Can Going to Church Hurt My Faith?

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I grew up in a church culture which we had every cool thing, many church events, and many friends who were quick to simply provide for those in need. Yet, 70% of those in my generation who grew up in the churches that had everything no longer have anything to do with the church (cf. Rainer, I Am a Church Member). Most of my church experience has not actually been helpful concerning my relationship with Christ. Churches were often good at providing fun, childcare, social events, meals, entertaining worship experiences, and so on but lacked the one thing that actually had real power, a straightforward and accurate teaching of God’s word—the whole counsel of Scripture.

I remember the first preacher I heard who really worked to walk through the Scriptures, explain every line accurately, and apply it rightly. Whereas my experience had been basically hearing the same sermon every Sunday surrounded by the same sort of music accompanied by complaints about the same old stuff—politics, the world’s immorality, and people’s corruption of the church by changing things or questioning anything. This, the correct and right preaching of God’s word, was a different experience entirely. I heard things that I never heard before. Instead of hearing the same old thing, I was growing in the faith that God so graciously provides. The preacher wasn’t trying to be profound. He wasn’t trying to defend his own presuppositions or moral stance on issues. He wasn’t making the same old political statements or condemning anyone from the pulpit. He wasn’t preaching the same old self-help sort of message. He wasn’t talking about how people needed to live up to some sort of standard. He was simply walking through the Bible and explaining it line-by-line. It was life-changing! At the end of the sermon, I knew God more; I hadn’t experienced that before. Take away all the other cool stuff and I would have been deeply satisfied simply by that sort of preaching—the kind that reveals God’s word rather than merely uses God’s word as a platform to preach the ideals of people. This church actually helped my relationship with God.

There are doubtless many local churches out there that are great at making people feel welcome or obligated but are hurting people’s relationships with God instead of helping. Scripture is honest about these sorts of wolves. It can be difficult to know what preaching is legit and which preaching is not. It can be difficult to know what sort of books represent Biblical Christianity and which use Christianish things as a mask to disguise ideas that are entirely ungodly. I witness people, in fact I have good friends for whom I care deeply, who invest their time in churches that are hurting their relationships with our Lord and who seriously invest their time into books or teachings that are counterproductive in their lives and ministries. For some reason, they feel obligated or experience some level of comfort in the church they are in or investing in the teaching that they are investing in. So, they strive to be good Christians by remaining loyal even though they question what is being taught or written or whatever, and leadership is unable or unwilling to explain why it believes what it does according to Scripture. I have to make this known. There is an acceptable time to consider leaving the local church you attend. The reason cannot be the genre of music or the lack of programming. We shouldn’t leave or choose a church based on the average age of the congregants or how many of our friends attend. The one reason we leave a church is because the word of God is not being taught and the teachers of the church are giving their time to things other than the ministry of God’s explicit word. The reason we choose to invest our precious time in a local church is because God’s word is being taught. That is the only acceptable reason because the power for life and ministry is in God’s perfect word alone. It is entirely sufficient. In the videos below, you will find the basics of what we believe the Scriptures to say about the church and our involvement in church.

Going to church is important, but going to the wrong church could be devastating for our spiritual lives.

