(The Abundant Life Series – Batch 2)
The Bible states that as Christians, we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). God therefore expects all Christians, unless they cannot travel by means of illness or there is some other justifiable reason, to regularly assemble with other believers, so as to be edified from his Word, the Bible.
It is not sufficient to say, as some people who claim to know Christ and claim to be submitted to his Lordship, say, that you are spending time at home with the Lord and don’t need to go to Church or that you are looking at Christian programmes on the television or listening to them on the radio. Spending alone time with the Lord is essential and if there are Christian television and radio programmes promulgating sound doctrine and truth, then this is beneficial to the Christian. However, it could never replace the blessing that comes from God in assembling physically together in one place, as the disciples did on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, nor could it ever excuse one from complying with God’s mandate.
To remain at home and to refuse to go to Church therefore, when there is nothing preventing you from attending is downright rebellious and you can expect to reap nothing but curses from God for your blatant disobedience.
As incredulous as it may sound, a woman even told me some years ago, that she was attending a virtual Church (one online) instead of physically meeting with believers. What madness!
While this may be good as a temporary substitutionary measure in times of crisis (like with the Coronavirus Pandemic which makes gathering together physically at times, difficult), it is definitely not good as a permanent measure, simply because God intended his children to meet physically.
A prayer done online could never feel the same as one done in the physical presence of other believers. Additionally, there is also the issue of the breaking of bread Communion Service, which Jesus instructed his followers to implement. It is not possible to do this virtually.
Now to make things clear, I have often heard the Hebrews 10:25 verse on not forsaking the assembling of ourselves, misused by some, to try to make people feel guilty or that they are not as spiritual as they should be, if they don’t attend every single service.
This is certainly not what the verse was saying or intended.
First of all, a person’s spirituality cannot be determined conclusively simply because he frequently attends Church. A person could attend every single service and give a perfect show of piousness for the eyes of men, yet be dishonest as a crook at the workplace on a day to day basis or indulging in some other kind of sin.
The verse says that we are not to “…forsake the assembling of ourselves together…” and the word ‘forsake’, means to abandon or to let go or to quit or to give up.
It therefore refers to someone who has decided to avoid assembling with other believers altogether. It may even be used to warn a believer that attends services but infrequently, as, although he or she has not yet forsaken the assembling of himself or herself with other believers, he or she is leaning in that direction by displaying carelessness, when it comes to Church services.
As said before, I do not think that the verse meant that a believer must attend every single activity held by the Church and every single type of meeting.
If a believer is for example, attending all the other types of meetings and not attending one, instead of judgmentally jumping to conclusions as the self-righteous love to do, it may be prudent to speak in love to that believer and find out why. There may actually be a good reason and if not, who knows whether your approaching him or her with the right spirit, might cause him or her to reconsider and attend that type of meeting.
We ought to desire that our fellow brothers and sisters attend services regularly but we ought not to hold Hebrews 10:25 over their heads in scorn and condemnation, if they miss a service here and there.
At the end of the day, God knows the heart of every man and woman and if a person is missing a service to watch his favorite show or because he is trying to avoid hearing from the Bible or for whatever reason, God knows. We would do well to focus on our own faith walk instead of monitoring our fellow sisters and brothers as a hawk, to judgmentally, self-righteously, proudly and legalistically make a mental register, if they miss one meeting or arrive late at another.
Of course, nothing prevents a fellow brother and sister who genuinely cares about the faith walk of another, to approach a sister or brother in the spirit of love and humility, to enquire as to the reason for frequent or increasingly frequent absence from the services or failure to not attend a particular service.
Having said all of that, given God’s mandate, every Christian that is able-bodied, must find a Church assembly to attend and be a part of, if he or she is desirous of obeying God. Of course, if the Christian is in an area where there are no other Christians around, like on a mission field overseas and it is not possible to travel to another area where there are Believers, then it is understood that this requirement cannot be met at that time.
The question then is, what Church should a Christian attend?
