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Where Does God Go to Church?
Church description, differences and our response
What Is The One True Church?
The one true church is the universal body of believers everywhere who have given their hearts to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. That is the only true church (see Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18).
The Bible teaches us that we must maintain the unity of the Spirit (see Ephesians 4:3) until we come into unity of faith (see Ephesians 4:13). In other words, spiritual unity is something that all Christians can have. Complete unity of knowledge is something for the future.
The fact that there are many different denominations reflects a lack of knowledge in the church. In many instances, it also reflects pride. People are unwilling to meet together with others and submit their concepts to the body of Christ. And many denominations have come about because of doctrinal error. What begins as a beautiful and fresh revelation of God often degenerates into lukewarmness and then into fighting what God is doing.
Many times those who claim to know God persecute those who really do. It becomes necessary for the Lord Himself to come back with a fresh revelation to break through the solidification of the orthodox believers. This happened in Israel. Israel had lost sight of the Lawgiver in their exaltation of the Law. They killed Jesus, who was the manifestation of God, in the name of their law.
In the Middle Ages, when the church had gained political as well as religious power, it began to grow corrupt. Then a reform movement came about through Martin Luther and others, who were persecuted severely by the church. Later on, Lutherans began to persecute Calvinists. Then Calvinists began to persecute Anabaptists, who brought out truth from God on baptism.
Still later, Baptists persecuted Pentecostals, who brought out a different truth about the baptism in the Holy Spirit. There have been succeeding waves of truth that God wants to restore to the church. These revelations of truth have been the seed for some of the major denominations which many times began as despised and persecuted sects.
The new Christian needs to find a fellowship of believers who love the Lord and who believe the Bible. There are Episcopal priests who love God with all their hearts, who are filled with the Holy Spirit, who serve Jesus, and whose churches are beautiful places of worship. In some Catholic churches born again Christians could feel at home. There are Baptist churches where members love God, Presbyterian churches where the members love God, as well as Methodist, Assemblies of God, Nazarene, and Holiness churches and many others where the members love God.
When you are looking for a church home, the first thing to do is to ask the Lord to guide you. Ask Him where He wants you. Find a church that is true to the Bible, one where the people love Jesus Christ and serve Him as Lord. Are the doctrine, teaching, and practice of that church in accordance with the Word of God? Do the members try to live out the doctrine they profess? If you find those characteristics and a warm fellowship, the church may be for you.
What Are The Chief Differences Between Roman Catholics and Protestants?
I believe the major difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants is the place given to the Bible. Although Roman Catholics believe that the holy Scriptures are inspired of God, they also believe that, along with the Bible, the tradition of the church through history, brought about by church councils, is to be given weight in matters of faith and doctrine. Protestants believe that the sole rule of faith and practice should be the holy Scriptures, and therefore, they do not accept certain Catholic practices that are primarily justified by appealing to tradition. They do not accept the authority of the pope. They do not accept the practice of praying to the Virgin Mary, and they do not accept other rituals practiced in Roman Catholicism.
At the time of the Reformation, a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther rediscovered the doctrine of justification by faith set out by the apostle Paul in the book of Romans (see Romans 3:24-30). If a man is justified from his sin by faith alone, Luther reasoned, then what is the need for pilgrimages, penance, indulgences, purgatory, and the last rites? Since Luther's findings were interpreted to undercut Roman Catholic tradition, he was excommunicated. However, large numbers of Germans flocked to hear him, and there arose what came to be the Lutheran church.
Then other theologians such as John Calvin challenged Roman Catholic teaching, and Calvinistic churches known as Reformed churches emerged. These churches, arising out of a "protest" to reform Roman Catholicism, were called Protestant churches. That period of history, approximately from 1500 to 1650, is called the Protestant Reformation.
According to The Bible, What Must A Person Do to Become A Saint?
The traditional view of sainthood gives special recognition to people who have lived godly, holy lives. This is not the biblical view. According to the Bible, when someone meets Jesus Christ as Savior and is born again, that person becomes a saint not by virtue of a holy life but because of a relationship to Jesus Christ.
