I had an excellent meeting with a pastor of a local church this afternoon as a part of my continuing quest to find a faithful church consistent with my understanding of Biblical teachings.
Our discussion revolved around the following topics:
1. When you hear people comment that God’s “hedge of protection” is being lifted, what comes to mind? Comment on how this applies…
- To Israel
- To the United States
- To “The Church”
- To individual Christian believers
2. What is today’s greatest threat to the Church (comment on each one):
- Our government
- Lack of faith
- People who don’t live their faith
- People who ignore or question doctrine or Bible teaching
3. Judging vs. discerning:
- Does the Bible distinguish between “judging” and “discerning?”
- Is “judging prohibited? Or is it a Christian responsibility? Explain.
4. Looking for a church: What keeps me from selecting a church home in the area of The Villages? Am I …
- Too critical?
- Fearing commitment?
- Occasionally feeling that a church home is not essential?
- Concerned the style of worship of too many churches is too casual and disrespectful?
- Observing that church preaching and teaching lack substance or relevance to what is going on in the world?
- Led to believe that churches are ignorant of or indifferent to the threats to Christianity in the world?
- Noticing that church preaching/teaching is too liberal or too “feel good”; all about “tolerating everything.”
5. Does the Bible provide principles for the best way for believers to govern themselves and how to relate to civil government? Are church leaders discouraged by doctrine or hierarchy from equipping their congregations to influence their government in Biblical governance?
Starting from the top here are the results of our discussion:
This pastor believes that God’s “hedge of protection” applies to all four entities: Israel, the United States, the Church, and individual Christians. This view is consistent with how God interacts with all who are faithful to Him and who fall away, whether His chosen people, a formerly Christian nation, His Church, or His people. He does provide a hedge of protection to the faithful as a general rule. Of course historically, and even today there are gross persecutions of faithful Christians around the world, and especially at the hand of Muslims exerting their warped, Satanic version of “justice.” This may be a consequence of the unfaithfulness and indifference of the Church Universal.
While he agreed the entire list of threats to the Church is valid, he focused on “materialism” as the greatest threat. That keeps Christians from having God as a priority and has many other negative consequences. He also agreed that Islam is an unaddressed threat in most churches and a significant threat to Christianity. The Pastor exhibited a sound understanding of the evils of Islam and the need to inform his congregation of the Islamic threat. He agreed that faith influences behavior and behavior influences faith just as what we take into our ears, eyes, and brain influence who we become.
Unlike most pastors I interviewed, he believes it is a Christian responsibility to judge – charitably. Or as several commentaries put it – judge righteously, without hypocrisy. The fact that we all sin and are all hypocrites to one degree or another should not keep us from discerning AND judging evil based on Biblical principles.
I laid my cards on the table for him regarding the likely reasons I was having a difficult time settling on a local church. His own diagnosis of my reasons was that I could not find a church faithful to Biblical standards. Most have been either mere purveyors of ancient Bible history disconnected from today’s challenges to the faith or were social centers providing entertainment and feel good self-improvement lectures.
And finally, I wanted to know his, his church’s, and his denomination’s views of the responsibilities of the church regarding “the State.” The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has a policy that states:
“We reject any views that look to the church to guide and influence the state directly in the conduct of its affairs.”
This statement gave me some concern. I believe a priority of the Church, right behind The Gospel, is The Law (Biblical morality). The Law and The Gospel, together, must be taught to Christ’s followers in such a way that they are fully equipped and motivated to influence the culture which ultimately influences our government. He concurred that this is indeed one of the Biblical responsibilities of the Church and that the above “policy statement” ought not to be over interpreted to minimize or dismiss this important Church responsibility.
Here is a brief summary of my criteria for a Church Home:
1. Bible based; morally and doctrinally conservative/orthodox. Most churches, especially mainline Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal churches fall far short.
2. Church leaders and laymen enthusiastic about their faith and mission; friendly and outgoing. In most churches attendees seem more interested in the entertainment and personal “feel good” counseling more than worship and understanding the Word of God. Their enthusiasm is directed more at the socializing and entertainment than for what God offers.
3. More sacred/faith building, etc. rather than “social center.” A reverent and a worshipful environment is important to me rather than the feeling of a carnival or an Amway business meeting.
4. Opportunities for growth and service via small groups or individual assignments. This relatively small church is embarking on a variety of Bible-based small group activities that will help their participants grow in their faith.
5. Sermons that relate Bible themes not merely to self-improvement or “feel good” sermons but to themes of personal responsibility and self control, especially those related to challenging and overcoming the culture we live in. Current events, immoral cultural trends and competing world views used as object lessons to teach Bible principles should be a key component of most sermons
6. Prefer a Church that focuses great preponderance of church activities
- Study/learning the Bible and Church doctrine
- Understanding competing world views
- Church socials
- Golf outings
* except as occasional “bonding/fellowship” experiences or as means of Evangelism to attract to new people to draw them to Church and Christ
7. Church liturgical style is reverent worshipful; no rock bands/guitars. Most music early in the service soft, meditational, reverent. No harsh or overly loud music except occasional triumphal hymns when warranted.
The Open Bible Lutheran Church, which is part of the conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), appears to meet these criteria for me. I consider that churches that fall short in some of these qualities are verging anywhere in the spectrum from slightly irreverent to morally corrupt and useless. Churches that corporately give in to the norms of our culture and adopt the culture as part of its worship service (as contrasted with personal, individual relational evangelism that Jesus practiced) become, in essence, an anti-Christ institution.
That is my judgment. So be it.