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Choosing a Church

 

Introduction

 

As a new believer you must be asking or thinking, ‘Why is it so important to belong to a congregation of Christians?’  Well, there’s a tremendous amount of Bible teaching and admonitions for not trying to go the Christian walk alone.  But suffice it to say that there is a devil out there, and a lot of his unfriendly cohorts (demons), and they all hate Christians (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/Satan/satan.htm).  Due to this unseen spiritual fact, this world we live in is basically anti-Christian to begin with (cf. Romans 8:7), so with those major strikes against you, you’d better have some Christian allies to gather with and spiritually grow with.  That’s the second most important reason for a believer to belong to a church.  Also, for some reason, Christians tend to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ far better and faster in a group setting. 

 

Why the Knowledge of Law & Grace is So Important

 

Why do we need to grow in the “grace and knowledge of the Lord” as the apostle Peter commands us?  The Bible may say “come as you are”, but the Lord does not want you to stay like that, the way your old self was in this Satanic world with its evil lifestyles.  The whole principle of Christian discipleship is that of having teachers and elder brothers and sisters in Christ, assisting you and teaching you in your Christian walk with Jesus.  That takes you into the very large subject of Law & Grace.  For more vital information on that subject, see:  http://www.unityinchrist.com/whatisgrace/whatisgraceintro.htm.  The knowledge of Law & Grace is very important, because it will safely guide you through a virtual minefield of false churches and poor choices of real Christian churches you will want to avoid.  Why?  First of all you want to choose a church that is obeying the commandments of Jesus Christ, the very same Jesus who claimed to be Yahweh-God of the Old Testament, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the great I AM of Moses (cf. John 8:58; Exodus 3:13-15; Malachi 4:4). 

 

Why a Good Knowledge of Early Apostolic Church History is Important

 

Next, a good knowledge of early church history, what we would call apostolic church history, is very essential for making a right choice.  Why?  The early apostolic church was under the direct leadership and spiritual guidance of the very apostles of Jesus Christ.  One of the half-brothers of Jesus Christ, Jude said in verse 3, “Beloved, while I was diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to content earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”  In the very next verse Jude gives us a crucially important reason for telling us, as the King James says, “to strive for the faith once delivered to the saints.”  Verse 4, “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago where marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Again, a good knowledge of early church history is essential to properly identify these ungodly groups of people who “crept in unnoticed.”  Why?  That time is long past.  Essentially because those in God’s early churches separated themselves out from these “ungodly groups”, leaving these ungodly groups to form churches of their own.  Some of them were out and out heretics, so understanding what their heresies were is very important.  Why?  Because people and churches who promote those same heresies are still around, and they deny, or warp and distort essential parts of the doctrines of salvation.  So be sure to log onto and read the article at:  http://www.unityinchrist.com/misc/whyorthodoxy.html and http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/What%20is%20Arianism.htm.  Another group during the apostle John’s later years started breaking off from the apostolic Church of God and went it’s own way, growing into a big and powerful church, the Church in Rome.  It’s early history can be found at:  http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch3.htm.  Knowing it’s history and origins is essential because it spawned some daughter churches and infected all Christian churches with many heretical and unBiblical lies, lies which most Christians believe as Gospel Truth today.  So be sure to read that section carefully so your choice for a church does not include this false church or any of its offshoots, which the Bible calls “daughters” in the Book of Revelation.   So as we follow the story of early church history we essentially see that two groups formed up, the Greco-Roman church, which became great and powerful, and the persecuted Judeo-Christian churches of God.  To read a well-researched article about the early apostolic church of God under the apostles Peter and Paul, see:  http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch1.htm. 

 

As the great false church, the Greco-Roman church, grew more and more powerful, after 325AD it drove these apostolic Judeo-Christian churches of God sort of underground, into hiding.  Their own history can be read at:  http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/revivals.htm.  And it is a fascinating read.  The articles at all of those links above are very important so be sure to read them all before going any further, because they describe many of the churches that are around today.  They’ll all have Christian sounding names,  some of them even daring to call themselves after the name of Jesus Christ.  But they all hold in some format the doctrines taught and believed by either that great Greco-Roman church, or the heretical groups such as the Gnostics or Arians.  The Gnostics were around in the time of John in the late 90s AD.  The Arians came somewhat later around 250AD.

