Misuse of Scripture is common among ruined churches
2Tim 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Many ruined churches will have their leaders simply misuse Scripture. This is detected by taking any common sermon or teaching and looking at the verses that they use, and then reading completely the context (20 verses before and after the passage) and see if their explanation and use of that passage is logically fitting into what the Bible is teaching in that passage.
The term of “proof-texting” is often used here, and by this the preacher simply spouts off verses, or worse verse references, and those don’t defend what he is saying that they do. The practice of this is very highly bound in with an strong authoratarian style of leadership, and usually these verses come and go in a sermon very quickly, i.e. if you actually open your Bible to the passage they use, read the context, the sermon is now 20 or so passages further along and you are left in the dust. There is no inherit benefit in having 200 verses in a sermon. About all that a normal preacher can explain in 40 minutes is about 2-3 minutes per passage, so that works out to a maximum of 13 passages, and most preachers would be doing well to both read and explain 13 passages in that time and to do all the rest of a regular sermon structure (3 points, an introduction, a conclusion, at least one illustration and an application).
Another mark that the preacher likes to proof-text is that he doesn’t like people asking him about any of his verses afterwards, and moreover, his sermons tend to run in about 5 to 10 common themes, and he never seems to be able to break out of those topics. Some preachers are so bad that list of common themes is only 3-4.
Another aspect of a bad church is that they tend to lean towards the emotional and experimental (what you “feel”) rather than logic based on scriptural exposition. There should be some feelings in Christianity, and God talks about “tasting” the promises of God to see that they are good, but although true Christianity has these emotional and experimental elements, they are never total dominating. In other words, God speaks to our mind and reason, “try, analyze, and evaluate. Then come back to me, and see that my promises are good and true.” True Christianity never crushes the mental facilities; it uses them to build security. A “feelings” and emotional-experimental dominated Christianity is always insecure. There is no security that your emotions and feelings are biblical, are right. If you get very sick, you may get depressed and “not feel saved.” But true Christianity will always subject that “feeling” to the reality that you have believed in Jesus Christ as your Savior, and therefore you are not doubting you salvation. The promises of God always have to go to the foundation of reason first before the emotions and feelings can enter in without corrupting our soul.
Hobby Horse Preaching
Acts 20:27 For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
Let me affirm first off, that the correct form of preaching sometimes does “jump around”. Our task as pastors is to preach against the sins of our church people and society seeking repentance among our people, and in order to do that we must at times hit one sin, and then another. The point is to attack what Satan is ruining in the lives of people, bringing them to repentance by directing our attacks against where Satan has a foothold in people’s lives. Having said that, some churches take a different tactic, they always avoid dealing with the pet sins of people, so they never “cover all the bases.”
To preach the “whole counsel of God” is very simply to give ample coverage to all the basic, essential, fundamental doctrines of Scripture. This involves touching on and expanding on each of the main doctrines of Scripture, and a few have to be constantly repeated and “dwelt on”. These essential topics that always have to be dwelt on are the following:
1) Salvation – Because we can never fully be sure everybody in the congregation is really saved.
2) Holiness/Piety – Because the above issue of repentace is essentially repentance FROM sin, and dedication and pursuit TO holiness, righteousness, and piety. Here we could have just as easily put “REPENTANCE”, and it would be the same thing.
3) Prayer – Because our salvation is essentially communion with God, that is not possible if we do not seek God’s will (Bible study, sermons) and abandon our sin (repentance), and do righteousness (holiness).
As you can see the basic elements of our communion with God are always coming through.
