It’s trendy in Christian circles to say things like, “You don’t go to church, you are the church”. A great number of books have been written to show how we should live as the “church” in our non-Christian communities.
With this emphasis on “being the church” in your “community”, you might even start feeling bad about gathering in a dedicated building on a Sunday. Home churches seem all the rage.
While I’m overstating the case to be controversial, what I do hope to show is that we can indeed go to church on Sunday and that we are not “the church” as we live as scattered Christians in our non-Christian communities1.
Before you accuse me of heresy please read further.
We live in an age of professionalism and specialisation. If our air-con breaks we phone the air-con specialist. If our child is sick, we don’t go to the GP but the paediatrician – who sends us to another specialist. If the bulb goes in our car’s headlamp, cars today are so sophisticated, we often have to take the car to the specialist at the dealer to replace a simple bulb.
Even in the church, the minister is seen to be the professional. The thinking is that we need ministry done – so we pay the minister to do the ministry. If he does his job well we are happy and might put more money in the thank-offering.
Ephesians 4:11-12 breaks this Christian professional mindset. It says,
(v11) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, (v12) to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
You may be in great danger! 1 Timothy 4:1 in the bible says that some will “abandon the faith and follow the teachings of demons”. Interestingly, it does not say they will abandon faith. And so today we find many churches and organisations teaching all kinds of doctrines that people believe and put their faith in. The verse says that they will abandon “the” faith, that is, accepted, orthodox, biblical Christianity. Ultimately Satan, the master-deceiver and world-seducer, is behind all churches and groupings and denominations that abandon the truth of the bible as old-fashioned, irrelevant and naïve.
So how do you know if you’re in a cult?
1. Key doctrines are downplayed
For example: the authority & inspiration of the bible; the fact that all humanity is depraved through sin; Jesus’ death was penal substitution; through faith in Jesus alone were are members of God’s kingdom; Jesus is a model for all Christians; God has made male and female gender distinctions & sex outside marriage is sin; the reality of an eternal, conscious hell for unbelievers; Satan & demons are real etc.
2. Lots of legalism Your church will have rules and regulations for your dress code, your activities, your finances, your time, your possessions and your relationships (including who you are permitted to marry. They will dictate to you who to see, what to do, what the right thing to say is and how to say it. Various degrees of control can be experienced, from subtle manipulation to blatant ordering. Obviously this is dangerous because in the process the gospel of God’s free grace in Jesus is distorted: No longer just Jesus, now Jesus plus obedience to our rules. Oh yes, I almost forgot, the rules don’t always apply to the leader!
3. Leaders are full of pride and have an unteachable spirit Normally in cults the leader becomes untouchable by anyone. He is accountable to God only and everyone must obey what he says like it is God’s words.
4. Extra revelation from God Cults regularly claim they that god has appeared to their leader and revealed a new message. It might be Joseph Smith of the Mormon “church”; pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy of the kingdom of Jesus Christ; David Koresh of the Branch Davidians; or your local minister who God appeared to last week. Time and again the new revelations refer to the end of the world and how the earthquake in China is a sign.
5. The only true church If you ever hear something like this, “We are the only ones who are right. If you are not one of us, then you are destined for hell. We alone have the truth, so you must join us to be saved“, then RUN!
Don’t fall for it The way to make sure you don’t join a cult is to scrutinise the statement(s) of faith any particular church you are thinking of joining. Friendliness and good music are nice, but not the main criteria when looking for a church. Check that the church has a statement of faith where their core beliefs and values are spelt out. Ensure that the preaching is from the bible, in line with their faith-statements, to judge whether they have kept THE faith.