But, how do we know if our pastors are preaching the word? Doesn’t every pastor claim to preach the word of God? Wouldn’t every pastor make the claim I have made here? Doesn’t every pastor use the Bible when he preaches? Yes, but using the Bible is not the same as teaching the Bible, and talking about Jesus is not the same as abiding in Jesus and His word abiding in us (John 15). There is a reason that, even though every pastor claims to teach the same Bible, many seem to teach things that are so opposite of others. I will provide an example below to help us think about this together. The message below was taught at one of the churches in my own community. I want to clarify something. I have been trying for a year, now, to reach out to, offer a hand of friendship, and cooperate with this pastor. I will not mention his name or the name of the local church here because I don’t believe that would be right. I care for this pastor and pray for him and his congregation almost daily. One of my hopes is that we can one day have an honest conversation about what the Gospel is. I have asked him about why he teaches the way that he does, and he ignores every effort I make. He has no desire to work with us and even speaks publicly against the belief statements of other local churches in our community—particularly that of the local church I have the pleasure of serving. Furthermore, the pastors of God’s church have the responsibility to “guard [ourselves] and all the flock of God, among which the Holy Spirit has made [us] overseers” (Acts 20:28) from those who are “speaking perverse things” (Acts 20:30), to instruct some “that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4), and for the purpose of “love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). As another pastor in our community, I have tried to contact and reason with this man for more than one year now without saying a word otherwise. There have been no replies. It grieves my heart. My purpose is not to glorify self or any single other local church. My desire is simply that people come to sincere faith, that this faith conforms our hearts to Christ’s, and that this causes us to have love from a pure heart. The only way we can do this is by talking, using reasonable dialogue. I love this pastor dearly and am interested in his good and the good of those who sit under his teaching. While there are many in our community who have been hated and driven out by those in this church for any number of reasons and while my own experiences with this local body are not so great, we cannot make evaluations by those things because all people are unrighteous and because we operate by grace, not works. We are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. I will not cease to love this particular local church or pastor. The greatest thing that could happen is not people leaving this particular church, not the downfall of any local church, but revival in the midst of this local church. I hope you understand. I do not come from a place of perceived superiority but of service, hoping that people will truly come to Christ and not settle for some perceived Christianish experience. Listen to the sermon below. It was shared publicly by this particular local church and was downloadable on their website at the time this was published. I don’t disagree with everything. In fact, I have some of the same values. 

In my personal letter to this pastor, I explained why this message was not a correct teaching of Scripture, or represented the Bible at all, and hoped that it would finally start a conversation with the one pastor in our community who refuses to participate with the other churches for the sake of the Gospel. This letter was ignored like every other effort I have made. The only words I heard from this pastor was that he didn’t want to expose “his people” (those were his words) to “that stuff” (meaning our direct teaching of the Bible). Keep in mind, I had been trying to extend a hand of friendship and cooperation for almost a year when I wrote this, sharing my concerns with this pastor personally. I will not share my entire letter because there are some things that need to remain private:

…These practical things, though, are not the only concerns that I have. They are not even the more important concerns that I have. We are not really here to please people so much as to serve for their good. Since your ministry, here, is so prominent and since I have very dear friends sitting under your teaching and since I love our community, I am concerned that you are not actually teaching God’s word. So, I have a few questions for you. I am contacting you the best way that I know how personally according to Matthew 18 and not gossiping about you or ——— ——— to anyone. If I don’t hear from you, I may have to begin sharing some of my concerns with the people I have come to care deeply about. If I am wrong or have misunderstood, and I hope that I am wrong, then I will be a servant to you as I am a servant to the other true pastors in our community. 

I will simply use one of your recent sermons as an example. It will be your message from Ephesians 1, delivered Wednesday evening, August 7, 2019. I chose to use this particular sermon because it is clearly identifiable as having the intention to teach the Bible in order and context. My questions follow, and the numbers to the left of the questions represent the timestamp on the audio file.

