Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Church of your Choice...Is This Biblical?

Some years ago I saw on the back of a semi-truck, “go to the church of your choice.” This has lingered with me for years. Is it really up to me to choose where to go to church or does God have a plan for every Christian to follow? How could it be, that there is only one way of salvation and yet many ways to gather around the One who saved us? My desire is not to offend anyone, but to take an honest look at what the Bible says about gathering together with other Christians. The word "church" is mentioned in only two places in the Gospels: in Matt. 16 where it speaks of the universal church, "I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it”, and the other one in Matt. 18, where it speaks of the local church concerning church discipline. In verse 20, it says, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." 

Christ is speaking about both of these uses of the church, local and universal, in the future tense, "I WILL build my church". But, notice in chapter 18:20, "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." What is this saying? Notice it says "where two or three ARE GATHERED TOGETHER in my name." It sounds as if someone else is doing the gathering. It did not say, "Where two or three gather," but, "Where two or three ARE GATHERED TOGETHER". You see, the Lord is the one doing the gathering through the Spirit of God. A true Christian should not say, "I believe I will gather with this church or that church," as if it were his own decision. No, we don't do the gathering. 

The Holy Spirit desires to gather us, unto the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a power outside of ourselves that draws us to "gather together" unto the Lord’s Name. We hear the call to "gather unto His Name" and we respond to it, just like we heard the call of salvation and we responded to it. If we’re unsaved we haven’t begun yet! 

Listen to God's call concerning fellowship with His Son. "God is faithful, BY WHOM YE WERE CALLED UNTO THE FELLOWSHIP Of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9). Where is the "fellowship of His Son." Well, we can have individual fellowship with His Son. But, there is also a "calling out" of a group of Christians for this fellowship also. That is what the word "church" or "ekklesia" means, a "calling out" or "assembling" unto the Lord. So, where do we find this calling "unto the fellowship of His Son?" The answer is by responding to the calling of being "gathered together" unto His Name. 

Thus, we are not the ones to "gather" or are looking to gather, but are being led to where He wants to gather us, by being "gathered together" unto the name of His Son. So, the Lord Jesus said, "Where two or three ARE GATHERED TOGETHER in my Name, there will I be in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20.) 

Secondly, consider the phrase, "gathered together in (or unto) my Name". Notice it says "in (unto) MY Name". In the Name of Jesus, yes, but every church will tell you that they gather in "Jesus’ Name". So, what does it really mean that God desires to gather us together unto His Son's Name? It means that we should gather only in and by His Name. That is the reason we are gathered there. There is more to "Jesus’ Name" than just using His name. In the Bible, when someone asked, "by what name do you do this", it meant by what authority do you do this? 

I heard of an illustration that helps: If a man came to your house and said, "I am John Doe, I want to see your checkbook," you would say to him something like, “buzz off!” But, if he said, "I am John Doe from the IRS." Then you ought to at least invite him in. Why? Because he comes with the authority of that name, the IRS. The name John Doe, has no authority, but the name "Internal Revenue Service" certainly does. In the same way, when we say we are meeting in Jesus’ name, it goes far beyond what most realize. It means we are meeting under His authority. And the only way we do that is by His Word. 

So, do all churches meet in Jesus’ Name? No, because they are not all willing to follow or obey His Word in how they meet, and function, and practice. So, they are not meeting in Jesus Name. Yes, they use His name, but they do not meet in or unto His name. The truth of the matter is, they meet unto several other names, by using denominational man-made names. Many of those groups have church by-laws or church constitutions by which they function. God has not gathered His saints in any of those names, although there may be some wonderful saints among them. They may choose to go there, but God is not "gathering" them or drawing them there. That is why many true Christians have so many questions when sitting in the pew of a denominational church, or even a so-called independent church (A close study of the Word of God will reveal that the Bible knows nothing about an “independent” church). We need to realize that God is only leading saved people unto the Name of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. If the denominations were truly being gathered unto His Name, then they would be meeting in the authority of His Name and be open to obey every part of His Word.