This is a hard question. There are so many deceptive gatherings out there today calling themselves a Church, that you want to avoid ending up in one of them and being led astray by false doctrine. It is therefore a question that you must earnestly seek the Lord in prayer about. He knows where his children congregate and he can certainly guide you to them.
Now, no Church is perfect because like you, it is filled with imperfect people. However, you don’t want to be in a congregation that is riddled with drama, contention, strife, gossip, a lack of love, envy, non-forgiveness, bitterness, pride, hypocrisy, a love of money, selfishness, cliquishness and anything but what Christ and his message represents. Such people are physically assembling and maybe regularly but where they indulge unrepentantly in these practices, they are fooling themselves into thinking that God is pleased. They have lost their way and their focus. Indeed, many of them may not even be genuinely saved and are therefore yet to be regenerated.
What you want is to be in a congregation where the people, (though they have flaws which manifest from time to time) are serious, not just about reading, studying and teaching God’s Word but applying it to their own lives, as they seek to be more and more like Jesus Christ.
In a nutshell, I’ve compiled a listing of some non-exhaustive factors you should look for when deciding on the health of a Church and which you should attend.
These are as follows:
TWELVE (12) INDICATORS OF A HEALTHY (THOUGH IMPERFECT) CHURCH
The people in the Church don’t just focus on edification for believers within but promote the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and salvation for the lost. They preach it both outside the Church building and within the congregation, as they are wise enough to know that there may be lost souls both outside and within the Church building.
It is difficult to sit in a sin situation in that Church and be comfortable with it because the doctrine from the pulpit is so pure, so true and so powerful (not necessarily loud) that it pierces your heart and exposes your condition and convicts you about the ugliness of your sin, if there is any in your life.
When you have gone off on the wrong path or have done something wrong or made a bad spiritual decision, having listened to sound doctrine at this Church for some time, you know what went wrong in your life and what you did wrong and why you ended up in the situation you are in or got a particular outcome.
For example, where you got married to an unbeliever because you loved him and then he left you and the children some years later to be with another woman, you would not be asking God why these woes came upon you, cluelessly. From the sound teaching you received, you would know that it was because the foundation was based on sin in the form of disobedience and idolatry, that has led to your dismal outcome and resulted in you inheriting a curse and not a blessing.
If you have not a clue and are playing the victim card when it is you that have sinned, it tells me that something is wrong with the teaching.
The Church encourages ongoing repentance among Christians, not for salvation (which was obtained when they first came to Christ and were justified) but to ensure close fellowship and walk with the Lord, to please him and to obtain his continued blessing on their lives.
The Church does not therefore just preach repentance to the unbeliever for his sin, which he needs to be saved but it also teaches believers the necessity of repentance for the sins they themselves commit, as believers. For, the Church knows that after the initial act of repentance of a sinner (which if sincere, saves for eternity), Christians who are saved and justified, still need to engage in ongoing repentance for their day to day sins before God, which he is faithful and just to forgive, if they confess them.
Knowing that none in the congregation is perfect therefore and that none is without sin (no matter how pious, spiritual and close to God he or she appears to be), they therefore encourage the Christians in the pews, to not just have prayer lives but to also have repentant lives, like David in the Bible. They encourage Christians to have a heart that is humble, honest and sensitive to God’s will, so that when they mess up, they will keep short accounts with God through genuine repentance, for specific (not general) sins that God has revealed to them that they have committed.
The Church encourages every member to read and study his or her Bible, like the Bereans in the Bible.
The Church does not dissuade personal Bible reading and study out of fear that the authority of the Preachers/Teachers will be challenged. For, fear of a challenge would mean that there is something wrong with what is being preached or taught and the motive.
A true Church wants its members to be well fed, not just from the preaching and teaching of Preachers/Teachers but directly from God’s Word, which they elevate above their own speech. A true Church also knows that in every believer, the spirit of God dwells and therefore, such a person is capable of studying the scriptures for themselves and rightly dividing the Word of truth, to the same extent as a Preacher or Teacher on the pulpit. For, the Spirit of God is the best teacher (John 14:26).
