[firstchapter: Marks of an Unbiblical Church]
By David Cox
Whereas a good church is a pretty focused thing, a bad or unbiblical church can take many different forms. Because of this we need to divide our study into areas. First of all, we need to separate what would be a “church” from a sects, cult, or false religion. Although really there is not much difference between them, I would consider a “church” that would identify itself with solid biblical doctrine something different from a cult. Some “Fundamental” or “Baptist” churches would officially hold to correct or biblical doctrine, but actually practice or secretly believe in unbiblical things. There may also be some groups that would do things as a biblical church would do them, but they hold tightly to some doctrine that is not biblical. Usually these groups always have some defective concept concerning salvation. So these characteristics are a composite of a whole bunch of bad and erroneous churches, sects, abusive churches, groups, etc.
The list of marks of a bad church (Marks of an Unbiblical Church) on this page therefore should be understand as a bad church can have this or that characteristic or mark, but it is defined as bad by any one, and not necessarily by all. Also let me add that some good churches are good on most things, and they may fall into one or more of these marks of a bad church. I do not pretend to know all churches, all situations, and how a person should act or the decision a person should take in such cases. I think soul searching your own heart in order to find what God wants you to do is most important in any situation, and it is essential in these cases. See my thoughts on Getting out of a Bad Church.
[chapter:1. A bad church has unsaved “members”, workers, and leaders.]
- 1 A bad church has unsaved “members”, workers, and leaders.
- 2 A bad church abandons or deemphasizes God’s will and way for something else. (Marks of an Unbiblical Church)
- 3 3. Extra-biblical revelations that replace God’s word, or reinterprets and overwhelms God’s word.
- 4 4. Many bad groups abandon the typical NT church pattern for other patterns of their own devising.
- 5 5. A bad church has a bad example, or a hides the exemplary nature of their leaders.
- 6 6. A bad church has a concentration on invalid economic gain in the amount of gain, or the method of gain.
- 7 7. A bad church is not open and honest about its finances and dealings.
- 8 8. A bad church uses invalid psychological traps to get, retain, control, and punish their members.
- 9 Lack of Christian Liberty
- 10 9. A bad church has a flawed concept of salvation and evangelism.
- 11 10. A bad church thrives in divisions, schisms, exalting the differences between members, and usually has a “we are better than everybody else attitude”.
- 12 11. A bad church has an entertainment aspect to their services instead of a worship of God, and glory (praise) to God.
- 13 12. A bad church has a service me attitude and practice.
- 14 13. A bad church exalts experience over principled practice.
- 15 14. A bad church uses popular elements in preaching instead of biblical exposition.
- 16 15. A bad church equates legalism to spirituality, and redefines or ignores true spiritual fruit.
A bad church has unsaved “members”, workers, and leaders.
Let’s tackle this mark with some caution. First of all, the general nature of the local church is such that most local churches are going to have some unsaved people in the services. The parable of the wheat and the tares teaches us that we are not to try to separate who is truly saved from who is not, with the purpose being to separate them out of the church just because.
So if every church has unsaved people in it, what is this mark about? This mark is more about attitude and caution in how the church runs their affairs. True that we all have unsaved in our services, but there is a big difference between this and having these unsaved in the pulpit teaching and preaching, or having them in front directing, or having them on boards governing, or serving.
When I consider this mark, I think of a church’s view towards salvation, and its expectation from its members, and extremely high expectations from its leaders and presiding, visible ministers.
How to Discern this Mark:
First of all, a good church “pushes” salvation constantly. Their view of salvation is more a change of character based in a personal relationship with Christ, than saying some magic words. They have a very keen perception of repentance in salvation that means people must give up their sins. Holiness comes in after being saved to carry on the same task of giving up your sins. This comes across first and foremost in the pulpit and Sunday School classrooms. Secondly this comes across in the shock over sin, and the peer pressure from the members when someone lives in public, open sin. The other members do not accept it, do not take it as “normal”. They are concerned about it, and pray for the person, and let it be known that they do not agree with such a living in open sin. (Sin is like leaven, if you do not oppose it for all you are worth, then it will extend itself to all the church, and become overwhelming.)
Next the church officially deals with sin. This means that the pastor or church leaders initiate a dealing with the sin. This should be first counseling sessions with the person, and if that person does not show honest effort at changing his life (repentance), then the church as a whole comes into view as official discipline operation whereby that person is treated as a pagan and unbeliever, not as a brother in Christ.
Here also we should see some kind of distinction between regular weekly visitors and members whereby the members are required to live good lives. By “good lives” I mean lives where they reject and fight against sin in their own life when God shows them their sins through His Word. There should be apparatus in place and functioning that filters the unrepentant from official membership, as well as removing official members if they begin to live a life of open sin without remorse, repentance, nor effort at correction.
