is not trying to save the world. Three times in Rom 1 we are told that God “Gave them up” or encouraged people who want their own way, to have it (v24, 26, 28). If you want to ignore God’s instructions, then you are free to do so. If you want to keep some of God’s instructions and ignore others, again you are free to do so. You are even free to try and teach others to break the same laws that you do, at least in this age.

However, Rom 2:6 gives the bottom line “[God] will render to each one according to his deeds”. While we may be free to pick and choose our religious affiliation, and free to pick and choose the instructions of the Bible that we want to follow, there will come a time when those choices will be judged. Those who “continue in doing good” (v7) will get eternal life, those who “do not obey the truth” (v8) will have to face “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish”. Clearly the choice is ours and the results will be of our own making.

Since thousands of churches (each a bit different from the others) can’t all be right, we need to think long and hard about what type of church will give us the best support while we strive for a good report card. While we can’t earn eternal life - it comes as a gift - we can either refuse it, or greatly influence the reward (position in the Kingdom of God) that we will be given when we are granted eternal life. Even that statement brings up another point - while many churches teach that all people already have eternal life (or as some put it, they continue to live after death), Rom 2:6,7 and Rom 6:23 are clear that eternal life has to be given as a gift or we don’t have it.  Rom 6:23 NET.  For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Back to the basic question, what should a church that is based on the Bible look like?

The first thing to consider is that most people wouldn’t know where to start, unless they have done their homework first. To put it another way, it is our experience that you shouldn’t go looking for a church to attend until after you have established a relationship with our heavenly Father and His Son. It is a bit like the “chicken or the egg” question about what comes first, until you start to really look at things and they become clear - only after you have established your relationship with God, will you have the help that is needed to sort through the thousands of options presented by men. Those of us who grew up in the church of our parents, will have some understanding of God and church life. So what I am trying to get at is, it is only when we become independent in our thinking, and start to explore the Bible for ourselves, that we will be in a position to start looking at which church is the best one. The one closest to what the Bible teaches.

Talking about men. A fundamental point that we should understand, and never forget, is that all of the churches that exist today, and those that will be formed in the future, are organizations that are formed and run by men. God’s Church, of which Jesus Christ is the head, is spiritual in nature. Only God and His Son know who are in their Church, so we can’t point to a particular organization/church and claim that only those people are in “God’s Church”, or point to another one and say they aren’t. However, that has not stopped many men from claiming just that. Any church that claims they are the one and only true church, send a strong message that they do not understand the spiritual nature of the Church of God and therefore, in my book, is a church to have concerns about, or at least attend with your eyes wide open.

In Mat 13, Jesus talks about the wheat and the tares. Tares look like wheat for most of their growing cycle, but of course do not produce wheat in the end. Jesus shows that the wheat represents those in God’s Church, those who will make it into the Kingdom. The tares represent those who try to look like Christians, but in the end fail to produce the necessary fruit of the Holy Spirit. However, an important aspect of the parable, I feel, is that the wheat and tares are allowed to grow up together. In other words, we must expect that any church/organization will have wheat (genuine Christians whose names are in the Book of Life) and tares (people trying to act like Christians but not producing fruit). It is not the role of men (notice in v41 it is the angels) to try to separate the wheat and the tares. We also need to understand this point when we talk about an “open door” policy later on.

The Reasons for having a church.

Most churches are started because a person or a small group want others to come and help them “spread the Gospel”, or some other worthy cause. Others are started when people begin to rally around someone who seems to have a special gift or calling from God. Many churches are started when a group “splits off” from a larger group, because they can’t agree on some point or other - usually doctrinal or Biblical understanding.

I feel the Biblical reason for wanting to attend a church is so that we can obey the command to assembly together on the Sabbath and Holy Days. This assembly will allow the group to be instructed from the Bible, discuss the messages given, and join together for worship and singing praise to the Great God. The church should be there to assist our already established relationship with our Father, not to control that relationship, nor to demand loyalty to the men in charge of the organization.

Points to look for.

  1. The church (or the people attending the church) should recognize and worship one God. That God is God the Father, the creator, the God of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Elijah and even Jesus (John 20:17). Accepting this one God also means that we accept His Ten Commandments and His Holy Days. The article “The Nature of God and His Son” expands on this.

  1. The church should teach that Jesus Christ only existed as a plan or grand design (logos) until His birth by the virgin Mary. As a man He qualified to become God’s anointed Messiah, died to pay for the sins of the world, and was resurrected to sit at God’s right hand.

  1. The calendar used to keep the Holy Days should comply with the requirements that are given for the Holy Days in the Bible. A suitable calendar is outlined in the paper “A Basic Biblical Approach to Calculating God’s Holy Days Calendar”. The main point is that the new year should not start until after the Spring (NH) equinox.

