Do I Really Need to Go to Church?

A Different Church Building

A Different Church Building (Photo credit: justshootingmemories)

Question: I am a “new” Christian and I have a question that concerns me.  I do not have a church home and to be perfectly honest, I have not found one that makes me comfortable.  There seems to be too much politics involved, so to speak.  I pray, I believe that Jesus died for me, I study my Bible and I listen to various services on TV and have received much knowledge by doing so.  My life is dedicated to serving my Lord but I do not want to displease Him.  Is it necessary to have a church home?

Answer:  Yes, I believe it is necessary to have a church home.  I know that there are unpleasant interactions in any body of people gathered for a common purpose.  Politics, the practice or study of the art and science of forming, directing, and administrating states and other political units, is an inevitable part of any collective body.  But the politics of the church should be about implementing the will of our Leader, Jesus Christ.  His apostles, who were his authoritative spokesmen for the faith, planted churces wherever they went.  That is, they called together the believers for the purpose of meeting in unity around the authoritative gospel message and to worship together their Savior.  They appointed leaders to help govern the church.  But of course, from the very beginning there were leaders who did not lead well and plenty of opportunities for church members to get upset with each other.

It is in this kind of situation, however, that we learn that we are just as capable of the very errors we hate and in which we must learn to love and be loved.  Like marriage, which is also a very imperfect reperesentation of the ideal love we want to experience, the institution becomes a laboratory for learning love.  If we submit to the Lord and ask him to help us be shaped by love and be shapers of others by our love, he will certainly work that in us.  We need the accountability of others in our lives and to be those who offer accountability.

This is why it says:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

For further reading:

Are Paul’s Writings Scripture?

Papyrus Bodmer VIII, Original: Biblioteca Apos...

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Question:  How do we know that everything Paul wrote is true?

Answer:  Jesus told His apostles in John 16:13 that when the Spirit of truth came He would lead them into all truth.  Jesus himself taught his disciples how to interpret the Old Testament (Luke 24).  He was preparing them to lead the church with authority and truth.

Paul often declares himself to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, appointed by Him after the others but in no way less authoritative than them (Romans 1:1, 5; 11:13; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 4:9; 9:1, 2, 5; 15:9; 2 Corinthians 11:5; 12:11, 12; Galatians 1:1; 2:8; et al).  He indicates that his teaching is to be obeyed (1 Corinthians 14:36,37; 15:1-4; et al).

Interestingly, in 2 Peter 3:15,16 Peter refers to Paul’s writings as “Scripture” (“His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”).  And the testimony we have from Paul and Peter is that the Scriptures are God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) and from the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).

So from a biblical perspective, Paul’s writings are Scripture that is divinely inspired and produced by the Holy Spirit to give us doctrine and training in righteousness.  They are meant to be taken by us as God’s Word.  Without this assurance we would struggle to really know how to discern God’s will in our lives.  Our understanding of the gospel would be at stake.  We need these authoritative words in order to know how to live before God.

Randall Johnson

Questions About Personal Evangelism

Question:  I feel very uncomfortable sharing my faith with those I don’t know are Christians or not.  How do I get over this? 

Answer:  I don’t know that you ever get over this.  You are facing someone with eternal issues at stake.  You are putting yourself out there as committed to a doctrine that most people find offensive.  You are risking being viewed as some fanatic for your beliefs.  You may draw persecution to yourself.  None of this should make you feel comfortable, but should instead drive you to God for help and courage.

Question:  Are there any icebreakers that seasoned Christians use? 

Answer:  Yes.  Prayer for the Spirit’s wisdom is first, then looking for an entrance into conversation that can be steered toward spiritual things.  One helpful set of questions that can open doors for patient listening and potential sharing are: (1) Do you have any spiritual beliefs?  (2) Who is Jesus to you?  (3) Do you believe in a heaven or a hell?  (4) If you were to die tonight, do you think you would go to heaven or hell?  (5) If you were wrong about what you believe would you want to know it? 

Another possibility is to ask the two diagnostic questions, (1) If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to heaven? and (2) If you died and stood before God and He said, ‘Why should I let you into My heaven,’ what would you say?  Perhaps the greatest mistake we can make is thinking we have to share everything we believe every time we witness and destroy every wrong belief we hear in the person we are witnessing to.  Just asking the questions, or even just one of them, might be all God is calling you to do at the time.  Simply sharing what happened in your life might be all God is calling on you to do this time.

Question:  Why should I share my faith?  Isn’t it a personal decision to have a relationship with Christ?

Answer:  It is a personal decision to have a relationship with Christ, but the Bible tells us that those who don’t know Christ are ultimately unwilling to know the truth about Christ and will find all kinds of ways to deny the truth.  God commands us to speak the truth as we have opportunity in order to challenge the unwillingness of those who don’t know Christ.  If Jesus had not spoken to the woman who came to the well (John 4) she would not have moved toward spiritual things. 

