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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 Matthew 24:5For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
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, 11, 24; 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 2 Corinthians 11:3-4 3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he that comes preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if you receive another spirit, which you have not received, or another gospel, which you have not accepted, you might well bear with him.
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, 13-15; Galatians 1:6-9 Galatians 1:6-9 6 I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel to you than that you have received, let him be accursed.
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). God's true Church is composed of those who have been called out of this satanically influenced world (2 Corinthians 4:4 2 Corinthians 4:4In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them.
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; Ephesians 2:2 Ephesians 2:2Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience:
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; 1 Peter 2:9 1 Peter 2:9But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light;
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) 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 Matthew 16:18And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
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). 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 1 Timothy 3:15But if I tarry long, that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
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).

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 Luke 12:32Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
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; Romans 16:5 Romans 16:5Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia to Christ.
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; Colossians 4:15 Colossians 4:15 Salute the brothers which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.
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).

Nevertheless, though scattered and few in number, God has always cared for and spiritually nourished those He has called (2 Timothy 2:19 2 Timothy 2:19Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his. And, Let every one that names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.
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; Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
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).

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 Colossians 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
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, 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 1 Peter 5:8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour:
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). 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 Ephesians 6:10-18 10 Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Why take to you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
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).

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 Titus 1:5-9 5 For this cause left I you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you: 6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9 Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the disputers.
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and 1 Timothy 3:1-13 1 Timothy 3:1-13 1 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. 8 Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; 9 Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 10 And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. 11 Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. 12 Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 13 For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.
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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 Ephesians 4:11-16 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: 14 That we from now on be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
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). 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 Ephesians 4:16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
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).

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 Hebrews 10:24-25 24 And let us consider one another to provoke to love and to good works: 25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as you see the day approaching.
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: “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 Leviticus 23:3Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings.
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).

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 Acts 20:35I have showed you all things, how that so laboring you ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
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).

Life is often difficult. And Christians, like everyone else, have trials and burdens (John 16:33 John 16:33These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
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). 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 1 Corinthians 10:24Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s wealth.
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, “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 Proverbs 26:17He that passes by, and meddles with strife belonging not to him, is like one that takes a dog by the ears.
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; 1 Peter 4:15 1 Peter 4:15But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.
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). 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 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 12 For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many.
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).

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 1 Timothy 3:15But if I tarry long, that you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
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).

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 2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.
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). 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 2 Timothy 2:15Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
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)—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 2 Corinthians 11:14-15 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
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).

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 Revelation 12:9And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
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; 1 John 5:19 1 John 5:19And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in wickedness.
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).

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 2 Peter 3:18But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
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). Each individual needs to follow the examples of the Bereans (Acts 17:11 Acts 17:11These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
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) and Ephesians (Revelation 2:2 Revelation 2:2I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them which are evil: and you have tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars:
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) 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 Isaiah 8:20To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
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). 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 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
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; 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 Acts 2:47Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
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; 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 Acts 7:38This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give to us:
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).

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 Isaiah 55:6Seek you the LORD while he may be found, call you on him while he is near:
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). How can you do this? Seek Him the way He intended—in fellowship with His Church. GN

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