Many, perhaps even you, have become disillusioned with churches and religious leaders. They wonder what they should do and where they should turn. What does God say?
Under normal circumstances, most people who believe in God and the Bible want to attend church services because they wish to worship God together. But we live in a distrustful age that has created suspicion about religion and religious bodies-sadly, much of it well earned.
Scandals revealing the bad moral examples of church leaders have made many wary. If that weren't enough, many people are confused about which doctrines and practices are truly biblical. They are also uncertain about which, if any, church organizations are truly of God. Many are turned off by the lack of spiritual nourishment—or even outright disbelief in the Bible—they encounter in some denominations.
Consequently, a growing number of people are becoming disillusioned with their church but don't know where to turn. Others simply try to worship God by themselves, apart from any group affiliation or fellowship.
What would God have us do? Should we stay where we know things are not right, or take the path of spiritual isolation, or have confidence that there is a better alternative? Could there be dangers—possibly even unrecognized—in some of the courses of action we might choose? How does the Bible answer these important questions?
God established and preserves His Church
The first question we need answered is, what does the word church actually mean? Throughout the Scriptures church and congregation refer to people , never to a building. God's Church is made up of people called to follow Jesus Christ. It is composed of disciples or students of Jesus Christ who convene to receive God's instruction.
Both Jesus Christ and His apostles, however, repeatedly warned us not to be deceived by a false Christianity-a religious deception that was well under way even in the first century (Matthew:24:5, 11, 24; 2 Corinthians:11:3-4, 13-15; Galatians:1:6-9). God's true Church is composed of those who have been called out of this satanically influenced world (2 Corinthians:4:4; Ephesians:2:2; 1 Peter:2:9) to become a spiritually converted group dedicated to following God's ways as taught in the Bible. The Bible is the standard by which all religious bodies are to be measured.
Jesus Himself stated that He would build His Church and that it would never die out (Matthew:16:18). Several decades later the apostle Paul referred to this spiritual body of people as "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground [foundation] of the truth" (1 Timothy:3:15).
God's Church has never been a large, popular body. While many traditional Christian denominations today are large and powerful, the Bible reveals that God's true Church always would be small in numbers, somewhat scattered and often persecuted. Due to their small numbers, many of the early congregations met in private homes rather than in large halls or buildings (Luke:12:32; Romans:16:5; Colossians:4:15).
Nevertheless, though scattered and few in number, God has always cared for and spiritually nourished those He has called (2 Timothy:2:19; Hebrews:13:5).
A safe refuge
The Bible also describes God's Church as a source of strength, safety and refuge for its members. The Bible refers to it as Christ's spiritual body (Colossians:1:18, 24). Further, Jesus promised that the onslaughts of Satan would not be able to overwhelm God's protection and defenses of it.
However, this does not mean that God's people are immune to satanic attacks. Anytime a Christian lowers his spiritual defenses, he places himself in grave danger of being subverted and even "devoured" by mankind's spiritual enemy, the devil (1 Peter:5:8). But if he utilizes the protection God offers, he is able to discern truth from error and can successfully withstand the spiritual trials and tests Satan instigates (Ephesians:6:10-18).
In contrast, a person who does not seek the fellowship of God's Church denies himself the sheltering bulwark and safety that God intends. If he chooses to be alone, such an individual may miss out on the protective instruction and reminders that are part of God's reason for establishing His Church.
God knows how spiritually weak and vulnerable we human beings can sometimes become, which is why He established a loving membership and ordained ministry for the encouragement and instruction of His Church. Such assistance is not available if a person chooses to worship alone or attends with a group that does not attempt to draw its teachings from the Bible.
Notice how important these aids and supports are, and how God placed them in His Church. Titus:1:5-9 and 1 Timothy:3:1-13 outline the biblical qualifications for elders and deacons. They are given so appropriate leaders can be chosen to take care of the Church. The rest of the membership will then benefit from their talents and abilities, further strengthening the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians:4:11-16). Within the Church, each member is encouraged to contribute and do his share in showing godly love for the growth and spiritual development of all (Ephesians:4:16).
In a stable spiritual environment new and inexperienced people, as well as longtime members, can find a safe haven for fellowship and spiritual growth. God knows that all His called-out ones need the protection, care and instruction that only a loving group of dedicated people can provide, which is a major reason for His giving us guidelines for an organized Church body. Many spiritual benefits are inaccessible to those who choose to seek God alone.
A classroom for spiritual development
The Church of God serves many important needs. In addition to supplying uplifting, encouraging and educational sermons, there also can be instructive Bible classes for children, teens and adults, news about the work of the Church, focused instruction and training and a host of other benefits-all to create an atmosphere where spiritual concerns are addressed and the big questions answered. And while all these things are enormously beneficial, there is yet another extremely important reason for assembling that is often overlooked.
