Many believers, including myself, have been hurt or disappointed by the church. It seems as though church leaders make the headlines for their moral failures on a regular basis, and it’s not uncommon to spot members who fail on an individual level as well. With so much publicized moral failure, who could blame Millennials for having a jaded perspective of the church?
Though I sympathize with Christians who have had bad experiences, I also caution them not to speak poorly of the church, to discredit the church as a whole, or quit church altogether. Yes, local church bodies can be messy at times, but there are some amazing and authentic ones out there as well! To be fair when you are examining the “Church” in general, there are a couple of things that you have to keep in mind:
1. Every church building is not filled with God’s people. Pseudo-Christians go to church too.
Not everyone you meet in a church building will be saved, and not every church you visit will be lead by a Christian pastor. Some of them “church folk” are faking. That’s what “pseudo” means, a “sham,” a “bogus,” or a “phony.” Jesus said this himself in Matthew 7: 21-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness (ESV).”
Jesus said that real Christians are characterized by their love for God and one another, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as well as their obedience to His word (1 John 1:9; John 2:9-11, 3:6-10, 13:34-35; 1 Tim 2:4). Sometimes we hear of people who “backslide” or abandon the faith completely. Paul suggests in 1 John 2:19 that these so-called “Christians” were never believers in the first place.
2. Some pseudo-Christians even lead in some “church establishments.”
Sadly, there are even pseudo-Christians leading in some local churches. The Bible specifically talks about “false teachers” and “antichrists”. False teachers, as the name implies, teach unbiblical or heretical teachings that lead people astray from embracing the true gospel ( 2 Tim 4:3-4; 1 Tim 6:3-5; Matt 24:24; 1 John 4:1; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Peter 2:1). “Antichrists” are people that possess a spirit that aggressively denies God, yet mimics God, and seeks to be worshipped as God (1 John 2:18; 1 John 2:22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7; Matt 24:1-51).
How can you recognize false teachers, false prophets, and antichrists? Well Jesus says in Matthew 7: 15-20 that we can recognize that by their fruit.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 7: 15-20, ESV).”
When Jesus says their “fruit” He means their lifestyles, teachings, behavior, and attitudes. When you’re listening to a bible teacher pay close attention to what is said about Jesus? Ask yourself is this teacher living in a way that demonstrates that he or she is submitted to Christ? Is he or she bearing the fruit of a Christian according to God’s word (1 John is a really good place to start to examine that). When the teacher shares the gospel, is it accurate? Or is a gospel contrary to God’s word being taught? These are a few questions to ask yourself when sitting under anyone’s teaching. Even people that you feel 100% positive that they are Christians.
3. There are some legitimate Christian churches with issues, but there are healthy ones too.
If you haven’t seen or participated in a healthy church, naturally it will be tough to recognize one. Sometimes we just choose churches on a whim. Perhaps your grandma or mom went to so-and-so’s church, so you decide that you’ll go there. Maybe this church is the closest to your house, or that church is famous in your city so you’ll become a member there. Pray and be discerning when you choose a church body. There are plenty of healthy churches out there that would love to have another sister or brother in Christ in their church family. By the way, I’ve created a step-by-step guide for choosing a church right here.
4. There is no perfect church.
Listen as much as I would like to vouch for every group of believers, I have to be honest. Even the best church is not perfect. You just have to read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians to know that. But on a serious note, being a Christian doesn’t mean that you become perfect overnight. Every church goes through problems here and there. But it’s our responsibility as individual believers to have patience, to love, and to bear with each other through it all (Col 3:13; Eph 4:2; Rom 14:13-23).Even the apostles got into arguments (Acts 15:36-39). However they were able to reconcile with one another and God even used those things for the good of the church (2 Tim 4:11).
Will you love Christ’s bride?
Don’t reject Christian fellowship on the basis that church members are “imperfect” or “hypocritical.” That’s a slap in the face to God’s grace and a form of self-righteousness. You need other Christians (Acts 20:28; Heb 13:17, 10:25), and they need you too (Eph 2:21, 4:16; Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 3:9). The Church is Christ’s bride, and He expects you to love her. So what are you going to do with that expectation? Obedience is definitely not the easiest response, but I’m a living witness that it’ll make room for the blessing of community in your life when you need it most.