In addition we should see an honest effort at really preventing unrepentant or hypocritical people from entering the pulpit, the Sunday School classroom, the presiding positions (praise, singing, etc), from working with or in the choirs, nurseries, etc. All people who have positions should have a standard of ethics which clearly is rejecting sin, repenting, and abandoning sin. We all have sins, and many are unknown to us. But when God reveals these to us, a good Christian has to respond, and his response is extreme efforts at rejecting and abandoning that sin. This mark has to be visible and pervasive through the church for the church to be good. Even a few examples of unrepentant sin will contaminate the entire church ruining its effect and power for God.
Beyond that, this same shock and rejection is applied to public figures, movements, and groups outside the church in the form of separation from them because of their sin, and lack of repentance.
[chapter:2. A bad church abandons or deemphasizes God’s will and way for something else.]
A bad church abandons or deemphasizes God’s will and way for something else. (Marks of an Unbiblical Church)
All good churches live by the good book (Bible). Any church that abandons God’s word on a matter or deemphasizes God’s word simply is not a good church. Man continues to invent many new fabrications and imaginations against the “thus saith the Lord” of the Bible. One of the key elements of this mark is that of supplanting the Scriptures as the authority and design of God for something else. Many times this done by boasting loudly that they are biblical, and then twisting Scripture to meet what they want anyway. This is a mark of an unbiblical church.
How to Discern this Mark:
This is very difficult to do, but basically a person has to understand the Scriptures in order to discern when people twist Scripture or seek some other authority. I think that historically the other authorities which have commonly crept in are the following:
A Pope or Authoritative Super Christian
I think that many bad churches grow around the cultic personality of one of its leaders or founders. Roman Catholicism has a long line of these “popes” as they call them, and brag about this line going back to the days of the Apostles, and they make Peter the first Pope. A question here is that where in the Bible does this genealogy type thing come from? We see it in the Bible in the case of the Messiah, but never do we see it anywhere else. In fact, every old church that can trace its existence back hundreds of years are all rotten spiritually. Why is the tracing a good thing then? There are protestants that want to do the same thing, most notoriously the Baptist Bride group, which think that tracing a line (the Trail of Blood) gives them something of legitimacy today. If this line was traced back from their church one generation back until Jesus’ day, it still would not mean that in the 40 years between the previous generation to them, they could not have gone off the deep end.
We also see regular cult groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Judge Rutherford), Mormons (Joseph Smith), and Seventh Day Advents (Ellen White) centering their authority on somebody else’s supposed spirituality. Just because you are the son or daughter of a great man of God does not mean anything. The sons of Eli were greatly corrupt even though they came from a man of God. The sons of King David likewise did not all turn out as spiritual as their father.
Mystic (Secret) Knowledge and Extra-Biblical Revelation
Another common practice is to claim a higher spiritual knowledge the rest of Christianity, and this many times comes through what they describe as divine revelations. Joseph Smith supposedly had these revelations and they say that true biblical Christianity was lost from the Apostolic age until Joseph Smith. The words of Jesus that His kingdom (in the church) will stand and the gates of hell will not prevail against it comes to mind. So Satan won the war for 1800 years according to the Mormons until Joseph Smith comes along? Likewise Smith’s dislike for the concept of hell now clarified that all believers since Adam and Eve were mistaken about God’s punishing people eternally until Smith clarifies this? Ellen White of the Seventh Day Adventist group also is promoted as a modern prophet giving new revelation from God. Excuse me, but according to Scripture, where do we see women prophets teaching men? This is exactly the opposite of what the Bible declares as biblical (1 Tim 2:11-12).
There is a rampant movement underneath the changes within churches of our days to “return to apostolic Christianity”. This is usually taking some particular aspect of apostolic Christianity and making it a major issue, even though the group twists the doctrine or practice from the Apostolic example in order to make it distinctive of their group. The Seventh Day Adventist group makes Saturday the accepted day of worship instead of Sunday, even though clearly the NT Church in Acts met on Sunday not Saturday. In the time after Jesus’ resurrection, the Sunday was when Thomas wasn’t present (but all the rest were) and they were in a worship service and Jesus appeared to them. Why would Jesus appear at a worship service on a non-standard, non-commanded worship day?
The issue here is that the group proclaims they, and they alone are “biblical” because they practice X practice, or because they believe in X doctrine. To discern between truth and error, between a good church and a bad church, we have to understand that there are many things that make a church a “good church”. Equally a church may have many good elements down exactly as they did in the NT, but several prominent bad elements would still make it a spiritually dangerous place to be.
A good rule of thumb here is not to worry about what you don’t know yet, just make sure that you obey everything God has already shown you, and that you are studying to grow and understand more. I won’t take the space and time to elaborate on this, but the idea of secret spiritual knowledge is one of the Mystic Religions which pretends to hold truth hostage by those who have discovered it. This means they control everything or they won’t allow you access to truth. This is not biblical friend, and what is biblical is that truth is open and public, freely given without charge whatsoever. Schools, book writers, and a host of others want to make merchandise of the truth, which is simply the mark of a false prophet, of heresy, and of domineering “brethren” (if they are even saved) which are far from the NT example of Christ.
Every doctrine and teaching that is necessary for us to be saved and live in obedience to God is open, public, and free. What God has not shown us is because it is not needful, or necessary for us to know it yet.
