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The Meaning and Purpose of True Christian Assembly:

Church versus deficient form and practice in the church-visible

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Question #1: 

Hi!

One year ago, January, I wrote to you the following: I would like to study your literature, but I would appreciate also a kind of personal answers to some questions. Can you provide them too?

And you answered: Good to make your acquaintance. As you can no doubt see from the email response page, I am always happy to respond to personal questions about the Bible. Please feel free to write any time.

Well... Hi! again! Again I am here with exactly the same problems: I am nearly immobilized on chair and therefore do not go out much! And do not have continuous contact with my old Pastor and Church, which are at 150 km away. So, surfing on the Net I went across your site and I like it. (By the way, I am an Independent Baptist believer, .... coming from a Catholic background. That is, when I found out the most decisively mistakes and wrong teaching of the Church of Rome, I escaped suddenly and most decidedly away!) I am at the moment confused on how come the churches (Included among the different type of Baptist) do differ on the belief of what happen after death. Some say we are with the Lord instantly and others no. (As you naturally know). Question is: what can I find in your site an answer to this ? Can you answer me personally too?

Yours in Christ

Response #1:  

Good to hear from you again. As to your question, the short answer to why there are differing views on anything of a doctrinal nature is twofold: 1) lack of quality work (whether of effort in preparation or application; see the link: the era of Laodicea), and 2) putting personal agendas ahead of what the Lord wants. Not saying that this ministry is "perfect" -- far from it. However, ideally we should all be doing everything we can to come to the full and complete knowledge of the truth as quickly as possible, putting it into practice in our lives, and helping others to do likewise (that is the Plan of God for us as individuals in a nutshell). Doing this, of course, is easier said that done, and requires diligence, consistency and the endurance of various sorts of pain. It's much easier to fall back on tradition, personal prejudices, and other people's opinions -- especially if any or all of these say what we want them to say. Following the truth always involves getting uncomfortable "input" from scripture.

As to the question of life after death for Christians, there is a plethora of information about this at Ichthys. I would start with the following links:

What is heaven like, according to Christian teachings?

Heavenly Things

What does the Bible say about Heaven and Hell?

Our Heavenly, Pre-Resurrection, Interim State

Last Things: The Millennium and the New Jerusalem (CT 6)

Do feel free to write back with any other questions you may have.  I also maintain an email notification list for the announcement of major postings and would be happy to add your name if you wish.

Thank you for your testimony!

Yours in Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #2: 

What are the purpose and functions of the local church assembly that scripture outlines? How are we to conduct ourselves as a local body of believers ?

Hebrews 10:25 - Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

What are we suppose to exhort another for? and in 1 Timothy 5:17 it states that "the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine." Does this refer only to the Pastors? Sorry for all these questions, but it seems that the functions and purposes in local churches vary widely.

Response #2: 

My overall view of Church polity is that scripture has deliberately left much unsaid, because beyond a few basic, common sense principles of discipline and orderliness (covered in 1Cor.12-14 and the pastoral epistles), local assemblies should be flexible rather than prescriptive. This is another area where the historical church-visible (as opposed to the Church whose membership roster is in heaven) has gotten off on the wrong track, tending to make mountains out of mole-hills and emphasizing entirely the wrong sort of thing. It is not too much to say that many groups are involved in "building worship" on the one hand, and have elevated the order of service and its corresponding ritual to the status of an inflexible doctrine on the other. The same goes for church organization in almost all denominations as this is one of the most divisive points of contention between them (in fact, even when other doctrines are proffered as the occasion of separation).

I think you have hit the nail on the head with your comment which connects exhortation with the question of pastors. The Hebrews passage does indeed make encouragement (the Greek word here is parakaleo, the standard word for encouraging someone; cf. the Holy Spirit who is our Paraclete, or "encourager") the reason for assembly, and we know from e.g. Romans 15:4 that it is the scriptures and the truth they provide which is the basis for all genuine Christian encouragement. So church should be all about spiritual growth, advance, and encouragement – and this only happens through the Word of God. To the extent that a church is focused on the Word and teaching its truth, it is fulfilling the biblical mandate. To the extent that it is hung up on other matters, it is not (no matter how it is organized).

The "double honor" for pastors 1 Timothy 5:17 is referring to the need for a local church to (ideally) support its teaching elder(s), since becoming proficient in the Word and learning enough to feed the flock is not something that can generally be done as a hobby or second occupation. Rather than buildings and all the other place where a church's money goes, the pastor's salary therefore ought to be the number one reason to organize and give.

As I have often said, there are many respects in which we fall very far short of the very simple biblical model today, and that has a lot to do with why this ministry is not housed behind brick and mortar.

Here are some links to a few places where these issues are discussed in a bit more detail:

Church Polity

Some Questions on Church Polity

How much should we pay our pastor?

The Assembly of the Local Church

Mega-Churches and Emergent Christianity

Church Attendance.

Church: The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality.

Red Hot or Lukewarm? Bible Teaching versus Sermonizing.

Pastoral Support, Pastoral Preparation, and the Purpose of Assembly.

I appreciate your consistent interest in God's Word of truth.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #3: 

The word 'church' in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word 'ekklesia' which comes from two words 'ek' meaning 'out' and 'kaleo' meaning to 'call.' However, the meaning of any word in any language is determined not only (nor even decisively) by its etymology but by its actual use in that language. Etymology can give some very good clues as to meaning, but to really get on the wave-length of the true meaning, checking the word’s use in various contexts is required. What would Jesus have meant when he said, "I will build my ekklesia" since to the minds of people in Christ's day an ekklesia would have been a deliberative assembly originally used in Greek democratic government?