We also believe that if people don’t embrace Christ as rescuer, they won’t be rescued and will perish in eternal separation from God.  Taking an antibiotic to cure you of pneumonia is a personal decision, but if you didn’t realize you had pneumonia and that someone had an antibiotic, you would never make that personal decision, and the one who knew and had the cure would be guilty of withholding vital information.

Question:  What does Evangelical mean and what is the difference between and Evangelical and a Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran or other denomination? 

Answer:  Evangelical normally means someone who holds to the authority of Scripture and its teaching that humans are lost forever unless they personally welcome God’s offer of life in Jesus Christ by renouncing their self-determination.  Evangelicals believe that it is their responsibility to share the message of life with all who don’t know it so that they may have a chance to gain eternal life.  Evangelical is not a denomination, but a Christian worldview.  A Methodist, Baptist or any other denominational Christian can be an Evangelical or not.

Question:  When should I use words to share Christ versus remaining quiet and letting my actions speak? 

Answer:  In every situation where you cannot speak or where the Spirit of God has not given you the prompting to speak.

Question:  What are some practical ways to overcome the barrier of fear? 

Answer:  Some suggestions…

(1) Become as practiced as you can at sharing your personal story in short or in more developed ways, (2) spend time praying for God’s prompting and wisdom for each opportunity you face, (3) become as knowledgeable as you can be about the essential elements of the gospel, and (4) do as much as you can with other Christians teaming up with you, or at least praying for you as you take opportunities for witness.

A Simple Outline For Sharing Your Personal Story of Faith
 
I.    How My Life Was Hopeless Before Christ
II.   How I Came to Know Christ as My Hope
III.  How My Life Is an Experience of Growing Hope Now

Books for further study:

Just a Walk Across the Room, Bill Hybels
Evangelism For the Faint-Hearted, Floyd Schneider
Permission Evangelism, Michael L. Simpson
Share Jesus Without Fear, William Fay and Linda Shepherd
Witnessing Without Fear, Bill Bright

God Space, Doug Pollock

What Does It Mean to Fully Trust God?

Question:  What does it mean to put my full trust in God?  What does that look like practically? 

Answer:  It means that instead of trusting in my own ability to protect myself or others, to acquire peace, to solve problems, or generally do anything of eternal value, I am trusting God to do these things.  The world has never seen anyone who so fully trusted God other than one man, Jesus Christ.  But that is what we are seeking to accomplish in every area of our lives as God shows us our self-dependence over and over.

This does not mean that we do not have responsibilities for acting wisely as God directs us.  He tells us that we must work to provide for ourselves (Exodus 20:8-11), but He wants us to trust Him to provide our necessities (Matthew 6:25-34).  He does this by making us healthy and able to work, or by using others to provide for us when we can’t.  This same principle applies to locking our doors, being careful with how we trust others, and so on.  We have no guarantees that God will preserve us from all harms, but even if He allows us to die, it was all in His plan and it will have been the better part of wisdom to have insurance in place, if we can, and have had plans for how our families will continue on.

Worry is the main indicator that we are not trusting God in practical ways (Matthew 6:34; Philippians 4:6).  You will know that you are not on track with trusting Him when you find yourself fretting about how to do what needs to be done.  Complacency and overconfidence is another indicator that you are not trusting.  It means you are not seeing how your efforts are ultimately ineffective to accomplish God’s purposes.

How Do You Explain the Trinity?

Text of "Our Father" prayer with Tri...

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Question:  How do you explain the Trinity?  Since our personal relationship is with Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit lies within us, what role does God play as Father? 

Answer:  Jesus came to lead us into relationship with the Father and that required the sacrifice of his own life because of our rebellion.  He described himself as a “helper” (“counselor” or “comforter” in some translations) and said that when he left he would send another “helper” like him, the Holy Spirit, who would lead us in our relationship with the Father (John 14:15-21).  The Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit are the three persons who make up the one God. 

The Son was commissioned to take on human nature so that he could show us more tangibly who God is and model for us how to relate to the Father, and so he could die in our place to cover our guilt before God.  The Holy Spirit is the one who enabled Jesus to accomplish all he did when he was here, because he chose not to utilize his deity but rather live the way we need to live.  Now the Holy Spirit is here to help us live as Jesus did. 

Normally, all our prayers are directed toward the Father, just as Jesus gave us access to Him through his death and resurrection.  But as we’ve said before, there is no jealousy in the Trinity.  The Father will not be mad if you talk to the Spirit or the Son.  The Holy Spirit will not be mad if you think of Jesus as the one who empowers you (for he certainly does, as does the Father).  They are not operating in any way independently of each other, but each does have specialized responsibilities and there is a chain of command (1 Corinthians 11:3; 15:20-28; John 15:26, etc.).  Nevertheless, each is equally God in every sense of the word (infinite, eternal, unchangeable in being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth, to paraphrase the Westminster Confession of Faith catechism).

