by Sherry Sommer

Throughout decades of being a Christian, I’ve grown in some churches and have gotten frustrated and cynical in others. Just because well meaning people meet in a “Church” building that doesn’t mean you’ll find fellowship with Christ centered believers there. 

Christ is the only foundation of true Christian fellowship. Nothing can be added to and nothing can be subtracted from the gospel.  Believers are told not to judge others; and, at the same time, we are commanded to be discerning as we go out into the world. Fortunately, the Bible speaks about churches that are not Christ centered; knowing that this is not a new phenomena, can help us understand what we’re encountering. 

Lukewarm Belief

In the book of Revelation, John describes a vision of Christ’s judgment of seven churches. The church of Laodicea is wealthy, but spiritually lukewarm, and unaware that it’s coming up short:  

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:15-16

Why so busy?

Also in Revelation, John describes the church at Ephesus, which is busy doing good works but has lost it’s first love for Christ: 

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”  Revelation  2:2-3

Who Are We Following?

Sometimes churches lose their way by following a leader, denomination, other authorities or even heresies rather than putting Christ first. Paul had to deal with this kind of division as well:

One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?  I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius,  so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. I Corinthians 1:12b-17

Who Matters?

Many churches invest too much in themselves rather than acting as a conduit for God’s grace. I can’t think of Bible verses that fit this kind of situation. What this looks like in my experience, is churches that are social clubs more than places for spiritual redirection and growth. Another version is churches where the most long-time members have a special kind of authority, insider knowledge that newcomers can never attain. Finally, some churches make having elaborate buildings more important than outreach.

No church is perfect, but it is important to know that churches can be centered around things other than Christ. We are called to be discerning and to know that our number one priority needs to be a growing faith in Christ, not loyalty to any institution or organization. I’m so thankful that South Fellowship has been reliable for decades. I also found the Protestant churches in France to be reliably Christ centered — perhaps because they are marginalized in that culture. Here in the US, finding Christ centered churches can be difficult.  Some say that the church in the US is under attack, but it’s actually much easier to be a Christian here than in most other countries.  The ease of identifying with the Christian faith seems to dim the spark of Christ’s love in many churches. That can make people doubt if God really cares about them. If you’ve had experiences in a church that is off center, this is a matter that grieves God. We are saved by grace, but we also need to continually grow and learn; that happens fully in a Christ centered church. 

Note. To access scripture links that don’t appear in the email version, read the web version in your browser.