  1. 0-1:00… You state clearly that you think doctrine is important and that it is important for people to “rightly divide” the word of truth.
  2. 10:00-14:18… You mention, and rightfully so, that the first half of Ephesians is relationship (doctrine, justification, saved by, purpose) and the second half is responsibility (duty, sanctification, saved for, power). You say that it is important for us to get these things in order.
  3. 13:00-13:30 … You claim, and rightly so, that salvation is not by works but those who are saved are saved to good works in Christ.
  4. 14:47… You state that through the book of Ephesians, we are understanding and working out Biblical salvation.
  5. 16:13-17:50… After claiming that salvation is not by works (see #3), you go on some rant about homosexuality and how practicing homosexuals who do not turn from their ways eventually get to a point of no return, meaning that they must, by their works come to salvation. This is the first contradiction in your message and this kind of contradiction is present often in your sermons. You will claim in one place that salvation is by grace and not by works and then, later, require works for salvation. Which is it?
    1. Furthermore, you tell this story about how you engaged with “one,” meaning a homosexual person, and debated about morality instead of sharing the Gospel. Why? You talked about “they” like some people are less than human and presumed to know about their troubled minds. This is not Christlike behavior, gossiping about an entire group of people in front of your congregation. I might understand if a baby Christian or a lay Christian who hasn’t experienced this level of sanctification falling into that kind of trap, but a pastor?
    2. Then you said, “Let me pick on some other dominating sins…” and continued your tirade against homosexuality.
  6. 18:00… Everything that was said up to this point was said without reading the text and was not an explicit teaching of the text you have claimed to be teaching. So, you have insisted on all of these things that are not even present in the text you are trying to teach, and only some of it has to do with the literary and historical context of Ephesians.
  7. 19:20- 19:41 … You claim that victory is not found in the will or blood of the flesh but is all of Christ. In fact, you claim that it is 0% anything of us and 100% of God and that this is one of the most important things.
  8. 19:44- 31:33… Here, you state that you want to jump to verse 5. You haven’t taught verses 1-3. You barely pulled a detail from verse 4. You have already stated that it is important to “rightly divide” the word of truth (see #1), yet have hastily moved, here, to verse 5 as if you need to hurry to make some point about predestination.
    1. Instead of explaining the verse using a proper Biblical hermeneutic, you spend your time railing against people who simply believe what the verse explicitly says, that God “predestined us to adoption as sons… according to the kind intention of His will.” 
    2. In the midst of saying that people who simply agree with this verse are wrong, you fill space with all sorts of other things that are not an explicit explanation or application of this verse. Though many of those things may be true, they don’t deal with the explicit claim of this verse in Ephesians.
    3. In 22:02, you state that “those people” who believe what this verse in Scripture claims attribute the doctrine to John Calvin. How could Paul attribute this doctrine to John Calvin? Paul is the one who wrote it here in Ephesians and he predated Calvin by 1,400 years.
    4. This leads you to go on a rant against the reformers and against denominations that came out of the reformation. I’m still not sure why…
    5. In 24:40, while still ranting against people who simply believe the verse for what it says, you begin talking about the idea of double predestination and begin arguing against even more explicit claims in different verses in Scripture (e.g. Romans 3, John 3, John 14). You only quote verses of Scripture that explicitly disprove the point you are trying to make.
    6. In 27:28, you mention that there are two chapters in the Bible that describe predestination, Ephesians 1 and Romans 8:28-29. You do this even though you have already quoted from Romans 3, John 3, and John 14. Furthermore, predestination is described for us in many, many other places, including: 1 Peter 1, John 6, 2 Timothy 1, Proverbs 16, Acts 13, Revelation 13, Matthew 22, Galatians 1, Jeremiah 1, Titus 1, Matthew 24, Luke 18, John 15, 2 Thessalonians 2, Romans 9, Acts 17, Acts 4, Isaiah 46, and many more… The doctrine of election is one of the clearest doctrines described in God’s Bible.
    7. In 30:56, you claim, after reading from Romans 8, that we will never find anything about God predestining people to Hell even though Romans 9, the very next chapter, describes God reserving people for judgement and even though a proper understanding of 1 Samuel 2 recognizes Eli’s sons as being sons of perdition, or damnation, and clarifies that they will not be atoned for forever. You are, again, arguing against the explicit claims of the Scriptures rather than simply teaching what the Bible says in Ephesians 1:5.
    8. By 31:33, you have spent 11 minutes and 45 seconds trying to disprove the explicit claim of verse 5. That’s about 23% of the sermon that is supposedly intended to teach “verse-by-verse” through the first chapter of Ephesians, promoting sound doctrine and rightly dividing the word of truth.
    9. During this 11 minutes, you also compromised your entire message. You led by teaching that the first half is doctrine and the second half is duty. Here, you have elevated duty above doctrine and you are only in verse 5 of chapter 1. Instead of teaching what you have described as the intention of the text, you have gotten doctrine and duty out of order because your goal seems to be to discredit a certain point of view rather than simply teach the Scriptures. You are the one who claimed that we need to get things in the correct order (see #2).
  9. 33:19… You claim that the “mystery” Paul is referring to is the church even though the text does not identify this mystery as the church. Instead, the text clearly identifies this mystery as God’s will there in verse 9. His will is revealed according to His kind intention, the same intention we saw in verse 5, which God purposed in Christ. So, God reveals His will according to His intention and His purpose especially concerning redemption (v. 7). Every claim that you make in this sermon is exactly the opposite of what the Scriptures are clearly teaching in context. You are the one who stated that this book helps us to understand the Biblical view of salvation (see #4), yet you go out of your way to give a different order of salvation than is described in the contextual and ordered teaching of this chapter. Instead of teaching what is present in the text, now you have added to the Scriptures what is not there and have taught it as if it is explicitly in the text.
  10. 33:55- 37:50… You go on another rant against another group that you disagree with doctrinally instead of just teaching the Scriptures, and you take the time to continue your rant against “hyper calvinism.” You even form a straw-man, claiming that these groups make arguments that they, in fact, do not so that you can poke fun at the argument that you have placed in their mouths, so to speak. So, you have misrepresented groups that are outside of your own group and have spoken about them in a very demeaning way or in a way that is condescending of them.
  11. 39:28- 43:29… After asking what it means that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, you go back to foreknowledge and predestination, arguing against verse 5 again even though verse 13 mentions neither foreknowledge nor predestination. Instead of teaching this verse, you have gone back to your rant and have tried to defend your position even though you are making the exact opposite claim that verse 5 makes.
    1. Only after doing this do you try to explain what it means to be sealed by the Holy Spirit.
  12. 43:30- 47:44… You read through verses 14-23 and make application that has nothing to do with what the text taught, throwing “Love Wins” out even though you spent your entire message ranting against people outside of your group instead of teaching what God has given us to teach. That’s the opposite of godly love.