For example, some churches preach that you should use the King James Version. EVERY CHURCH AND PASTOR SHOULD SET A STANDARD BIBLE FOR USE IN THEIR SERVICES. This is not “possible” but essential in maintaining order in the church service. The congregation can never quote Scripture together if they have more than one version of the Bible they are using. So preach a sermon on it. But when it begins to take over every sermon and weave itself into every thought that it can, the church has a hobby horse and is ruined. Likewise there are churches that do the same with prophecy or discipleship or soul-winning. While there is not wrong with preaching on these things, it is not right to ignore all the rest of the doctrine of Scripture, skipping any kind of intense extended study of prophecy, angels, salvation, etc (all the basic doctrines of Scripture) for just one thing. In actuality this is laziness on the part of the preacher, because he doesn’t want to do the “work” of studying these other things out and preparing sermons for them. It is also a tendency towards cultishness when a church uses this single doctrine as a stick to beat every other church. “Nobody preaches soul-winning like us, so everybody else is wrong and we alone are right.” First of all, thank God some churches preach the whole counsel of God and don’t do like you, and secondly, preaching a single doctrine is never what makes a church “right”. It is teaching correctly the entire counsel of God.
Showmanship instead of God’s people using their Gifts ruins a Church
God has given gifts to every believer to use for the glory of God. While God has given some great gifts to a special few Christians, every believer should have something that they can do for God, offer to God by way of a personal sacrifice. When churches focus on the greatness of the few, to neglect the normal gifts and talents of the many, the church is ruined. This is seen most often in showmanship. Some churches take this so far as to even clap their hands after somebody sings a song, or plays a special piece. Their focus is on immediate glory and gratification of the gifted individual, instead of focusing and facilitating all members in doing something for God. You can tell showmanship churches because they seem to repeatedly use the same people and never engage the entire congregation in different parts of worship and ministry. There are the select few specially gifted ones, the grunt workers, and the do nothings. The groups seem to be set in stone, and the church leadership likes it that way or accepts it that way. This church is ruined, get out!
Faked or False Spirituality Ruins a Church
What makes a person “spiritual” or closer to God, holyer, or exemplorary in the church has to be examined. Loyalty to a man and a ministry is never in the Bible a mark of spirituality. Spirituality is the attribute of seeking the things of God over the earthly or carnal things of this world. Spirituality is based on living a life closer in the image of Jesus Christ than most people. A spiritual person is not defined by speaking in tongues, emotional outbursts, nor sacrificing extraordinary amounts of time, money, resources, etc. for an earthly organization. Spiritual people seek God and his kingdom first, even before their church. Normally (in good churches) the pastor is spiritual, and to seek God and his kingdom first is exactly the same plan that the church is on. Most or all of a person’s following God can be done exactly within the activities of their church.
But in a bad church, this is not the case. “Building the kingdom of God” becomes building up this earthly ministry, giving heavily to it, dedicating your entire life to it. The tactic is bait and switch. The spiritual kingdom is preached, and committed is secured, but then the actual implementation is an earthly kingdom. How do you tell when this happens? Simple. If a person is spiritual, and seeks with all their heart to follow God, there are no conflicts in his life and ministry, and work before God. God tells us that we need to commune personally and individually with Him every day. God tells us that we must be faithful and serving of our spouse and family. God tells us that we must support our family economically or we will become worse than and unbeliever. These things do not compete with and get crushed under our service towards God’s kingdom. When the church puts you into a dilema, asking or demanding that you disobey God on one level in order to obey him in another, the church is wrong and you should leave that church. In a good church, they want you to serve and volunteer, but this is not at the price of personal devotion to Christ, nor giving up your relationship with your spouse or family. Cults make it a habit of breaking all family ties that are not in their cult. They want you to eliminate your other legitimate duties in life in order to be committed to them. This is a cult sign, not a sign of spirituality.
Another aspect of this is voluntary spiritual blindness in the name of loyalty to the organization. Our banner (God’s banner) which we salute always and march under is truth. It is never right to lie in order to support God’s work. When you have to do that, something is wrong. If you have to “shut up” (be silenced) because you know of sins inside the group which the leadership doesn’t want to get out, then something is wrong. This is not to say that you should be a blabbermouth and tell all the personal and private information you know about people, but when sin is not repented of, nor abandoned, then the person needs to be disciplined by the church, and this cannot be hushed up and swept under the rug by stressing “YOUR LOYALTY” means your cooperation in a cover-up. A spiritual person is LOYAL TO GOD, and all sin needs to be dealt with, repented of and abandoned for righteousness in its place.
