Sunday, September 6, 2009

Q: "Do I have to go to church to be a Christian?"

That's a great question, and one that troubles many Gay and straight people, alike.

Here's what we have to consider before we can answer it:

#1 – An outdated and faked temple is not God's church

Almost all Christians would define going to church as:

Going to a certain place on certain days, giving certain offerings, and participating in certain rituals that are overseen and run by certain officially credentialed individuals who perform certain religious services (including teaching and enforcing the rules), so that those who attend can be right with God.

(Try removing any of those things – like seminary educated pastors, or a church building of some sort, or even singing hymns – and see how many will still honestly call it a "church"!)

But there's something immediately wrong with that
. Do you see it?

Think back to the Old Covenant – to the Mosaic Law – and to the temple that was central to that. For the ancient Hebrews living under the Old Covenant, going to temple meant:

Going to a certain place on certain days, giving certain offerings, and participating in certain rituals that are overseen and run by certain officially credentialed individuals who perform certain religious services (including teaching and enforcing the rules), so that those who attend can be right with God.

Is there any difference? Only in how things look, and not in what things are. In fact, we might think of it like comparing a 1927 Ford Model A with a 2009 Ford Explorer. The function – whether it's to get from Point A to Point B, or to perform certain required religious activities – is the same. So, what most people think of as "church" is simply a remake of the Old Covenant temple, with the same kinds of requirements for religious doo-dads and priests and rituals and so on, all intended to make us "right" with God (which is why we're told we "have to go").

Here's the problem with all that, though:

God canceled the Old Covenant (including the required "House of God" His people had to go to) over 2,000 years ago, and replaced it with the New Covenant. Completely!
So it's simply not possible to be an "Old Covenant Christian" or a "temple-bound Christian" – though millions over the last many centuries have set themselves up to try and do just that! (Exodus 26:31-33; Mathew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45; John 4:21; Galatians 3:1-25; Colossians 2:13-23; Hebrews 9:3-12, 10:19-22)

So, telling you that you have to "go to church" to be a (good) Christian is like saying you have to be circumcised to be a (good) Christian, or you can't eat pork and be a (good) Christian, and so on. And despite any good motives we may have in trying to accommodate any part of our Christian faith to the Mosaic Law, the Bible tells us that doing so even in small ways is a rejection of Jesus Christ and our salvation through Him! (see Galatians 5:1-4).

#2 – You can't "go to" what you are

Another thing missed by those who insist on "going to church" to be right with God:

In the Old Covenant, God had His people create a temple sanctuary for His presence, so He could dwell among them (Exodus 25:8; Hebrews 9:1)

But in setting up and establishing the New Covenant, Jesus removed the need for that temple with His death on the Cross (Exodus 26:31-33; Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45; Hebrews 9:3, 8; Hebrews 10:19-20). Another 40 or so years passed, and then God allowed the temple itself to be completely destroyed – and He's never allowed it to be rebuilt even in part, even through today.

But does that mean that God has had no dwelling place among His people in the last 2,000 years?

Absolutely not!

The Bible tells us that God does still have a "temple" – but that temple is now us! (John 2:21; 1 Corinthians 6:19). When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, our individual bodies – both physical and spiritual – now make up Christ's Body, and His church (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 6:15, 12:12-27). So, calling some building a "church" is like calling your mother a "garage" - they are just not truly related, according to the Bible!

Of course, many church-holders will say to this, "Of course we're all the temple of the Holy Spirit! But that's different than having to also go to church!"

Not so. And #3 answers why:

