Almost everyone can come up with at least a handful of complaints against the Church. The cults
are quick to condemn the Church and many things it stands for. People leaving the cults hesitate
to have any contact with the Church even after seeing the truth of what God's people believe. The
media are quick to Church-bash. J.K. Van Baalen even popularized the assertion that the cults are
the "unpaid bill of the Church."
It is true that there are scores of problems with the Church, including back-biting, immorality,
gossip, coldness, talk about money and so on.
Even so, the Church receives more criticism than it is due. The criticism it gets is caused by two
The first cause can be traced to what the Church consists of. The Church would not be so bad if there weren't people in it. Problems with the Church boil down to the one problem all people
have -- sin. We must constantly remind ourselves of the truth of Jesus' words, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."
The Church isn't the only human organization with sin in it. Every organization that has people
will have sin, people who speak against it and hypocrisy. And where there is sin, there will be
This brings us to the second cause of criticism of the Church -- judgmentalism. Jesus Christ said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1), simply because we are so quick to
criticize and so slow to love and encourage. If you pick up the newspaper or listen in on conversations at work or in the neighborhood, it should be obvious that we all love to criticize.
The more visible a person is, the more criticism he or she receives. Accordingly, the pastor and
the Church are prime targets for accusations.
Why are we so quick to criticize? Above all, we criticize because we have not learned to love unconditionally as God does. I have many who criticize me, but few who love and accept me as I
am. It is easier to criticize than to support and stand with a person, for the more needy a person
is, the harder he or she is to love. Our judgmentalism frequently points to our own pride,
selfishness, immaturity or lack of love.
A master plan underlies all these causes of criticism against the Church: "For our struggle is not
against flesh and blood, but against the rulers ... the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
(Ephesians 6:12) The Church's adversary is called "the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them
before our God day and night." (Revelation 12:10) The names "Satan" and "devil" can both be
translated as "accuser."
Satan's favorite pastime is accusing the Church and its ministers. The cults follow suit. The cults
have all been more effective at separating people from the Church than they have at building their
own groups. Sadly, people in the Church ignorantly do Satan's work when they accuse the
Church, its people and pastor.
What does Satan have to gain by criticizing the Church? He sees the great good that God has
designed the Church to accomplish. He wants to frustrate God's plan and harm us by separating
us from the Church. He takes seriously what we take for granted or have trouble accepting -- that
faith does grow and peoples' needs are met in the Church. The less involved we are with other
believers, the less our faith grows, the less able we are to serve them, and the less they are able to
serve us. Everyone loses due to our criticisms and selfishness.
Can a believer fully please God while being separate from the other believers, worshiping God at home or in the woods? Jesus and the apostles are our example -- they were continually gathering in the synagogue, temple and home. Each of the major Old Testament festivals -- Passover, Pentecost, Booths-- required that people gather together. Jesus promised his special presence
whenever at least two or three gathered together. The apostles commanded us to maintain unity and to serve each other with our spiritual gifts as the body of Christ, neither of which one can
do alone at home. The repeated commands in the New Testament to maintain unity are a sad
commentary on our sinful inner drive to constantly criticize and separate from each other.
The Church is God's primary training center. Most of all, God trains us to love each other, which does not come easily or in isolation from each other. While learning, expect to be hurt as
well as loved. In fact, risking hurt is the only way we learn essential skills: to confess our sins to
each other, to forgive those who have hurt us, to love those who don't love us or deserve our
love, to support the weak and sinful. All of this comes naturally to God, but not to us.
Judgmental attitudes also hinder people from seeing the great good done in churches. Even an
average pastor in a small church spends a lot of time helping the sick, comforting the dying, giving
hope those who have had deaths of loved ones, reconciling marriages, strengthening families,
aiding families who have had members convicted of crimes, teaching all ages, helping the
handicapped, being on call for crises, encouraging the depressed, evangelizing unbelievers,
helping people beat addictions, training leaders, leading worship, praying, and helping to meet
literally hundreds of other specific needs. People repeatedly turn to the church in times of crisis,
and find help and hope in Jesus Christ. Many of these victories over sin and Satan go unnoticed
because they are private (and often embarrassing) matters. But God sees them, and the people
who receive ministry greatly appreciate it. The Church, and especially the local church, is God's
tool by which He does great good in this world.