Thanks for your help.

Response #3:  

Good to make your acquaintance. You are certainly correct. Etymology is helpful, but only as a support to lexical investigation based upon actual usage. That is certainly true of the word ekklesia which has as you discern a very storied history in Greek usage. As is often the case with technical vocabulary in the New Testament, the influence of the Old Testament, and in particular the word choices made by the translators of the Greek version of the Old Testament, i.e., the Septuagint (a.k.a., the LXX), must be taken into account (and that is certainly the case here). In the Greek Old Testament, the word ekklesia ( ἐκκλησία) is the standard translation for Israel's assembly (קהל), the qahal. As I write about this in part 5 of the Satanic Rebellion Series:

The word qahal stresses the idea of being assembled (and is translated "assembly" 95 times in the NASB version), while the other term for the gathered people of Israel, 'edah (עדה), stresses the idea of having been called to the appointed place (translated "congregation" 126 times in the NASB version). For this latter term, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, uses synagoge, our "synagogue" (compare Heb.10:25 "the synagogue-ing of yourselves together"). That the two Hebrew terms are synonyms is apparent for the Septuagint's treatment of Num.16:2-3 where both Hebrew terms are translated with ekklesia. The Greek word ekklesia was the natural term for translating both qahal and 'edah, for both notions (i.e., of being called out already and of being in the process of being calling out) are resident in the word ekklesia.

One important thing to keep in mind here is that the Church is the assembly of God's people from the beginning of human history until Christ's return. In contemporary evangelical theology, it is often the case that a very firm distinction is drawn between God's way of dealing with His people before and after the cross (often called "dispensationalism"; see the link). But while it is certainly true that in our present age, the Church Age (as I too term it), things are quite different since we are now no longer under the shadows of the Law but under grace, the cross now being a reality fulfilled, God's people have always been the same – and part of the same "assembly". That is why, for example, Stephen can speak of the "Church in the wilderness" in respect to the people of Israel (Acts 7:38); and why Jesus in the passage you ask about says "build (i.e., "up")" and not something like "create (i.e., anew)" – since the assembly of believers has been around since Adam and Eve believed God's promise of the coming Seed; and this is also why Church Age and Israelite and prior gentile believers are all resurrected in one echelon at Christ's return (1Cor.15:23b); and this is also why all who believe prior to Christ's return are referred to as His Bride (a term in many ways synonymous with the Church/Assembly).

The political/citizenship aspects of the term ekklesia are also important, however, and sometimes lost through the use of the unfortunate English word "Church" which fails to convey this sense. For we do have a "citizenship in heaven" (Phil.3:20-21; cf. the Greek texts of Acts 23:1; Eph.2:19; Phil.1:27 where the verb politeuo means something like "act as a responsible [heavenly] citizen). And that citizenship is ultimately based upon our right to dwell in the ultimate polis, the New Jerusalem (cf. 1Cor.12:2-4; Gal.4:26; Heb.11:8-10; 11:13-16; 12:22-23; 13:14; Rev.21-22). Our names are enrolled in heaven, and we will assemble before our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ forever. Thus, the idea of being a military/enfranchised citizen assembly is an important one to keep in mind for a proper perspective in loving our brethren: we are all one and the same assembly/army with one and the same purpose, and will enjoy each others' company in our true city, the New Jerusalem, for all eternity. That being the case, we should be motivated to help each other "soldier on" in spiritual growth and production as best we can through the generous application of the gifts we have been given in the particular ministries to which we have been called. And we should also be leery of seeing any of these wonderful attributes as applying only to a specific local "church" (where the name "church-part" would really be more appropriate). Contrary to the divisions in the church-visible here on earth, believers should always strive to keep in mind that the true Assembly is the one to which we all belong, the one which assemble in the New Jerusalem forever, the whose present day edification depends upon hearing, believing and applying the Word of God – not showing up at some steeple-toped building for unfortunately but usually pointless rituals one day of the week.

For more on some of these matters, you might want to see the following links:

The Church (in SR 5)

Etymology of Church and Ekklesia

Christ the Bridegroom

The Bride of Christ

Believers as part of Christ's Bride

New Jerusalem: the Church in Eternity

Thank you for your interest in this ministry and for your love of the Word of God.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior.

Bob Luginbill

Question #4: 