False Doctrine Ruins a Church
Basically, any church that does not make a dedicated effort to understand and then teach the Word of God is ruined. It is destined to go “off track”, and if it isn’t already teaching heresy, it will be soon. Note that for a church to be a “good church”, it must teach the doctrines of God’s Word (previous point). But there is a element here that is very important. It must teach the doctrines of the Bible in a specific way.
To be a “good church”, it must teach what the Bible says, attributing it to God via His Scriptures. If the church teaches what is in the Bible but does not teach it from pure exposition, but in a conversational, “This is good to do” kind of way, then the church is ruined. It must unashamedly connect what they teach, believe, and practice to be obedience to God, and this is known and affirmed via God’s Word. There can be no greater authority than “Thus saith the Lord”. The church must also correctly discern about the teaching (which dispensation, whether the teaching is for us today or not), and it must also correctly place priorities on the teaching. Not all teaching, commandments, and examples are valid for us today, because God has moved through different dispensations or times of special treatment. To sacrifice an animal today or use a Levitical priest for something today is totally out of place. It was in a different dispensation than what we are. Churches who do not keenly discern this and make it a very clear understanding in their teachings are off doctrinally, and therefore they are ruined. In general, we are not under the Old Testament law, although within that body of law, there are some universal points. All of God’s people in all ages are to be holy. This teaching is as true for us as it was for Moses or Adam or Peter or Paul. These things are difficult to discern sometimes, but there should be a good sense approach by the church towards this things. The discernment of the church in these matters should be something that a lot of study and prayer is devoted to.
Another very important factor in determining if a church is ruined is the priorities that the church places on spiritual activities and beliefs. While there are a lot of things that are competing for our attention in the religious world, a few have to be highly stressed constantly, and cannot take a secondary or lesser role. These are the prime directives for the church. Some of these are evangelism as well as the “players” (leaders, teachers, preachers, administrators, and members of the church) MUST BE SAVED! Any church that does not demand and watch closely their people that those who represent the church don’t manifest true salvation before representation and service, especially public service, that church is then ruined. Holiness and sin must be a priority. Likewise a church is ruined if these players are people with open and unrepented sin in their life. Although maybe a person could attend the church that is having problems with sin, and that not be a detractor to the church being good, the church must refrain from using people until they have made a clear decision for salvation, abandoning obvious sin in their life.
Another issue is that the church must stress the need for being filled with the Holy Spirit. While Pentecostal churches and others twist this into speaking in tongues and miracles and such, we must insist that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a life free from open and unrepented sin, in which the person is committed to following God’s moral character. This is seen by things like the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22-23. There should be moral teaching and exhortation to be like Christ, and if there is not, or if this teaching is very light and not very frequent, then the church is ruined.
Legalism ruins a Church
Note that good churches have a clear head about the Old Testament Law. They understand that we are saved by grace through faith, therefore keeping the law does not save a person. This is clearly stressed over and over again in the teachings and sermons of a good church. But the flip side is also observed. There is no list of good things that you do in order to be saved. What you are speaks instead of what you works “get you” before God. The principle should be carefully analyzed and understood. In particular, there are not a list of good things that if we do them, we are accepted and approved before God. But our attitude towards sin (rejecting it and abandoning it) does speak to a good relationship with God. Nor are there lists of bad things that get us thrown out of fellowship with God, just the sins the Bible speaks of.
What is the key here is that a good church focuses and emphasizes only that which can be clearly sustained from Scripture, without going back into the Old Testament and using the Old Testament standards for the New Testament church. Legalism is when people make their own list of things that approve or disapprove (supposedly) a person before God. Using cosmetics for example is a no-no in some churches. Women cutting their hair. While these things may or may not be good (may depend on how the individual does it), they are not clearly set down in Scripture neither as good nor bad. A good church stays away from using such things as marks of being good or bad. They recognize and respect the doctrine of soul liberty, which states that some things are clear in Scripture and should be pressed, and all the rest is a matter of personal convinctions which may be sound or may not be sound. Issues which are not extremely clear are not made dividing points between the people. The church’s teaching and emphasis is not on these personal ideas.
