Why are there so many different kinds of churches?

If Christians all love God, and if every believer has the Holy Spirit living within him to give understanding of the Word of God, then why are there so many different churches that believe so many different things? Most communities have Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Methodist and Baptist Churches. Add to this the Congregational churches, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentacostal, Church of God, Church of Christ, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Assemblies of God and non-denominational churches of all stripes and flavors. If God’s truth never changes, why is the list of different kinds of churches is so long and bewildering.

Not all who claim to love God truly love Him. Men have always used religion for their own selfish purposes. The Epistle of Jude warns against those who “ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward.” Selfish men will use the Bible to justify their false teachings so they can get rich. Besides the willful distortion of the Bible for selfish gains there is the inability of the unsaved to understand Scripture. The things of God cannot be understood by the natural man (1 Corinthians 2:14), thus those who have rejected God can not rightly understand God’s Word.

On top of this, Satan is actively working to confuse and distort the truth of the Bible. Since the beginning of the church there have been false teachers masquerading as men of God and traveling around teaching things they ought not (2 Corinthians 11:12-15). The Bible also warns that as we get closer to the return of Jesus more preachers of false doctrines will spring up. Satan has always and will continue to have men in the church who promote demonic doctrines.

Aside from the distortion of truth by the enemies of God, believers face a couple challenges in rightly understanding the Bible. Sin has affected our ability to comprehend the truths of God. The effects of sin upon mankind are more than just moral. Everyone has brain damage. The consequences of sin prevent the minds of men from working as they ought. Salvation does not entirely change this reality. After salvation the Christian still battles the hindrances of the flesh. Even when the Holy Spirit enlightens our understanding we do not fully know as we ought. Now we know in part. Now we see dimly. Our limited knowledge hampers our understanding of Divine truth which causes good Christians to reach different conclusions.

Every person is also a product of his time. As we read the Bible we cannot help but read it in light of our own presuppositions and assumptions. Our understanding of God’s Word is shaped by our culture. The most careful student of the Word can not fully put aside his own culture and background. Everyone has his own ways of thinking. Some people are more logical and some are more emotional. Some prefer facts while others prefer experiences. The variations in each person and personality shapes how we understand, and misunderstand, truth.

From the earliest days of the church there have been competing ideas within the church about key truths. In the beginning the transition out of Judaism and the influence of false teachers caused the church many troubles. The apostles had to confront false ideas that had already begun to infiltrate the church. Small wonder that when the apostles passed off the scene churches began to develop different ideas. Many different churches exist because Satan is active in hindering the truth and because we do not yet know God’s truth perfectly.

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Will the rapture be secret?

When the rapture happens all living believers will be taken directly into heaven. At the same time all deceased believers will be resurrected. This sudden event will happen just before the anti-Christ comes to power and the tribulation begins. Those who reject the doctrine of the rapture use the name “secret rapture” as a derogatory term to discredit the idea. Some preachers have taught that Christians will disappear and no one on earth will know what happened. The rapture is a Biblical doctrine, but does the Bible say it will be a secret event?

Often we have questions about the Bible that it does not answer. Scripture gives very little attention to the rapture. For example, the Bible never describes the response of those left behind. Most of the material in the popular treatments of the rapture, like the Left Behind books and movies, is pure fiction. Though the Bible says nothing about the immediate aftermath of the rapture, it seems certain that the disappearance of millions of people from the earth will capture the attention of the world.

What the Bible does say about the rapture gives the sense of a dramatic event that will shake the world. The Bible describes archangels sounding trumpets, graves emptying and believers disappearing. Many think only Christians will hear the heavenly trumpets, but why? The Bible never says who will or will not hear the trumpet. Since 1 Corinthians 15 describes the events of the rapture as happening in the blink of an eye, we can safely assume that the saved will not float gently up into the air to drift slowly out of sight. Graves will suddenly empty and Chrsitians will disappear. It seems very unlikely that no one will notice these things when they happen. The rapture can hardly be called a secret event.