 

A Strange Dichotomy

 

So if you’ve come this far, having prayerfully and carefully read all the history articles hypertext linked above, and you’re looking around at all the churches extant today, you must be scratching your head, saying ‘Where do I go?  Some of them seem so alive spiritually, and some of them hold God’s Word in very high esteem.  And they don’t hold to any of the heresies of the Gnostics or Arians.’  And you are absolutely correct.  Even though I came from a Sabbath-keeping church of God background, I did spend about seven years in a Sunday-observing Calvary Chapel congregation (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/author.htm).  And I can attest to the fact that the Holy Spirit indwells a good many of their members and most if not all of their pastors.  A careful study of fairly recent church history also shows God in the past (going back to the era of the Waldensians in France, 900-1300s AD) has blessed certain Sunday-keeping revivals-turned-denominations with the Holy Spirit.  See: http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/IntroChurchHistory.htm .  If God wants us to come into harmony and obedience to his laws (Law & Grace), and the Fourth Commandment, the Sabbath command is an integral part of God’s Ten Commandment Law---many Sabbath-keeping Church of God denominations struggle and have a very hard time believing these sincere and very obedient Sunday-observing groups could possibly have God’s indwelling Holy Spirit.  Thus a huge spiritual divide and dichotomy exists between these two groups of Christians.  How does a person explain how these Sunday-keeping groups could possibly have God’s Holy Spirit if obedience to God’s Sabbath Command---the Fourth Commandment---is still required?  Let me tell you, theologians have scratched their heads bald over that one, and tried to come up with their own answers to that question for millennia of time.  Most of them, in their attempt to justify Sunday observance, go into all kinds of doctrinal interpretations about what the New Covenant is, in an attempt to answer this age-old question.  But their interpretations of what the New Covenant really is are all somewhat lacking and twisted, because they are attempting to justify a doctrinal stance with it, instead of properly defining what the New Covenant actually is.  There is basically only one simple answer to that question, explaining the dichotomy of how God could bless some very sincere Sunday-observing groups and individuals with his Holy Spirit.  I have written a short paper in answer to that question.  You must read it to get the answer, and let me tell you, it is the only real answer to this age-old question.  The article goes step-by-step through all the aspects of this question. See  http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/Has%20the%20Sabbath%20Been%20Abrogated.htm to learn why Sunday-observers who honor God’s Law in all other areas minus the Sabbath Command could have God’s Holy Spirit---making them genuine Christians.

 

New and Old Wineskins:  The Life-Death Cycle All Genuine Holy Spirit Indwelt Denominations Go Through

 

In Luke 5:37-39 Jesus gave a short parable which sort of explains the life-cycle all churches and denominations go through.  All  denominations, which started out as revivals go through life-death cycles, going from young, vibrant, spiritually alive and healthy, Christ-agape centered and led---to old and spiritually dead.  They die spiritually in one of two ways.  Some end up gradually becoming more and more liberal, into a false kind of grace which ends up rejecting most of God’s Laws (Jude described this in verse 4, a lewd kind of grace, which would include all kinds of sexual perversions).  Other true revivals-turned-denominations keep adhering to God’s Laws, but very strictly in a very legalistic and unloving manner, quite similar to the Pharisees and scribes of Jesus’ day, adding all kinds of restrictions onto God’s Laws that aren’t there.  These groups are defined by the term “Dead Orthodoxy,” they are orthodox, but they have lost the agape-love of God’s Holy Spirit.  You will want to avoid this group just as much as you will want to avoid the “liberal” denominations, which in their early days started out very orthodox and obedient to God’s Laws.  Jesus opposed religious groups that were quite similar to these churches, the scribes, doctors of the Law, and the Pharisees.  They were keeping the letter of the Law, but not the spirit of God’s Law, there was no Holy Spirit added to their obedience.  All Holy Spirit-led genuine Christian groups will be---to the very best of their understanding---Law-obedient churches, and very warm and loving.

 

Anyway, the whole question of Sabbath-verses-Sunday observance becomes a mute question at Jesus Christ’s 2nd coming.  When Jesus returns, as some are aware, he will re-instate Sabbath and Holy Day observance as a requirement for the entire world that has survived World War III, the great tribulation.  The church Jesus establishes during the Millennial reign of the Kingdom of God will be Sabbath/Holy Day observing (cf. Isaiah 66:23; Zechariah 14:16-19).

 

Primary Beliefs Christians Should Have For Salvation

 

Now I will give the list of primary beliefs that Christians should have in order to be Christian, beliefs which will help you to determine that you will be in the resurrection to immortality Paul speaks of in 1st Corinthians 15:49-54.  There is one area, hotly contested by both sides of this “days of worship” divide, which the Lord doesn’t seem to make a distinction one way or the other, proven by the fact that he’s bestowed his Holy Spirit on groups that believe either way.  So put your doctrinal stones down if you’ve been throwing them at the other group.  This is the area of defining the Holy Spirit.  Some if not most Sabbatarian groups believe the Holy Spirit is either the power of God or in some way a part of God, whilst believing that the Holy Spirit is in no way making up a Triune God (especially since the Trinity doctrine was introduced into the Christian world by the proto-Catholic church).  This belief, or error in belief according to some, has not stopped God from bestowing his Holy Spirit on groups that believe either way.  So you cult-watching rock-throwers on both sides of the divide, put those rocks away, before the Lord hurls a big one at you (and he will if you don’t cease and desist).  I will now list primary doctrines of salvation which we must believe, in order to receive salvation.  These beliefs are primary for the salvation of the believer.