You can discern legalism when you see an “in group” and an “out group” and there is a list of do’s and don’t’s that separate the two. Legalistic churches focus on outward activities rather than inward spirituality. They are excellent at “setting down the law”, but are not so good at understanding people’s problems and helping them get out of sin and into righteousness. Righteousness and holiness are not measured solely by a list of dos and don’ts. Righteousness is morally being like Jesus. Holiness is to separate out sin from your life. While there are a lot of issues that a person can undertake in his life to be more righteous and holy, the legalist usually wants their own particular list of sins to be what you focus on. Note that anything valid for us to give up or do in obedience will have a clear presence in Scripture. A good church will “say what Scripture says, and say no more, nor change what Scripture says.” When you hear the explanation in a ruined legalistic church as to why you have to do something or why you cannot do something, they have problems finding Scripture that clearly supports their position. While what they say may truly be bad, to press it in a legalistic extreme manner is not right. For example, is it wrong to go to a movie. Yes if it has bad elements in the movie, i.e. cussing, violence, nudity, sex, etc. We are not to set those kinds of things before our eyes, nor “sit in the seat” of the scornful. But that is not the same as “going to a movie”. The explanation gets very difficult for them. The legalistic church is going to ascert the issue without any Bible to back it up, or their explanations are just not very logical or clear from Scripture. Now this does not mean that going to movies is good, and a person should consider not going because of their own conviction, but to use this “law” as a separator of spiritual people from carnal people is not valid. When a person constantly wants to be as worldly as possible, then he or she is worldly. Just because a person does not fall prey to a domineering church or individuals does not mean they are worldly.
The key here is to realize and respect the right of every Christian to both have his own convinctions (which I am not obliged to have those same convinctions), and at the same time, honor and respect the right of every Christian to make these kinds of decisions in their own life as they understand things from God. We don’t have to “be on the same page” always. Legalistic churches demand that everybody takes the official position of the church on non-clear Scripture positions. These churches are ruined, and they will ruin you also if you go there.
In general, bad churches can leave the ideals of being a spiritual Christian up to the Bible. They must redefine these things into a works salvation type thing. THEY WILL MAKE THE SPIRITUAL LIST! Only they can control this, and by their control, they insert and twist and turn the legitimate things into what they want them to be. God speaks of spiritual men of God as being humble, never bragging on themselves, and being God’s servants. At one point Jesus washed the feet of his disciples in order to teach this, and show this even in his own person. It was extremely humiliating. A bad church always has a leader (visible usually, but sometimes partially visible and playing the humble card with a select few of his stooges) that is domineering and proud. If you cannot see your church’s leadership as humble, selfless, serving men of God, then you should get out of that church. If you cannot in all honesty before God say that you wish you were of the same spiritual nature and stature of your church’s leaders, then you shouldn’t be there. It is a ruined church.
Ask yourself which is more forceful at your church? A supposed list of do’s and don’ts, a set of church obligations that those who follow to the letter of the law fall into the graces of the leaders, or a general desire to serve and obey God to please God, in which specifics are preached on from Scripture passages to explain and ilumine. Preaching “HELPS” you to fulfill your God given obligations, and HELPS you to resolve spiritual problems in your own life. Most of the time these teachings and sermons are not self-serving in that they always focus on a benefit to the local church, but are generally moving you closer to God.
Every pastor SHOULD PREACH on tithing and giving to God’s work. A church that cannot support its own self by its own people is a failure. But that should be in the minority of the topics touched on in a year, not a theme that is always hit on no matter what the proposed topic of the sermon is.