When the apostle Paul wrote to one of the other New Testament cities, he addressed his letter to the "saints" of God in that city. He was talking to every church member. Anyone who has been made holy in Jesus is a saint. Unless we belong to Jesus, our accomplishments do not mean anything in God's sight.
Obviously, if God is fair, and He is, He will not ignore the labors of Christians in this life. There will be rewards in heaven. Having done everything we can do, we still must realize that we are only doing what we should and that our righteousness--our sainthood--comes from Jesus, not from our works.
Does Being A Church Member Ensure That I Will Go to Heaven?
Many people believe that joining a church, being baptized in a church, or going through some ritual in a church guarantees them heaven. That is not true. The Bible says that unless you are born again, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God (see John 3:3). It takes more than being a church member to get into heaven. If you are born again, you are part of the body of Christ and you are a member of the universal church. Merely putting your name on a church roll does not bring you salvation.
Should Babies or Adults Be Baptized, and How Should It Be Done?
The Bible teaches the baptism of believers (see Mark 16:16, Acts 8:36-37). And in the early centuries, Christian baptism was by immersion. The concept of infant baptism is not specifically found in the Bible.
The early church began baptizing infants because of the idea that children are born in sin and need immediate baptism to ensure their salvation. At the time of the Reformation, though, Martin Luther rediscovered the biblical truth that spiritual regeneration and justification are by faith. A baby cannot exercise faith. Nevertheless, because so many of those who became his followers had already been baptized as infants in the Roman Catholic Church, Luther did not require them to be baptized again. In fact, he continued to baptize children of believers.
When John Calvin came on the scene in Geneva, he taught what is known as "covenant theology." According to covenant theology, if the parents have entered a covenant relationship with God, then their children are part of the covenant, too, and are proper candidates for baptism as infants.
In churches that practice infant baptism there is usually some type of confirmation rite in which a child of ten, eleven, or twelve reaffirms the parental faith expressed at his or her baptism.
Some Reformation theologians strongly disagreed with infant baptism. They maintained that people should be baptized only as believers, because baptism is a symbol of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (see Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12). Baptism to them was the end of the old life and the beginning of a new life in Christ. Since a baby does not have an old life to deal with, they maintained, if someone has been baptized as an infant, he need to be baptized again as an adult believer. These people were called "Anabaptists," which means "rebaptizers."
Today there is still disagreement about the proper form of baptism. But, more and more, Methodist, Presbyterian, and some other churches that have historically practiced infant baptism are looking anew at both the qualification of a candidate for baptism and the mode of baptism. A number of people, even though they may have been baptized as infants, are being rebaptized by immersion as adult believers.
What Form of Church Government is The Best?
The New Testament church had a central governing body of "apostles and elders" in Jerusalem, possibly modeled after the seventy-member Jewish Sanhedrin, whose primary task was the preservation of doctrine and practice. Churches were established by apostles chosen by God and recognized by the body of believers. The apostle Paul, and others of the apostles, ordained presbyters (elders) to preside over the church in each city or region.
Many scholars feel that the presbyter or teaching elder was the same as the episkopos (overseer or bishop). In the Jerusalem church and in the other churches, men were chosen who were "full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom," called deacons, who were placed by the apostles over the financial and other temporal concerns of the church in order to free the apostles for the ministry of the Word and prayer. Spiritual authority flowed from God, through the apostles, to the local bishops or elders, then to the people.
Spiritually, the early church was a theocracy, but in matters concerning money and property, the local assemblies appeared to be autonomous and more democratic, acting as they wished upon the advice and counsel of spiritual leaders.
Among the better known denominations today, the church government I feel most closely paralleling that of the New Testament is the Presbyterian. On the local level is the "session" consisting of the pastor, or teaching elder, and the ruling elders (see I Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9, I Peter 5:2). These elders or presbyters are responsible for the spiritual life of the church. Along with them is the board of deacons. The deacons (see I Timothy 3:8-13) govern the temporal affairs of the church, including ministry to the poor, the needy, and the shut-ins (see Acts 6:1-4). The local congregation is self-governing; yet a regional group of elders from the local churches called "the presbytery" oversees the qualifications of ministers and serves as an appeals board for the local churches. On a national basis, the General Assembly deals with major issues and questions of creeds and doctrines, and it coordinates missionary, educational, and publishing programs.