Hello Robert,

Haven't been able to write for a while, I've been quite ill for the last couple of months and although I don't have a diagnosis yet, I am afraid it might be some sort of neurological disorder because something is clearly not right. I had a bad episode over the weekend of numbness down the left side of my body, along with lightheadedness, which was severe along with left-sided pain. I went to the hospital, they didn't think it was heart related, or a stroke, tests were normal, thank God for that. I was frightened though, I kept thinking I was going to die. It seems like demons tend to attack you when you are physically ill, I remember thinking what if I die, will I go to heaven? Have I done all I can to ensure that my soul will enter, or will the many mistakes I've made cost me my soul. I remember reading an article once about how few people will actually see heaven. Most of my life has not been as a Christian, it's a very hard issue to face when you feel as if you're dying. Obviously, I am ok for now but Jesus made it pretty clear that our earthly lives are fragile and we both know many people who have died before their time. It's easy to remember all those folks when you're ill. A depressing subject and hopefully, the Lord will bless me and restore my health. Fear is the one of the greatest weapons of Satan, and he knows just how to use it, "I am not worthy, I have not done enough to get in to heaven." I also worry about my family. As a Christian man, should I be this fearful, why am I thinking these thoughts? The Lord does listen, and has restored peace in my mind in heart on many occasions. I keep asking myself, should I be talking to non-Christian friends about Jesus, and sharing more of my testimony? I don't think I am doing enough in that regard, why? Fear I suppose, afraid of what people might think. I have asked Jesus to remove this fear but it comes back. Just wondering what your thoughts are on this because I don't think a true Christian should live with fear. I try to remember the suffering that Christ went through at Calvary, the nails in his hands, the suffocating, he must have wept. I don't know how many hours it took before he died, but not many people who die suffer like he did, no one that I know of. There was no morphine or doctors there to ease his pain. Satan must have attacked his mind that day and tempted him, just as he tempted him by offering him the entire world years before. I hate the fact that we have to live in these times, so much evil, pain and suffering, more so than any other period in history.

Otherwise, I have improved health-wise quite a bit when compared to last weekend, please pray for me and my family. I only ask that I can do what's right in God's eyes, for however long I am here. Sometimes I think that perhaps God is punishing me for the life I lead years ago, but these thoughts are probably not coming from God. What is the best way to drive demons and demonic induced fear out of your life for good? My health insurance is not so good so I have to rely on a teaching hospital for care, sometimes I wonder if the doctors (residents) and nurses have my best health interests in mind. It may sound like self pity but I really don't feel sorry for myself, you reap what you sow, and I know that poor choices earlier in life may have lead to my health problems now. God only gives us one body, and it's our responsibility to take care of it.

I try to remain optimistic, if not for myself for my mother and father. Hope you are doing well, sorry for the rather depressing email but I guess we all have good days and bad days. Two or three weeks ago I was actually feeling ok. Should I be doing more to talk to people about my testimony? As always, thanks for your concern and most importantly, for your prayers, they mean a lot!

In Christ our Lord!!

Response #4: 

So sorry to hear of your physical troubles. They can surely get a person down. I do think you are correct in your analysis that the devil makes great use of such opportunities, and when he does, guilt is always a close second to fear in the allies he employs. When under such pressure, it is a good time to focus on the truth. The truth is the truth regardless . . . but just how firmly do we believe it? The test of true spiritual growth is the ability and the willingness to trust God when everything our eyes are seeing tells us this is a mistake. That is the very definition of faith (Heb.11). If we know for sure we are saved on the basis of our faith in Jesus, that is true whether we are well or sick, rich or poor, happy or sad, confident or fearful. We cannot let circumstance dictate to us what the truth is. We have to "go with what we know" by faith, and ignore everything else (that is what Job did, and his courageous application of the truth is immortalized in scripture forever).

This is, of course, much easier to say than to do (and easier to say when you're not the one under the gun). Still, it is the truth. It is also certainly the case that critical instances such as this are good opportunities not only for passing tests, but also for evaluation where we are. If we are certain that we are growing spiritually and helping others do the same through the proper and mature functioning of the gifts we have been given, then we should have absolutely no qualms about the prospect of death. The mortality rate in this country is 100%. The only question is whether or not we will get a good report and a good reward on that great day of days. If that is the number one focus of our hope, we have nothing to worry about. Everything will take care of itself. If it is not, then we are most likely drifting, and drifting is always dangerous.

To return to the issue of guilt, however, guilt is a poor motivation for anything and a likely motivator to get us into all sorts of questionable behaviors. For example, one should never share faith out of guilt. If a person is motivated to share Jesus and the opportunity arises, then by all means this a proper function of personal ministry, and may even be in line with a particular person's individual spiritual gifts. But to force the issue from guilty feelings will almost always result in failure, not to mention a whole host of negative side-effects. Churches and organizations which have no genuine substance to their teachings and which are not contributing to the spiritual growth of their members often focus on personal evangelism, pressuring adherents to do it because 1) the activity substitutes for growth (a false substitute which merely masks the lack of growth), and 2) it brings more people who have money.

Hold on to your optimism. We have every reason to be completely optimistic in Jesus Christ even as we understand that everything our eyes see will soon be destroyed. That is because in Him we know that we have a perfect and eternal body, and that we are rich beyond our dreams in wealth that no rust can corrode nor any worm destroy.

I will most definitely keep you and your family in my prayers.

Stand fast in Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #5: 

I heard a sermon where the Pastor who also specializes in apologetics said that anyone who doesn't go to church isn't saved, period. He quoted 1 John 4:20:

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 1 John 4:20

He said if you have no desire to fellowship with other believers or if you make the excuse that you don't want to go to church because there are hypocrites, then you're not saved because every church has hypocrites and God has not called perfect people. Is this true? I love the my brothers and sisters in Christ, but if I don't go to church, it's not because I don't love them, but there are some things that get in the way at times. His sermon made me feel as if I'm not saved even though I know that I am a child of God. What are your thoughts on this?