 

1.  SCRIPTURE:  All Scripture, both the Old Testament and New Testament, is inspired by God (i.e. is God-breathed).  It is inerrant, infallible, and the supreme authority in all matters of faith and Christian living, practice.  See Psalm 109:11,89,105; Matthew 24:35; 2nd Timothy 3:16-17; 2nd Peter 2:21; Revelation 22:18-19.

 

2.  GOD:  There is only one True and living God, the Holy, the Almighty and the Creator of mankind, the universe, and all things.  In the Godhead, he exists to those who believe in the Trinity doctrine, in three personalities, namely the Father, the Son (or the Word, Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.  The Sabbath-keeping Church of God side of the Body of Christ believe the Godhead exists in two distinct personalities (since the Bible teaches the Spirit never speaks of himself, but only speaks what the Father or Son tell him to speak).  They believe the Holy Spirit is either some form or part of God, or else it is the power of God.  I tend to believe the Holy Spirit is some part of God, like an arm or hand or mouth is a part of a human body.  But since we don’t understand God as a Spirit-being, and the physics of what God as a spirit entity is exactly like, we have never been able to properly define who or what the Holy Spirit is, based solely on Scripture.  Again, you cult-watchers on both sides, put down your stones.  See Genesis 1:1,26; Exodus 3:13-15; Deuteronomy 6:4; Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 9:6; Jeremiah 10:10; Matthew 28:19; John 1:1-14; Acts 5:3-4; 2nd Corinthians 13:14; Hebrews 1:1.  See also http://www.unityinchrist.com/TheHolySpirit.htm

 

3. JESUS CHRIST:  Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God; was born of the virgin Mary; shed his blood in substitutionary sacrifice [foreshadowed by all Passover lambs ever sacrificed] when he died on the cross for our sins.  He rose again back to life, back to his glorious eternal state on the third day; was seen by the twelve disciples, and by over five hundred brethren; he ascended into heaven and he is seated at God the Father’s right hand as a glorified Lord.  See Genesis 3:15; Isaiah 14:17; Matthew 1:18-21; Luke 1:27-35; John 1:1-14; Romans 5:8; 1st Corinthians 15:1-20; Galatians 1:4-5; Philippians 2:5-11; 1st Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 2:11,17; 7:27; 9:22,28; 10:12; 1st Peter1:18-19; 1st John 2:22; Revelation 1:13-18.  See also http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophecies/1stcoming.htm for a complete prophetic picture of who Jesus Christ is.

 

4.  THE HOLY SPIRIT:  The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of Judgment, indwells, and seals, baptizes the believer into the Body of Christ at conversion; fills the believer with power for overcoming sin and good works of service; manifests spiritual gifts through believers for the common good of the Body of Christ, the Church; and produces the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer.  See John 14:16-17; 16:5-16; Acts 1:8; 1st Corinthians 12:4-13, 27-31; 1st Corinthians 13:1-8; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:11-16; 5:18; 1st Peter 4:10.  See also http://www.unityinchrist.com/TheHolySpirit.htm. 

 

5.  SATAN:  Satan, the arch enemy of God and all believers, was created perfect, blameless, and sinless before sin was found in him.  He is the prince of the kingdom of darkness; is a deceiver, a murderer, and a destroyer of all mankind.  Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Satan’s power over mankind was broken and he is now a defeated foe forever.  His rule over the earth is in what we call politically, lame-duck session, awaiting the arrival of Jesus Christ at his 2nd coming.  See also http://www.unityinchrist.com/Satan/satan.htm

 

6.  MAN:  Man was created in God’s image but fell into sin through Adam and Eve’s disobedience.  He is now, in his unsaved, non-born-again state, totally deprived of his divine heritage;  he is in hostility with God  his creator and is eternally lost without the saving grace of God in Christ Jesus.  See Genesis 1:26; Isaiah 53:6; 59:2; 64:6; Romans 3:10-17; 5:12; 6:23; 7:7a; Romans 8:7.

 

7.  SALVATION:  Salvation is God’s great underserved favour to all humanity.  This free gift for the regeneration of mankind’s spiritually dead spirit was purchased through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross; and is received only by faith through the believing in the person of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. 

