Saturday, March 31, 2012

Because of... or In Spite of

When I hear that someone I know is involved with a church that has doctrinal issues or unbiblical elements in their worship it is a burden. I have various friends, family, and acquaintances who participate in fellowships that I think are involved in some serious errors. The burden isn’t because I think it is my business to impose my opinions on everyone around me. Not at all, I recognize that each of us is responsible to God alone for those choices. The burden is because I care for them and I do not want to see them hurt spiritually. When discussing these concerns people often share various social reasons why they choose to stay involved and try and assure me that they know the Gospel. Almost without fail the same question will be asked of me. Namely, “you don’t believe that someone attending a [fill in the blank] church can be saved? The implication is that I am being unfairly narrow.

This question, however, shifts the conversation away from the main issue. It is like asking if it is possible for people who smoke 3 packs a day to live to be 100, if people who eat a lot of fast food can be in good shape, or if people raised in abusive homes can be well adjusted. Of course it is possible, but that doesn’t mean that the situation is well suited for it. The concern isn’t usually that salvation is precluded but rather that the environment is not an optimal place for healthy Biblical growth.

Before we go any further I want to clarify two points. First, there are no perfect churches. All churches, no matter how pure, contain a mixture of error and truth. Second, I am not saying that a person cannot be saved attending any one of a wide range of churches where despite other serious errors they may hear about the reality of sin, the glory of God, and most importantly the deity of Christ, and his death burial and resurrection to save those who believe. The Catholic Church for example should be commended for its uncompromising stance on the Trinity, the full humanity, the divinity of Christ, and a host of moral issues. Many emergent and liberal churches have brought attention to certain practical elements of the Gospel that have been neglected in lots of conservative churches.

The Holy Spirit can reach people in all sorts of ways and places. There are a lot of churches where the teaching is weak or even contrary to sound doctrine but where the Bible is still read and certain theological truths are still communicated. I have no doubt that people can be saved in those situations because salvation is of the Lord not of men. The issue really isn’t whether it is possible for a person to be saved in a place that is teaching unbiblical doctrines or practices. The more important question is if a person will be saved and grow in faith as a result of the teaching of their church or in spite of it? Why would we give hearty approval to environments where true spiritual growth requires overcoming the teaching rather than being supported by it?

There are so many challenges that we must deal with (through the grace of God) in our spiritual journey that it is simply unwise to put oneself in a position where our own spiritual leaders are making it more difficult for us to hear and understand the Gospel. As I said, no church is perfect but that is because all people struggle with sin. This is what makes a Bible teaching, Gospel preaching church such a valuable place. The unchanging message first handed down to the Prophets and Apostles and recorded in the Holy Scripture is our only sure and reliable guide and we should enthusiastically support and encourage those ministries that focus their efforts and organization on it.

The church we choose to attend will make a difference in our growth. Although there are many issues that believers disagree about there are certain things that are so clearly taught in the scripture that to ignore them just doesn’t make sense. A friend of mine once explained it this way, “If someone brought you a perfectly cooked steak but sprinkled a little bit of rat poison on it. Would you eat it?” The answer is of course not, and I think the analogy is a good one. Even if you can get spiritual truth is it worth it if you have to also ingest spiritual poison? The answer is clear. There are plenty of places where we can be spiritually fed without the poison. The issue we all need to ask is if we are growing (as defined by the Bible) as a result of the ministry and teaching of our church or in spite of it.

I pray that if you are looking for a church or if you are currently in a church that isn’t Gospel focused that you will find a Bible based church where you can be fed properly and grow strong in faith with the help and support of those around you.

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