The Church encourages voluntary, cheerful giving based on discretion.
It does not ask for information on the amount of your salary or demand that you pay any percentage or try to guilt you into providing funds. It leaves it entirely up to you to give as you feel led to do, if you feel to give and how much you feel to give because this is what biblical New Testament giving is supposed to look like.
There should be no force, no guilt or bribe involved but people are to be allowed to give cheerfully as they please, if they please, unto God and not unto men.
If they choose to be stingy and to not give unto the Lord as he has prospered them, that is their choice and they are accountable to God, not man. If on the other hand, they choose to give for show, so that they can appear to be pious, spiritual and selfless to those looking on, God sees the heart and he knows.
All Christians are responsible for giving to the Lord, a portion of what he has prospered them. Choosing to give or not to give and how much therefore is a matter between a person and his God. It is not to be dictated upon by Pastor, Preacher, Teacher or any other member.
The Church does not promote or encourage publicity when giving which is usually for the show and exaltation of some and the shame of others. Instead, it provides avenues whereby, those who wish to give can do so with some level of privacy, in keeping with Matthew 6:1-4.
The Church aims to comply with all of the instructions given by God and not just the portions of scripture that they like or feel makes sense in today’s culture.
For example, a Church that seeks to obey God, no matter what, does not allow women to take up authoritative positions of leadership in the Church and to usurp authority over men by preaching and teaching the congregation (which includes men). For, this goes against the clear command given at least three times in God’s Word.
If there are people in the Church who genuinely have the gift of tongues or prophesy as referred to in the New Testament, when they exercise these gifts in the Church, they do so in the manner prescribed in the Bible and not in a disorderly, non-biblical manner because the Bible clearly states how these gifts are to be exercised (1 Corinthians 14:1-33).
Such a Church therefore aims to toe the line of God’s Word and does not rebelliously do as it pleases or as it thinks is feasible, in its own wisdom. Such a Church does not also display more faithfulness to tradition and what has always been done, than to what God’s Word says. It understands that God’s Word is the ultimate authority and TRUTH is more important than TRADITION.
Examining the scriptures with an open mind therefore and faithfully before God with a genuine desire to rightly divide the Word, if it is found that some practice in the past or some belief was held erroneously, it does not continue to do it or hold on to the belief, simply because those who went before did it. It does not seek to ignore, belittle, jump over or excuse away verses that seem not to line up with the position that it holds but in dealing with God’s Word faithfully, it looks at all verses that are relevant to a topic and seeks with God’s help (and without coming with a preconceived view according to tradition), to genuinely understand how all these verses are to be reconciled together and what truth is, given that God’s Word does not contradict itself.
It examines the Word like the Bereans, asks God for help in rightly dividing it and stands on the side of truth. It therefore searches the scriptures honestly, to arrive at truth (whatever that may be), not to defend a traditionally held position.
If on the other hand, having faithfully searched all of the relevant scriptures, they find that a practice or belief held in the past is right, according to the Word of God, this Church holds fast to it, not allowing the changing times and degenerative culture of the day, to move it in that direction. It does this, not because those who went before held the practice or belief but because it is substantiated in the Word of God, the ultimate authority. In short, it is truth.
The people who attend the Church don’t remain the same.
They are changing for the better spiritually and improving in character. The things they once did, they are doing them no more and their appetite, desires, inclinations and outlook on life are changing and developing into a resemblance of Christ.
They don’t have one side that they show while in the Church and another, while at home or at work because they know that Christianity is not a performance. They are aiming to be real in the sight of God and not man. If there is no change and no spiritual development in the majority of the congregation and they are all about putting on an act to impress each other when around each other, then something is wrong and that Church should be avoided, as it is full of people deceiving themselves by continuing on with activities, while their heart is far from the Lord.
In this Church, wrong doctrine, error and false teaching are not tolerated and ignored.
Where, for example, a Teacher said something on the pulpit that misled the congregation because it was not biblical and not true, he is set right in love and the error is rectified before the congregation, so that they do not go away with the wrong information.