Consider also that when we "are gathered together" unto His Name, we are being gathered there because "He is doing the gathering". He is doing the "drawing". I don't go to the assembly of saints where I attend because I like the people, or because I like the building, or because it is convenient and close to where I live, or because I like the programs, or anything else. I go there because I am being "drawn" there by a power outside of myself. It is the calling of God, and I respond to that calling, "called unto the fellowship of His Son". "God is faithful, BY WHOM you WERE CALLED UNTO THE FELLOWSHIP Of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord" (1Cor. 1:9).

I am not called to the building, or to the people, or to the programs, but I am called unto His Son. When I got saved, I answered the call unto His Son for salvation, and when I follow His Word for assembling with other Christians, I answer His calling "unto the fellowship of His Son". The building, the time it takes to get to the building, the programs, and the people, have absolutely nothing to do with it. My response ought to be that I hear God's calling, and I submit to that calling, which is the calling unto the fellowship of His Son.

That is what we have to offer, the immense privilege of the fellowship of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And, that is all we have, His powerful NAME. Our meeting place is simple. No steeple, no pews, no stain glass windows. It is very plain. Our emphasis is not on programs, entertainment, or amusement. It is on His NAME. That is all we have to offer, because that is all we are gathered together for, by God. We gather to the NAME of the Lord Jesus Christ, not our name, because we don't have one, but, His Name. When you hear someone say they are visiting around trying to find the right church, I wonder, "What are they being drawn to?" What are they looking for? Is it a nice church building, nice friendly people, and nice programs? Or, is it a powerful preacher who can really preach? Or, is it a church that is close and convenient to drive to? When I hear them say they are searching for God's will, then I wonder. What are they looking for? God's will is simple. We are to submit to His drawing or calling "unto the Name" and unto the "fellowship of His Son." That's it. The other things of the assembly will then come into focus. Ask anyone who attends a denominational church why they choose to go there and they will say that it is because of.....and list several reasons why. But you won't hear that they are going there because God has drawn them there. He only draws a person to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and unto the "fellowship of His Son." 

I hear some say to us, "well, you don't have many programs to offer the young people, so we can't go there." If there is a lack of programs that we offer, what then is keeping the young people from taking part in any of the meetings for them? Also, we would encourage young brothers to look into God’s Word at home and come prepared to participate in the assembly Bible studies and to pray in the prayer meeting! It is not up to someone to ask them to pray or to participate. The Spirit of the Lord does this, and it is for all of us to respond. Don’t let the lack of programs or specific classes discourage you. Get involved! We would encourage our young sisters to get involved also in one of the children’s outreaches! The Church is not a spectator sport; it is for participating priests, (see 1 Pet. 2:1-9).

Some people today look for a church like they do when they go shopping. Many try to find satisfaction in entertainment, or potential friends and social activities, including programs and music and an attractive speaker. Shopping for a church is really not the answer. 

The answer is found in God. He is still "gathering together" saints from all over the world unto the Name of the Lord Jesus. In John 12:9 we read, “much people of the Jews therefore knew that he was there: and they came NOT FOR JESUS' SAKE ONLY, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead." Notice this crowd didn't come just to see the Lord Jesus, but to see Lazarus. They wanted to see a miracle. The same thing is true today. People want to hear a powerful preacher or see something different going on. They want to see some excitement.

There’s another point. In John 6:26 "Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, You seek me, not because you saw the miracles, but because you did eat of the loaves, and were filled." Why were they seeking the Lord? Many followed because of the miracles, but here was a crowd that followed because of what they could get out of it. 

In John 6:65-69 we read, “And he said, therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will you also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Notice, it says, "that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father." I know this refers to individual salvation. But, I believe it also applies to being called unto the fellowship of His Son and being "gathered together" in my Name". Notice that, "many of his disciples (they were merely followers, or outward professors) went back, and walked no more with him." Why? They didn't think He had anything to offer them that they wanted. Notice, when He asked Peter, "Will you also go away?" Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." 

Should we "choose a church" or should we “gather unto the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ?" That is the question. Can you say: Though many are choosing the church of their choice, I see now that it should not be by Choice, nor by Convenience, but by Conviction! It is not because of the Congregation, nor a Creed, nor the Clergy, nor the Choir, But, because of Christ. A power outside of me Calls me and Convicts me to be "gathered together" with Christians who are "Called unto the fellowship of His Son." And, what is this power, this drawing, this calling? It is the convicting power of the Holy Spirit through the Holy Scriptures.


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