Response #5:  

Here is what I read in scripture:

"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
Matthew 18:20 NIV

So any assembly of believers, however small, however organized, and however named, is blessed by the Lord – it doesn't have to have a congregation, or a building, or be called a "church". On the other hand, I also read this:

"The multitude of your sacrifices--what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
Isaiah 1:11-13 NIV

"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps."
Amos 5:21-23 NIV

So then, it is not the assembling, but who is assembling and what is truly in their heart. I have a very hard time believing that any pastor who was truly a Christian could say something like what you report and mean it, namely, that those who don't attend are not saved – in the contrasted examples above, those "outside the gate" (Heb.13:11-14) are the ones saved; those inside amid the pomp and circumstance are the hypocrites. Thus there are only two possibilities here: 1) either this person is so deep into legalism and has such a shallow understanding of basic Christian theology that he is a danger to his own spirituality and that of others, or 2) he really doesn't believe this at all but is only saying it to lay a heavy "guilt trip" on the congregation and visitors in hopes of stretching his numbers (and contributions).

Honestly, I don't know which is worse. The former speaks ill of the organization and church that put him in the pulpit (and any and all who make a habit of listening to him). The latter marks him out as a deceiver who is willing to distort scripture in a blatant way in order to gain his earthly, material objectives. Even if I believed that going to a church where a "pastor" says such things would be spiritually helpful, I can not think of a single passage which would support such a claim. Clearly, 1st John 4:20 is not talking about assembly but about our attitudes and behaviors towards our fellow Christians at all times.

I don't know about you, but I have seen plenty of churches and even entire denominations where the salvation of those attending was in serious doubt (so that, clearly, attending was not helping them even to salvation), and I know of none where just the act of being "present" had anything to do with love – how could it? Just being present doesn't do anyone any good (except the egos of pastors who are all about numbers [and money]). Indeed, this pastor's comments unveil the chief problem with contemporary assembly in any case. For we are told in Hebrews 10:25 to assemble – not in a church building or what we today see as a church, mind you, but for mutual encouragement which can occur only through the Word of God whether directly or indirectly. If we love our fellow brothers and sisters, we ought to benefit them with our spiritual gifts in ministering the truth through teaching and encouragement which, at its finest, is reminding each other of the truth in an effective way. But contemporary Christian churches tend to be "doctrine-free zones" with no teaching going on at all, and, in the absence of the growth of the congregation, no more than marginal effectiveness in the implementation of individual gifts of the Spirit like encouragement.

If this pastor really loved his brothers in sisters in Christ, he should teach them the truth (which I would guess from this report and the fact that he is "communicating" via sermons he is not doing at all), and should stop deceiving them for his own purposes (no matter how genuine he may think his goal to be in his misguided approach to things, it could never justify deliberate misapplication of biblical passages).

It may very well be that we may have to give an account for wrongly supporting organizations by our presence wherein the Word of God is distorted and our fellow believers mislead. If more of us voted with our feet for things that are good instead of settling for and compromising with things that are demonstrably rotten, perhaps our good example would lead more of our brothers and sisters to a place where they might actually grow in grace and produce genuine fruit for Jesus Christ. So it may well be that if we truly love our brothers and sisters, we will stay away from "church", at least those churches where this sort of distortion of the Word of God is tolerated and promoted.

Please see the following links:

Church Attendance.

Dysfunctional Churches

Red Hot or Lukewarm? Bible Teaching versus Sermonizing.

Mega-Churches, Emergent Christianity, Spirituality and Materialism.

Church: The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality.

Pastoral Support, Pastoral Preparation, and the Purpose of Assembly

Assembly of the local church

Church Polity

Some Questions on Church Polity.

In the true love of Him who loved us so much He died in our place, our dear Savior, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Bob L.

Question #6: 

Hi Doc!

What is the purpose of evangelism as the focus during the assembling of believers? I've heard opinions from opposite sides. One answer I got was that the church was not for the lost and how our primary focus is to evangelize by taking the gospel to the lost outside the church. The other opinion is that we are to encourage the lost to come to our church, and some believe that the only place a lost person can hear the gospel preached or the Bible taught be in the midst of an assembly of believers. I believe that it's both for the lost and for us to take it to the lost. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks in advance!

Response #6: 

I would certainly hope that anyone who was seeking God who came to a "church" would have the gospel message presented there during each and every session in a clear and concise way. This surely ought not to be the primary focus of assembly, as the primary focus of assembly is the encouragement and edification of believers through the teaching of the Word of God. Of course, few churches nowadays do task #1, so I suppose we should be grateful if they at least do task #2. I certainly wouldn't restrict evangelism to church. I know and know of many who were saved outside of church, and many who would not have deigned to enter a church . . . until they were saved. Then too there is what Paul says in 1st Corinthians 14:23 to the effect that if the church is behaving irrationally, no unbeliever will be profited by attendance. I'm afraid that is the situation in most churches today. Instead of finding the power of God revealed by the straightforward and substantive presentation of the truth of the Bible, an unbeliever who does deign to come to church usually finds just what he/she expected to find: a lot of ritual, a lot of music, a lot of socializing, a pep-talk pop-psychology "sermon", but no very clear indication that "God truly is among you!". Under those circumstances, the necessity to take the initiative in giving the gospel in those instances where we do meet individuals who are really in search of the truth is even more vital: simply because we may not be able to "count on" their being led in the correct direction if we do get them to "come to church". And if that is the case, it is a fair question to ask whether we are in the right place either.

In our dear Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of all the Sheep, and the Savior of us all.

Bob L.

