I Don’t Know of a Faithful Church in my Area. What Should I Do?
Ephesians 3:8-11: “Unto me (the Apostle Paul is speaking), who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord”
Hebrews 10:25: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
It is obvious that you cannot be a faithful Christian who keeps Christ’s Word while disregarding (that’s a key word here) what His Word teaches about assembling and fellowshipping with other Christians. Does that mean though that you ought to just go be part of a church near you, even if you honestly can’t reconcile what any church near you teaches and does with the Bible and the example of the Apostolic churches in the first century?
If someone puts their trust in a doctor, they will do what He says concerning their health. Whether you call it adhering to his prescription or following his program, or you call it something else which essentially means the same thing, to believe the doctor you must do everything he says to the extent that you are able. If a doctor generally prescribes exercises for those in your condition which involve equipment you don’t have access to, he obviously knows what is optimal, but since he is a reasonable person (otherwise he would not be a good doctor) he knows you can’t do more than you can do. So, what do you do then? You do whatever percent of his prescription you are able to do while seeking to find ways to incorporate the rest as soon as possible- while also not compromising the good which is already in your power to do.
That in itself is a very, very short answer to the question we’re discussing here.
It is no secret, and it is no shocking and daring thing to say, that we don’t have churches now established by the Apostles or their associates as was common in many areas of the Roman Empire by the latter part of the first century. The fact that Christianity spread so rapidly, even within the very lifetime of many who were alive when Jesus was incarnate and walked on earth, is one of many amazing things about Christianity.
The Jewish diaspora had also already begun to some measure by that time, and this typically provided a foundation for the Christian church in cities as Jews from the synagogue were visited with the Gospel, they believed in Jesus Christ as Israel’s promised Messiah, they were the foundation stones for the Christian church in that city, and then gentiles believed in Jesus Christ through their testimony and were added to the church (and usually or always the Jewish Christians would also get kicked out of the synagogue shortly after they believed in Jesus Christ; and from that point on the Jewish synagogues were houses of Satan, and are so to this day).
It should be no scandal then to say that there are no Apostles today, and the churches the true Apostles of Christ founded are not available to us. We read the letters to those churches in the New Testament, and it can be difficult to apply some of the things said in them now to our own situation (and I emphasize some of these things). That is, the aspects of the program or prescription which are mainly or completely to be followed corporately.
By the way: We have rebukes to the chief counterfeits claiming to be continuations of the first century Apostolic churches in our rebukes to the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. If a church existed which was the continuation of the churches which Christ’s Apostles founded, it would surely not require anything, let alone a multitude of things of its members which are contrary and counterproductive to the program or prescription which Christ’s Word gives. When God’s Word is really viewed as the ultimate authority then doctrine which is blatantly contrary to it, evidently empty tradition, and blatant toleration of sin cannot be in a church. All or any of these things in a church is a sure proof it is an obvious dead end and not a true church of Christ.
So, the answer then to the church dilemma isn’t to be part of a compromised church (and by compromised, I’m referring to compromise the policies and practices which stem from the top- the sin rebuked in the Apostolic churches was not of this nature, except when the leadership was being rebuked for compromising in tolerating sin and false doctrine in the church- and in those cases Christ regarding the church as His own was indeed at stake in how the leadership responded to His rebukes- Revelation chapters 2 and 3 prove this).
Also, read Paul’s final exhortation to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:18-35 to see how vulnerable even one of the best Apostolic churches (a church which the Apostle Paul didn’t even rebuke when he wrote to it) was to being corrupted and destroyed in terms of its quality and legitimacy in God’s sight.
With all that said, to be faithful to Christ we can’t disregard Scriptures like the ones read a few minutes ago at the beginning of this message any more than we properly regard a doctor while disregarding a significant portion of his prescription. Regard these Scriptures and do your best with them without compromising other aspects of Christ’s prescription. The compromised churches are not the answer, and often the ones who are quoting these Scriptures are those from compromised churches trying to get you to join their church which you’d have to disregard Christ’s prescription to join.
Perhaps the ones emphasizing these Scriptures are other Christians in your area wanting to start a fellowship that stays true to God’s Word. Maybe that is exactly what you should do then. If you find yourself in such a situation, even if there are just two of you, even if you’re all part of the same household, here are some things about starting a meeting which I think will be helpful to you. This is surely not all-encompassing advice, but I believe it can at least be helpful to you.