So, you see why I have such a deep concern for our community. I have heard this type of pattern in a few of your messages. This isn’t isolated to one Wednesday evening. You have made a habit out of claiming that salvation is 100% a work of God, but we must do something or stop doing something. You spend much time reading the text and then teaching something that is completely different from what you read or focussing all your attention on trying to explain one little detail and skimming over the rest. This is dangerous and you have trusting people sitting under your teaching and receiving something that is incoherent and different from what the Bible actually teaches.

This is simply one example from many in our world of a ‘teacher’ who claims to teach God’s word but, in actuality, merely uses God’s word to teach his own ideas or the ideas of the tradition or denomination he grew up in. God’s word is actually misrepresented about as much as it can possibly be misrepresented, and the teacher essentially argues against what the text explicitly says. This type of teaching effectively develops a culture of resentment and superiority and works-based-righteousness or acceptance even if that is not the intention of the teacher. Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I am not saying that teachers who do this are terrible people, unloving, hateful, or themselves resentful. They may be very friendly and more than willing to help those in need. I am saying that they have strayed from a sincere faith and “turned aside to idle talk, desiring to be teachers of the law, understanding neither what they say nor the things which they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:6-7). I was once this way. I cannot condemn anyone for being this way. I realize that this is the most dangerous type of teaching for anyone to sit under, and it is elevated as being somehow Christian when it is, in fact, completely contrary to Biblical teaching. I have shown how above.

This is one example of how going to church can hurt your relationship with God rather than bring you closer to God by the sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit.

Now, I will not ask anyone to leave this church or any others. That is between you and the Holy Spirit. You will ultimately have to follow Christ in the direction that He is leading. I will ask you to consider the type of teaching you are sitting under. Is it the teaching of God’s explicit word or is it teaching that merely uses the Bible as a platform to teach some other stuff? There is real power in the explicit teaching of God’s word. There is no power and no benefit in the application of the teaching of other stuff, especially if those teaching are trying to justify their own ideas by using God’s word.