Question #7: 

The other day i was having a discussion with someone and they said that church is where you go for fellowship and to help serve other people and be fed from the word. i wanted to counter their point and challenge them on that viewpoint, but i wasn't so sure myself either. i'm getting to that point where i've heard stuff regarding what god does or how he operates, the purpose of the church, etc... my whole life, and i'm beginning to challenge it, to see if it's actually true and lines up with what the bible says. i'm also a little disillusioned with church based on the one i've been at the past ten years or so. there's been no growth the last 5 years, the pastor treats it as a business, there's a big emphasis on marketing and getting our name out there, so i've gotten somewhat turned off to the idea of church. so when this person brought up their point, i just automatically challenged everything they said in my mind, but i didn't really know how to accurately challenge it, or if they were right or wrong.

I'm not entirely sure there's an actual answer to my question, but i guess i'm kind of curious as to the correct role of church in today's culture. or more, how it should be structured, or at least your take on it. i know the church of today is a far cry from the church of 2,000 years ago, but doesn't culture have a huge impact on how the church is put together? i get the impression you aren't a fan of so called mega churches, but aren't they reaching more people for Christ than some 20 member church down the street? i'm sure it's probably almost completely based on the content/quality of the teaching being done there, and then one could argue that if a mega church isn't teaching correctly, they're doing more damage than good. it just seems like there isn't any church out there you could go to where they aren't doing something fundamentally wrong. and i know there can't be a perfect church out there, but it's frustrating knowing that almost any preacher out there doesn't understand the Greek, and yet he preaches from a translation of it every week. why waste my time going to church, other than fellowshiping with other like minded people? i just don't want to be a dumb sheep in the herd who hears something and automatically swallows it as dogma.

Again, thanks for your hard work and dedication to research and answering questions. it's greatly appreciated.

Response #7:  

This is a very common dilemma and set of questions on the part of contemporary Christians who are really interested in what the Bible teaches and in learning it in order to guide their lives by it (and who have a low tolerance for hypocrisy, counter-productive traditions, emotionalism and legalism).

As I have often remarked (see the links at the end of this response), the Bible is deliberately short on specifics when it comes to directives about what a local church should be and how it should be organized and governed. That is obviously deliberate. I am thoroughly convinced that the reason for this is to keep the biblical focus (for all who look to the Bible instead of to tradition) on what is really the purpose behind Christian assembly: the propagation of the Word of God, our means of encouragement and spiritual growth. If a church is teaching the truth of the Word, those who attend will grow in the truth and be encouraged, and will thus be helped to advance spiritually and develop and apply their own spiritual gifts to the furtherance of God's plan and Christ's Church. If a church is not fulfilling this primary role, well then it makes little difference what kind of physical plant it has, when it meets, how it is organized, what it calls itself, what kind of decorations it has, how many people are on staff, what their budget is, how well they are known in the community, etc., etc. On the other hand, if a church is actually teaching God's Word in such depth and detail to the point that those who attend are indeed becoming more like Christ, learning how to look at life and cope with it from the true divine point of view, and also eventually helping other Christians in this fight through the use of the gifts God has given them, then it really doesn't matter if the average contemporary Christian would even recognize this entity as a "church" at all.

For these reasons, I try not judge any form prejudicially. While it is certainly quite true that the mega-church format while designed for maximum marketing success and entertainment value has, in my opinion, serious impediments to overcome in order to even begin to do what churches should be doing according to the biblical standard, it is not impossible, and perhaps there are some out there which are "doing it right", at least to some degree. That has not been my observation or experience, however. The main point I would like to make in this regard is that if the history of the Church tells us anything, it is that hyper-concern with such matters, polity and appearance, has always been detrimental to the health of the Church collectively and to the growth its members individually. That is because such concerns distract from what is really important: hearing, learning, believing and applying the truth of the Word of God.

There are many ways churches might have developed over the past two millennia, and, indeed, it is very true that there are demonstrable differences (if not truly significant ones) in the forms in which Christianity expresses itself in other cultures. I have learned enough about the Bible and church history to know that the search for the ideal "form" for a church is an intractable and unprofitable question to become involved in on a practical level. Believers who want to live for Jesus Christ need to find a sound source of teaching, get with it and stick with it, even if some of the "forms" it adopts are uncomfortable (whether because they are traditional or because they are not).

I also do very much understand how uncomfortable it is for contemporary believers who have embarked on this journey. On the one hand, no matter how long and hard they look, it can often seem as if not only is there no "perfect" church, but there don't even seem to be any "marginally acceptable" churches, at least not when the true biblical standard is applied. On the other hand, growing up in this culture, especially if we have had any childhood association with traditional "church", there is a natural sense of displacement, alienation, and even "guilt" in not being associated with something that resembles what everyone else seems to think of as "church". The biblical principle that applies to this is the "old wine in new bottles" dictum. It is a trap and an error for those who have tested the wine and found it wanting to go back to the old or, even worse, to try to change the old. A better approach is to keep looking, and to be confident that God has never failed to open to anyone who kept knocking long enough to demonstrate they "really meant it". He knows what you need, and He knows your heart. He will supply you with all the spiritual food you need – even if it ends up not coming to you in the traditional "package".

Here are some of those links I mentioned:

Dysfunctional Churches

Mega-Churches, Emergent Christianity, Spirituality and Materialism.

Church: The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality.

The Local Church and Personal Ministry IV

The Local Church and Personal Ministry III

The Local Church and Personal Ministry II

The Local Church and Personal Ministry I

Assembly of the local church

Church Polity

Some Questions on Church Polity.