You don’t need a building designated as a church to have a church. There is nothing holy about having a building which you’ve designated to have church meetings in. The building does not sanctify. If the people are not truly meeting under Jesus Christ’s authority, then having a building called a church does not make the meeting holy. If the people are truly meeting under Jesus Christ’s authority, or at least a few of them are and they are not knowingly fellowshipping with workers of lawlessness in terms of others who might be present, then Jesus Christ is indeed in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The venue for this happening is not important, and it couldn’t do more than facilitate the meeting. There is a frequently used saying about how going into a church building doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going into McDonald’s makes you a hamburger. It’s true. I wish the most common saying that I know of expressing the potential spiritual futility of being in a building called a church wasn’t a trite one.
Not meeting in a building called a church, whether you meet at a house or you rent some backroom of a local business, also does not make the meeting holy or better than the compromised churches. The same false doctrines, the same sins, and very many of the empty traditions which frequently prevail in the buildings called churches can (and often do) prevail in meetings which are not held in buildings designated as churches.
Don’t ever be part of any church assembly because you don’t want to look bad before others or because you want to release some superstitious pressure you have allowed to be put on yourself. In that case, to even be part of a faithful church is a dead work. Your hypocrisy would actually be worse if the church you joined for such reasons actually was something God considered a faithful church. You would be a corrupting influence on a pure church by joining it because you wanted to look better before others (it doesn’t matter who they are) or you joined primarily to appease your superstitious conscience.
Understand that failed church meetings, disappointments in many ways including regarding Christian fellowship, betrayals, controversy, and messy situations are the types of things which those who would be faithful to the Lord, and remain faithful, have to face and have to navigate through in the Lord. If you say “I don’t want to get hurt” or “I don’t want to be inconvenienced” or “I don’t want to invest myself in something which might very well fail” then you simply can’t be a faithful Christian. It can actually be for similar reasons that people go to compromised churches, especially very mechanical, impersonal, and/or ritualistic churches. Like those who want to say they’re Christians yet have nothing to do with church, these are also governed by things along the lines of predictability, comfort, and keeping their own chosen status quo intact.
I’ve been part of more than one church which I eventually came to see as a dead end due to better understanding(of the Bible (as well as better understanding the policies of the leadership which conflicted with what I came to see in Scripture). Or, maybe there was betrayal and/or compromise after the meetings had started out well. I’ve also been part of more than one series of meetings which I thought might turn into a thriving church which disbanded. I believe much was learned and experience was gained through these things. Yes, it was ugly and traumatic in certain ways. It was potentially spiritually destructive for sure. Yet to return to a compromised church or to give up on a faithful church is spiritual destruction (or would at least be a major advancement if the goal were spiritual destruction). We can’t afford to do that even though the only other option is so unpleasant, even unpleasant in a spiritual sense. Those who would be faithful to the Lord risk being scarred as a result of doing so; and those who stay faithful to the Lord will be scarred as a result of doing so.
And yet, I don’t see these past assemblies I was part of as a waste (even though I want to do better in this area, and I believe much better is possible). There was still much potential for wisdom, knowledge, and experience to be gained through these things. There was still spiritual sustenance in these things, at least often in them, which was critical for getting through the particular circumstances which many who were involved in the meetings (including myself) were in. And I believe there was genuine Christian fellowship in these assemblies, much of which has not necessarily been altogether lost at this point. Don’t think it is all necessarily a waste even if the next installment for you doesn’t last a long time in terms of the assembling together (but still hope for better).
If you are starting a church meeting in your home, then govern the meeting or make sure someone is governing the meeting (a man) who at least has wisdom to not let the meeting get out of hand nor kill the meeting with lots of unnecessary comments or disruption of others (that is, others who are not being long winded nor speaking heresy). Someone does have to manage the meeting and keep it orderly without quenching things which are edifying and important exhortations. If you don’t have a man to at least do that, then I wouldn’t even try starting a meeting or being part of an attempt to start a meeting. You might still simply read from the Bible, pray, and talk with other Christians in a more informal way. I would say that having a man who is faithful to your knowledge, and at least wise enough to govern a meeting decently, is a good indicator of whether it is worth attempting to start a meeting or not.
And I’ll also mention here to beware of really long meetings and people who are looking for an audience for their vain talking. Often, when the superstition related to a building is taken away, people think they have a license to talk at will (the meetings will even attract people looking for an audience to speak their jargon, often idiotic jargon, too). This is related to what I meant earlier by a superstitious conscience. The building does not sanctify! Removing the building aspect from a church meeting shouldn’t take away order and make the meeting a free for all. And yet house meetings and meetings in rented buildings often do become a free for all. Related to these things, in my opinion, commonly letting a meeting run over two hours is not good; and commonly not having enough (necessary and/or edifying) things to do for the meeting to even last thirty minutes also probably indicates the assembling together isn’t worth it.