Truth is therefore guarded in this Church and error, especially on fundamental issues is not allowed to infiltrate and is not treated as unimportant. To clarify, error is not holding to a position or having a belief that is different from what has traditionally been held. Error is holding to a position or having a belief that goes against the Word of God. This Church must therefore know what the Bible says, more so than what has traditionally been held by men.
In this Church, those who say they are Christians are not sitting around in life doing nothing of spiritual benefit, nor are they just involved in mindless or routine activities that avail nothing but they are doing things with their spiritual gifts (which they know they have) and talents that are productive because it bears fruit for God’s kingdom.
This fruit is in the form of pointing people to Jesus Christ, the salvation of souls and the edification of the body of Christ.
In this Church, no believer is made to feel unimportant or lesser than others, as the Church understands that every single believer in the body of Christ is valuable and has something precious to offer other fellow believers and the world.
There is therefore no clique, class system or calibre in the Church (which promotes division) but a unity that stems from the understanding that all Christians are equally important and equally of value in terms of what God has enabled them to contribute and therefore are essential to the proper functioning of the Church assembly.
In such a Church therefore, some people are not highly esteemed and others ignored or belittled, as if they have no worth and no significance and are write-offs because they are not in the public eye or are not as showy and attention-seeking as others or because they don’t have the same gifts and talents as others or as big a secular job or as much money as others or are not as articulate as others.
No. In such a Church, there is no respecter of persons which is a sin in the eyes of God. All are treated fairly with love, considered to be equal in value and are encouraged to exercise their gifts (whatever they may be), within the boundaries outlined in the Bible, for the Lord.
OTHER FACTORS – LIKE, WHAT VERSION OF THE BIBLE DO THEY USE?
There are other factors to look for in a healthy Church, like, do they have genuine love for each other, to the point where they have bowels of compassion for one another or do they just talk about love theoretically and do good deeds so that it can be said that they have love for each other?
Is there genuine fellowship which is a close, warm and heartfelt affinity, fuelled continually by like-minded faith in Jesus Christ and his doctrine or is fellowship regarded as just coming together in one place for Church services and carrying on routine activities, even in the midst of coldness, tension, malice, gossip, animosity, non-forgiveness, dislike, cliquishness, jealousy, competition, strife and a lack of proper communication?
Are they seemingly obsessed with money, advancement in life, promotion, blessing and breakthrough, more so than presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ which speaks of the hope of salvation for the soul of mankind from hell and eternal damnation? Do they seem to care more about material possessions and you getting things from the Lord, than teaching you from the scriptures, how to serve God, how to please him, how he wants you to conduct yourself, that if you are saved, you are his servant and what he loves and what he hates?
Another very important factor to consider is what version of the Bible do they use? Sad to say, there are some versions that have been sown by satan, where important scriptures have been omitted, so as to lead people astray. You need to guard against that and so ask God what version or versions he has approved and what versions you should avoid.
I personally believe that the King James’ Version (KJV), the New King James’ Version (NKJV) and the New American Standard Version (NASV) are approved of by God. I do not believe that the New International Version (NIV) is approved by him, although many Christians use it. I have therefore decided I will not be using it.
I have never felt at peace in my spirit when I was introduced to this version at an Evangelical Church I once attended, although I did not know why. It was a feeling of uneasiness and discomfort that I could not shake, although I tried hard to fit in and use the version that the majority of the Church was using.
Then I found that important verses, had either been reconfigured to the point where they were distorted or omitted altogether. For example, the one in Malachi 2:16 that says in the King James’ Version that God hates divorce was reconfigured to the point of omission and Matthew 5:32, which clearly states that the woman who remarries after being put away by her husband commits adultery, which is a sin, was reconfigured to read, that such a woman is a victim of adultery. This therefore implies that a woman who makes the choice to remarry in such a situation, does not commit sin. No wonder there is so much remarriage in the Church today. People are reading versions that make this sin permissible!