 

8.  HOLY LIFE:  All believers are exhorted to be sanctified or to be holy even as the Lord who called them is holy.  This is a continuous and progressive process of overcoming sin in one’s life which never ends until the death of the believer.  Believers are expected by the Lord to live a victorious life over the flesh, the world and the Devil.  Thus they are expected to overcome sin constantly while allowing the Holy Spirit to fill or control their lives for holy and powerful living.  See Genesis 17:1; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Matthew 5:17-28; Luke 1:74-75; Galatians 5:13, 16-18, 22-23; Ephesians 4:27; 5:18; 1st Thessalonians 4:3,7; 5:23; Titus 2:12; Hebrews 2:11; 10:14; 12:14; 1st Peter 1:16; 1st John 2:16-17.  See also http://www.unityinchrist.com/whatisgrace/whatisgraceintro.htm

 

9.  THE CHURCH:  The Church is the Body and Bride of Christ, of which Christ himself is the only founder and head.  Thus, the Church whether local or geographical, visible or invisible consists only of the true born again believers who are committed to believing and living by the Word of God, the Bible, to the worship of one God.  This would include performing the work of Jesus Christ, which he assigns the various differing parts of the Body of Christ to perform.  The number one task or part of this work is the preaching of the Gospel to the ends of the earth and the discipling and spiritual nourishing of those who respond favourably (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/misc/WhatIsTheGospel%20.htm).  See Matthew 16:18-19; Acts 2:1-47; 9:31; 12:5; 14:23; 20:28; 1st Corinthians 12:13, 27-28; 16:1; Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:22-23; Colossians 1:18,24; Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15.  And I might add, the Church is made up exclusively of those people who are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. 

 

Various Secondary Prophetic Beliefs Held Within the Body of Christ

 

One thing that will help you to understand some of the various terms of beliefs associated with end-time prophecies is a short paper written by a friend who was attending Harvard Theological School at the time he wrote it for me.  In it he defines the major differences in eschatological beliefs that you will encounter in the various denominations.  I am inserting his paper right here after this paragraph.  (Eschatology is the study of end-time prophecies in the Bible.)  But I wish to make one thing very clear about the prophetic interpretation this web site feels is a mortal danger to the Christian’s belief system, and that is the “Amillennialist interpretation” of Bible prophecy.  To read a description of why I feel it absolutely necessary to take this stand, log onto http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophecies/2ndcoming_1.htm and read this introduction section.

 

“Christian Views on the Millennium”

 

In this paper, I want to give a very basic definition of some important terms as they relate to the nature of the Millennium and what is believed by certain Christians with regard to how the end of the ages will occur. 

 

Premillennialism (Historic or Classical, which also means non-dispensational):  The belief that Jesus Christ will return to earth (personally and bodily) to defeat the forces of evil and establish the millennium (a literal thousand years).  During this time, Christ and the  [resurrected and immortal] saints will reign from Jerusalem and the earth will be filled with holiness, justice, peace and prosperity.  This was the dominant understanding of prophecy during the first three centuries of the Christian church.  Some early church fathers who held this view were Papias, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Lactantius.  Many modern day Baptists, some Presbyterians, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses (with their own unique belief system), almost all fundamentalists (across denominational lines) and various Seventh-day Sabbatarian groups hold this view.

 

Amillennialism:  This is the belief that there will be a continuous growth of good and evil in the world before the Second Coming of Christ.  The kingdom of God is present now in the world through his Word, his Spirit, and the church.  Amillennialists do not believe that Christ will have a literal thousand-year rule on earth.  They believe that this refers (symbolically) to the time in history (between Christ’s first and second coming) when Satan is bound by Christ and the saints rule with Christ on earth (in the symbolic sense that Christ is ruling through the church).  [Pastor Chuck Smith’s comment about this belief is “If this is the Millennium, then Satan’s chain is too long.” (cf. Rev. 20:1-3)]  They believe the first resurrection in Rev. 20:6 refers to personal conversion when a new Christian has been “resurrected” from spiritual death to new life.  They also state that when Christ returns he will judge the wicked, reward the righteous, and begin eternity.  There will be only one resurrection of both righteous and the wicked.  This framework for this view was laid out by Origen (AD 185-254), Eusebius (263-340AD), Tyconious (d. 400) and St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Almost all Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Episcopalians, Lutherans (though some conservative Lutherans might differ on details), some Presbyterians, and Congregationalists hold this view.