Tradition, habit, practicality, and popularity
Another common authority used today instead of Scriptures is tradition, that is what we have always done. Another is objections to making changes because the status quo is better. Don’t rock the boat. Another one here is whatever works well is used as an authority. If something works, don’t change it. Another would be what is popular. Rick Warren is an example of the latter making divine the popular sentiments of men. This is a mark of an unbiblical church.
[chapter:3. Extra-biblical revelation vs God’s Word]
3. Extra-biblical revelations that replace God’s word, or reinterprets and overwhelms God’s word.
Satan knows that he can never get people to where he wants them while they believe in the authority of God’s Word. So Satan launches an all out attack against the authority of God’s Word. I see the modern Bible versions movement as part of this very same distraction and de-emphasizing attack of Satan. On the one hand, the modern Bible Societies basically have taken the position that the Bible is without divine authority, and getting to what God has actually said is not nearly as important or is even a serious consideration as “toning down” the Bible’s strong statements in favor soft “understandable” language. “Understandable” here is a code word which for them means “non-offensive”.
A holy God, offended by the vileness of man’s sin, will always speak strong words which sting. —David Cox
The entire attitude and philosphy behind most of modern Bible translation work is totally unbiblical and rebellious from the start. Any product they manage to make will likewise be flawed beyond repare.
On the other extreme we have the KJV only advocates who somehow have derailed themselves spiritually, thinking that in latching onto a particular English Bible translation, they are now immune from heresy, absolutely perfect children of God, and they can do no wrong. They use the KJV litmus test to test orthodoxy, and quite frankly, if they movement was not so spirituallyy disasterous, it would be funny. The Seventh Day Adventists, even some Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a number of other cult groups over the years (Branch Davidians with David Koresh) were all KJV Bible thumpers. Their seal of orthodoxy was their exclusive use and exaltation of the KJV. Looking at their doctrines and practices, we quickly see that what Bible version you use does not protect and magically make your doctrine right.
All of these are strategic movements by Satan to de-emphasize the authority of God’s Word, sidetracking emphasis and priority to “something else”, or directly corrupting the Word of God.
Likewise a bad church will twist Scripture to suit their own particular interpretation, desires, etc. They have no universal rules of interpretation with which to guide them through “willful interpretation” (driving the interpretation to where they want it to go), and to help them always arrive at the destination God wanted.
[chapter:4. Abandonment of the NT Pattern]
4. Many bad groups abandon the typical NT church pattern for other patterns of their own devising.
It is a simple point, but if God gave us the example of NT churches to use as our pattern for doing the ministry, who has the authority to change this? I see so many churches and groups push small group studies, cell groups, non-traditional seeker services, alternative formats of worship, singing, praise, and even doing away with traditional exposition for drama teams, singing “ministries”, etc. The traditional church started all this mess when they began pushing seminaries, Christian camps, counseling ministries, and all the other things that are basically begotten from these denominations and schools. They are in the business of “selling education”, so they admit all the possible ministries (that get their preparation in these schools) as valid.
If God gave us a pattern, (which has the local church as the principal teaching/training institution), then what gives anybody the authority and right to change that to something else? If you are going to dump the way the NT tells us to do some, and pick up a “new thing”, then justify it with biblical exposition of Bible texts. They don’t do this.
The forms of the NT are there for a reason. They work because they have the power of God behind it, and Jesus structured and created “his church” and the “gates of hell will not prevail against it. Satan’s objective is to destroy the church of God. He is waging that war by de-emphasizing God’s pattern, the local church, traditional if you will, with alternatives. A Satanic group’s opposition to God’s people is not nearly as strong nor effective as a “modern” “contemporary” do “anything-but- traditional” movers and shakers.
[chapter:5. Ignores or minimizes spiritual examples in their leaders]
5. A bad church has a bad example, or a hides the exemplary nature of their leaders.
Let’s start this point off by saying that God has established a way of teaching spiritual truth. You or I may not particularly like the way God has given us to achieve spiritual growth, but nonetheless that is the way, and the only way to really have success in communicating the truths of God to others. This method which God has established hinges on two key points, first of all there is teaching and preaching. This is standing before a group and reading and then explaining the very words of God. Some people do this very well. But the second point is where we separate the men from the boys. God’s second point is that these who preach and teach must live a godly Christian life in front of those who receive the teaching. This means social settings and non-pulpit, non-classroom settings where we see the life of these people with their wife, with their kids, in meals, in dealing with discipline, with charity, with their own problems and problems of others where they personally sacrifice money, time, effort, etc. This is what validates for others that they want to be like what these preachers preach to them.
This is the glaring problem with Christian education (Bible Institutes and Christian Bible Colleges and Universities) on all levels today. We have a system that is unbiblical. We get the classroom teaching without the close-up examination of the teachers’ personal and spiritual lives. This makes the teaching hollow, false, hypocritical. We do not see and validate their lives with their teachings.