A good church sees great gain in getting you to walk closer to God. This means prayer, fellowship with God in his word, a self-ability in understanding Scriptures for yourself, and not having to constantly depend on the local church to interpret everything and decide on everything in your life. This at times has gain to the local church organization. But notice that while this is gain in financial income and more people because you witness, invite, and befriend, there are spiritual gains which the church also seeks in you. You pray more. Satan doesn’t care about that. You promote unity more. You are more holy. You serve one another one in an extra-church way. Satan sees that as basically usually, and a bad church will not be all that pleased over you doing these things, and a good church will.
Formalism ruins a church
Formalism is considered to be external forms without internal spiritual significance. To me, formalism is seen in the Catholic, Anglican, and Greek Orthodox churches as well as some others like the cults, and modern Judaism. These churches are filled with forms and ceremonies that really have no spiritual importance. You can see these churches by the special garments of the ministers, the symbols and symbolism displayed around the church, and in the worse cases, images and sculptures of biblical people and events in which they somehow “help” our worship or understanding. The Old Testament makes it very clear that God is displeased with images and idols (which with time, these images and sculptures become idol worship).
John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Worship of God is in spirit, and by that, we mean that there are spiritual understanding in what we do, and this alligns with what God has said. What God is interested in our worshipping him is that we morally change to obey God. This means that we are morally like God’s moral character, and this is only understood by examining the moral character of Jesus Christ, and imitating him. This is a spiritual change, leaving off bad moral character traits, and replacing them with their spiritual counterparts. Formalism by-passing the spiritual altogether, presuming that when the leaders dress in gowns and pointed hats, that somehow that makes them spiritual. The acting out of religous ceremonies, like Catholic or Anglican mass, actually transmits grace to those present. A formalistic church is ruined by the Bible standards.
In a good church that change is very focused on Scripture and Prayer as the agents of change, not things and ceremonies, which degenerates quickly into a works salvation. You can tell when you are in a formalistic church when the speakers in the services start wearing gowns and hats and such, the furniture up front is more than just a pulpit or chairs, and when it is assumed that these elements are necessary for the church to function.
Entertainment ruins a church
In todays world, work is bad, and play is this world’s god. Churches want people to come to them. As such many churches have lost their spiritual compass (what God has said and wants, His will) and have taken up pragmatism (what achieves our goals in any way possible) in its place. This nasty switch goes on regularly among a great many churches, and this ruins a church. You can see this very clearly in how the church service is structured and composed. The “hard work” things are missing, and the “fun stuff” replaces it.
The most clearest mark of an entertainment oriented church is simply to watch one of their services. Note I said “watch”. These services are designed so that they demand your attention for the entire time. The elements that demand your attention are movement, impact, color, sound (loudness), rythme (sound movement causing physical movement), and other such elements. Emotionalism is a companion of entertainment. We “like” these services, and that liking is a sensual, carnal kind of liking.
The hard things are missing. These entertainment services never have a lot of prayer because that seems too much like work. Patience is not needed in an entertainment oriented church because the attention span at any given time is rarely over a few minutes (5 or so). There is a constant change. Actual reading of the Word of God is scarce, and the reading of long passages are studiously avoided. Again that becomes too much like work. The patient exposition of God’s Word, looking at passages or issues point by point, where you need to really listen and study what is being said to get the message is also avoided. Anything learned has to be learned in a nutshell, and simply accepted before the service moves on to another point.
Satan uses this kind of church to put false doctrine into the people. As they are constantly taught Sunday after Sunday to accept without profound analysis, Satan can teach anything he wants, and these kinds of people are not taught to take the teachings apart and see whether they are biblical or not.
Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Even in the best church that there is, the people should carefully listen and then check what they are receiving with patient study of Scripture to see if the things they are receiving are biblical. Note that this understanding by study of Scripture is the key factor for spiritual change in people. The entertainment church, while highly enjoyable, does not produce this in their people. It is designed to keep that from happening so the people will fill empty and like they are missing something, and when the complain, the church again remakes religion for them so that they themselves don’t have to do anything like work. This is like a person that continues to eat baby food well into his adult life. Their stomach doesn’t know how to handle solid food any more.