 

Postmillennialism:  Just like ammillialists, postmillennialists deny that we should take the thousand years in Revelation literally.  They believe that Christ will return after the millennium (which for them means an indefinite time period when the church will evangelize most of the world and do great works of missionary work, preaching and teaching).  They are far more optimistic about the future events on earth than either premillennialists or amillennialists.  After the earth is evangelized and large numbers of people are converted, then Christ will return.  This view was held by Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Charles Hodge, and B. B. Warfield.  It was quite common among American Protestants during the 18th and 19th centuries.  It is held by some individuals today, but very rarely espoused by an entire denomination (though a group called the Christian Reconstructionists holds this view in a modified form). 

 

Dispensational Premillennialism:  Just like classic premillennialists, they believe in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ.  They differ on the details of what will precede Christ’s return and what role the church will play in the end times.  Dispensationalists hold that Christ’s coming will take place in two stages.  He will come for his church (the Rapture) and then with his church (his final revelation and appearance).  These events will be separated by a seven-year tribulation.  [i.e. they, the “pretribulationists” believe they will be Raptured to heaven, the Sea of Glass, before the opening of the First Seal of Revelation 6.]  These events will be separated by a seven-year tribulation.  They take three positions on the rapture:  1) pretribulationists:  say that Christ will come for his saints; afterward he will come with his saints.  Christ will rapture the church (they will disappear from earth and be with Christ in heaven).  Thus the saints will be protected during the seven years of the tribulation because they will be in heaven while all hell breaks loose on earth.  [Most Dispensational premillennialists are of this 1st persuasion.]  2) posttribulationalists:  the church remains on the earth for the seven years of the tribulation.  Believers won’t be raptured until after the tribulation ends.  God will preserve his true believers, even though they must suffer persecution and perhaps death during the tribulation.  3) midtribulationists:  it is thought that the church will go through the less severe part (usually the first half, or three-and-a-half years) of the tribulation, but then will be miraculously removed (translated) from the world [or taken to a place of safety somewhere on the earth].  It will suffer persecution during the first part of the tribulation [First Seal of Revelation 6], but it will be removed when God’s wrath is poured out on a wicked and unrepentant world.  [This belief fits more with the Classic or Historic Premillennialist beliefs, which were far less defined, having been the early Church’s belief system.  A very recent harmonizing of all the Scriptures the Dispensational pretribulationists use and the Classic or Historic premillennialists use has been written by one denomination of the Sabbatarian Church of God denominations.  It is very plausible, and my personal choice for belief, as it combines all related Scriptures on the subject.  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/revelation/Pentecost-Revetion1.htm to read this prophetic scenario.] 

 

It should be noted that some believe that there will be a partial rapture of only those believers who are actively watching and waiting for the Lord’s return.  They will be found worthy to escape the terrors of the tribulation by being taken up into heaven.  After this first rapture, there will be a series of raptures, some during the tribulation, and some after (for those who were not quite mature as believers and who needed trial by fire).  Dispensationalism arose in the 19th century primarily under the influence and teachings of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).  It spread to America through Bible prophecy conferences and the Schofield Reference Bible (which has sold millions of copies).  A leading seminary that teaches Dispensationalism is the Dallas Theological Seminary (which was founded in 1934).  Those who hold this view make a distinction between Israel and the church, which causes them to maintain steadfastly their position that God will fulfill his promises to Abraham through the Jews.  Thus they reject the belief held by amillennialists that the church is the new Israel.  They express a great interest in the Jews because they think that Jews will play a prominent role in end-time prophecies.  Many Jews, it is held, will be converted and accept Christ as their Messiah [which is currently happening to some degree.  See the Messianic Jewish section of this website].  They will be blessed during Christ’s peaceful thousand-year reign on earth.  This will also be God’s fulfillment of his promise to Abraham and his descendants.  It might be added here that Classical pre-millennialists hold the same or similar views about the Jews and that God will fulfill his promises to Abraham through them and the nation of Israel during the Millennium---this is not just a Dispensational position, but generally includes all Pre-Millennialists.

 

I have found the following resources helpful in preparing this short sketch:

 

Gerald Bray, Biblical Interpretation: Past and Present (1996)

Joel Carpenter, Revive Us Again:  The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (1997)

Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (1985)

H. Wayne House, Charts of Christian Theology and Doctrine (1992)

George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture (1980)

Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (1986)

 

Written by Curtis J. Evans”

Comments in brackets [ ] are my own.  Editor, UNITYINCHRIST.COM

 

One point I wish to make about this collective hodge-podge of beliefs on end-time prophecy.  Except for the fact that Jesus is literally coming back to earth a second time, all end-time prophecy, when compared to the doctrines of Salvation previous listed, are non-Salvation beliefs.  One is free to believe one way or another on these beliefs, without it effecting one’s chances for eternal life whatsoever.  So much energy and money is wasted by the various denominations on promoting their own “special interpretation” in these areas that it’s simply disgusting.  Try to select the belief you feel most honestly represents what the Bible teaches, and leave it at that.  Christ will correct the Church as a whole if he wants to,  before the end comes.  And after his coming, the errors and truths of these matters will become self-evident.  Don’t waste all your time on prophecy, it is better spent on salvation-related doctrines and Scriptures, related to personal growth and development of God’s agape-love.  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/Agape/Agape%20I.htm.