This is the same problem with denominational structure systems. The very topmost leaders are several layers away from the “man in the pew.” The very topmost denominational leaders who decide what doctrine everybody will have, what conduct and practices are biblical or unbiblical, and what is what in general, is usually several states away, and we see them close-up an personal either never, or in a teaching-preaching session where they are giving doctrine, and we cannot validate their message against what we see in their personal life against the life of Christ, our supreme example. This is why many denominations are trying to get a board of directors that are all known pastors. It provides the validity we all seek in at least a muted way.
Only Local Leadership
God’s perfect plan is that each group of believers are autonomous, with the men of God leading, directly and ministering in teaching and preaching be local. I cannot emphasize this enough. All religious groups that grow to any size break down anything good they may bring to the situation because they start a multi-locality group, where control is seized on distant groups by spiritual leaders living in other places. This was how the Roman Catholic church began when the bishops (probably good men) wanted to control more than they physically could. They set up straw men to do their bidding in places they did not want to move their families there to live and work. This presents a breech where the false prophet enters into the local church.
Study Paul’s missionary work, and you will find that Paul had no real “authority” in the Corinthian church to command, control, decide, or anything. They went so far as to make Paul have to write them and ask for permission before he could come and preach. Paul started that church remember. This only serves to emphasize the biblical principle of autonomy. Paul rebuked them for a lot of stuff. Turn to 1 Corinthians 1 and put a marker there and turn to the end of 2 Corinthians, and you will see that God moved Paul to write more to this church to straighten them out than to any other NT church. But in all of this, Paul never once hinted that their concept of autonomy over their own church was wrong. Paul submitted his exhortations to this very structure and for Paul it was inconvenient, but still Paul submitted himself to it, and worked around it to give them the message of God.
Double Standards in Leadership
When we study cults, false religions, and abusive churches, one of the glaring elements that seem to repeat itself endlessly is this matter of a double standards among the leaders of the church. The famous passage, “touch not mine anointed” (1 Chronicles 16:22; Psa 105:15). The correct understanding of these passages is that when the prophets preach the word of God, and it makes you uncomfortable and uneasy, then you are not to attack the person of these men. God in no way is saying that when a preacher, pastor, or spiritual leader is living an ungodly life, that we are not to speak up and object strongly to this ungodly example. The understanding and teaching in the majority of churches today is “God will chastise his own servants and ministers, so I as a church member have nothing to do with that.”
My question is then, why did God advise the churches in general about the false prophets, and exhort them to separate from them? The level of treatment of false doctrine, hypocritical conduct, and spiritual abuse in the ministry is the level of a church, and the normal members of that church are the ones who should be vigilant and then take proper actions if needed. There can be no “authority” over the local church except God Himself. Likewise within the local church, there is no authority over the pastor, because he is the “pastor” which governs (has authority over) or “rules” the church as a father does his family (1 Timothy 3:4-5). So the point hinges on things as God presents them to us. Paul taught the members to recognize and reject false prophets, abusive ministers, and hypocritical leaders.
Importance of seeing the testimony of a local leader
You cannot do this if the leader is not local. Even Paul and his band of missionaries had to live among these churches for a while so that they would know their lifestyles. A good example of this is the Thessalonians church. Their situation was that some taught on the prompt return of our Lord, and these people took it to heart, sold their possessions and houses, and went out on a hill to wait on his return. When they got hungry, they asked for their brethren that didn’t do that to give them food, and God corrects this erroneous conduct through Paul. But notice how this has to work.
1 Thess 4:11 “to work with your own hands, as we commanded you”
2 Thess 3:11 “For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12 … we command… that with quietness they work”
1 Thess 1:5 “For our gospel came not unto you in word only; but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.”
2 Thess 3:7 “For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; 8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you: 9Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.”
Paul lived what he preached among these Thessalonian Christians. This gave his message the power of the Holy Spirit which was how and why they benefited from Paul’s teaching and preaching. This rule or principle of theoretical given in a container of practical is as valid and powerful today as in Paul’ day, and most good colleges and universities have abandoned all theory to put their students “out in the field” to validate the theory with actual visual observation of the principle in action.
Christians Schools are a modern day construct
I would also add we see no formal schools, institutes, colleges, or universities nor anything close to that in the New Testament. The only thing anywhere close was the disciples living day by day in the present of Christ. That was a method used by God, but is impossible to repeat as Christ did because we have no Messiah amongst us. Simply put, it only works to that extremity when the teacher is Jesus Christ. The disciples gave up their daily life, gave up their vocational professions (their work), and moved in with Christ. That is the methodology of teaching today (we move to the school to live there), and it doesn’t work very well. We get an overdose of theory, almost nil in practical observation, and the result is an egotistical, haughty, puffed up expert who has no practical side to his life at all. He is a hypocrite cautiously making sure nobody sees his sinful side (thus hiding his personal life and family life from his ministry, and thus being a false prophet in principle no matter what he teaches.