#3 – What most call "church" is NOT what the New Testament calls church

Look, for example, at this church description from the 1st century A.D. As you read, think about how it compares to the "churches" that came after that (including those today):
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. [Acts 2:42-47]
What do we see here in these Christians?
  • They were devoted to learning what the first apostles taught (the teachings we now have in the original languages of the Bible), because it was what Jesus taught. Unlike most Christians since, these first Christians were not devoted to Saint So-n-So from the 14th century, or Televangelist XYZ on TBN, or Denominational Headquarters, USA, and so on. The only truth they accepted was what had come from the mouth of God Himself! (We see that also in scriptures like Ephesians 2:19-20).
  • They were devoted to each other. Not to a church building or meeting space. Not to the pastor. Not to a ministry. Not to their denomination. But to each other. That implies that they knew each other, and cared for each other, as only hearts filled with the true Holy Spirit can do. Unlike most Christians since, they didn't just smile and shake hands with the people in the pews around them each Sunday and forget about them 10 minutes later. They didn't just hang out with their "church friends" and ignore everyone else. They didn't just drop some money in the "extra collection" plate every so often to pay for anonymous needs. And they didn't just leave it to "The Minister" to minister to others in their sickness, despair, faith issues, family needs, and so on – every one of them ministered. These people had REAL "family values": they had God's family values!
  • They witnessed (real) signs and wonders straight from the Holy Spirit, which was God's gift to them: His encouragement, approval, and guidance made manifest right before their eyes. They weren't like so many today that chase after and accept any "miracle" (even if it comes from someone who does not demonstrate the real Holy Spirit in their lives, even if it comes straight from the devil!), or who deny miracles as "primitive", "unscientific" fantasies. These were people with God's real power at work in their lives!
  • They were all one – which is exactly what Jesus prayed for! (John 17:20-23) They weren't scattered into Bible-forbidden, heretical factions that today we respectfully call "denominations" (1 Corinthians 1:12-17). They didn’t even divide themselves into different "churches". Most Christians today see each other more as very different people interested in a similar idea, but having little else in common. But the first Christians truly understood themselves globally as one people – God's People, and the Body of Christ – who just happened to live in different cities and large geographical areas. In fact, the Bible never refers to any church smaller than a whole city (see, for example, "The Church of God in Corinth" [1 Corinthians 1:2], which included every Christian in the city of Corinth). If we truly understood our unity within Christ, there would be no "Baptists" or "Methodists" or "Pentecostals" and such, no "1st Presbyterian Church" or "Christ Evangelical Lutheran", and so on. Instead, if we lived in New York City, we would just say, "I am in the church of New York City". And if we moved from New York City to Taos, New Mexico, we'd then say, "I'm in the church of Taos". (And if we moved out into the country, far from any city, we'd simply say, for example, "I'm in the church of North Dakota").
  • They didn't give a hoot about retaining any material possessions, if they could be sold to provide for someone in need, and they kept in common what they needed to get by. They didn't give money to "the church" or a "ministry" so they could get even more money back. They didn't pray for cars and houses. They didn't invest for glittery, easy financial futures. And it's a pretty fair bet that they didn't twist and remake scriptures that warn that attention to money overpowers attention to God (see, for example, Luke 16:13-14), all to justify greed and self-service!
  • They had no "church building" - they met in public spaces already set up for meetings, and they shared communion, fellowshipped, and worshipped God in numerous small assemblies that fit in each others homes (see also Acts 20:7, Hebrews 2:12, and Hebrews 10:25 – often quoted as "proof" that modern churches are biblical – but which simply describe assembled believers in public meeting areas or private homes). These Christians didn't waste their money on faked Christian "temples" that require building funds and maintenance costs, and Christian "programs" that are mostly glut and glitter – they were spending their money on helping those in need, and in helping to spread and maintain the Gospel message [see for example: Acts 11:27-39; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 1 John 3:17].
  • They didn't only see each other on a particular day of the week, or on a designated schedule. They got together for each other and for God whenever it pleased them through the Holy Spirit to do so (even daily!).
  • They "enjoyed the favor of all the people". That means they weren't despised and ridiculed as hypocrites, liars, thieves, and fools, as most of today's Christians are – even by each other! (I'm reminded of an older, straight, conservative Christian businessman I heard on Christian radio the other day who said, "When I go to do business with a non-Christian, I take one witness. But when I go to do business with a Christian, I take two witnesses.")
And because of that, other people were so impressed and even overwhelmed by the first Christians that they couldn't wait to join up! Compare that to today's churches, where most "converts" are simply Christians from other churches, or Christians who've been away from the faith and wandered back for a time.

I hear Christians all over the media assuring their audiences that people don't listen to them because these non-Christian hearts are too hard to hear the Good News. Truth is, most people today don't listen because they look at what's expressed in the lives and hearts of most Christians today and go, "Ugh! No, thanks!" That just wasn't a problem for the church that God set up in the 1st century A.D. They were people who had sincere Holy-Spirit-led hearts, loved each other as a big but close family, and truly walked their – and Jesus' – talk. Who could resist the real thing!

#4 – The gates of Hell have overcome what most call "church" (so that "church" just can't be God's church!)

Jesus said that the gates of hell would never overcome His church (Matthew 16:18). And many "churches" through the last nineteen centuries have quoted that to "prove" themselves God's real church simply because their version of the "church" is still around.