Yours in the One who is the Truth, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #8: 

Dear Dr. Luginbill

Greetings to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I am quite excited to find you and your site ichthys dot com. I have to thank you for your ministry up front. I answered the call of our Lord without any true understanding or knowledge of who He was and what He wanted from me. After reading a good portion of the Bible without any other books or material (I did read of what it meant to repent, pray, etc. - I was fresh to much of the language and lifestyle), I soon realized that what I saw clearly in the scriptures was not what most others saw. Despite pleading and reasoning with them all, I have yet to bring anyone to what I know as the Truth. Most will not consider it, others put their stock in pastors and friends and won't even consider sitting down and going through the Bible. I believe a lot of them might not read or even believe its inerrancy or authority. Whether they are well read or just church attendees, they all seem to think I am propagating false doctrine. It really has me concerned - I must question myself continually, because I do fear the Lord greatly and His stance on false prophets is...well, I don't want to be judged amongst that crowd.

I don’t want to go on and on, but I must say in all this I was alone with the Bible and I found these things to be unsubstantiated truths that I resist, despite (un)popular majority:

1. The idea that some kind of a prayer was an assurance of salvation was not only not biblical, it was absolutely false. I could neither find this in scripture and many people, with lives spilling over with sin and selfishness are banking on this. ‘Oh and did you ask Him into your heart’, He who knows and searches the hearts? Salvation is a daily walk and moment by moment choice to follow the Everlasting God. (Lev 26, Deut 28-29, Jos 24:15).

2. I found much more to speak on falling away (losing your salvation) than the unclear verses people are hanging on to prove OSAS. Salvation is not something you can never lose once you receive it. This I believe is the most detrimental error of today's people. I find the scriptures replete with 'breaking off', 'blotting out' (Jn 15:2, 6, Rom 11:19-22, Heb 10:26, Exo 32:33, Deut 29:19-20, Rev 3:5), the intentional/unintentional sins and their consequences (Num 15:22-31, Heb 10:26, Jos 24:20), the cities of refuge that many agree is a typecast of our Lord, although who only harbors those who are not 'high handed' or intentional and unrestrained with their sin. The patent answer is perhaps they never had it, questioning their original claim. But what does the parable of the sower portray? That the ones who the seed of salvation took root and began to grow in a person's life either falls away during a test or chooses what the world has to offer and forsakes the way of Truth (causing unfruitfulness and subsequent breaking off - cf. Jn 15:2a). I have to point out what I heard a Baptist Pastor preach from his pulpit not too long ago..."...you cannot lose your salvation. You all can kill yourselves today and be in heaven tonight." This also is the doctrine of man carried out to its natural conclusion. To hold to the doctrine and even attempt to repudiate this natural conclusion I suppose one would have to rely on more man-made doctrine - maybe throw in a purgatory or something like that.

3. The idea that you can sin and the blood of Jesus washes all that clear. I guess this is in part the expression of freedom that is taken from the last doctrine. Once again, much of the references above apply to this, with I believe the most clear is Num 15:22-31 and Heb 10:26-31 although I see it clearly in Gal 5:21, Eph 5:5, 1Cor 6:10 and Rev 21:8, 22:15. This would include putting all behavior into submission of the Lord, including the law of man. Point in case, the other day I come into a school zone and slow down (not because I think 25 is the right speed for schools, but I am called to obey all laws) and this van barrels down on my bumper. Finally as he floors it and flashes by me on the left (still in the school zone) I happened to read the side…’XXXX XX XXXXX Ministries’. I can't help thinking of the guy or gal that honks, waves a finger, and as they speed by there’s a fish on the back of the car. Although there seem to be many churches that speak (or at least believe) against this, despite the ones who choose to live their lives contrary, this is not as 'across the board' of a false doctrine as the previous two and the following.

4. Believing in Jesus means my every thought and action needs to be put into submission to Him. I tell people the word doulos is slave and has been successfully washed out of most all English Bibles (the Concordant Version is true to this word - I believe there is a book on this now by McArthur). This means if I believe He is God but live contrary in faith or obedience, I take my lot with the unbelievers (cf. Jas 2:19) - broken off the vine. This also has something to say about claiming this or that for my life in His name (e.g. a new house, car job). With all humility I am to ask if this is His will and if so if I may have that. If one could imagine a slave to his Master, I think that would be a closer portrayal. We walked into another (Community) church and at some point in the sermon many of them started yelling out 'Thus saith the Lord' and unclear (tongues?) language and falling down in the aisles. I asked the deacon why they were doing this and his reply was a rather offensive 'to get the power to do miracles!' I know the apostles did signs, but I do not believe Paul or Peter or John are leading us to do this - quite the opposite. A slaves position is not on his tip toes waving his arms and shaking his fist, it's on his knees (Jas 5:17-18). These miracles may not be of our Master at all (2 Cor 11:14-15).

5. I see countless verses on Christ's return and subsequent gathering. Today people want the freedom to believe one way or the other, but the Bible doesn't really allow for that. I believe it was John Nelson Darby who first developed/saw this independent rapture that comes before any tribulation - and it was less than two hundred years ago. I understand how some of them could overlook the wealth of evidence in the Old Testament (Ex., Dan., Ezek.) because so many refuse to study and revere the Old Testament, as if it doesn't apply ( Mal 3:6, Mat 5:17, Heb 13:8, 10:28) although they would have to disregard what was spoken by our Lord Himself (Mat 24:9, Mar 13:13, Lk 21:16, Rev 2:26). I plead with them to at least consider this because if they don't they won't be prepared (and most likely won't look like a testimony to the Lord (Lk 21:13) and this could be the time that they will fall away. I explain they tarred and slowly burned (for lighting) men, women, and children - are you ready to praise the Lord in this? And the verses in Revelation where they see the church 'appear' in heaven - there's nothing there in my Bible. All I can guess is that they really want it to be this way, and I can understand - but it's not, to my estimation. I do believe you put it quite well - that a soldier doesn't learn the initial training of combat and war while being shot at.

