Oh, boy. There is no way I am going to get through this topic without offending a lot of people. Never-the-less, I feel it’s a topic that should be addressed.
For information’s sake, I was raised in the United Brethren Church (a denomination), which merged with the Methodist Church (a denomination), to form the United Methodist Church (a denomination). Which has now changed it’s name back to the Methodist Church (a denomination). During college I dated, and attended church with girls who were Catholic. (My parents were horrified). Prior to graduating I was married in the Lutheran Church. I’ve attended Baptist churches — of several variations, Jewish Synagogues, Disciples of Christ, Church of Christ and several non-denominational churches. At one time, my co-pilot and navigator were both Mormons. And at that time, I didn’t know what I was; but I had read the Book of Mormon; so, yes, we had some very friendly and “interesting” conversations. (FYI: Wikipedia lists at least 54 Christian denominations, plus racial and inter-denominational variations.)
I should also tell you that I have a strong bias against “organized” religion. (If you have followed my posts for any length of time, this comes as no surprise). My definition of organized religion is, “denominations”. Why do I have such strong feelings about them?
Well, first, I grew up in one; and it failed me miserably. Second, I truly believe denominations have driven more people away from God, than they have brought into a saving relationship with God. Third, denominations imply, if not shout, they are “right” and everyone else is “wrong.” Not true you say? Then why do they separate them-selves from other denominations and churches? And, if I may add; the separation is usually caused by ‘nits’ which in most cases are not part of the Gospels’ Good News message. In some other cases, the separation is by an enormous amount of rules, regulations, traditions and hierarchy — which also is not part of the Gospels’ Good News message. I believe this will make a great deal of difference to God for placing impediment after impediment in the way of believers who are desperately seeking fellowship with God. And, whether it’s big differences or small, they divide Christ’s Church.
I cringe every time I hear someone say all religions lead to God. Actually, in one respect, they are right. For we all have an appointment with God, no matter our belief or disbelief. There will be an accounting. And what happens then is going to be a shock to many a devout follower of their chosen “religion”.
In fact I am convinced that not all religions calling themselves “Christian,” will get you into Heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers!’” [Matthew 7:21 – 23, NIV]
In the Book of John, he (John) records several statements of Jesus that are relative to this subject. Jesus is speaking: “39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. 40 These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” [John 5:39-40, NIV]
Looking at these scriptures we learn that knowing about God and Jesus is not enough. So how about ritual and tradition? Won’t do a thing for you. Doing good works in God’s or Jesus’ name? Sorry, not going to get you there. What will? Jesus tells us, only He who does the will of my Father will enter the kingdom of Heaven.
So what is the will of the Father. In John 6:29 Jesus says, “…This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one He has sent.” Then a bit later in John 6:40, Jesus says: 40 For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believes in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”
Many of the worlds religions have grown up around the efforts to do God’s will. It’s big business. And, the vast majority of it is miss-guided. So which church do I think is right?
Well, what I notice in the scriptures is that our salvation appears to hinge on two things. First, God leads us to Jesus. Second, we either believe and accept Jesus as the Son of God and our Savior, or we don’t. Studying the situation does nothing to secure our salvation. We either believe or we don’t. If we believe in God and then choose to “come to Jesus” accepting Him as our Lord and Savior, we have formed a partnership for life. Studying God’s word will show us that God knew us before he even created the universe. Therefore, it is no accident that we live at this particular time. God has a plan for us, and we can follow that plan if we align our will with His. Now, I ask you, what role did a church play in this?
So, where do churches fit in? Well many don’t fit in. I look for a church that is non-denominational and centered on God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I look for a church that teaches the Gospel and believes that Christians have a personal relationship with Christ. And, while we are all at different places in that relationship, we yet share a common bond — our love for Christ and His love for us. To be “my church” it must teach the Gospel as the only path to Salvation. And, all teaching is done from the Holy Bible.1 And, especially that part about loving others. Therefore, the church must respect, open its doors to, and make welcome all races, creeds, and colors. The church thus serves the critical function of offering a safe environment were people can seek help with, discuss, and ask questions about their life situations, including their walk with Jesus, and not be judged.
Believe it or not, there are such churches. Find one, and give it your support. Christian friends are invaluable. You’ll make them quickly if you volunteer your time or join a small group.
Father, This world is horribly mixed up. Even our churches can’t get together. It seems to me that we could accomplish so much if egos and false teachings got out of the way. But in the meantime, help me to grow stronger in my faith, while learning to align myself more tightly to your way of thinking and acting. I pray for our churches Lord. May they find leadership that will do what is necessary to realign themselves to you and your word. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
1 There are many translations of the Bible. Those I prefer are the New International Version, and The New Living Version (both of which are available in the Life Application Study Bible format; published by Tyndale House Publishers. These study bibles are full of notes, charts, maps, time-lines, etc. to help you place what you have read in context and then understand and apply it to your life. Unfortunately quite a few denominations have versions or translations of the Bible that suit their own beliefs. Personally, I avoid them.