Question: I was raised in a Catholic family as a child but am confused really of who, or what religion is right for me. I guess what I'm really looking for is an insight of Jesus' life and what the goals of his followers should be. There are so many different views and thoughts about what is the way? Are the Catholics right, Lutherans, Protestants, Muslims, Jehovah witnesses? How much of the Scriptures is man made from people being scared in those biblical and times after. This world is becoming out of control in my opinion and I believe the future is not bright. It just concerns me with all the evil that seems to be in this world. More so than when I was a child. I have been blessed I know, but have my doubts about a peaceful future for my children. For instance, I was baptized but none of my kids have been. According to some they need not be but other religions like Catholic seem to require this. Sorry to ramble but I have begun to read those books by those 2 guys about the Rapture and what not. I forget their names. But is that really accurate? I DO NOT want to be left behind. Please give me your insight if you have the time. I am eager to learn. Thanks.
Response: I appreciate your e-mail. Most of the people I associate with in Christian fellowship have analogous stories - disenchanted with contemporary Christianity precisely because it gives few answers. The truth is, at least in my view, that this is because most Christians are not looking for answers, and because most clergy are not interested in providing them (and not capable of doing so either). Compared to the dynamic teaching of the Word of God evident throughout the New Testament, contemporary Christianity of our own day is superficial, lackadaisical, and lukewarm.
What I most appreciate about your e-mail, and your earlier correspondence, is the evident desire you have to find out the truth. Indeed, without a thirst for God, without a deep longing to know exactly who He is and what He requires, there can be no genuine spiritual growth. I will do my best in this e-mail to answer both the specifics and the underlying question you ask, but I really need to start here: the Bible is the Word of God, and everything we need to know is contained within its pages. This is a fundamental truth without solid faith in which there can be no spiritual growth. That is because there is nowhere else to go to learn about the Lord other than the scriptures. It is true that we can look up at the night sky, we can consider the intricacies of any number of creatures God has made, we can marvel at the construction of the world and the blessings we have and know for certain that there is a God who is all wise, all good, and all powerful (this is a truth that is deep set in the hearts of all human beings - until they choose to shove it away as, sadly, most eventually do: Eccl.3:12; Rom.2:18-20). But while we are led by the way we are made and by the way the world is made to personal revelation about the fact of God and the essential character of God, if we would wish to know more we have to approach God in the way and in the manner He has ordained. First and foremost, the only way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ who died that we might live (Jn.3:16; 14:6). There is no other way to eternal life (Acts 4:12). No matter how many people subscribe to another view, no matter how impressive their ceremonies or their buildings, God is not impressed. Only Jesus can save, for only He was qualified to die in our place and for our sins. There is no other “gospel” than the good news about our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal.1:6-10).
We have to do things God's way. So how do we know God's way? The only way to know what God wants us to believe is by reading, by studying, by accepting the legitimate teaching in and of His Word, the Bible. I am not unaware that with your background in particular you have no doubt been exposed to many critiques against "putting the Bible first". But consider, is there anything else on this planet that you can put your hands on that purports to be from God, by God, and truthfully about God? Even if there is something which claims to be so, it is prima facie an obvious sham. Only the Bible even deserves consideration as the truth about God and His plan for your life. Much more than this, every page of the Bible profoundly breaths forth truth, truth which, when approached in humility and in the power of the Holy Spirit, speaks to us, inspires us, guides us and comforts us. Even when we are aware that we are not entirely understanding every bit of what we read, yet we somehow realize that what we are reading is so much more than the mere words of men; what we are reading are the very words of God, even though they have been penned by men, transcribed by men, and translated by men. The truth of scripture is so powerful that its light shines brightly even through the haze of our relative ignorance, and the more we read it, the more we consider it, the more deeply we take it into our hearts, the more certain and unwavering and clear and understandable this truth becomes. You don't have to take my word for it. If you begin to approach scripture with this attitude and commitment, the Spirit will lead you forward as He does everyone who is truly seeking God (for more on this, please see the study: Read your Bible: Protection against Cults).