Notice Hebrews:10:24-25: "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together , as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day [of Christ's coming and intervention] approaching" (emphasis added). This principle finds its roots in the Old Testament. God instructed that "the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest," but it is also a time for "a holy convocation"—a commanded assembly—a time for believers to gather with others of like mind (Leviticus:23:3).
In addition to participating in worship services at the times God commands-and receiving edifying spiritual nourishment from attending services as part of His Church-God also asks us to give of ourselves to others (Acts:20:35).
Life is often difficult. And Christians, like everyone else, have trials and burdens (John:16:33). At such times it is easy to become discouraged and get derailed to the point of losing one's spiritual focus. Clearly Christians need to strengthen and give support to each other, and have an outgoing sense of responsibility toward other members. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians:10:24, "Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well-being." This outgoing, unselfish concern for one another is what godly love is all about.
This does not mean that we should be meddling in others' private business (Proverbs:26:17; 1 Peter:4:15). But it does mean that we should have a discreet, wise and watchful concern for each other's welfare, and help in whatever way we can whether by encouragement, friendliness or other needed assistance.
The fellowshipping and sharing of ourselves with other people is how God develops His love in us. It is a power that needs to be exercised to grow. The person who chooses to not interact with others, perhaps without realizing it, cuts himself off from this vital and necessary spiritual development.
Each of us needs to realize that forsaking God's specific instruction to assemble for worship and fellowship with God's people courts serious spiritual dangers.
Remember that even in the physical human body, muscles deteriorate if they are not used. In much the same way, without exercising contact with other members of God's Church, one runs the risk of slow spiritual deterioration, perhaps even of endangering his or her salvation.
Consider this vital instruction from the apostle Paul: "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many" (1 Corinthians:12:12-14).
Paul's emphasis is on the importance of the group-not on the individual (although each member is certainly important to God). Paul goes on to liken the members of the Church to the various parts of the human physical body (which in both instances must work together so we can function properly for the accomplishment of our responsibilities).
The implications are obvious. How can individual members of God's Church work together to fulfill the goals of the Church unless they assemble regularly to worship God together?
Without the help and general guidance of and interaction with others, we can easily become unbalanced and self-centered. We need each other!
A sanctuary for truth and justice
Deceit, misrepresentation and falsification permeate religion as much as any other area of our societies. Perhaps most important of all, God's Church is where we receive biblical truth, godly instruction and discernment. As noted earlier, God's Word reveals the Church to be "the pillar and ground [foundation or mainstay] of the truth" (1 Timothy:3:15).
Paul tells us that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy:3:16-17). Through His Church God provides to His true servants that needed reproof, correction, instruction and, not least, encouragement. It is the responsibility of the Church to defend God's Word—"rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy:2:15)—by using the Bible as the foundation of true knowledge.
It is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that we can stand alone—either by ourselves or in a church that teaches doctrines we know are not found in the Bible—and through our own abilities rightly interpret and understand Scripture. But because of the many complexities in the Bible and the many erroneous interpretations that can snare and mislead, we all must beware lest we be misled into accepting and believing false doctrines. Satan, as Paul warns us, appears as "an angel [messenger] of light" and he has his own ministers, many themselves deceived, who may appear to be "ministers of righteousness" (2 Corinthians:11:14-15).
In terms of sheer numbers Satan has been remarkably successful. The apostle John tells us that he "deceives the whole world" and that the entire world has come under his corrupting influence (Revelation:12:9; 1 John:5:19).
God's true Church is one of the few safe bulwarks against Satan's deception. While the Church doesn't have perfect knowledge and is not always free of mistakes, it continues to seek truth and understanding. Its members are encouraged to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter:3:18). Each individual needs to follow the examples of the Bereans (Acts:17:11) and Ephesians (Revelation:2:2) to test and determine where and through whom God is working today.
If a religious organization is not upholding God's laws and the Bible He inspired, and if there is no spiritual light in it, then it cannot truthfully claim to be God's Church (compare Isaiah:8:20). Such a body cannot effectively carry out the work of spreading the true gospel of Jesus Christ, one of the hallmarks of God's true Church (Matthew:24:14; 28:18-20).
How much are you missing?
Christians attending such a religious body, or striving on their own without active church affiliation, miss many benefits resident in the spiritual body where God is working. Consider all the important knowledge available and the marvelous opportunities to grow in godly love and character. The personal interaction, service, offerings and prayers of God's true people demonstrate a level of godly concern that we all need, especially in times of difficulty and personal trials.
Finally, God is still instructing and adding to His spiritual body, following the example of the early New Testament Church (Acts:2:47; 11:24-26). God still works through a dedicated and properly organized group of people, just as He did even in Old Testament times (Acts:7:38).
For those who are wondering what to do, please consider carefully the matters presented in this article and set your heart to seek out God's Church and His people. Such affiliation and fellowship is commanded by God, who blesses and rewards those who respond to His instructions.
Remember too the passage, "Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near" (Isaiah:55:6). How can you do this? Seek Him the way He intended—in fellowship with His Church. GN