Accessibility to the personal life of the pastor is what this is all about. The pastor concept has at its foundation a person who sacrifices and endures hardship of living in the fields with the sheep in order to take care of them. Many pastors coming out of seminaries don’t have this sacrificial element in their mindset. They seek soft, comfortable positions where the sheep can take care of them instead of they take care of the sheep. Oh sure they preach the services, but they have no burning desire to tackle the spiritual problems of their charge, and buy a book of sermons to preach through each year, and carry on a life of luxury and seeking to please their passions (sports, hobbies, and non-ministry related things).
Women in Leadership
I have to deal with this aspect because it has become excessive in some corners of Christianity. If we are obligated to follow the Bible’s commands, then one clear indication of a bad church is that it goes directly “in your face” against Bible commands. When we deal with hypocritical pastors, we cannot forget the women pastors.
1 Timothy 2:11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
1 Timothy 3:2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife,
Paul gives the requirements for a bishop after explaining what a woman’s spiritual goals should be. In the transition verses between the two, Paul clearly prohibits ALL WOMEN from taking a position of spiritual authority in the church or the things of God. (Here I am being generous to the women, because Paul’s teaching is that the woman is not to be over the man in anything, work, politics, etc.) The phrase “husband of one wife” is really mistranslated here. There is no such word for husband or wife in the Bible, either in the Old Testament nor in the New Testament. The word in both Hebrew and Greek is simply “man” and “woman”. In Greek there are two terms for man “ander” which means male, masculine, and “anthropos” which means something like human, a person. Anthropology comes from this last word and means the study of humanity.
Paul chose the word ander, which means the requirement for pastor is that he has to be masculine, and married to a feminine person. No women pastors are God’s will. No homosexual or lesbian pastors are allowed in God’s scheme of things.
Arguments against Men only leaders
I have read dozens of arguments against this interpretation, but the bottom line is this. If you take the words of Scripture at face value, and they make perfect sense, why seek any other interpretation or sense? There is no problem in this passage that would warrant that we need to take them any other way other than what is their face value. Those who destroy all sense in this passage in other to allow women pastors, or women over the male church members in any way, do so because the teaching is not what they want to accept. That is a spiritual problem on their part, but the Bible stands on its declarations, and we cannot change these things at will, without warrant, without anything more than, “I don’t want to accept that.”
Therefore my only conclusion in this matter has to be that I see every single church that has a woman pastor, a woman in any authority or presiding position (such as female song-leaders) as being a bad church which rejects the authority of God’s word when it suits them. There may be reasons why churches do this, but they all boil down to the men not wanting to get involved in the ministry. If the entire group is female, fine, let them have a spiritual woman over them. Most good churches have women’s groups that do exactly that. But laziness in the men to do what is necessary to have a church means the church is a bad church.
[chapter:6. Emphasis on economic merchandizing]
6. A bad church has a concentration on invalid economic gain in the amount of gain, or the method of gain.
One of the clearest marks of a false prophet is his tendency to give himself extreme comforts. The greater the amount of money flowing through the organization, the greater his taking the cream off the top. Some ministers have their private jets and live in mansions. This is typical of where the entire machinery of error takes things. They spiritually control the flock to get extreme personal benefit.
The Bible itself teaches that a man of God should live of his preaching of the Gospel (1Cor 9), so this is not to say a preacher should not receive anything from his labors, but when his lifestyle exceeds that of the average of his congregation, then it is excessive.
[chapter:7. Hidden and dubious finances.]
7. A bad church is not open and honest about its finances and dealings.
Another identifying mark of a bad (unbiblical) church is when their finances have a lot of doubt hanging around them. Very simply, the good, biblical church will do all things honest and open before all men. This means that the reception of money is done by trusted men who accurately report what comes in, and the expenditures of the churches are also duly registered and publicly made know.
This also means that there are no behind the scenes, nor public, traps, dealings, or out of the proper and ordinary dealings. Money does not just “disappear”. The pastor is paid an honest and fair salary, the people know ALL he receives for what he does for the church, and there are no “pet” hidden things that the pastor uses to get undeserved money. The pastor most clearly reveals, and works with the will of the church, first, to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, and secondly, to do what is the will of the people with their donations.
[chapter:8. Bad churches use cultish techniques.]
8. A bad church uses invalid psychological traps to get, retain, control, and punish their members.
Here the list would seem to be endless as to what pastors and churches have come up with the manipulate people so that they are under their control, especially so that they cannot leave, or so that they cannot complain or cause discontent. I have to go through some of them so that you can get a general idea of what I am talking about here.
For example, some churches immediately put new visitors into ministry positions in their first weeks of attending their church. Perhaps there is a great need, but in any case, we are specifically prohibited from putting novices into ministry in 1 Timothy 3:6-7 and 1 Timothy 5:22 “lay hands suddenly on no man”, and I think God’s point in these passages is that we are to take a slow route of using people in the ministry. Slow means knowing well what the character and moral fiber of a person is before allowing them to minister. Nobody can discern this in a matter of a few months of causal involvement after services, much less a few weeks. The idea of these bad churches is to obligate the person so that they are refusing or failing in their “obligation to the Lord” if they want to leave the church. This is a nice psychological trap, but in the end any obligations is in the church and not in new people who have just come in.