Often lacking in this system, in practice if not in theory, are the offices established by Christ: apostle, prophet, teacher, pastor, and evangelist (see Ephesians 4:11-12). Nevertheless, this governmental form usually has an excellent balance between the autonomy of the local congregation and the supervision of denominational officials.
Other denominations, notably Baptists and most independent churches, have a congregational system of government. All authority is vested in the membership of the local congregation which, by democratic process, elects a governing body of deacons, calls a pastor, and usually has trustees to hold titles to property.
Although this form of church government gives maximum freedom to the members of the local congregation, it is handicapped by the absence of an effective appeals procedure in case of doctrinal disputes, financial disputes, or problems arising in pastoral relations. As a result, congregations can dominate the pastor, who should be God's servant. On the other hand, the people can either be dominated by a strong pastor or stuck with an unsatisfactory one. Without a true spirit of prayer and humility, the only remedy left in such a situation is a power struggle, a suit in a secular court, or a messy church split.
Another form of church government is the Episcopal, governed by an archbishop or presiding bishop and council of bishops. In the Roman church the papal system has developed in which great power is given to a pope who, in turn, appoints other church officials such as cardinals, archbishops, and bishops. These more autocratic forms of church government have the advantage of a great sense of historic continuity, plus the ability to mobilize coordinated resources and to control both purity of doctrine and the practice of the clergy. Because of concentration of power, the functioning of hierarchical forms of church government depends in large measure on the quality of their leaders. These churches can be led to great spiritual heights by the proper leaders, or they can be more easily corrupted by the wrong leaders.
What Is The Unpardonable Sin?
The concept of an unpardonable sin has been a source of difficulty for many because it seems to go against the Bible's teachings about grace. We understand that God's grace forgives every sin, but our Lord mentioned one sin that cannot be forgiven.
Let us put it in its biblical context. The religious leaders had come out to hear Him, but they opposed virtually everything He said. As He was doing miracles and casting out devils, they said, "This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons" (Matthew 12:24).
Those people were so blind spiritually that they were attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. Not only were they doing this, but they were also rejecting the Holy Spirit's work in their own lives. The Holy Spirit was saying, "This is the Son of God. This is God." And they were saying, "He is not God! He is Satan's agent." Then Jesus said, "Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.... Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come" (Matthew 12:31-32).
Obviously, the unpardonable sin is not merely saying an unkind thing about the Holy Spirit. The religious leaders involved had turned totally against the revelation of God. They were so far into their own wickedness that they rejected not only Jesus Christ but also the Holy Spirit. They were saying that good was evil and evil was good. They called the Spirit of God, Satan!
They had rejected spiritual understanding and so could never come to Jesus, the one source of forgiveness. If a person does not accept Jesus, he cannot have forgiveness. If he rejects the Holy Spirit and turns away from Jesus Christ, he can receive no forgiveness. That is what these so-called "religious leaders" had done.
If you want to obey God but are concerned that you may have committed the unpardonable sin, you have not committed it. If anyone today has committed this sin, it would be one who is hard-hearted, who has turned against Jesus, reviled Him, and become so depraved that He would claim that God's Spirit is Satan.
Do I Have to Go to Church to Be Saved?
No. However, Christianity is not a solitary religion. We are a communal people, and the Bible tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (see Hebrews 10:25).
We need fellowship, we need encouragement from one another, and we need to have our views and concepts balanced and checked by other Christians. Jesus said that it takes two or more gathered together for Him to be in their midst (see Matthew 18:20). That means a family can have the Lord in their midst. But even there, one person acts as a counterbalance on another. You do not have some person who goes off and sits on a high mountain all by himself and comes up with a new religion.
You do not have to be in the church to be saved, but to continue effectively in the things of God, you must be in some type of fellowship with other Christian people, and churches meet that need.
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