Saturday, October 28, 2006

Churches in the News

I don't know if you've been watching the news, but it seems like every time I turn on the television, read the newspaper or listen to talk radio, yet another church is in the news. The differences in these churches makes my head spin, as a pastor, so I can just imagine what it's like for someone who has no background in such things. let's start with a brief synopsis of the news.

  • The Church of the Universe - They claim to be following the most ancient of religions - practiced by the Sumerians. Yet, a quick glance at their teachings and history seems to indicate that they exist in order to justify their access to marijuana, which they claim to be the Biblical "Tree of Life." They also, at least in the past, have promoted nudity because Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden. They've been in the news lately because of a recent drug bust. A little bit of research shows that, while they use Christian titles, they are basically gnostic in belief (Remember The Davinci Code?) Gnostics deny most of the tenets of Christianity. Due to their lack of any real organization, they are very hard to pin down, taking parts of varying religious systems. One thing they are not is Christian. Why use the name church? Probably for the charitable status.
  • Dominion Christian Centre - This church is in the news because of a claim that a young woman was kidnapped by her own family and held for ten days in an effort to "de-program" her. Her family claims that the DCC is a cult. The pastor of the church, Peter Rigo, counters that the church "is nothing more than a Bible-based church that believes in praying for the revitalization of downtown Hamilton and positive change for people through believing in Christ." The church was at one time affiliated with Open Bible Faith Fellowship, but no longer. An interesting perspective comes from Suzanne Den Boer, a former attender whose sister is in the church. In watching the recent W5 program on DCC I found the pastor to be bizarre in his behaviour and, by all appearances, controlling and manipulative. The lesson in this is to be wary of churches and pastors with no accountability. The best intentions can lead you into trouble when you rely on yourself for everything.
  • The United Church of Christ I include this denomination because of the recent media coverage of a famous member - Illinois Democratic Senator, Barack Obama. Obama is not only growing in popularity among the population, but also recently received the endorsement of none other than Oprah Winfrey. Part of the reason for his popularity is his appeal across party lines because of his confessed Christian faith. Which leads us to the United Church of Christ. This denomination is typical of the left-leaning Liberal churches which have moved away from the exclusive claims of Christ and have embraced a universalist view - all roads lead to heaven. Obama speaks of being a product of a varied background - his mother took him to mosques, buddhist temples, churches and elsewhere to worship. From his writings, it seems he embraced Christianity because the version he was hearing at the UCC fit with his upbringing and was broad enough to fit everybody in. So he could be a Christian yet be a staunch pro-abortionist. He could be a Christian and yet say that other religions are true as well. I don't need to say that Jesus might have difficulty with that since He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no man comes to the father except by Me." My question for churches that reject the exclusive claims of Christ is, why not simply join up with Rev. Jesse Jackson's "Rainbow Coalition." That would seem to be much more in keeping with their desire to be acceptable to all. The Bible teaches that God loves all people. But the same Jesus who said "I don't condemn you." said "Go and sin no more.

So the big question is, how do you sort through all of the myriad of options out there to find a good church? Is there such a thing? Absolutely. the question is for you. Are you looking for the truth, or for a church that will tell you what you want to hear? Jesus Christ established the church with a clear mandate to "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel... teaching them to obey all things I have commanded you." The disciples of Jesus had been prepared to lead the church from the first days of Jesus' public ministry. It was them to whom He had given the responsibility of communicating His message; they gave their lives for that cause.

Throughout history men and women have bravely stood against all kinds of opposition for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the church has survived in spite of persecution. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the church is the temptation to compromise on the truth in order to be accepted by a society demanding political correctness. There is a fine line to be walked.

God calls us to be accepting of all; yet His Word also calls us to repentance. Repentance is the act of acknowledging our sin and turning from it. So we welcome the sinner, we all are sinners, after all, but we are called to leave our sin behind; not glory in it. When we identify leadership within the church, we ought not to look for mere charisma and talent, but the qualities for Biblical leadership laid out for us in the New Testament. We are to look for people of good character, who are students of the Word of God, men and women of self-control and sound judgment.

Churches are also called to be places where people are enfolded into caring communities. The book of Acts describes those communities. They are characterized by love for each other, devotion to the teaching of the Word, to prayer and to fellowship. The early church didn't set out to change the world; they changed the world by being the church. They didn't operate by control and manipulation, but in demonstration of the power of the living God who lived in them by His Spirit. People were drawn to the church because they cared; not by coercion. They didn't stay because they were threatened; they stayed because they had found the truth and the life that Jesus Christ had promised.

If you have been hurt or confused by a church, I'm sorry. Please keep looking. Find one that is a Biblically functioning community. The search is worth it, and when you find it, it will be worth the effort.

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