Is one church as good as another? How often have you heard this question asked? If your experiences have been like mine, you have likely heard this question expressed as a statement. One may say, "One church is as good as another", while someone else says, "It doesn't matter how you worship or what you believe, as long as you worship in some manner." On the other hand, members of one religious organization may vehemently defend their worship practices as being the only "true" way to worship God, while another entirely different organization makes the same claim. It's obvious to any outside observer that they both cannot be "right." So, is one "right" and the other "wrong", or are they both in error? How is one to know?
This is a study I've been pondering for quite some time. How does one best approach a topic such as this? As I was preparing to write this article I came across an astounding statistic: according to the 2001 edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia there are some 34,000 different "Christian" religious organizations in existence today!! They all call themselves "Christian", but the majority has little if anything in common. America was founded upon the bedrock of religious freedom. In America, one has the right to worship God in any manner one wishes. I firmly believe each and every American should be grateful beyond measure for this liberty. But is God pleased with the results of our liberty? Did God intend for the "Christian" religious world to be so diversified and confused? With freedom comes responsibility. Henry Brooke Adams once said:
"Absolute liberty is absence of restraint; responsibility is restraint; therefore, the ideally free individual is responsible to himself."
What, if anything, does this mean when we consider religion? I believe it makes a point we must consider. Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:10 to "make your calling and election sure." Paul, in Philippians 2:12, tells the Philippian Christians to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." In each of these passages we see the responsibility of the individual to make their salvation sure. In order to do so, each person must know what is required of them to achieve a saved state, and then make sure they are meeting those requirements. If one has the goal of worshiping God as He wishes, that individual has the responsibility to evaluate their worship practices and make sure they are in keeping with the wishes of the Father. Jesus tells us in Matthew 15:9 that it is possible for us to worship God in vain. Not only does He tell us that our worship to God may be empty (vain), He tells us what makes it so--teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. The very fact that Jesus warns us about the possibility of worshiping God in vain tells us that we must be able to determine how to worship Him properly. But what is doctrine? How do we know which doctrines are of men, and which are of God?
My purpose in this study is to review the teachings regarding the church found within the Bible. We will look to the scriptures and determine how we can properly worship God. We will look at examples of vain worship, and consider why their worship was vain. We will study in detail Jesus' words in Matthew 16:18, and determine what they mean for us today. We will look to the scriptures to find the worship practices of the Church authorized by God. Once we have done so, the answer to our question will be clear.
Throughout this study only those teachings which can be found within the Bible will be considered authoritative. If you have not yet completed my study entitled "Why we must use the Bible only", you might wish to do so if you have questions regarding my reasons for using only the Bible as authority. I will briefly revisit points made within that study from time to time, but will not deal with the specific reasons in the same depth during our current study.
Before dealing with the question, "How is one to know", we must determine whether it is possible for us to know how God wants us to worship Him. If we cannot know how to worship God, it is pointless to try and answer the question "How". Pasted below is an excerpt from my study entitled, "Who is a Christian?"
Does God wish for men to worship Him properly? Most certainly so! We read in John 4:23 and 24 that God seeketh men to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Now let's put these two thoughts together. First, Jesus warns that we may worship Him in vain by teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. Next we learn that God desires men to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Is it possible for men to know how to properly worship God? Absolutely! It must be possible, or Jesus would have no right to condemn men for worshipping God improperly! It must be possible, or Jesus would have no right telling men that we are to worship God in spirit and in truth! If we are to worship God in spirit and in truth, we must ask ourselves "What is truth." Does that question sound familiar? It should--we asked and answered it earlier in our study. Recall Jesus words in John 17:17. He tells us what is truth--the word of God!
We see in John 4:23 and 24 that God is seeking men who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. Since Jesus warns us that we may worship God in vain (Matthew 15:9), God must have given us instructions on how to worship Him properly. Therefore, we can know how to worship God in spirit and in truth. Since the word of God is truth, we will find the answer within the word of God. So, in the process of answering the question "Can one know how to worship God properly?” we have answered the question, "How is one to know." One must look to the Bible for God's instructions on how we are to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
We've all heard (and possibly quoted directly) the words spoken by George Santayana:
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
William Hastie, a U.S. judge and politician, once said:
History informs us of past mistakes from which we can learn without repeating them. It also inspires us and gives confidence and hope bred of victories already won.
The apostle Peter shows us the importance of bringing to remembrance the things that are already known, so they won't be forgotten (2 Peter 1:12-15). In the same spirit I'd like to bring to our remembrance past mistakes made in worship to God. We'll look at the relationship between the old law and the new law, and determine where we may look for religious authority today. The organization of the Lord's church will be studied, after which we'll look to the scriptures and identify how God wishes us to worship Him today.
I pray that you will have a tender heart, open to the teachings of God's word as we consider this vital topic. I also pray that you will objectively evaluate your worship practices and determine to make your worship to God pleasing in His sight. By knowing what worship is pleasing to God you may know that by abiding to the plan He has given us He is pleased with your worship.