Having said all of this, I would like to pose a few questions to you.

I was strongly convicted to go to a church (my family and I often times held church services at our home). After going through several churches that were so far off into left field, we found a smaller size Baptist Church. After speaking with the Pastor on some of these convictions, he seemingly avoided us (especially the part where I disagreed with Once Saved Always Saved). After a couple months we met a real nice couple and he and I got to speaking on these things. He now looks at me like the ‘false teacher’ of the congregation - like more than him look at me, to be honest. At times (even today) we have felt like we were going to be asked to leave. I was so excited when I re-dedicated my life to the Lord that I would join in a men’s group and we would have all these Christian friends, and we have met and bonded with many couples that were instantly severed by this doctrine. They run screaming and angry. Yet at the same time, my commitment is to the Lord.

I came home from a sermon that felt like another admonishment to where we stand, and we are considering leaving this church as well. We love the Pastor, we are really drawn to several of the people, but we are feeling like we need to embrace what they embrace or move on. (Actually the Pastor told the congregation that a week or two ago.)

Am I wrong in my doctrine? I am but one man, not a scholar, going against not just a lot, but everyone (everyone but you on a couple thing I know of until now). I cannot be a baptized professed member of a church, a representative of this church, not in line with their doctrine. I believe their doctrine is the same, with the simple fact that theirs may not get them into heaven – or perhaps they will be on some other level. How can I not tell them about this? How can I not tell every Christian I meet?

They say I’m adding laws, putting them in chains…I just read it. I didn’t make it.

Is there a denomination that embraces these views? How can I embrace and volunteer, invite friends and neighbors, disciple people and bring them to my church if I don't believe the doctrine? In Bible studies questions are constantly asked things that their answer is 'it makes our life better,' where I see very clearly a much more strict God than this.

I reason with the people and they run from me. I reason with the Pastor and he sends the Assistant Pastor to study the Bible with me on basic doctrine. I don’t know if there is a denomination that is at all more in line with these things. I am an offense. Is this the part where they are to throw me out of the synagogues or kill me and think they are doing God a favor? I would stand even stronger if I could know I am not doing wrong, but right. I am answering a call to ministry and I don’t know where I should position myself. I do not want to be an untrue witness. But I already accepted I will go through anything for my God.

What might you say to this?

In His Grip

Response #8: 

Very good to make your acquaintance. Whatever your experiences in dealing with brick and mortar churches or doing the work of the Lord, please know that you are always welcome to the material at Ichthys.

This is a difficult problem – the problem of joining fellowship in our lukewarm era of Laodicea. It is a well-known problem too, at least among Christians who, like yourself, are taking a reasoned approach to the scriptures and trusting in God's Word as opposed to the traditions, and nowadays more and more, the entertainment-value practices which dominate the majority of churches in our day. I have fielded many similar questions from believers like yourself who want to have a Christian community but who are having trouble finding one wherein their consciences are not troubled and their principles not compromised. In our country today, cultural homogenization and wrong priorities (the desire for numbers and money notably) make the existence of churches which place Bible-teaching in first, second, or even third place on their priority list very difficult propositions. That is true for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the sad state of the average US Christian today. I believe it is fair to say that the vast majority of believers in this country are not interested in reading their Bibles or spending time in personal Bible study or listening to substantive Bible teaching or doing any serious ministry for Jesus Christ. What they want out of "church" is fellowship, entertainment, and absolution of whatever insufficiencies they may still feel.

Fellowship is a legitimate desire and a biblical command (though I hasten to add that Hebrews 10:25 is far from envisioning what most people think of as "church"). It is also true, however, that "bad company corrupts good morals" (1Cor.15:33 NASB).

Entertainment is the scourge of contemporary churches in my view. The Catholics and the old-line denominations rely on ritual to satisfy this urge. That is bad enough, but the lengths to which "successful" evangelical and charismatic churches have gone to drive up attendance, visibility and contributions are, in my opinion, tragic. I am not the only person to feel an acute sense of nausea when subjected to one of these experiences; that is the conscience kicking in. By making use of highly effective American marketing techniques and combining them with the artistry of the equally innovative entertainment industry mega-churches in particular in this country have largely "sucked the oxygen" out of much of the rest of the ecclesiastical space. Denominational groups or other well-established churches have been able to survive, but this trend has certainly meant that the bar has been set very high for any new church trying to get a start in crowded waters. If such a church downplays entertainment and puts fellowship in a supporting rather than a staring role, well, it is not hard to see how difficult a task the leadership of such a group is going to have in attracting and holding enough people to make it anything like a "church" in the traditional sense. I am personally not particularly upset about that, because the traditional American church model is weighed down with all sorts of unnecessary additions to the essential, biblical function of Bible-teaching.

