Claims to Christianity comes in many different flavors nowadays. Not only do we have Roman Catholics and Protestants, but we also have Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a various peppering of cults everywhere. To top it off are the false Christs who seek to draw followers in their own rite. And it doesn’t stop here. Within these “flavors” are sub-flavors. Just as you can have regular vanilla, French vanilla, and vanilla bean, you also have American Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Seventh Day Baptist. You have Roman Catholic, Eastern Catholic, and Maronite Catholic. And it goes on and on. Are the Southern Baptists more correct than the Seventh Day Baptists? Are the Anglicans more correct than the Roman Catholics? How can a person be sure that he or she is following the right path when there are so many choices out there?
The simple answer is this: We need to stop looking at faith through human eyes and start viewing it through God’s eyes. As humans, we are painfully aware that we make mistakes — and this can include making mistakes in our worship. As a result, it’s too easy to try and put rules and regulations on our worship in an attempt to lessen the number of mistakes we make in our worship. Although this is a noble effort, it is also what gets in the way of our worship. For example, in the Bible the Pharisees were notorious for piling on rule after rule regarding worship and Godly living. Were they trying to be burdensome? Were they getting too heady on a power trip? Maybe so, maybe not. It is likely that this tendency of theirs came from a deep desire to lead the people as perfectly as possible; and this desire misled them into creating burdensome rules and regulations on the believers. As a result of the over-use of rules, the believers are actually taken further away from God, not closer to Him. For example, because the Pharisees became so legalistic in their rules they lost sight of mercy and love — two qualities that are integral to God (Matthew 9:13, 1 John 4:8). Their strict focus on rules caused them to lose sight of their position in God’s arrangement, resulting in their austere and super-righteous attitude among themselves. That is what happens when groups of believing leaders focus too much on action without balancing it with the Godly qualities of love and mercy.
On the other end of things are the denominations who focus too much on love and mercy and not enough on the containment of sin . These are the ones who support homosexual unions, tolerate the worship of other gods, accept the use of illicit drugs, or even accept members who openly deny Christ . (Yes, there are churches who do these things). They forget that showing love and mercy does not include the acceptance of unbiblical behaviour, it only provides for the forgiveness of such behaviour.
The biggest problem is that we, as imperfect humans saddled with a sinful nature, are going to make mistakes when it comes to worship. We are going to misunderstand Bible passages. We are going to be influenced by our own mistaken opinions. We are going to be more judgmental than we ought to be. No matter how hard we try, we will not achieve perfection in worship; that won’t happen until Christ returns and sets us straight on these things (Zephaniah 3:9). In the meantime, we need to work with what we have. What does that mean?
It means we can’t find the perfect congregation at this time, so we shouldn’t expect to. However, this doesn’t mean we should settle for just anything. Remember, just because a congregation shows wonderful works, and possibly even miracles, doesn’t prove it is a God-oriented group; it is only those who actually try to do the will of God that are the ones approved by God (Matthew 7:21-23).
So the next question is: Who are the one who try to do the will of God? The Bible gives us guidance with this (from the Contemporary English Version):
Jesus answered, “Go away Satan! The Scriptures say: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”
But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectorslove their friends. If you greet only your friends, what’s so great about that? Don’t even unbelievers do that?
“Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. 38 This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments.
You cannot be the slave of two masters. You will like one more than the other or be more loyal to one than to the other. You cannot serve God and money.
God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth.
But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. 35 If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
God wants you to be holy, so don’t be immoral in matters of sex. Respect and honor your wife.Don’t be a slave of your desires or live like people who don’t know God. You must not cheat any of the Lord’s followers in matters of sex. Remember, we warned you that he punishes everyone who does such things. God didn’t choose you to be filthy, but to be pure. So if you don’t obey these rules, you are not really disobeying us. You are disobeying God, who gives you his Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
Always be joyful and never stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do.Don’t turn away God’s Spirit or ignore prophecies. Put everything to the test. Accept what is good and don’t have anything to do with evil.
