I keep finding more and more often that the churches in my area have degraded not only into places where people gather to learn the teachings of God, but also places where people pass judgment on those they feel don't measure up to their standards. While this would be somewhat understandable if all of these churches had a unified view on what was deemed unacceptable, that is not the case. They all vary in their opinions of unacceptable Christian behavior, and condemn people for seemingly trivial reasons (hair length, piercings, hair dying, clothing choices, tattoos, etc.). As a result of this, I haven't attended any local churches in quite some time. Am I right to try to separate myself from what I see as places that are (at least somewhat) missing the meaning of church, and instead seeking to further my understanding of God on my own, or am I incorrect in my actions?
There are several issues to think about.
The first and most important issue to think about is the following verse,
They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us. (NASB) 1 John 2:19
The passage is clear. Believers will continue gathering with believers to worship God somewhere. Those who eventually stop meeting with other believers are not true believers according to God. So first, ask yourself this question, “Do I believe that Jesus is God and I am trusting Him to forgive my sins?” If you have not submitted yourself to God in this way, then it is understandable why you or any other person would eventually want to stop meeting with other believers to worship God.
The second issue to consider is our willingness to obey or submit to God. Are we willing to yield our will to His? Are we willing to obey Him – to keep His commandments? This is the second most important issue because it is another test of whether we belong to God. The Apostle John wrote these words,
By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. (NASB) 1 John 2:3
The apostle is not talking about perfect obedience or a person who never sins. Later in 1 John he says that those who are righteous are those who practice righteousness, or holiness. They are not sinless, but instead they do not constantly sin.
No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil . . . (NASB) 1 John 3:6-8
That is, a true Christian is one who is constantly seeking to be holy and unfortunately sins. God is talking about patterns of life and not absolute perfection. Now if we go back to 1 John 2:3 and understand that God is talking about a pattern of obedience as opposed to perfection, we conclude that those who belong to God are those who obey Him. It is important to note that some attempt to serve God in the way they want to serve Him and yet do not belong to Him. It is possible for a person to think that he or she is a Christian and yet not be one. That is the message of Matthew 7:21-23.
The third issue is that God has commanded us to gather together with other Christians for worship, encouragement, and motivation. This is an act of obedience. Since 1 John 2:3 told us that pne of the marks of a believer is obedience, this is one of the tests.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (NASB) Hebrews 10:23-25
If you really are a Christian, God wants you to attend a church where other Christians gather together. This is a test of your obedience and the obedience of every Christian. Those who ultimately separate themselves are probably not Christians.
Unfortunately, some churches have extra-biblical standards of holiness. Some churches are in violation of God’s will and falsely claim that God wants believers to adopt certain types of behavior that are not asked for in the Bible. Some are legalistic and have imposed standards of conduct that are not biblical, just as the Pharisees did. The Bible does not mention everything that future generations of believers would encounter in their culture. As a result, the Bible does not mention every type of sin that could occur in the future, but the principles are mentioned. For example, pornography on the web did not exist until the twentieth century, but the principle of fleeing lust tells us that this is sin. It is something God wants us to avoid.
. . . but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NASB0 Matt. 5:28
Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (NASB) 2 Tim. 2:22
Some churches ignore sin, except for adultery and divorce. Some even violate these biblical standards. Others have a long list of things to avoid. What we need to look for is what did God say, and live accordingly. Unfortunately, churches are increasingly in violation of God’s standards by ignoring what He has said or adding to what He has said. It is probably unavoidable since no church is perfect. We would encourage you to pick the best church that you can find in our area, start attending, and recognize that you will disagree with of some of the things that are taught.
God has given us principles to live by. While scripture does not directly speak to some of the commonly prohibited issues, every believer should remember that some Christians struggle because they were once addicted to or preoccupied with them. I have found that those who once had an addiction to alcohol or tobacco, for example, struggle greatly when they see others indulge in the same behavior. They do not understand why others would willingly indulge in something that is clearly a sin for them. Consequently, they want to impose a legalistic standard – “Do not do . . .” – because they honestly believe that such a rule would be the best for everyone. The Apostle Paul called us to be understanding toward those who struggle in such areas (Rom. 14). The apostle also called us not to flaunt our freedom to do otherwise. We must remember, if God says, “No!” then we should obey. We all belong to the same Master and King, Jesus Christ.
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