One main advantage to this trend, however, is that the people who search out and stick with a Bible-focused group are more likely to be serious about it. I suppose that is easier for me to say, since I am blessed to have a good job that supports this ministry. Were I a young pastor-wanna-be with a family, having struggled and starved to get the education necessary to do a good job in the pastorate, the situation as it is would seem most problematic. At some point, I would need to feed my family. That is the dilemma on the supply side. A young man who is contemplating full-time ministry of a genuine, Bible-teaching sort will find himself hard-pressed not to compromise and join a denomination or ally with a group or mega-church so as to keep body and spirit together in the hope of doing God's work. I faced this same crossroads many years ago, and could not in good conscience make that compromise. The fact that those who are preparing to teach the Bible must face it so universally shows where we are at present in this Laodicean age.

Lastly, the third thing contemporary Christians want out of church is an insurance policy. On some level at some point the Spirit has convicted everyone who is not doing their job for Jesus of just that insufficiency. Hence the desire by marginal Christians to do "something", even if it is only going to church and giving money. Then, if they really want to be sacrificial about it, well, churches have never been shy about using the talents of their members. This is of course legitimate as far as it goes. On the one hand churches of any size need administrative expertise, help and support; on the other there are definitely Christians whose spiritual gifts tend in that direction. In many cases, however, I believe that for a Christian to "settle" and go to a church where nothing much is being taught (and where much of what is taught is wrong) is, at best, akin to the man in the parable of the talents whom the Lord upbraids for not having at least put his talent on account with a bank so as to earn interest (Matt.25:27). The best that can be said for believers for whom the Lord has a definite ministry in mind (for Jesus, after all, is the one who assigns them: 1Cor.12:5), and who yet hand over their talent to some highly compromised group, is that perhaps they may be earning some interest. I would be especially skeptical of even that in the case of the highly questionable mega-church sponsored "ministries" which do little for the Lord or the advancement of His truth (the ultimate goal behind all true ministry), and which reinforce the cycle of superficiality.

I am certainly not going to counsel you to leave your church. First, you and your family are the only ones who can best make an informed decision about what is right on that score. It is also the case that established relationships of any kind, ones that are legitimate, that is, should not be quickly and flippantly cast aside. On the other hand, the conscience needs to be heeded, otherwise it grows less audible over time. There are prepared men out there who would be overjoyed to teach the Bible in a substantive and godly way (some who have been waiting for such an opportunity for quite some time), and there are also other like-minded believers out there who crave just this sort of fellowship, just this sort of church. And while I know of no denomination that fits the bill (no doubt in no small part just by virtue of being a denomination), there are independent local churches here and there where they are "doing it the right way". And there are other means to grow; that is both the genesis and the purpose of this ministry.

I am very pleased to hear of your persistence in studying the truth of the Word and in your evangelizing for it so courageously. I want to encourage you to stick to your guns and keep running this race. It isn't an easy run, but it in the end it is what really counts in life. I will most definitely say a prayer for your guidance and for you to find precisely what you are looking for. It didn't happen for me in the way I had expected, but what did happen exceeds my expectations to an incalculable degree. The Lord is always faithful – especially to those who manifest their love for Him in a faithful walk.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #9: 

Was amused by the wine Q&A on your website. Reminded me of when I took a course on the New Testament in college and the book we used, written by some Baptist preacher/theologian, stated that Jesus drank grape juice and could not be used to justify the illicit trade in liquor. The same author stated that when the soldier pierced his side, the bloody water rushing out proved he died of a broken heart. I recall that when I read that piece of tripe, I threw the book against a wall in my dorm room and did not read any of it again. Said something to the professor about the book being stupid but got no reply. In the some 40 years hence, I have repeatedly been under-impressed by most preachers and theologians.

Response #9:  

If that professor didn't fail you, you probably came out ahead in the game! Actually, your response in rejecting outright "tripe", as you put it, is precisely what makes you one of the non-Laodicean Laodiceans (see the link). Refusing to accept lies and half-truths and pushing hard to find the real truth is just the response God wants out of all of us (but gets out of all too few of our brothers and sisters in Christ). I am very grateful you had this uncompromising attitude of heart back then – otherwise, where would I have gotten the good direction you gave me some years later?

Your story motivates me to endeavor not to be too under-impressive myself!

Your pal in Jesus forever,

Bob L.

Question #10: 

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

I have been studying a lot since I first wrote to you. I have been following your emails on the website too. I have learned a lot, but I need a study group to talk with. I want a group familiar with your website. Do you know of any in my area? Also, I know how strongly you feel about leaving your work on the Internet, but I think it will become time soon to publish. When the antichrist takes power, the internet may be shut down and it will be important to be able to distribute your Bible studies.

As always, thanks for your time, I very much appreciate it.

Response #10: 

Very good to hear from you again. I am very happy to hear that you have been benefitting from these materials!

I certainly understand the need for such interaction, and I wish I had some sort of master list of people who are engaged in Bible studies based on this ministry. For a variety of reasons, however, I don't solicit or collect such information. I do promise to say a prayer for your efforts in finding the spiritual fellowship you need – nothing is impossible for God, so keep on "knocking".

As to the issue of publishing, this may be a possibility down the line. God works things out in His own timing. I shudder to think what any such publications would look like had I been able to rush them into print when I first started to produce these studies many years ago. There is a lot to be said for electronic publishing (as someone who is prone to typos, I can vouch for it). I do want you to know that I am continually weighing this and other possible options.

I very much appreciate your enthusiasm for the study of the Word of God!

Keep running for the tape – there is great reward on the other side.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

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