Don’t be cheated by people who make a show of acting humble and who worship angels. They brag about seeing visions. But it is all nonsense, because their minds are filled with selfish desires. They are no longer part of Christ, who is the head of the whole body. Christ gives the body its strength, and he uses its joints and muscles to hold it together, as it grows by the power of God.You died with Christ. Now the forces of the universe don’t have any power over you. Why do you live as if you had to obey such rules as, “Don’t handle this. Don’t taste that. Don’t touch this.”? After these things are used, they are no longer good for anything. So why be bothered with the rules that humans have made up? Obeying these rules may seem to be the smart thing to do. They appear to make you love God more and to be very humble and to have control over your body. But they don’t really have any power over our desires.
1 Peter 2:13-17
The Lord wants you to obey all human authorities, especially the Emperor, who rules over everyone.You must also obey governors, because they are sent by the Emperor to punish criminals and to praise good citizens. God wants you to silence stupid and ignorant people by doing right. You are free, but still you are God’s servants, and you must not use your freedom as an excuse for doing wrong.Respect everyone and show special love for God’s people. Honor God and respect the Emperor.
James 1: 26-27
If you think you are being religious, but can’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and everything you do is useless. Religion that pleases God the Father must be pure and spotless. You must help needy orphans and widows and not let this world make you evil.
James 2:14 – 17
My friends, what good is it to say you have faith, when you don’t do anything to show that you really do have faith? Can that kind of faith save you? If you know someone who doesn’t have any clothes or food,you shouldn’t just say, “I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.” What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!
These are good Scripture parameters to start with when seeking a congregation to associate with. And I think it’s important to note that, even though a denomination may have an official statement of beliefs, you cannot judge the entire collection of congregations under its denominational leadership based on that official statement. For example, in recent years the Presbyterian U.S.A. denomination has officially accepted the ordination of clergy members who are actively participating in gay relationships. Although this is the denomination’s official policy now, there are many individual congregations in the Presbyterian U.S.A. denomination who continue to reject this new policy. The lesson: Take individual congregations on a case-by-case basis rather than official denominational policy.
So, how does one go about discovering which congregation is the best fit? The first place is to start with sincere prayer asking for guidance in the matter. God knows that each person/family has unique needs; therefore, each one will have a unique church “fit”. For example, a young couple with children may fit well with a congregation which has family oriented ministries and activities. In contrast, a single college student may fit better with a congregation whose ministry is focused more on missions or college ministries. In may cases, with the guidance of prayer, a seeker can look online to view various church websites in their areas to get an idea of what their local churches offer. If your local church does not happen to have a website use your phone book to give them a call, find out what they do have to offer. It is also good to review their official doctrines and policies, whether online or on the phone, and find whether the individual church matches your values.
And don’t rush your choices: Continue to pray for guidance. As humans, we tend to “get in the way” of ourselves, and sometimes we hinder God’s guidance without realizing it. This is why it is important to pray continually for guidance, because sometimes we need more time to get past ourselves. If, after prayer and research, you find a church that looks right, try it out. Don’t let emotion guide you, remember to combine it with scriptural guidance (AND prayer!). Be sure that the congregation does its reasonable best to balance Bible teaching with Godly love.
And, again, be forgiving of human error in the process: All congregations are composed of humans, therefore human error will rear its ugly head no matter how hard we try not to let it. This is why you need prayerful guidance from God on these matters.
Of course, we need to beware that we don’t become judgmental towards other denominations: Our disagreement does not give us license to be bitter or hateful towards them. Remember, all humans fall short of God’s perfect standards, thus there will be denominations who have more faults than others (Remember: all have faults). Instead of looking down our noses at them, we should be praying for them and offering the same love that Christ has offered to us. As for the denominations who have false prophets and false Christs, continue to pray for the members who are being misled. Christ did not give up on us, and likewise we should not give up on them.
May our God and Father continue to help you find peace in His Worship.