The Church has worked carefully through the Biblical data to formulate a perspective that, while it does not exhaustively explain the Trinity, does keep us within Biblical bounds.  We understand God to be one in essence (infinite, eternal and unchangeable…), yet three in personality.  In other words, each personality of the Godhead shares the one, undivided essence of deity.  Thus each is equally God without there being more than one God in essence.

Wrong views of the Trinity include the view that God is one solitary personality who reveals Himself in three different ways (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) much like a woman could be a mother, daughter and sister all at the same time, yet be only one person.  This view breaks down regarding God because Scripture represents the members of the Trinity interacting with each other (a person who talks to herself might be considered mentally ill) and Jesus, in Mark 13:32, indicates that he does not know the time of his return, that only the Father does.  This would not be possible if he were the same person.  Other wrong views include the view that Jesus is just somewhat less God than the Father.  This is best represented in modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Jesus, according to them, is the highest created being in God’s universe, but He is not God.

Should I waste my time with a Jehovah’s Witness?

Question:  A few weeks ago a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came by the house. I have had one meeting with them. I don’t have very much material on them other than the Josh McDowell and Don Stewart’s Handbook of Today’s Religions. Do you have any material where I could ask them some biblically sound questions that would cause them to see their organization/religion in a different light? I have already told them of my faith and trust in Jesus Christ and in His death, burial, and resurrection. Do I need to discontinue meeting with these guys, am I wasting my time? Because they can’t influence me and I most likely can’t influence them.

Answer: I have come to the conclusion that attempting to argue with them from a purely doctrinal stance is likely to produce exactly the stand off that you described. I believe what alone will suffice to make an impact in someone’s life is genuine friendship. That means getting to know someone on a personal basis, not just a doctrinal basis. What are their personal concerns, who is their family, how do they need a neighbor’s help, what problems are they facing that I have insight into, what problems am I facing that they have insight into, what is the real hope or lack of hope they experience, are their hearts wrenched with fear over whether they will have God’s approval, etc.

This situation is somewhat artificial because the JW has not necessarily come from your neighborhood and you would have no relationship with them otherwise. But it is possible that if they are willing to come on a week to week basis and really enter into relationship with you that you might have a chance to develop this friendship that might lead to their being willing to trust that you might have answers to life’s bigger questions.

What you don’t know about JW’s you can always find out by asking them questions. And ask them how they feel about what they believe. If they believe that they cannot receive blood transfusions, how does that make them feel in an emergency situation? Are they scared? Does this only serve to activate their faith? Even if their faith is wrongly placed it might be commendable from the standpoint of trusting God despite what appears to be a hopeless situation. Aren’t we called to have that kind of faith? You will learn a lot in this fashion if you can suspend judgment on what they believe until you have fully understood it and your probing questions might help them to reconsider it and actually want to know what you believe. You will also undoubtedly be required to do some study to figure out why you believe what you believe.

I am attaching a correspondence I carried on with a JW relative of a member of our congregation. I did it in the exactly wrong way of keeping it doctrinal and eventually gave up. But it will help clarify one issue for you, i.e., the JW view of the trinity and Jesus’ deity.

Randall Johnson

 

Where does the Bible say it is wrong to dabble with Harry Potter?

Harry Potter

Question: I am very strong in my faith and walk with Jesus. I was talking with a lady here at work and I said something like, “Well, there is only one way and that is through Jesus.” She said, “Oh, no, if it makes you feel happy or makes you smile that is what counts.” We got interrupted before I could say more. Then a man saw this little candy thing I had with a green hand pointing and he said, “That is a Harry Potter peace sign.” “I had no idea,” I said. “Oh, well, I will throw it away.” He said, “Why?” I said, “That is a cult to me,” and he laughed right in my face and said “You’ve got to be kidding.” My question is where in the Bible can I back up what I believe is wrong with Harry Potter?

Answer: I don’t know of a specific passage that would say it is wrong to have anything to do with the Harry Potter books or movies or paraphernalia. Of course, anything that suggests that there is life other than in Jesus Christ is wrong, but that covers most everything we listen to, read or view (the nightly news, for example).

May I suggest that a better way to witness to unbelievers is to pick up on the ideas they focus on and that might speak to their hearts. For example, with the guy who pointed out that you had a Harry Potter peace sign, you might have said, “Peace is a pretty important thing to have these days, isn’t it?” If he engaged you or made a remark about that, it might lead you to say, “I have found peace for my life in the most extraordinary place. I’d love to talk to you about it sometime.” Then let him make a decision about whether he will take you up on that. This will be an indication whether the Holy Spirit is drawing him or not.

Unfortunately, when we point out to people how things they have enjoyed are devilish or wrong, they have no basis for understanding that and will only think we’re heartless, joyless prigs. They won’t be able to see that we care about them and their eternal destinies. They will only be repulsed and less willing to hear what we have to say about Jesus. I guess what I’m suggesting is to focus on the positive in the unbeliever’s passions or interests instead of the negative. Once they come to Christ there will be opportunities to sort out more minor issues about what they read or watch or wear.

Randall Johnson