Tuesday, June 4, 2013


“How do you invite someone to church when you're ashamed of your congregation?”

What embarrassed the individual was not peeling paint and dated carpet. It had nothing to do with a choir member out of tune or kids running in the aisles. This was about Christians living clearly hypocritical lives. The concern was for leaders who were incapable of expounding upon the Scriptures. The shame was in the desire to bring people to the truth of Christ, yet nothing about the individual's congregation revealed that truth. A strong emphasis was placed upon meeting perceived needs rather than real needs. The thrust of the services was entirely physical. The goal always seemed to be in pleasing the senses and the masses, rather than the Spirit of the Master.

How do you invite someone whose life you are hoping to change to a congregation full of people who have never changed? How do you ask them to sit next to you in a service that you cannot in good conscience support? How do you explain to them the benefit of a message in which you found no benefit?

The answer is: You don't. Invite them, that is. If you believe that something is wrong, why would you willingly support it?

I have heard it said, “Attending some church is better than attending no church.” What horrid thinking! Do you care so little for the person? Perhaps then you would hand them a glass containing water and poison, saying, “Drink this. Some water is better than no water.” Why would you purposely encourage the propagation of false doctrine? Why would you lead someone to drink from a polluted well?

From others, I have heard that you should never leave a troubled congregation … that you should always stay and try to fix the problems.

“Running away doesn't do anyone any good,” they say.

While that sounds noble, it is an answer born of human pride rather than the Holy Spirit.

“No one's going to drive me out of my church!”

What about the apostle's doctrine? “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. [18] For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:17-18).

“But if I keep plugging along, maybe someone will listen.”

Listen to who? Jesus? You mean, the One who said, “Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11)?

So clearly there IS a time to separate yourself from those who do not represent Christ, accept His words, or receive those who have been sent by Him.

Another phrase I've heard countless times – primarily when the church splits loom - is, “You should support the church, not the minister.”

While I would never recommend following a man simply based on the power of his charisma, the statement itself has always seemed more concerned with “customer retention” than with the care and tending of the soul. Such a statement misrepresents the very nature of the church, which is to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Well, the truth is … this isn't about the church at all, it's about Christ. Christians are the ones who wear His name, not the other way around. The church didn't die for your sins, Jesus did. We are the body, but He is the head.

Have you ever noticed that no one in the New Testament ever invited someone else to church? The Samaritan woman ran back to her village – water pots forgotten – to tell people about Jesus (John 4). The apostles weren't out preaching the church, they were preaching Christ (Acts 5:42; 1 Corinthians 1:23). The church was growing not because of their programming, staff or facilities, but because “the word of God kept on spreading” (Acts 6:7). And those who became Christians weren't going on and on about the church, but were “rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:48).

So when someone wants to force you to make a decision between the congregation and the minister, the correct choice is to turn to the best food source. Who's providing “the bread of life” (John 6:35) and “rivers of living water” (John 7:38)? The answer could be a) the congregation, b) the minister, or quite possibly c) none of the above.

When your local religious leaders begin to speak of what a friendly congregation they are a part of, or what a great _____ program they have (insert youth, music, men's, women's, drama, outreach, benevolence, missions, or whatever is locally popular), or what tremendous facilities they possess, ask them which one of those things will have a greater impact upon the lives of mankind than the word of Christ, which “implanted … is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

And as far as the original question goes, “How do you invite someone to church when you're ashamed of your congregation?” The answer is still: You don't. First, we don't invite people to church at all, we lead them to Christ. He is the only One able to make someone a part of His body (Acts 2:47). Having said that, we invite someone only to where Christ is preached and magnified. Many congregations will claim they do so, but let the seeker beware, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

And finally, if you are ashamed of your congregation … if you see behavior – especially among the leadership – which does not accurately represent Christ … if you hear preaching that is focused more on this world than the next, and is filled more with stories, humor and opinions than with Scripture … if you see that the programming for daily life has superseded the preparation for eternal life … then don't be afraid to speak what you already know in your conscience and your heart … that your congregation is not the church at all, but are “false brethren” (Galatians 2:4).

May we do what the apostle Paul did when faced with such deception, “But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you” (Galatians 2:5). Not even an hour! Not one “worship” hour do I want to waste in pleasing myself, rather than pleasing the Lord … in being entertained, rather than edified and encouraged … in considering earth, rather than heaven … in listening to fiction, rather than fact … in giving attention to the straying sheep, rather than “the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

Most people believe their congregation is just the greatest … and list out every (physical) reason why that is true. Yet the word of the Lord demands that we “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Perhaps your congregation will pass the test! Perhaps the Spirit of God is working among them. You will not know it by means of numerical patronage, but by their adherence to the Spirit's mission to “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). If your preacher and leaders do not speak of such things, turn and walk away. Such a congregation has been created by the traditions of men and the desires of the membership, rather than “in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24).

If you are ashamed of your congregation, perhaps there is a valid spiritual reason for that shame. Certainly such a body is not the one for which Christ died. No one should ever be ashamed of that which is divinely created. So there must be another explanation ... another power at work ... another "head" who has introduced a need for shame. “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” [17] But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him” (1 Corinthians 6:16-17). Therefore, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? [15] Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? [16] Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. [17] “Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. [18] And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

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