Lack of Christian Liberty
Another aspect of this same issue is the lack of any real concept and practice of Christian liberty among its membership. Study the biblical principle of Christian liberty (2 Cor 3:17 “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty“; 1 Cor 8; 1 Cor 10:29). You will find that where God’s Spirit and working exists, there is always liberty. This liberty is freedom from slavery to other people and systems, and freedom to serve God as one sees fit. This is the very foundation of Christian service.
Study the false prophets in New Testament times and you will always find control freaks, supposedly Christian, godly leaders who are seeking to control their brethren.
Galatians 2:3-4 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:
Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Galatians 5:13-16 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 15 But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. 16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
2 Peter 2:19-22 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. 20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 21 For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 22 But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
This liberty that we have from God to serve God should not be a means to do evil, but should be used to free us to better serve God, with our hearts seeking new forms and activities to really honor God and accomplish His will.
1 Peter 2:16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
Let me digress here on this point a bit. Control over the lives of other Christians is exactly the point of these false prophets. That being the case, every Christian needs to understand that God has not structured the Christian life with popes of any kind. A pope is a papa, a daddy that tells you everything you have to do, how to do it, etc. It causes me great grief of heart to see fundamental Baptists having to run to their pastor or spiritual leader to ask permission to buy a car, or with whom they will marry, or permission for a business activity. These things are not for pastors to decide. They are for you to decide. It is fine to ask counsel, because in the multitude of counsel there is wisdom. But many have the attitude that they do not want to think or figure things out, so they ask their pastor to decide for them. This is where a good pastor refuses to answer, and a false prophet will step in and very willingly begin a relationship of slavery over that foolish Christian.
I need to extend this a bit into the office and function of pastor. The local church is like a sheepfold, whereby a man is pastoring these people, which is spiritual caretaking. This spiritual caretaking must be protecting the liberty of the sheep without placing them under the slavery of the pastor. The relationship HAS TO BE one of honor, love, and tender care. The sheep follow the pastor because he takes care of them and keeps them free. Men drive cattle and pigs and other livestock. But pastors lead sheep. That means they trust the pastor, and go where he goes because of the proven trust and wisdom of the minister. Study Ezekiel 34 carefully. It is a rebuke by God to the pastors of Israel. The picture given is one of supposed pastors who overstep their limits, and take advantage of the flock they tend, and treat them with cruelty and brutality. They scare the sheep by brutal actions and words that scatter the sheep instead of gathering the sheep. When the pastor loves and cares tenderly for people, this gathers, and is the exact opposite of the scattering action.
Frightened sheep do not do their “thing.” Their thing is twofold, they produce milk and wool, and they reproduce themselves. Shepherds reproduce shepherds, and sheep reproduce sheep. Spiritually church members should be producing spiritual fruit pleasant in the sight of God. THEY (the sheep) SHOULD BE REPRODUCING through evangelism. Evangelism is like an apple. It has the small seed of the gospel buried in the middle of a sweet desirable fruit. The spiritual fruit that is character transformation into the image of Christ, pure godly morality, is what should surround every presentation of the gospel. People stop and listen because of who and what you are as much as wanting to save their souls from perdition.
Another area where this control and manipulation craziness is apparent is in exiting the church or group. All cults want to make it difficult for a person to leave them. I have talked with Disciples of Christ followers that have told me that they cannot move to another city without first getting permission from them, so that they find a Disciples of Christ church in that city for them to transfer their membership to first. In other words, they control their lives down to extreme details. I have read in several different cultic groups where permission from the pastor or leader is essential before contracting marriage. Some even go so far as to pressure or force some members into divorce when they are not thinking about that at all, because the spouse is outside the group, and is pressing a concept reality into the member.
[chapter:9. A bad church has faulty ideas about salvation and evangelism.]
9. A bad church has a flawed concept of salvation and evangelism.
Perhaps I should have put this first on the list, but the doctrine of the group towards salvation and evangelism is very important. I didn’t put this first because most Christians who are questioning their church and would read this have been indoctrinated to believe their group’s doctrines and practices are impeccable. To get into doctrinal arguments is very difficult with these groups. Once you discern the other things above, approaching the doctrinal problems is much easier.
First of all, salvation has to be caused in the individual by his own faith, a spiritual activity which he does. Believing God’s work of salvation, Jesus Christ dying on the cross in spiritual substitution for your sins and you punishment is what saves a person. Salvation is all of God, it is God’s work, but it is triggered in us by our repentance (turning from all else, especially our sins) and faith in the work of Jesus Christ.
Spiritual activity must be carefully deal with. We are not saved by spiritual activity, devotion, nor sacrifice. Spiritual activity, devotion, and sacrifice must come from a tender heart that loves his Savior, and not from any other unpure motive. Obeying God because the person loves God is the only valid reason or motive for spiritual activity.
In the bad church, motivation runs havoic over much of the activities of the church. Many bad churches are seen by not respecting other valid congregations and they will do anything to “steal the sheep”. There is no proper transfer of membership between one church and another of like faith.