A Call to Prayer

As I mentioned, my goal is not to make anyone out to be inferior. There are a few healthy churches in our area and, in my opinion, a few good options when considering where to become an active servant to our Lord. The timing of this is unfortunate for reasons I can’t announce on a public forum. I would like to ask for prayer concerning false teachers like the one described above and those who do not respond to requests to talk about the issue in private. I would like to ask for prayer concerning all of those true children of God who are sitting under false teaching as the Scriptures are twisted and misrepresented. They may not realize it, especially if the Scriptures are being read and if teaching seems Biblical for that reason. Our goal is not to complain about anyone, but to sincerely seek true knowledge of God. We desire that all people come to a correct understanding. We desire the joy, unconditional love, care, and service to one another accompany the correct teaching of God’s word and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

If You Attend the Type of Local Church Described Above

First, I do not think less of you because of the local church you attend and support. My desire is friendship and cooperation for the sake of the true Gospel. My hope is that you experience such a revival in Christ that His word is sincerely preached among you for His glory alone. I am praying for you daily. I do not desire that you leave. For most of you, I do not think you should come to our church rather than the one you are in. I do yearn for you to experience a church life that is not merely beneficial socially, economically, or that merely offers good programs, friendships, perks, comfort, and/or entertainment but is also profitable concerning your relationship with God. I am here to care for and serve you just as I am here to serve my own local church family unconditionally. Don’t go making accusations or causing division by speaking out against your pastor. God directly to him. Ask him why. Speak with gentleness and respect. Follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

If You Have Experienced Hurt Caused by the Type of Church Described Above

No one sets out to hurt another. There must be forgiveness in your life. We must understand that all people are prone to unintentional and unwitting hatred. We care deeply for you in an unconditional way and are here to help you heal and then equip you for a meaningful place in service to our Lord for His glory alone when you are ready.

If You Are Thinking About Leaving Your Local Church

Be sure that it is for the right reason and be sure that it is the Holy Spirit leading you, not your own preferences or whatever. When you are looking for a local church, the most important thing to do is find one in which God’s word is taught explicitly. At TCATS, we do not desire to be stereotypical ‘churchy’ people. We place little value in religiosity. We simply want to know God more. So, if you are an overly churchy person who is interested in being entertained, comfortable, part of a social club, and not challenged by God’s word on both an intellectual and practical level, then TCATS is not for you. If, however, you are interested in being sincere, candid, and honestly seeing what God has to say in His word and in context, TCATS is a good fit. We even have a few elders who hold the teacher accountable to God’s word, so that if we err, we can make the corrections needed. We do this for your benefit, not for recognition or to try forcing people to think the way we think. That is the beauty of a Christ-centered, Bible-teaching local church with a proper culture of grace.

You don’t have to come to the local church I have the pleasure of serving. I beg you to seek out a healthy local church in which you will truly benefit by being conformed to the image of Christ through the accurate teaching and right application of Christ’s word alone. Keep this in mind—just because you leave a church (for the proper reason) does not mean you have to lose contact with the people of that church or even the pastor. It doesn’t mean that you can’t go to special events at that church or maintain connections. It doesn’t mean losing your friends there. It doesn’t mean you have to be disrespectful. It simply means that you desire to invest your time as a devoted member of a local church where God’s word is being taught explicitly. In fact, I would encourage that you not sever all connections when you leave. Leave with grace. Leave in good standing. Don’t throw around accusations. Be honest with your new pastor about why you left. When anyone moves membership to the church I pastor from another church in the area, I always ask why. If we will present someone for membership based on a reasonable transfer, I always call his or her previous pastor to see if the reason is credible. There are people I will not present for church membership (though everyone is welcome to attend). I don’t care to present church-hoppers for membership, and I don’t care to present people for membership who are simply looking to have their preferences fulfilled. We are here for God’s glory, not ours.

Any Questions

If you have any questions about whether a certain teacher or church is a Christ-centered, Bible-teaching local church, please contact me and ask. Send me the link to the church’s website or sermon index. I will do what I can to give you a good evaluation. It is best, though, if you are able to hear and discern this on your own. The best way to do this is to listen to good Biblical teaching. Let us follow hard after Christ and be where God wants us to be for His glory and the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

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