  1. The church should have what is usually called an “open door” policy (1 Cor 14:23-25). This means that anyone who is interested can attend, provided their behaviour causes no offense to others. The group itself should keep it self “clean”, and ask those who are having a problem with habitual or unrepentant sin (1 Cor 5:1-13, Mat 18:15-18) to stop meeting with them. I think some comments from the Life Application Bible are worth repeating Page 2095 2 Cor 2:5-11 "Church discipline should seek restoration. Two mistakes in church discipline should be avoided - being too lenient and not correcting mistakes, or being too harsh and not forgiving the sinner. There is a time to confront and a time to comfort."  The elders are there to serve (Mat 20:25-28), and their role is not to try and control the group, or make all the decisions.

  1. 1 Cor 14:26-40 gives some important instructions for groups. Everything in the church should be done “decently and in order”. V29-33 indicate that there should be some discussion (questions and answers) about the messages of the day. This helps to stop an elite group from dominating the speaking, and also makes the speakers more accountable. Any negative comments need to be tempered with some positive ones, and all should be done in a spirit of love - trying to build up and not tear down.

  1. When you can see past the “twist” put on certain verses, the Bible indicates that there are only two “positions” in the church that men can appoint other men to hold. 1 Tim3 gives us the qualifications for these two positions. Overseers or elders are to look after the spiritual matters, and deacons are to look after the physical things. However, there will be times when deacons speak and elders help stack up the chairs. The Bible - after you ignore the verses that have been tampered with - does not support “ordination” or any “hierarchy” of ministers within the church.

  1. An ideal church should encourage the individual members to study and search for the truth for themselves (Heb 5:13,14). We should expect to find truth anywhere, rather than just look to “the man at the top”, and we all should be willing to roll up our sleeves and go search for it. Under the Old Covenant as described in the Old Testament, the church had the authority to rule from the top down. The High Priest had the power to give the final decision, and Moses’ system of “rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, rulers of tens” was certainly used. However, we are not under the Old Covenant today. The veil was torn, and today we all have direct access to God (Eph 2:14-18, Heb 4:11-16). Christ is now our High Priest (Heb 7:17-28, 4:14-16), so we need to be careful that we don’t try to put a man in His position.

It is strange, but as I look for a church (in 2007) with the points outlived above, I can’t even find one. It seems like we need to take some of the good points from other churches, and put them together in something new. The Seventh Day Adventists have the Sabbath right, and some understanding of prophecy. The Churches of God have the right Holy Days, but keep them with what is often a faulty calendar. It would be great to have some of the music and hymns from some of the Pentecostal groups. Any church can benefit from following the Roman Catholics practice of teaching and training the children while they are young. The Baptists understand that baptism is for adults and is immersion in water. The Unitarians understand that there is one God and one Lord, yet reject the Commandments and the Holy Days. Put simply, the churches of the world today are in a mess, yet much truth still exists, scattered in many, and sometimes, unlikely places.

I believe that the reason there is no one group or church that reflects all the seven points above, is a result of  people trying to take an English Bible at face value. As soon as you do that, you automatically start to incorporate error. Each error accepted, takes you further away from the type of church that God would like to see.

We Need to Search for it.

Perhaps some verses and comment from Colossians can help us understand the things we need to be on the lookout for in a church.

Col 2:6 (NET) “ Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,”

We should never want to or allow ourselves to be persuaded to become independent from Christ. We, as human beings and without Christ’s spirit living in us, can only keep the Ten Commandments in a physical way, and not in the spiritual way that is much better (Rom 7:6, John 4:24). Our recognition of our need for Christ to help us is part of our humility that we need to be close to God (James 4:6).

Col 2:7 (NET) “ rooted and built up in him and firm in your faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 Be careful not to allow anyone to captivate you through an empty, deceitful philosophy that is according to human traditions and the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

Religion seems to be a magnet for traditions. Of course, if those traditions are right and good, then they can be helpful. However, too many times they are not correct. For instance, the traditions of Christmas and Easter run counter to the clear Scriptures of the Bible, and therefore help to “muddy the water”. The tradition of God being a Trinity or a Binitarian severely limits a person’s ability to understand the true nature of God and His Son.

We Must be Careful to Evaluate.

Many people accept a church because:-

  1. It is handy to their location.

  2. The people seem friendly.

  3. They have activities for their children, or a good teenage program.

  4. They (the church) claim that they have some exclusive insight to a particular truth.

  5. It is the first one to make an impression on them.

  6. The church puts forth the message that if you are not with them, you won’t make it.

  7. It is the church they grew up in.

I’m sure there are many more reasons, but none of these sort of reasons have much in the way of Biblical backing. Let me state once again, God’s Church - of which Christ is the head (Eph 1:15-23) - is spiritual in nature. Our sign or proof that we are part of God’s Church is having the Spirit of Christ working in our lives (2 Cor 13:5).

Rom 8:9-17 (NKJV emphasises mine.)

9. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God
dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the
Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
10. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life
because of righteousness.
11. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the
dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

12. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to
the flesh.
13. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit
you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
14. For as many as are led by
the Spirit of God, these are sons of God
. 15. For you did not receive the spirit of
bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry
out, “Abba, Father.”
16. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are
children of God,
17. and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with
Christ, if indeed we suffer with
Him, that we may also be glorified together.

The point I am trying to make, is that I feel that we should select a church or group to fellowship with, on the basis of the visible fruits of the Holy Spirit being produced by at least some of the members of the group. Remember, some tares are going to be present in just about every group, so we should never expect 100% of the members of a church to be true Christians.

The church should uphold and live by the two Great Commandments (love God and love your fellow man) and teach respect for all the Ten Commandments.

The Type of Church Organization.

There is another aspect of churches that we should keep in mind. Various words and phrases are used to describe the concept, but I will use “closed loop” “open loop” and “centred loop”. In a church that operates with a “closed loop” concept, they have very clearly defined boundaries around the group. It is easy to see who is “in” the group, and everyone else is “out”. Usually you don’t get invited to attend such a church until you have given some indication that you will accept the boundaries. For members inside the “loop” there may be little room for individual thought. Some people like this structured approach, and wouldn’t have it any other way, while others see it as breaking Biblical principals by the groups withdrawing from almost all contact with the world. Unfortunately, some of the characteristics that are obvious with cults, are also seen in churches structured this way.

The “open loop” type of church is one of the opposite extreme. They take delight in having no defined boundaries, and more or less just push the line that everyone has to learn to get along, regardless of beliefs and practices. They will probably have an ecumenical approach to things and will try to blend thoughts and ideas together rather than having specific points of doctrine. Usually these types of churches will attract those with a more liberal approach to life, as there is very little in the way of standards to live up to.

From my experience, the “centred loop” is a better way to go. There is an inner core of well defined boundaries - hence it has some of the characteristics of the “closed loop” churches - but the loop is around values and not the group. People can be as close or as far away from the defined values as they feel comfortable with. The group is not any way “exclusive” - in other words there is an “open door” policy - but there is still a minimum set of values that people must follow before they will be allowed to continue their fellowship. However, there is a much higher set of values that people must accept before they can hold positions of responsibility within the group. To put it another way, people are free to draw close to the core values, or can keep themselves distant from the action, and as long as their behaviour is acceptable by the group, they are welcome to attend.

Don’t Become Locked In.

Another of life’s experiences that I have had to learn the hard way, is that we should never allow an organization/church to come between ourselves and God. This means that there may be times when we have to walk away from a church if we are to maintain our spirituality purity (or in Biblical terms, remain virgins {Rev 14:4}).  See also 2 Chron 11:16.

If you have never been caught up in such a situation, you might be wondering why anyone would advise people to walk out of a church. Let me again repeat, the true Church of God is a spiritual organism, and only God and Christ know who is part of their Church. The “churches” we “see” in the world, are organizations formed and run by men. Part of human nature - to a greater or lessor degree - is to want to be “top dog”. To be the one to “lord” it over others, to be in charge, to get the rewards that come with a higher position. If everyone who was in charge of a church had the “servant” mentality, then of course men “taking over” would not happen. Not taking responsibility we haven’t been given is part of the test for all Christians which not all men and women pass with flying colours. Just like children wanting to “overrule” their parents at times, and wives wanting to take over from their husbands, there will be men who want a greater role in running a church.

If the congregation is wise enough and open to the lead of the Holy Spirit, they may see it coming and ask the “one wanting to take charge” to stop attending with the group. However, usually they work quietly behind the scenes until they have a large number “on their side”. By the time it becomes obvious, they have the backing of many key “players” in the group. If you can’t put them out, the only option left is to leave yourself.

However, you are in far better spiritual shape having to worship God on your own or with a smaller group, than staying in a group where men (or women) start dishing out the orders of what you can or can’t do.

Tough Decision.

Working out what group you can attend with and/or stay with, is a tough decision.

It is a part of our training, and gives us all an opportunity to show God what we are made of. As I understand it, the 144,000 of Rev 14 are the “cream of the class” from the first 6000 years of human life on this earth. To put it another way, we can be an “average” Christian and still miss out on making it into the first fruits, or we can be “above average” and assure our resurrection to be with Christ when He returns to earth.

The choice is ours.

My advice is to roll up your sleeves and do the work that is necessary. Instead of weakly giving in to the thought “it is all too hard” - and make the assumption that another fallible human being knows more than you can find out in a lifetime - take the time to search out the truth. In the words of 2 Tim 2:15 (NKJV) "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”.

Bob Orchard Jan 2014

While this information is made freely available (Mat 10:8b) , and can be printed out, it is done with the understanding that there will only be fair and honest use of the material, and that it will be copied in full with no alterations.

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