 

On the Sunday-Observing Side of the Body of Christ, One Spiritually Alive, Christ-agape Centered Denomination You Might Look At

 

One new denomination (although they do not like calling themselves a denomination) is that of Calvary Chapel, headquartered in Costa Mesa, CA.  They are a very unique and balanced blend between Pentecostal and Fundamentalist beliefs, very good and sound in their teaching of the Word of God from the connective expository manner of “verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book” through the entire Bible.  Their members become very Biblically knowledgeable after absorbing a few years of this style preaching.  Their music style is contemporary modern Christian music in their worship service.  Dress is casual, and the congregations I’ve observed are all very warm and friendly.  Doctrinal beliefs are fundamental Christian, with a literal interpretation of prophecy along the lines of pre-tribulation “Rapture” Dispensationalism, which means they believe in the direct return of Jesus Christ, at which time he will set up his Kingdom on earth and rule the nations, and restore the kingdom to Israel as a nation over the other nations.  Their website is http://www.calvarychapel.org.  Local congregations can be located on their clickable US map under the heading of “churches”, and local pastors can be emailed in most cases right from this map listing.  They are a very new and young denomination, as denominations go, that sprang up in the early 1970s, but for some reason was not listed in the “Handbook of Denominations in the United States.”  A short excerpt from their founder’s history can be read on this site in the church history section, and is titled “The Calvary Chapel Revival” (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/smith.htm).  Their resource web site is:  http://www.thewordfortoday.org, and is full of valuable Christian resources that will also help you get to know this denomination better, and draw you closer to Christ as well.  Their strength is that they are new, vibrant, obedient to God’s Laws as best as they understand them, and are very Christ-agape centered, far more so than almost all the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God.

 

Messianic Jewish Believers

 

For Jews who have come to see that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, I strongly recommend you contact the Jews for Jesus organization for a list of congregations.  They can be contacted at jfj@jewsforjesus.org.  There website is http://www.JewsforJesus.org, which also has a listing of links to most or all of the online Messianic Jewish groups and their congregations.  I have written a whole section on this website describing this movement of God through the Holy Spirit, where God has called hundreds of thousands of Jews to a sound belief in Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah.  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/messianicmovement.htm. 

 

The local Calvary Chapel in Fitchburg, MA can be accessed at:

 

Pastor: George Small, http://horizonfitchburg.org

Horizon Christian Fellowship

356 Broad Street,

Fitchburg, MA  01420

Phone: 978-665-9111

Sunday Service: 8:45am and 11am

 

Local Messianic Jewish congregation:

Pastor Ken Levitt

K’vod Israel,

P.O. Box 187, Westminster, MA  01473

 

Sabbath-keeping Churches of God

 

For a good description of this branch of the Body of Christ, log onto and read http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch4.htm.  There is one denomination of this branch of the Body of Christ which appears to be going through a real spiritual revival, becoming Christ-agape centered, and veering away from dead orthodoxy and legalism, whilst not giving up one “jot” or “tittle” of God’s Law (i.e. proper balance between Law & Grace).  A link to their website is included in that article.  They do appear to be like a “new wineskin,” whereas the others tend to appear like the “old wineskins” Jesus referred to in Luke 5:37-39.   

 

Prayerfully check these groups out, and go where your Christian conscience guides you.  But choose wisely.  Remember, we’re in a spiritual war with Satan, his demons and this ungodly world.  Chose your fellow-soldiers in Christ and foxhole buddies carefully, your spiritual lives at times may be in their hands, as we’re all meant to cover each-other’s backs in this war between good and evil. 

 

Related links:

 

Our common enemy we’re in a spiritual war with:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/Satan/satan.htm

 

A good knowledge of Law & Grace can help guide you through a minefield of false churches and poor choices in churches.  See:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/whatisgrace/whatisgraceintro.htm

 

A good knowledge of early church history can protect you from “those who crept in unnoticed”, heretical groups Jude referred to in Jude verses 3 through 4.  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch1.htm

to learn what the apostolic Church under Peter and Paul was like.