Evangelism is also perverted in the bad church. Instead of people in other groups going through the only valid entrance into their church, that is, being born again, which transforms their life spiritually, these bad churches simply make a token towards the new birth (repeat these words and dunk’um).
This attitude is reflected in their lack of real doctrinal importance on the foundations of biblical salvation, and evangelism and church growth is where this becomes so keenly the point. They are building an empire for God, but their concept is buildings, bucks, and bodies, not spiritually reborn children of God that truly live a new life in imitation of Jesus Christ.
10. A bad church thrives in divisions, schisms, exalting the differences between members, and usually has a “we are better than everybody else attitude”.
A bad church is very visible in their preocupation with exalting themselves over other churches. Don’t get me wrong, a good church is founded on the truth of God as revealed to us in the Word of God. This is their peculiar difference with other religious institutions.
But a bad church simply has a bad attitude about all of this. Because they have an evangelism program, or because they have “good hymns”, they flaunt this “extremely important advantage” that they have over other churches.
You have to really meditate on this, but there is a difference here in that the bad church compares itself with other churches, always trying to promotionally convince people of their superior religion because of “x” factor. A good church on the other hand doesn’t bother with what other churches do, they are focused on trying to discern accurately what the Bible tells them they should be, and doing that.
For example, a good church will be a community that is bathed regularly in love and affection. The care and concern of each member for the rest of the group is very important and very essential to their spiritual welfare, both personally and individually, and also as a group. A bad church will preach heavily on “love”, but under these promotional products, there is no real concern for the individual, only the economic or numeric health of the group. Their “love” is to make bonds so that people cannot escape them. The pastor and the leadership are not personally sacrificing their own resources, time, energy, etc. to see to the needs of the congregation, they are “building a mega empire for God.” This comes through when you see their flippant attitude about losing “un-productive” members, i.e. people who did not donate great amounts of money, or people who did not get on track with their (the church leadership’s) program.
[chapter: 11. They are Entertainment and comfort oriented.]
11. A bad church has an entertainment aspect to their services instead of a worship of God, and glory (praise) to God.
One of the marks of a bad church is that they have “pushed God overboard somewhere back there”, and they are happily chugging along without Him. In other words, they are doing a tremendous, great, wonderful job at “church”, but really worshipping God is spirit and truth, well that had to be sacrificed in order to get to their current point of success.
How do you discern this? First of all, the centering all on God instead of man is an obvious tip-off. The service, the teachings, the ambient, the focus, etcetera, all turn towards what “we feel”. We can only discern what is success in the divine eyes by studying God’s instruction on what we are doing, and worship is not about us “feeling good,” (i.e. don’t preach on sin, don’t correct what is wrong in people’s lives, and tell everybody peace, peace, even though there is no real spiritual peace anywhere).
A good church is going to tend to the spiritual in people. It will use the avenue or medium of the intellect, presenting logically and convincingly the Word of God correctly exposited and interpretated. It will then apply this teaching to the individual to turn (provoke repentance) or change the individual. This mostly hurts no matter at what level it happens, from the unsaved to get saved, up to the pastor who repents of something he didn’t understand correctly or some hidden sin he may not have been aware of. The entire focus of a good church is spiritually “mending” people’s sinful lives. A bad church has a focus of being overwhelmed by some awesomeness. Supposedly this is some awesome in God, but so often it is the presentation (human talent) that is in focus, not God.
A good church focuses on true spiritual fellowship with God where we live Christ’s character in us, which brings us fellowship and communion with God.
[chapter:12. A bad church has a serve me attitude and practice.]
12. A bad church has a service me attitude and practice.
Again this is a very subtle mark, but none-the-less active one. This goes with the observer attitude of focusing everything on man instead of God. A bad church will give you an emotional charge for the week, trying to build up an addiction to emotional (and supposedly spiritual) experiences so that their people have to return to them. They come to church just as unsaved people go to a movie theater. They want to get, get, get. Their concept is one of an “emotional charging their batteries.”
A good on the other hand has many good things that they give to their people when they come, but the focus is different. Good Christians go to a good church because of their love for God. They go to participate and give worship, praise, and prayer to that local work of God that ministers to them. They are not on an emotional high when they go, but they are charged up spiritually and emotionally. They love for God exists, and profoundly exists in them, therefore they come. (Love causes attendance.) In a bad church, they want to receive an adrenaline high, so they come to get high, just like a drug addict.
Take the emotional, the Hollywood, and the major “event” feeling (like that of a teen attending a rock concert) out of the local church service, and what do you have left? In a bad church, you just ruined everything. Nobody comes. With no rock and roll music to “call the spirit” that saturates everything in a bad church, there is nothing there. You take our the charismatic personalities, the spectacular events (Hollywoodism), and the dominating of the audience, you have nothing.
In a good church you have simple, humble, quiet worship. People come to worship and praise God without Hollywood entering into it. In a good church, the desire of all to worship God, to learn, obey, and change their life, and the environment of “being in God’s house, a place of solemn prayer” overrides the need for anything like Hollywood.
[chapter:13. A bad church is experience oriented.]