As you intimate in your e-mail, there are many groups out there with widely disparate beliefs, even within the putative Christian community, and many different approaches to scripture. The important thing for any Christian to understand, especially a Christian who is searching for the truth, is that the mistakes of men who interpret and teach the Bible do not invalidate the Bible. This seems an obvious point, but one hears it wrongly said over and over again that "you can prove anything from the Bible", and people commonly use the fact of diverse interpretations to ignore the Bible's authority instead of understanding that what the Bible really says is right, and that therefore our number one purpose out to be to find out what the Bible really says. For, in fact, the Bible tells us what God thinks. If we have made an error of interpretation or, heaven forbid, have deliberately twisted His words for our own purposes, then it is we who are at fault, not the Bible, and certainly not God. Along with believing and accepting that what scripture really says is true, we have to have some confidence that it IS possible to get to the truth of what the Bible says, that God in His goodness, mercy, and foreknowledge of all that would ever happen did NOT leave us in the lurch to wander about in complete ignorance of His will (cf. Eph.4:14-16).
I have been working on the interpretation of scripture for the better part of my life, and I have never been disappointed when I truly put the matter in God's hands. I have had many questions answered that I thought might never be clear to me, and I have had many beliefs confirmed, others qualified, expanded, and outright changed when I went the extra mile, did the hard work, and patiently waited and listened for the voice of God coming forth from His Word. It is all in there, everything you want to know, and many, many wonderful things of which you had no or little idea, but it takes patience, humility, and the right methodology to find them out, to dig them out, to learn them (and it takes an even greater commitment to believe them and to live by them).
So what is the "right methodology"? It is not difficult to explain and clearly correct once understood. First, you have to have faith in the Bible as truly being the Word of God. You have to believe in the truth of scripture once that scripture is correctly understood, putting what the scripture actually says above what you may want it to say. You have to put yourself into God's hands, give your will over to His will through His Spirit, and be willing to accept anything and everything that He actually says. After all, Jesus is not called "the Word of God" for nothing (Jn.1:1-18). Scripture is His very "thinking", illuminated by the Spirit (1Cor.2:16). God, who made the world in an instant through Jesus Christ (Gen.1:1; Col.1:15-16), who sustains and controls the universe by the power of His Word (Heb.1:3), who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, holy, righteous and perfect in every way, this God our God is easily able to have produced for us a small book containing the words, the Word, He would have us to know, to believe, and to live by. Without the Bible, how would we know about Jesus Christ? And having seen to it that we have this book of books, and that it contains His truth, perfect in every way, how would He not have also given us the means and opportunity to get to that truth, to understand it, and to put it into practice? The fact that it may not be the easiest thing in the world to do does refute this principle, rather it confirms it, for the slight level of difficulty involved serves to cull out those who were not really all that interested in the first place (cf. Lk.8:11-16).
Secondly, you have to make a disciplined habit of reading scripture. The Bible is a whole which is internally completely consistent, and every part of it illuminates every other part. Like the blind men and the elephant, if you only look at one part, it is very easy to get an impression which, while it may be partially true, is not entirely true and can in fact be somewhat misleading. The more deeply that scripture sinks down into the depths of your mind and your heart, the more material, the more capital, the more "leverage" the Spirit has to work with as He aids you in your search for truth. If you were studying any secular field, law or chemistry or what have you, you would certainly not only want to develop a basic understanding of the principles involved or a narrow appreciation of one sub-filed only, but would immediately understand that to get "really good" at it, you would have to devote much time and effort to "learning" as much of the entire field of knowledge as you possibly could, realizing that any major gaps in your understanding could potentially throw you off in a large way. Blessedly, the Bible can be and usually is contained in a single volume, so that the task God has set for those who truly love Him and His Son is not impossible. Anyone can come to have a good, solid familiarity with scripture. This is very important also from the standpoint of the next item to be discussed, namely, how do you go about picking a system, "denomination", pastor or teacher?
For believing that the Bible is the truth and diligently reading scripture is not enough. Why? Because it is not feasible for every single Christian to devote many years to the study of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic (so as to read the scriptures in the original languages and have some facility with textual criticism, both essential features of interpretation), to the study of systematic theology, to the study of ancient history, church history, hermeneutics, etc. And even if it were feasible, since God has given us all different roles to play in the Church, the Body of His Son Jesus Christ, so He has also given us different gifts to fulfill those different roles (Eph.4:11-16). Not everyone is given the gift of teaching (cf. 1Cor.12:27-30). However, everyone has need of teaching.