 

To learn about the heretics along with their heresies that attempted to creep into the early Church, heresies and heretical groups that are still around today. see:  http://www.unityinchrist.com/misc/whyorthodoxy.html

and

http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/What%20is%20Arianism.htm

 

The major false church that split off of the early apostolic Church, which is still around, and his infected most of Christianity with various false teachings.  See:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch3.htm

 

Various Church Histories.  See:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/IntroChurchHistory.htm

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/revivals.htm

 

The Strange Dichotomy Between Sunday and Sabbath-keepers Explained.  See:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/Has%20the%20Sabbath%20Been%20Abrogated.htm

 

Who Jesus Christ is.  See:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophecies/1stcoming.htm

 

Who, What is the Holy Spirit?  See:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/TheHolySpirit.htm

 

Why Amillennialism is a dangerous prophetic interpretation.  See:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophecies/2ndcoming1.htm

 

Choose a church that is Christ-agape centered.  What does that mean?  See:

http://www.unityinchrist.com/Agape/Agape%20I.htm 

 

Three wise choices:

 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch4.htm

 

http://www.calvarychapel.org

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/smith.htm

 

and for Jewish believers,

http://www.JewsforJesus.org

 

 

This article has, with the minor exception of listing three optional choices above, steered clear of mentioning or recommending many of the evangelical Christian churches and denominations that are out there.  Instead I have given you links to well-researched articles which describe the minefield of wrong and heretical teachings to be avoided, and histories of those groups who held and hold them, as well as histories of the churches which were of God.  It is important to read all of those articles at those links, to sufficiently arm your mind, as you search out a real Christian church and denomination to be a part of.  You can read this article in maybe 20 minutes or less.  But to read those articles and properly arm yourself with that information will take considerably longer.  It is important that you do so, in order to make a wise choice, prayerfully, so you end up in the healthiest church congregation as possible.  There is a spiritual war going on out there, and Satan has done his very best to plant false churches out there and infiltrate even the true ones with his false doctrines and fifth columnists.  You’re in God’s army now, so choose your Company and platoon-mates wisely, as God has left the choice up to you.  Those guys you choose to serve with have your back, so choose wisely. 

 

Three Types of Churches

 

1. A liberal church says you are welcome here and you do not have to clean up your life.  (most of the older Christian denominations have become liberal.) 

This group of churches tend to be made up of the older Christian revivals-turned-denominations, ones that are from 200 to 300 years old, Lutheran, Episcopal (Church of England), Congregational, Methodist, and many of the Baptist churches, although some of these fall into the next category.  Many of these revivals-turned-denominations started out alive and spiritually healthy, and as Charles Stanley said, “the churches became more filled with born-into the church, rather than born-again members of the church.”  This is the normal life-death cycle of most large Christian revivals-turned-denominations, they turn liberal and thus licentious. 

 

A friend of mine pointed out the he’s met some real Christians working at a downtown Christian rescue mission, and also a homeless shelter run by one of these denominations from some of these older revival-turned-denominations.  What would Jesus recommend?  What Jesus said in his letter to the church of Ephesus would apply here, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works…” (Revelation 2:4-5a)  So for those who are still really with-it spiritually and are attending one of these older revivals that has become liberal by the above definition, who have fallen from their first works, how would you follow Jesus’ advice in Revelation 2:4-5a?  You would seek out and start attending a church/denomination that is a young revival-turned-denomination, one that is spiritually vibrant, yet balanced and teaching the Word of God.  See category 3.  

 