13. A bad church exalts experience over principled practice.
This is a mark of an unbiblical church. A bad church wants to feeed their people with elements that will make them spiritually sick, and arrogance, pride, haughtiness, and other such things are very prominent. They regularly focus on people having mini-bragging sessions about how great they are. Experiences are key in this. The bad church has a focus on spiritual experiences that exalt pride. This is Satan’s strategy.
There forms a “pecking order”, and those at the top have the most tremendous of Christian lives. Actually they are not spiritual and great godly examples of Christ, far from it usually. What these “magnum Christians” are distinguished in is their great experiences that they have over the rest of “common Christianity”. These people see visions of Christ and talk personally with him, and they experience miracles, or in some other way show their spiritual superiority over the rest of common folk.
In a good church, all of this is very muted. Sometimes somebody has a testimony where something extra-ordinary happened, but in general there is a de-emphasis on amazing experiences to focus on God. Yes God does do amazing things in our lives at times, but loving God is not based on Him giving you amazing experiences. Loving God is because He first loved us, and He has given us salvation. Life is not about us, but about Him.
[chapter:14. A bad church emphasizes popularity in preaching rather than biblical exposition]
14. A bad church uses popular elements in preaching instead of biblical exposition.
Here I am thinking of like Pentecostal churches where the steady stream of preaching is focused on the same old popular elements in their group that are passed around from one another to each other. Some fad hids the group like the prayer of Jabez, and this is replicated a million times. Being popular does not make something biblical nor right. This desire for popularity is a mark of an unbiblical church.
I have been in some Fundamental Baptist Churches which do the same thing, and they follow a popularity priority in their preaching, and they go to conferences (because they are lazy to get anything themselves), and they hear 5 sermons where the preacher yells, or tells a certain joke, or something, and then they go back home and preach those five sermons 20 times until the next conference comes up. This become very sadly apparent to me when I subscribed to a Baptist fellowship paper, read a mediocre sermon on Inspiration of the Bible, and then heard it in visiting churches (I am a missionary) another two times, point for point, verse for verse. Personally as a pastor, I think I preached somebody else’s sermon twice in my ministry and even though I thought the sermon was great when I read it, both times it flopped when I tried to preach it on a Wednesday night. I won’t do it again.
A good church takes the approach of a balanced spiritual diet, all taken from the Word of God. If you take a normal Systematic Theology or Bible Doctrines book, over a year or two, most of the topics you see in that book should have been touched on as topics. Angels, salvation, eschatology, the church, the person of God, Christian life, prayer, etcetera, these things should all appear on the “menu” from time to time.
The diet that is offered in a bad church is very limited, and very opinionated often very extreme from one session to the next. This distinguishes it as a poor or bad church. A good church is a church that has good teaching, constantly so, and usually to always done well. The variety of topics as well as the profoundness and depth of each sermon is what marks a good preacher over a good church.
[chapter:15. Legalism replaces true Christian fruit.]
15. A bad church equates legalism to spirituality, and redefines or ignores true spiritual fruit.
One of the most important points that always come through in a good church is that they seek Christ living in their members. By this we mean that the fruit of the Holy Spirit (such as Gal. 6:22-23) is a normal objective at which teaching, preaching, and practice is directed. Spirituality is based on and defined by what Christ did, what was his personality and character, and Christ’s life is a perfect example of what the rest of the Bible teaches.
In a bad church, “spirituality” is defined by the pastor and church in activities and conduct, which usually has a bragging element in it (“You have to pray 3 hours per day”, or “you have to read 20 chapters in your Bible” or “you have to memorize 5 verses a day”), or it has a corporate edification aspect (i.e. what have you done for the church this week). Note that in most bad churches there is absolutely no concept of God’s work outside the walls of their building. Yes they go out to drag people into their cultic empire, but they seldom recognize other good churches doing the work of God apart from them. When they do recognize other churches it is to pat themselves on the back that they are “popular” (doing what all good churches do) or because they are running competition with some other church in their group.
In a good church, “spirituality” is seen more in a person’s relationship with Christ. Yes that person should have a good testimony, and should be an example of Christ, but their relationship with Christ is more what defines them as spiritual than their activities. Anybody, saved or unsaved, can go to a mall and hand out 500 tracts in an afternoon. But seeing somebody so impact an unsaved that the unsaved accepts Christ and follows their mentor’s steps and life because they see Christ in him, that is a different story.
Good character causes correct spiritual activity, but correct spiritual activity only causes pride and arrogance. — David Cox
This is the fundamental problem with so many groups and churches. You can force people to do good spiritual activities that have no impact or a negative impact on their life, because good spiritual activities done by an unspiritual person with a faulty or broken relationship with Christ only does that person harm, not good. Rebellion cannot be “fixed” by forcing a person to pray, read the Bible, witness, bow, kneel, etcetera. It can only be overcome by submission, repentance, and obedience. Without addressing and surmounting the motive and attitude aspect, nothing else spiritual or beneficial can really be accomplished.
(This study has changed its format into one of a book, as I am adding more information to it, and it is becoming longer and more substantive.)