Are All Churches Equally Christian?
There are many types of groups, organizations and other forms of churches, all describing themselves as Christian. By some counts, there may be over 50,000. But are the churches around you really Christian? Are some more or less Christian than others? Are some better than others? Or are these meaningless distinctions of no relevance?
Is it possible for a Christian Church to actually fail so much in its teachings that its members risk not being saved?
The Parable of the Gas Stations
To give an analogy or parable, imagine the intersection of two streets, with petrol stations on several of the corners. One sells Brand X petrol, the other sells Brand Y. Sometimes one sells for a few cents less than the other, sometimes the same, sometimes for a bit more. One participates in a discount program with a local supermarket, the other doesn’t. Maybe they are open different hours. One has an attached car-wash. The other has a convenience store built-in. And so on.
Which is the better place for you to buy gas for your car? As you surely know, the actual fuel that comes from the pump is almost identical in both cases, and both work perfectly in your car. Maybe there is no meaningful difference.
This concept is often generally similar to two churches, of two denominations. Does it matter if one priest wears black and the other purple? Does it matter if one has an organ and choir, and the other does not, if both are ‘refueling your spiritual tank’ and ensuring that your ‘car’ will able to continue its journey to your salvation?
Now, let’s add a third gas station. This one is a non-branded store – they don’t carry a major brand name of fuel, they sell generic petrol and perhaps with a slightly higher methanol content in it as well. But, the fuel is probably still 85% or more the same as from the two ‘brand name’ stores on adjacent corners, just without a recognized brand (and at a lower cost). Your car will still work perfectly well if you fill it from that gas station.
Perhaps we could compare the third station to a church sect. If the sect worships in an empty warehouse rather than a magnificent cathedral, is your path to salvation any the less certain?
Now, we’ve still one corner at our intersection empty. What say we add a fourth gas station, but for some strange reason, they only sell diesel. Yes, diesel is a petro-carbon just like petrol, comes from crude oil, costs about the same, looks about the same, also burns, and is dispensed from the same type of pumps. But put diesel in your tank and you’re not going to be going anywhere at all, are you.
What could we compare this store to? Another religion entirely? Or perhaps a branch of the main Christian church that has strayed (‘evolved’) so far from the core truths as to no longer be teaching its members the essential path to salvation?.
Whereas the differences in petrol (faith) between the other three stores had no measurable difference on your car (salvation), this fourth store (church), while seeming to sell the same sort of thing, actually sells something so different that it would be harmful to your car (to you, your faith, and your salvation).
Which brings us to :
The Most Essential Pass/Fail Test for a Church
How can you tell if a church is a good church or not?
Before answering that question, we caution you about the wisdom of the question. Too many people these days are seeking a church that conforms to them, rather than being willing to, themselves, conform to Godly teaching of the Bible and the lessons within it.
God doesn’t come in 37 different flavors. Sometimes His message and His requirements of you may make you uncomfortable and awkward; and perhaps the ‘best’ churches are those that directly share those messages with you, rather than the ones that shy away from anything other than “feel-good platitudes”.
But, that’s a detail and a topic for another article, another time. Back to the essential Pass/Fail test.
There’s one easy/obvious test – so easy and obvious that you have to wonder how any church could possibly fail. Sadly, many do. Ask some of the people who attend the church “Are you really truly Christians?”. If they say yes – and they’ll almost certainly do so – ask them “What is the one thing that makes you a Christian? How do you know you’ll go to heaven?”
If they say “The only path to salvation and heaven is by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ” then you’re at a good place. But if they start to waffle and talk in general terms about “Believing in God” or “Leading a good life” then leave quickly.
If a Christian church doesn’t teach its members the only way to be saved and encourage its members to consciously follow that path (and perhaps even to be eager to share it appropriately with others) what sort of church is it?
In fairness, ask the question of more than one member of the congregation. No church can guarantee that every person attending has received the messages they are teaching. But if a person is a regular attendee, and claims to be Christian, but can’t tell you how or why or what it is that makes them Christian, then that is a major warning sign to you.
Sure, you could press church members or the church leaders further on other aspects of their teachings too, and perhaps you should as part of a second round of selection. But this first question is the ultimate Pass/Fail question. If a church fails this test, nothing else matters. If they pass, then by all means see if their approach to worship and leading a good Christian life in general meshes with your personal preferences, but in general terms, a Pass is a Pass, and a Fail is a Fail.
Back to the gas station story. Maybe one of the gas stations now starts selling a synthetic petrol. It boasts about its environmental friendliness, and how it burns with fewer emissions, and offers greater fuel economy, all at lower cost. People are excited by this revolutionary new petrol-alternative and eagerly start buying from the new gas station, but after a dozen tanks-full, their engines start to fail. The synthetic chemicals have eaten away at the fuel lines, they have corroded the fuel tank, the fuel burns at a higher temperature and damages the cylinders, and so on.
In the case of our choice of churches, it does not matter at all how grand a speaker the pastor is. It doesn’t matter how comfortable the seating is. It doesn’t matter if all your friends attend it, or if you leave with a happy ‘buzz’ of righteousness after each service. The only thing that matters is whether or not the church encourages you in your pathway to the Lord, in your salvation, and in your service.
Don’t judge a church by worldly measures. Only judge a church by Godly measures.
There is a lot more to choosing a church that is a ‘good fit’ for you (which, yes, we’ll write about subsequently). But the very first consideration has to be whether or not its followers truly have been taught and have accepted that the only path to salvation lies through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and that there is only one true God at the end of that single pathway.