In that last few articles I have invited you to join a local, Bible-believing church if you have not already. The question may be raised, “What do you mean by a ‘Bible-believing church?’ Don’t all churches believe in the Bible?” In fact, while we’re on the topic, the question could be raised, “Aren’t all churches basically the same?” I’m glad you asked (or are willing to go along with me for a while). The quick answer is no. No, not every church truly believes in the Bible and not every entity that calls itself a church is actually a church as defined by the Bible. Intrigued? Then please, keep reading.
For starters, I am not making the exclusive claim to truth here. I would never say that anyone who doesn’t believe exactly like me is not a true Christian. What I am saying is that we have been given, by God, a standard, objective truth by which to judge what is true and what is false. That standard is the Bible. Therefore, what I am proposing is that Christians should join a local church that, according to the Bible, is a true church and not a counterfeit church. In order to do this we must look at what the Bible says a true church of Jesus Christ should be. Keep in mind, there are areas on which true, Bible-believing Christians have disagreed from time to time. However, there are a number of non-negotiables that true churches all hold to because of the clear teaching of the Bible. We want to focus on a few of these essential, non-negotiable characteristics that make up a true church.
Last week I mentioned that the church is first and foremost NOT an organization; rather the church is the assembly of redeemed sinners. With this in mind, the first essential, non-negotiable characteristic is that a church must be centered on the true gospel message. This might seem obvious, right? However, this has become more and more lost in many “churches” throughout the world. Many churches have abandoned the gospel message in order to move to a life-enhancement message. No longer are people called to come to Christ for eternal life but instead to “have their best life now!” The gospel message becomes deteriorated into messages on gaining wealth and prestige, “3 ways to enhance your marriage”, or “7 ways to be a better you.” Many of these so called “churches” are more like a self-help clinic. No mention of sin, no mention of judgement, no mention of grace; instead you get a half an hour talk on personality growth mixed in with corny jokes. This is not why Jesus came to earth to die!
Or perhaps, the message is one of social justice. This is when the pulpit is used not to call sinners to repentance and faith in Christ, but to call people to be better helpers in the world. Don’t get me wrong, followers of Christ should be the best helpers in the world as we follow Christ’s command to “love our neighbor as yourself.” However we must remember that helping with physical needs is never enough. We can clothe, feed, and house a person but if they remain in their sins without hearing and trusting what Jesus has done for them upon the cross, we have done them no good. Eternal needs are infinitely more important than physical ones. The gospel is NOT simply about social justice.
Let’s take a moment to look at what the gospel is about. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:17) The gospel is the good news that God has made a way for broken sinners such as myself to be made right with Him through faith in Christ alone. The gospel is made possible through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you…Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) Jesus lived a perfect life, died the death we deserve, and rose again defeating sin and death; when we turn from our sins and believe in what Jesus has accomplished for us we can be certain that we have eternal life. This is the gospel. A true church teaches that our only hope is what Jesus has accomplished for us. Many counterfeit churches teach that we must do something to earn salvation from God. True churches teach that Christ did it all and that salvation is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:8-9) If you belong to a church that doesn’t teach this, you may belong to a counterfeit church.
This is only one of the non-negotiable, essential characteristics of a true church. (More to follow…) The point is, if you believe in truth and that truth matters, then you should desire to be with a true church. A church that worships and praises God because of what He has done for you in Christ. This is not a sales pitch in order to get people to come to my church. (I am always happy to recommend other churches that preach the true gospel message.) This is a call for truth. The gospel is the most important message in the world and true churches preach this message.
By Pastor Nick Jones
Maranatha Baptist Church
1320 E. Saguaro Dr. Globe, AZ