Yet the New Testament's description of the kinds of things people do when they are ruled by their sinful nature (instead of by the Holy Spirit in their hearts) very closely describes almost all the "churches" that overtook Christianity after the last apostle had died. And that just proves that these "churches" have been overcome!

Even secular histories (and modern newspapers) abound with disgusting and horrifying stories of churches, church leaders, and church members who participate in and even protect each other from the consequences of doing things like:
  • Making up new "rules" and then passing them off as "God's" rules (i.e., "tradition" and "new revelation" not backed up by the original Scripture languages and contexts
  • Rape, sexual contact and abuse of children, fornication, orgies, prostitution, and adultery
  • Cheating on God by mixing His worship with other or self worship
  • Using magic, astrology, consulting spirits, and so on
  • Hatred, jealousy, bickering, attacking others, raging, forming factions, murder, war, jealousy, ego-rages (and church "leaders" are too often among the worst at all these things)
  • "Climbing the ladder" to the "top" of what's not supposed to have a top (aren't you also tired of those who claim to be the lowest of "servants" yet run everything as if they were royalty?)
  • Remaking "church" into a religious "club" or clique of "in's" and "out's"
  • Greed and materialism, gross indulgence in sense pleasures and greed
  • Tranced-out "worship" that uses the same rhythm and repetition techniques seen in pagan circles (both modern and ancient)
  • Drug and alcohol use and abuse
  • Lying, slandering, and cheating others
  • Pretending to be God's people, but having anti-Christ hearts
  • Being religious for the goodies they get (being thought "righteous", being honored, getting a career out of it, etc)
  • Putting themselves and their wants above God, and then teaching people that that's how God means it do be
  • Making themselves completely ineligible for heaven, and then also convincing others to abandon any thought of even trying
  • Obsessing on nitpicky religious things and ignoring larger (and even easily understood) New Testament requirements and ideals
  • Pretending they are "above" the religious evil of their spiritual forefathers and foremothers, while practicing the same evils (or even worse!)
  • Persecuting those who speak and hold to God's real truth
  • "Converting" people to a level of religious evil even worse than what they themselves practiced
  • And more
(Examples for all the above pulled from: Matthew 6:7, 15:3, 15:6-9, 23:4-38; Mark 7:6-13; Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 2:8; and Revelation 22:15. How many more examples can you find by continuing through the rest of the New Testament?)

Jesus tells us that we will know the real spirit of something or someone by the fruit they produce. He also tells us that if we intend to do things His real way (and therefore get into heaven), we must always be vigilant against being deceived by things or ideas or people that appear to be godly and righteous, but which are, in fact, ungodly and unrighteous (see Matthew 7:13-23 for one example).

So just doing godly things – including big godly things like casting out demons, prophesying, and performing miracles – is not in and of itself doing the will of God, and it in no way proves someone is right with or doing the will of God!

Does this mean that people aren't Christians unless they are "perfect"?

Absolutely not!

But it does mean that people who are truly part of God's real church show it in ways even pagans can recognize. Filled with the Holy Spirit, God's real people strive and become more and more like Jesus – instead of like Judas, or Herod, or Pilate, or Caiphas, or...

So, what about finding and being part of a real godly fellowship?

There is no "right" church we are supposed to "go to". But there is a church all believers belong to, as soon as we put our faith in Jesus Christ.
  • No human being can kick us out of it.
  • No human being even gets to make up rules for it.
  • Everyone who belongs to it is an equal, and,
  • the real leaders are those who make sure everyone else gets the "1st Place" ribbon, while they themselves literally come in forgotten and last.
That church is God's church. The one He set up from the beginning to be part of and a visible demonstration of the New Covenant.
  • It requires no "priests". Just faith in Jesus Christ.
  • It requires no "holy days". Just love of God and enemy.
  • It requires no creeds or offerings or special religious objects or ceremonies. Just study of and adherence to God's Word (as He gave it to us).
  • And it requires no other human being – but you!
Yet real Christianity is not a religion that can be practiced in isolation from the world. It's also not one that's easily practiced by oneself. While it can be frustrating and painful to belong to a wrongly-led or bad church, it can be lonely and even brutal to go it completely alone.

Though we have to watch for hidden pitfalls finding them, we do need good Christian brothers and sisters to help keep us out of spiritual hot water (something the devil is constantly inviting us to get into!). And that's what the writer of Hebrews was talking about when he encouraged us to keep getting together (Hebrews 10:25): it's going to be tough to go it alone, so find, keep, and lovingly care for a good, REAL Christian fellowship.