When I saw these two verses, I felt convinced that the NIV version was not one approved by God, hence my discomfort over those past months. Then and there, I resolved not to use it ever again, as I do not have confidence that that version upholds truth.
A woman whose husband has abandoned her or put her away, makes her a victim of his treacherous act, yes and if she remarries, he is the one that has caused it by his actions but she is still considered by the Bible to have committed the sin of adultery and is therefore equally as culpable, as she could have chosen to remain by herself. To say that she is not guilty of having committed adultery when she makes a decision to disobey God and remarry but is a mere victim of her husband’s adultery is to my mind, a distortion of the scriptures, to enable man to do what man wants to do.
I think this is why some people who have grown up under sound teaching, go so far astray in sin and think it is okay. They may have started by putting away approved versions of the Bible in which truth is contained and adopting and embracing versions not approved and that are full of error. They therefore go astray and believe that they are okay because the faulty version they have, supports their sin.
It is important as Christians, that we understand that some of these versions of the Bible were not created as a result of the will of God but the will of man and the will of man is to have his own way, to do his own thing and to not have Jesus rule over him. Some of these versions were therefore created to make sin more palatable and quite frankly, to call what God calls sin, permissible. Some of these versions were also created by the will of the devil, to cause people to be misled, take the wrong path and end up in destruction.
In Acts 8:37 for example, in the King James Version, it states of what Philip told the Ethiopian Eunuch he needed to do in order to qualify to be baptized, “And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” However, although this verse carries a great and fundamental truth in that one has to be saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ BEFORE they become eligible to be baptized and is therefore important, this fact is completely omitted from the NIV version, thereby misleading people into believing that what one has to do to be saved is to be baptized.
I know for a surety that God has spoken to me through the King James’ Version in the past, whether it was for encouragement, guidance or rebuke and so, while I may use other versions that I believe are approved by God for cross-referencing purposes, I intend to stick with the King James’ Version and expect that the man that God sends into my life to be my husband, will do the same. For, the version that we use as a family is important and how can two walk together unless they are agreed? (Amos 3:3).
This is more important than people realize. Spiritual intimacy in marriage is very important to me, perhaps more so than emotional and physical intimacy. I want all three but I have come to realize that spiritual intimacy is the best foundation upon which the others may thrive. Keeping that in mind, I can’t see my husband and I having effective Bible study if we are reading from different versions.
I repeat: These versions do not all have the same thing contained in them and it is not just a matter of different words being used! The enemy has sown some serious errors in some of these versions and not surprisingly, to create more mayhem, the list of versions keep increasing all the time. The Bible states that we should not add and take away from scripture but that is exactly what some of these so-called modern ‘scholars’ are doing and not for the right reasons.
I even heard a Preacher on the radio once state, that coming up with a different version is now considered by some to be a money-making venture! They are therefore tampering with the Word of God, when there is no need to, for the sake of making money.
I think it is important that a Church decide what version the congregation will collectively use mainly and what version it will consult for cross-referencing purposes, as the fact of the matter is that these books do not all contain the same thing!
A Church where the congregation is reading from several different versions is nothing but confusion and a recipe for discord and disaster. God is not the author of confusion but of peace and all these versions which non-discerning Christians have allowed to come in to the Churches and into their homes, will reap a harvest of confusion.
The enemy has sown this seed so well and so subtly, that many Christians are still asleep as to what is happening.
On the whole, don’t take my word for it. Ask the Lord for discernment, let his Spirit of truth guide you on this matter and by all means, do your research.
As I close, no Church will be perfect but here’s to hoping you find a good one. They may be scarce but they still exist. Trust God to lead you to one and don’t be afraid to prayerfully leave one and go to another, if you realize that:
- It is not promoting and supporting sound doctrine and truth;
- It is too full of drama and strife to the point of distraction, so that Jesus is no longer the focus; or
- It is letting go of the fundamentals and has begun the downward slope, as it leans more and more on the side of apostasy.
(Written in 2019 or 2020 and added to thereafter)