Some of the deepest hurts I have received have come from within the Church, usually at the hands
of well-meaning people. As a church leader, I've been hurt much more than as a member. If I
wanted to list reasons to separate from the Church, I'd have a bookful.
However, I continue in the Church for two main reasons. First, Jesus Christ wants me there. Jesus
could write a book of all the good He has brought about in me and through me in my time in the
Church. Second, my greatest pleasures, accomplishments and growth have occurred in the
Church. I have received great acts of love from caring believers. I've grown in knowledge, faith
and character. I've made intimate and lifelong friends. I've learned to serve. And some people's
lives have changed radically for the good because God condescended to help them through an
ignorant weakling like me!
What's wrong with the Church? Don't bother to make a list -- that's Satan's business. Instead, respond to Jesus Christ's command to be an intimate, active member of His Body, the Church,
and you, too, will give and receive great blessings as a result!
John P. Juedes, (c) 1989 - Personal Freedom Outreach, P.O. Box 26062, Saint Louis, Missouri
63136, revised 1997.
Christian denominations, or church bodies, are frequently publicly condemned and privately criticized. Christians, followers of cults and new religions and the general public picture denominations as self-serving monuments of disunity, divisiveness and spiritual weakness. Sometimes these charges are true.
However, denominations in their true and intended form are the opposite of this and testify to the unity and ministry practiced by many Christians. This becomes more clear when we understand why denominations are begun.
Individual Christians and congregations eventually meet a problem or see a need that is too large for them to meet alone. They ask questions such as "How can we send missionaries overseas, or find and train people who can translate the Bible into languages which have not yet been put into writing?" "How can we train workers and plant churches in new areas?" "How can we develop special ministries to meet the needs of the blind, gangs, cults, military, and so forth?" "How can we help countries which have been beaten by calamities?" "How can we help hurting churches, mainline orthodoxy or help assure that full-time workers are ministering correctly?"
Individual congregations usually find it difficult to muster the manpower, money and expertise needed to carry out these ministries well. This is especially true since most American churches have fewer than 150 members and are often in sparsely populated regions with low population (this was especially true prior to World War II when many of today's denominations were formed). Churches have met these challenges in part by pooling resources as denominations.
Therefore, the primary intent of denominations is unity, or coming together for a common purpose. This is reflected in denominational names, which frequently include words such as "united" and "association." The primary purpose is ministry, focusing on areas in which they are most effective when working together. As a result, churches exchange wisdom and encouragement, and Christians widen their concerns toward various kinds of ministry needs.
Church bodies tend to maintain tradition, which has come under increasing attack in recent years, and often rightly so. However, tradition in its good sense is simply God's track record of working in and through believers in many countries in all centuries. We can and should learn from God's dealings with Christians in the past. "New" is not better in God's book, for we stand for "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
Denominations and attitudes. Denominations can assist unity and Christ's ministry, but become
unhealthy when they develop attitudes of contentiousness, ungodly authoritarianism or
self-absorption, or inhibit contact with other believers.
It is not necessary that all believers become part of one huge church body or that no church bodies exist at all. Many church bodies can become effective ministry agencies. A variety of church bodies can reflect a healthy diversity of styles of worship, ethnic groups, unique foci of ministries and other practices. This can help the task of evangelism by enabling new believers to join a fellowship which does not require them to conform to a church culture that is radically different from their own.
Cults and denominations. Cults and new religions typically condemn Christian denominations. Yet, they either become like denominations themselves, or come to desire some of the benefits denominations provide, such as contacts and unity with other fellowships, leader training, advice and so forth. They often feel they do not fit in with any group of evangelical Christians, and they shouldn't, for they lack the orthodox faith, the core elements of which have been common to believers across the centuries.
Denominations are simply a tool of unity and ministry. Not every believer must be part of one, and Christians can and do pool their resources for ministry without forming denominations (for example, this ministry and its newsletter). Denominations are as good or bad as the people in them cause them to be. We need not apologize that denominations and tradition exist nor condemn all forms of church bodies. Rather, let us refine them to reflect the unity and ministry of God's people to the greatest degree possible.
An important thing every Christian must remember is that God intends those in his church to gather regularly with other believers to worship Him. Hebrews 10:25 says: "Not forsaking our own assembling together, as in the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the day drawing near." Whether that gathering is part of a Christian denomination or not is secondary to the fact that all Christians need fellowship.
-JPJ (c) 1991 - Personal Freedom Outreach
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