And here are my thoughts on that:

Though as a Christian you do already belong to God's global church, and to the church grouping of all Holy-Spirit-filled believers in your geographical area, you would still greatly benefit from being part of a group small enough that no one gets "lost in the shuffle". That local group could be as small as just you and one other person (that still puts you together with Jesus! [Matthew 18:20]), or as large as you and 150 other people (many people-studiers point out that any group larger than 150 people quickly loses the ability to maintain stable social relationships and such).

As part of that group, you each need to be active in ministry to every other person in the group – in humble, loving, maturity, you each need to keep each other accountable to the Lord, and you each need to encourage and support each other in your Christian walk. Those with other giftings (like prophecy, healing, pastoring, and so on) are supposed to help everyone else get to ministry work – not just do all or even most of the ministry work themselves!

You also need to work together to make sure none of you has unmet needs (and we're talking real needs here. Wanting to sponge off of others, not wanting to work for one's living as everyone else has to, somehow exaggerating a "disability" to live off the government or someone's kind heart, or just not doing one's fair share are in no way real needs. In fact, they are sin we are not to cooperate with [2 Thessalonians 3:10])

You need to meet together on a regular basis that works for all of you, sharing a simple, prayerful communion meal, remembering and honoring Jesus and worshipping together (which can be as simple as singing along with a CD), enjoying each other's company with godly manners, and so on – all without letting the devil convince you you're not a "real" church because you're not pretending to be a "Christian" version of the Old Covenant temple.

You need to share the Good News – and the opportunity to join your group – with all you meet. Be an apostle, pastor, prophet, evangelist, and teacher to everyone you meet in every part of your daily life.

You need to study the Bible together – and that means together. In the original Greek, Bible passages (like Acts 20:7) most often translated as if they justified one "expert" person talking while everyone else just passively listened, actually describe more an organized group chat where people discussed and debated others' ideas. Studying together means that everyone is to be active in sharing and learning the Bible, bring what they have to the discussion.

Use sound Bible study techniques, and tolerate no insertion of pagan ideas and such into your understanding of God's Word (allowing them in is like cheating on your spouse – not good!). Keep in mind that even those with advanced seminary degrees can be (and often are) severely wrong in their understanding of scripture because they've simply memorized other people's mistakes. Allow discussion and debate to challenge your assumptions and discover new ways the Holy Spirit may be leading you to see things. But remember that while disagreement can be confusing, even frustrating, it should never be bitter or divisive. If it is, you're doing it wrong!

You need to actively protect yourselves and each other from false and neurotic apostles, pastors, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and others who will (and I guarantee at some point they will) try to overtake and even destroy your fellowship at some point. If you do well by the Lord, the devil will show up to try to mess it up. Spend a good deal of time teaching each other not only how the Bible describes true and false ministers, but also how the Bible says to deal with them!

What if I can't find a fellowship worth attending in my geographical area?

It can happen! In fact, as we get closer and closer to Jesus' return, it will continue to get harder and harder to find truly God-centered Christians no matter where we live or who we are, because more and more will be deceived into following the False Prophet and Antichrist. And that's just as true for Gay Christians as it is for straight Christians.

If it happens that you can't find a good fellowship where you are, then consider:
  • Try starting one yourself! Jesus said it takes only two people gathered in His Name for Him to be there with them (Matthew 18:20). Two! That's just you and one other person, getting together to talk about your spiritual lives, study the Bible together, share a communion meal, and so on.
  • You may be tempted to join a "so-so" or even bad church or fellowship. If you think you might meet sincere others like yourself there, then it might be wise and worthwhile. But be careful that your faith in the real Gospel isn't warped by your time there!
  • You must always remember that you do belong to the church – God's church – even if you can't find real fellowship in your current city. You are not alone, even if you are sometimes lonely!
  • Check out the internet for fellowship resources, but keep in mind that the net isn't real life. It should never be a substitute for a local fellowship, if you have access to one. The internet alone is just never going to be what God intends you to have, but it may be what helps fill you, in the meantime.
  • And finally, hold on to Jesus, no matter what! It isn't any church, fellowship, teacher, pastor, denomination, and so on that saves you – but only faith in Jesus Christ, and adherence to His Word!
God bless you!


  1. I absolutely love God's timing! Thank you for this post at this time. It has just been one of those days for me where things seem to "just happen". I know, of course that it is so much more.
    I am a new and now devoted fan.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Duane. God is at work in all our lives, and He is AWESOME :)