2. A legalistic church says you are not welcome here until you clean up your life.  The Sabbath-keeping Churches of God tend to be legalistic, and won’t baptize people until they’re obeying to their satisfaction the laws of God, and adhering to their own doctrinal understandings (many of which may be correct, it’s just they’re placing the “obedience cart” before the horse).  There are many other legalistic churches out there as well. Some Torah Observant Messianic Jewish congregations fall into this category, while other’s don’t.  As the Book of Acts brings out, baptism and the laying on of hands, which for the early Church brought the Holy Spirit into one’s life, was instant, once a person accepted Christ as their Saviour.  Delaying baptism until a high degree of obedience is evident in the person’s life is spiritually counter-productive to the life and growth of these churches as well as for the individual, for it is the Holy Spirit that enables real deep, from the heart obedience (cf. Romans 7 verses Romans 8).  These churches tend to be run by ministers that crack the whip and demand obedience from the pulpit, instead of leading people to Christ, who then through the Holy Spirit enables obedience.  In that sense, these ministers tend to usurp the job of the Holy Spirit through their demands for obedience externally, instead of guiding their flocks to seek the Holy Spirit that enables internal obedience, from the heart.  Thus, they tend to be cattle-drivers and not shepherds over God’s flock which has been entrusted to their care.  Many of the fundamentist churches are legalistic, although some of them are not.  Now don’t come to a wrong conclusion about legalistic churches, especially the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God, as many within their congregations have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God do have a very good understanding of God’s Word, the Bible, and many Bible doctrines.  It’s just they have the cart before the horse in their understanding of law & grace, and their concepts about ministry are a bit off (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/AShepherdLooksAt%20Psalm23-short.htm).  Amazingly enough, the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God are the very descendants of the original Judeo-Christian churches of God in both Judea and Asia Minor up to around 300AD, before being persecuted and driven underground by the proto-Catholic church under Constantine, so don’t be too hard on them.  These Sabbath-keeping Churches of God, historically speaking, have endured and survived great persecution over the past 1700 years, and are to be admired for staying the course (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/revivals.htm).  The persecution over the centuries forced these churches to turn inward, becoming exclusive, seldom becoming powerfully evangelical as the early churches of God were during the period of the Book of Acts.  Jesus’ advice for them would be similar to that which he gave the church at Ephesus, “remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works…”  What were those first works?  See http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch1.htm.  Pastors, stop usurping the job of the Holy Spirit, baptize immediately, let the Holy Spirit do its job, and gently teach and shepherd the flock of God Jesus has entrusted to your care.  You have a rich heritage of survival against all odds.  Move forward in these areas.           

 

3. Jesus says you are welcome here and I will change your life from the inside out (cf. John 8:11-12; Romans 8:1-16; John 14:15-17,21; John 16:13-14)  (this category is filled with the Grace oriented churches, they understand the proper balance between law & grace.)  Calvary Chapels, are a denominational group that is most definitely grace oriented, having a proper understanding of law and grace, although their doctrinal explanation about “law & grace” can be somewhat lacking, as they show an aversion to mentioning the word law in their explanations about law & grace.  They are keeping the Laws of God, 9 out of the 10 Commandments, to the level that can only be accomplished by the indwelling Holy Spirit, thus Spirit-level obedience.  There may be a good number of properly grace oriented churches and congregations out there. The Calvary Chapels are the only denomination that comes to mind as a whole denomination in my own personal experience, so I am using them as an example (to learn more about them and when this Christian revival started, see http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/smith.htm).  Many Messianic Jewish congregations are properly grace oriented, and fall into this category as well (I attend one). One Messianic Jewish pastor/rabbi, Marty Cohen, who claims his congregation is Torah Observant, but in reality is very grace oriented said this, “Keeping to Torah is not a prerequisite for being saved, but it’s the evidence that you are!”  The Calvary Chapels have been called legalistic by the liberal churches, because they adhere to and live by the Word of God, including 9 out of the 10 Commandments.  They are not legalistic though.  They quietly keep the laws of God as they are enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit, while reaching lovingly out to the sinners in the world through their good works.  This is and should be the evangelistic approach of all grace oriented churches and denominations.  Oh, by the way, the Messianic Jewish revival which started to go full-steam around 1970 onward, has seen about one-million Jews come to Christ, by some estimates.  Jesus has truly restored the Jewish branch of the Body of Christ, which originally was under the apostle Peter in Judea (see http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/messianicmovement.htm).  

 

related links:

 

1. Why would I say the Sabbath-keeping Churches of God are descended from the Judeo-Christian churches of God in Judea and Asia Minor?  See, http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/earlychurch1.htmand then follow the trail, make the comparison historically, and to do that, see, 

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/revivals.htm

 

2. How should God’s pastors shepherd God’s sheep?  See,

http://www.unityinchrist.com/wwcofg/AShepherdLooksAt%20Psalm23-short.htm

 

3. Both the Calvary Chapel Christian revival and the explosive revival of the Messianic Jewish movement started around the same time, 1969-1970.  See,

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history/smith.htm

and

http://www.unityinchrist.com/messianicmovement/messianicmovement.htm

 

4. If you’re a believer or a new believer, and trying to decide where you should attend, you’re in the process of choosing a church/denomination, and asking ‘Where would it be best for me to attend, what church/denomination would do the best job of nurturing and establishing me and my family spiritually?’ you need to make a wise choice and consider some spiritual factors.  To help you do this, see,

http://www.unityinchrist.com/history2/choosingachurch.htm

 

5.  You may find this hard to believe, considering the divided and fractured state of the Body of Christ, but Jesus Christ (as the pre-Incarnate Yahweh) has directly and emphatically called for unity within the Body of Christ.  See,

http://www.unityinchrist.com/prophets/Zephaniah/Zephaniah1.htm

(and scroll to the section on Zephaniah 2:1-3)

 

 

 

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