Now when you wonder about all the "different views and thoughts", as you say, I would first draw a very clear distinction on the one hand between those who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and affirm that salvation only comes by grace through faith in Him (Eph.2:8-9), and those who do not on the other. This is the "Christ test" (1Jn.4:2-3), and most old line protestant groups and modern evangelical groups do pass this test. I would be very wary of almost any other sort of group, and would certainly put them to the "Christ test" before even thinking about joining fellowship - and it is just as possible to fail by adding to the gospel (i.e., adding church membership or baptism or etc. to the requirements for salvation) as it is by subtracting from it (i.e., failing to appreciate either the unique humane and divine Person of Christ or His work of atonement on the cross in dying for the sins of the entire world). Among those truly Christian groups who are genuine disciples of Jesus Christ, I think you will find a broad agreement on many of the fundamental truths of scripture. It is true that after the generations of the apostles passed from the scene, the deep understanding of their words and, consequently, broad unity of doctrinal beliefs passed away rather rapidly as well, at least beyond very basic doctrines. In large measure, the true Church of Christ (that is, those in every generation who have really been believers in Jesus and followers of Jesus) has been struggling to get back to that high place of understanding and faith ever since. Much has been accomplished in the last several hundred years. I like to think of it as those who are truly committed to growth through the Word of God circling ever more closely in on a full and complete understanding of the Word, getting closer and closer with ever circle made, despite fits and starts and bumps, and in spite of some who are pulling away rather than zeroing in. Obviously, the thing for an individual believer to do - one, that is, who is really and truly interested in getting closer to God - is to find that person and/or place where there is in truth such a commitment to the Word, where there is in truth such a desire for the truth, and where, in truth, the correct methodology is being openhandedly applied with demonstrably positive results. This is especially important in these last days of the Church age, for we are currently in a period (Revelation calls it "Laodicea": Rev.3:14-22) where lukewarmness is the rule rather than the exception, and where lip-service to good methodology is common, but truly mining truth from the scripture with blood, sweat and tears is uncommon. For one who is genuinely interested in the truth and deep in the scriptures, however, it will not be difficult to make this distinction (another reason why reading your Bible is so important).
So the choice is yours. God has not made it easy (deliberately so, in my view). The road is narrow and the road is straight, and there are not many who find it. But it is there to be found. If you are truly and genuinely hungry for the Word of God, He will provide you with just the right opportunities for spiritual growth and spiritual advance, including good, solid Bible teaching which is genuinely based upon the truth and from which you may greatly profit. Don't doubt God on this. He gave you His Son - will He not also faithfully give you the means to grow closer to His Son and serve His Son as He clearly wants you to do (Rom.8:32)? Just persevere in your search, keep on knocking, and the door will open up for you.
There is a lot more I could say, about baptism, for example (water baptism has NOTHING to do with salvation. Please see the following links:
Baptism: Water and Spirit
Is Water Baptism Necessary for Following Jesus?
Is water baptism required for Christians today?
Is baptism necessary for salvation?
About the "rapture", the premise of those books you mention is flat wrong. Jesus resurrects His Church on His return, after the Tribulation, not before. Please see these links:
The Origin and the Danger of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture Theory.
The Timing of the Resurrection
Peter #27 "Three Doctrines that Threaten Faith
I would suggest, if you are interested in pursuing the teaching offered by this ministry, that you start with the Peter series (see the link: Peter's Epistles). The 27 available lessons therein serve as an introductory course for those interested in spiritual growth through Bible study. On the actual resurrection of the Church, please also see, in Coming Tribulation part 5, "The Resurrection of the Lamb's Bride".
But wherever you find your path to the truth of scripture by faith in Jesus Christ, hold onto your interest and your commitment, and keep fighting this good fight of faith. That is the only way to make you calling and election secure, and the only safe path to fruitful service in this life for our Lord. This is the only true way not to get “left behind” on the high road to Zion.
In Him who is the way, the truth, and the life, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.