It is our responsibility as Christians to love the church, to protect it, and to prevent it from false doctrine. In Revelation 2-3 , we read Christ’s words to seven young churches. In these letters, he provides hope, encouragement, warning, and rebuke.
We would do well to heed Christ’s loving words, and to apply his warnings to our churches today. This article helps to inform us of the risk of falsehood, and provides cautions against the false teaching that can easily entrap churches today.
5 Warning Signs for Today’s Churches
The Power Church
In a power church, it’s all about the outward and visible expressions of God’s work. Such churches get their buzz from miracle working, speaking in tongues, and stirring up emotion.
In such churches, believers are assured of their sanctification only when they’ve had an “experience” — speaking in tongues, being exorcised of a demon, or reaching an emotional high or point of catharsis. To their credit, such churches have a powerful belief in a powerful God. Their error comes when these signs and wonders are upheld as the only true marks of Christianity or God’s presence.
Following Christ can happen whether or not we feel emotion, and whether or not we speak in tongues. The real miracle that matters is that our heart — our inner man — turns from death to life. God does work miracles, but we may not always see or feel them.
One of the most common church models today is the megachurch. In such churches, the name of the game is Big. It’s about big auditoriums, big numbers, big attendance, big services, big screens, big stages, big sound, big concerts, and big multi-campus ministries! The Super-Size-Me churches have a lot of great things going for them. They have a lot of money, a lot of influence, and a large platform from which to do a lot of good.
Big is good, as long as it’s balanced with the correct perspective. The danger enters when size factors are blown out of proportion. These churches read “God’s blessing” into more numbers. Their hope and joy is built upon their attendance roll and giving records. If they cross the threshold into “mega” then, somehow, they’re doing things right.
Lots of activity, lots of entertainment, lots of programs, lots of people — these are not by themselves signs of God’s presence and blessing upon an assembly. Often, all the hype can mask the underlying loss of spiritual integrity and depth. Individuals can sometimes be neglected in an obsessive drive for numbers and growth. Such churches are at risk of becoming a shallow wasteland with a lot of excited people.
The Trendy Church
Some churches pride themselves on their hipster or trendy status. But trendiness is not godliness. Sometimes, the trendy can outdo the godly in its endurance and passion. Sometimes, in the pursuit of relevance, we lose touch with the reality of what God is calling us to — which isn’t relevance at all, but Great Commission living.
Sadly, sometimes these churches derive a false comfort that they can engage in iniquity with impunity, live as close to the world as possible, and call it “reaching out.” Being trendy doesn’t necessarily mean we’re more missional. And being trendy has its own set of pitfalls and problems. It can distract rather than help us engage.
The Legalist Church
The legalist church depends upon right behavior as the source of salvation. These churches spend time assuring themselves that they’re better than anyone else. The message is, “If you act right, you are right. (And you better act right!)” Their sense of spiritual superiority is, sadly, a false one.
These churches have high standards — the way people dress, the way people style their hair, the movies people watch, and the kind of music people listen to. Upholding these standards is equated with spirituality. “Just keep the standards, and you’ll be fine.” There is, of course, nothing wrong with high standards. The problem comes when we equate our standards with our salvation.
The truth is, we are saved by grace, not by works. Obviously, such churches would affirm this core doctrine, but their practices contradict it. Insisting on good behavior is wonderful, as long as it comes through Christ, by faith, and by grace. We can’t muster up our own goodness. Jesus gives us his goodness. We accept it.
The Liturgical Church
A church with soaring ceilings, stained glass windows, wooden pews, elevated pulpits, and kneeling benches are awe-inspiring and beautiful. From the robed choir to the marble slab floor, there is a sense of majesty and grandeur that outstrips the stadium seating and fog lights of the alternatives.
The error, however, is depending upon the liturgy, a sense of awe, the beauty and order, the heritage and tradition. These things are, indeed, breathtaking and beautiful. But they are not the basis of truth. They are not the only right way.
When we insist upon the historical practices, the time-honored traditions, the order, and all its trappings as the only right way, we are making a mistake. The church is not defined by what it looks like, but by what it is — Christ’s body (Ephesians 1:22-23).
The error of any false church is elevating anything above Christ. When any function of doing church becomes more important than the core doctrine, the substance, and the Person who built the church, we’ve fallen into error. Any replacement is a false one.
You can have high standards, you can speak in tongues, you can have mega everything, you can have hipster hangouts, and you can even install kneeling benches. There is nothing wrong with any of these.
The danger comes when these outward signs become more important than inward truth. Christianity is broader than any one denomination, style of clothing, volume of music, standard of living, race, gender, income, and appearance. Jesus’s love is shockingly and wonderfully expansive — bigger, and broader than we could ever imagine!
As we love our wonderful Savior and his church, let us stand with vigilance against false doctrine in any form, and pursue purity with our whole hearts.