If you already know someone well and trust they are faithful and wise enough to lead the group, then push for their appointment as the group’s Overseer (or Bishop or Pastor- all the same thing, but I think Overseer is most accurate and least associated with superstition in most people’s minds). Let him, with the help of the church, recognize others who might be qualified to serve as elders to provide accountability to the overseer and to help him govern the church. If he is truly a godly man and wise enough for the role, he should be able to impose reasonable restrictions on himself so that he will not lord over the church yet still not have his hands tied from imposing Biblical standards, discipline, and accountability on the entire church. This is very hard, but it seems reasonable that a man qualified for this role would have enough understanding to work with the faithful who want a godly, Biblical leader (if they don’t really want that they would not be faithful) to come up with a plan for this in the current circumstances with whatever personnel is available (there might be five other apparently godly, mature men; there might be none- this would make a difference).
Don’t choose a church leader (overseer) lightly! Don’t ignore red flags and don’t choose a brand new Christian. At the same time, you could always focus on a relatively minor immaturity, a word misspoken which sounds stupid and/or a recent bad decision by someone to keep them from ever leading your church (and sparing yourself from any righteous accountability and submission to righteous spiritual authority). You could even not appoint a man simply because he’s not married, citing the Biblical qualification that he must be “the husband of one wife” without considering that the man who wrote this (the Apostle Paul), who would be over such an elder in the immediate context, was single. “The husband of one wife” Biblically means he must not be a polygamist; he must be committed to one woman or be faithful in singleness. You could be nitpicky the other way and say a man should not be ordained because he is married, and therefore not as free for the Lord’s interests as a man like the Apostle Paul. From what I’ve known and seen, I actually think there is more validity to this latter view. But the Biblical fact is that a man’s marital status does not in itself disqualify him from leading a church (and you can know certain churches are false for this reason alone)..
You should know someone well before choosing to submit to them as a church leader, but you could also nitpick (as I’ve seen some do) in a way that is unreasonable and sinful (well, let’s see you prove yourself as an elderly man in the nursing home- handle that well for maybe five or ten years and then we’ll recognize you as our overseer). That is somewhat of an exaggeration. You get the picture.
Also, beware of those who are naturally charismatic. They can take over a group, sometimes perhaps not even realizing it. Understand that someone being able to talk well, or draw people to themselves otherwise, does not equal godly wisdom. In many cases, it indicates the very opposite (in terms of how it is exercised).
Beware of ism-ites. Beware of isms period. And understand that a new church assembly springing up, at least after it gets a little bit of notoriety, will draw people looking to push their agenda involving their personal ism and thereby gain a following from themselves. Beware of Judaizers pushing “Keeping Torah” which is a common buzzword for bringing people into bondage to the Mosaic ceremonies. This is the concision, the mutilation, that the Apostle Paul warned to beware of in Philippians chapter 3. God released gentile Christians from the Mosaic ceremonies through the Apostolic council in Acts chapter 15, and it is impossible to faithfully keep these anyways now with no Levitical Priesthood and no Temple in place. The Book of Galatians is a book devoted to refuting the Judaizers. Study it and understand it in that light, not in the way which the false grace preachers use it out of context to deny the need to be obedient to Jesus, that is, exercise a living faith in Him, in order to inherit salvation; and the related need to follow the moral principles of the Law of Moses as a guide to faith.
The following principle applies in discerning faithful church leaders as it did in its most direct application to the Apostles and their co-workers appointing elders in their churches.
1 Timothy 5:24-25: “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.”
So, there are no Apostles today like there were in the first century, men who wrote Scripture and knew Jesus in the flesh or at least personally knew those who did. Yet God still raises up men whom He has equipped, and also might make evident enough in His own way, that they have authority to be leaders of His people. Set your heart to be diligent to study to understand His Word and keep it to the best of your ability so that you are ready and willing to be material for the building of a faithful Christian church, when and if that opportunity should be there for you.
Though being a faithful Christian necessarily involves being ready and willing to be part of a church that is faithful in God’s eyes to the best of your knowledge, Christianity goes well beyond church meetings whether you are able to be part of a faithful church or not. We need to be faithful to the Lord at work, at home, whenever out of man’s gaze altogether, and constantly in our inner life. Ananias and Sapphira found that out the hard way in Acts chapter 5.
Remembering, and in no way diminishing Scriptures like Ephesians 3:8-11 and Hebrews 10:25 which we read at the beginning, but rather receiving all the counsel of God’s Word, consider that the Bible also says things such as the following.
John 5:43-44: “I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?”
1 Corinthians 7:23: “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.”
1 Corinthians 6:20: “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Do your best before God in following Jesus Christ and keeping His Word faithfully. Persevere in that way. And if that is not your way right now, be honest, turn from your evil way and unrighteous counsels, and turn to the Lord that He might have mercy upon you.
Psalm 103:15-18: “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them.”
Aaron’s email is: [email protected]