I really want to get into Harvard Law School someday so I have a chance at a prestigious law firm. Then again, college is college, right? I can save a whole lot of effort and money going down the road to First Street Community College. I’m sure those prestigious law firms can recognize talent when they see it. Who needs Harvard anyhow?
I had to buy a car to make a cross country trip. The salesman was trying to get me to buy a fancy new car with all these bells and whistles—side airbags, traction control, good safety ratings, and of course the extended warranty. I say, forget all that. A car is a car, after all. I just need a set of wheels. So I went to the used car lot instead and bought a beat up thing for a lot less money. I mean, yeah, the gas mileage is terrible, and the oil apparently leaks, but it runs, right?
I used to try to eat well, but it’s just too much effort. Making food from scratch is so time consuming, and I just don’t want to do it anymore. So now I live on frozen pizza, fast food, and convenience store snacks. I mean, hey, food is food. I’m getting the calories I need.
I’m just glad she’s going to church. I don’t care where she goes as long as she’s going. Church is church, you know.
What do all those hypothetical scenarios have in common? They’re all ridiculous. Yet I’ve heard the last one about church more times than I care to admit. The underlying theme is that as long as someone is going to church, it really doesn’t matter what’s being preached and taught there. “Church is church is church,” people figure. “All churches are created equal.” But are they? I hate to break it to you, but that’s not true. There are many churches out there that are teaching false doctrine or at best weak doctrine. I wouldn’t entrust my soul to such a church. So I’ll be blunt. Church isn’t church isn’t church.
Check out a listing of churches in your town and you’ll find any number of entries. In our local chamber of commerce book, there are 8 churches listed for just our small town with a population of 1177. We have Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Church of Christ, two generically named “Christian” churches, one called “The Gathering Place,” and one called “The Lighthouse.” I don’t even know what those last two are. But if I were to go to each of those 8 churches over the course of 8 weeks, I guarantee I would have very different experiences. Worshiping at a Catholic church would be very different than getting together at The Lighthouse.
Many people can probably agree that the “church is church” sentiment only holds true for Christian churches. Most Christian parents wouldn’t say of a college daughter, “Yeah, she’s going to a Buddhist temple, but hey, I’m just glad she’s going to church at all.” There’s a fundamental difference between Buddhism and Christianity. The two are not compatible. But why stop there? Not all Christian denominations are equally sound. And even within a denomination, churches can vary widely. In my denomination, one can find anything from a “high church, incense burning, women wearing head covering” congregation to a “praise band, auditorium, pastors wearing jeans and T-shirts” kind of place, and everything in between. Clearly church isn’t church isn’t church.
To those who hold to this “church is church” belief, I ask you this: Would you agree with any of the other opening statements? I mean, hey, a car is a car, right? A school is a school. And food is food. What’s the big deal? The obvious difference is quality. You wouldn’t settle for an old clunker when your safety could be compromised. Nor would an ambitious young college student settle for a community college if the means are available to go to a more prestigious school. And most people wouldn’t settle for a diet of grease and empty calories when they could be eating food that’s good for them. So if that’s true for schools and cars and food, why shouldn’t it be true for churches as well? Why wouldn’t you want a “quality” church?
Okay, but how exactly do you define “quality” in this case? Litmus test—does the church teach what the Bible teaches? Many churches compromise their beliefs in order not to offend anyone. Stay away from such churches. If they can’t preach the Law properly, neither can they properly administer the Gospel. Other churches teach that as long as you live a good enough life you can stop sinning and earn heaven by your works. Nonsense. No one can ever be saved through their works. Some churches stress a giddy emotional high as proof that your faith is real. How does that minister to the woman sitting there devastated that her husband just left her for another woman? No, these churches are not the real deal.
A church should rightly teach the Word of God and administer the Sacraments. It should be equally applicable to all members—young and old, male and female, those hurting and those experiencing joyful times, the sick and the healthy alike. Impossible? Not at all. Because no matter what earthly situation you find yourself, you have one thing in common with every other human being on this earth—you are a sinner.
It’s an ugly truth, but it’s necessary. And churches that tell you otherwise aren’t doing you any favors. You are a sinner who can never be good enough for heaven. That’s why Jesus lived a perfect life for you and took your punishment on the cross. He did it in your place. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Make sure your church teaches that.
No, church isn’t church isn’t church. Don’t settle for a wishy washy church when you’re dealing with your eternity. Find a solid, faithful church that preaches Christ crucified for us sinners. That’s the kind of church you need. Even if you do drive a jalopy to get there.