However, the real question is, will those left behind understand what is happening? Most of the world will probably not recognize the theological significance of the disappearance of all Christians. Those familiar with the Biblical teaching of the rapture will probably figure out what has happened. But since those left behind will be the ones who did not believe the gospel, it is safe to assume they will be tempted to seek explanations other than that God took all believers to heaven. The Bible does not teach that the rapture will be a secret. The Bible does not teach that the rapture will be seen by everyone. All we can say for sure is that the rapture will happen.

Was Judas Iscariot saved?

Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve disciples. Judas was the one who sold out Jesus to those who wanted to kill him. When thousands of people abandoned Jesus because His words were too difficult to believe, Judas stayed with him. He was a theif who stole money that was given to Jesus. Judas traveled across the region of Judea preaching the message of Jesus to the Israelites. While a disciple of Jesus, Judas probably performed miracles. Judas obviously believed something about Jesus or he would not have devoted over three years of his life to following Him. The combination of committed disciple and greedy betrayer causes many people wonder whether or not Judas was actually saved.

The evidences for Judas’ salvation are not conclusive. Jesus said specifically that that doing miracles is not evidence of true salvation (Matthew 7:21-23). Belief in the existence of God is not enough, for even the devils believe. (James 2:19) Judas’ actions as a disciple are not necessarily proof of salvation nor was Judas’ betrayal of Jesus proof that he was unsaved. Peter denied Jesus (though he did not sell Him for money), but Peter later repented of his denial.

When Judas betrayed Jesus he felt great remorse. Matthew 27:3 says that Judas repented himself, yet Judas’ repentance does not seem to have the hallmarks of saving repentance. His response seems to be an emotional sorrow, not a rejection of his sinful actions or choices. He was sorry that Jesus was going to be put to death, but not necessarily sorry that he had betrayed Jesus. The remorse of Judas did not lead him to repentance but to suicide.

The Bible never gives a definite statement about the salvation of Judas, but Satan’s possession of Judas seems to strongly imply that he was not saved. (John 13:27) Many Christians are agreed that a genuine believer can never be demon possessed. It seems extremely unlikely that God would allow Satan to take possession of one of His children. This is even more telling in the case of Judas when he contrasted with Peter. The evening before the crucifixion Jesus warned Peter, “Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat.” But Jesus tells him, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”(Luke 22:31-32) Satan was actively working on Judas, but Jesus gives no indication of praying for Judas. Would the Good Shepherd who gives His life for His sheep neglect to protect one who was truly His own?

Scripture gives no compelling reason to believe Judas was saved. Some have said we do not know the reality of a person’s heart, so we should not say if one was saved or not. While the compassionate Christian will be careful to avoid being overly dogmatic about the state of another’s soul, the Bible gives specific evidences of salvation. The evaluation of the Biblical evidence leads me to conclude Judas was probably not saved. My conclusion does not condemn him to hell, nor do I wish for Judas to burn in hell. A comparison of Judas’ life and choices to the Biblical evidence of salvation leads me to believe he was never saved. If Judas had of repented of his sin, the grace of God is great enough that even the betrayal of Jesus could have been forgiven.

What is God’s “still small voice”?

When seeking the will of God, some Christians counsel that we should be listening for the still small voice of God. When we are at peace, prayed up and waiting on the Lord, then He will speak quietly to the soul to make His will known.

The phrase “still small voice” comes from 1 Kings 19:12. At Mount Carmel the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a test to see who was the true God. Though 400 prophets of Baal spent most of the day praying for their god to send fire heaven, their false god did not hear. Elijah offered a simple prayer to Jehovah and God sent fire from heaven that consumed Elijah’s sacrifice and the altar it was offered on. After this dramatic victory, the Queen Jezebel swore to put Elijah to death. In fear for his life, Elijah fled. Over six weeks later he was 300 miles away at Mount Sinai. There on Mount Sinai God spoke to Elijah.

While Elijah was camped in a cave, a strong wind blew that broke the rocks in pieces, but God was not in the wind. An earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but God was not in the fire. After all those terrifying events there came a quiet gentle whisper, the sound of silence. When Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave and God spoke with Him.

The lesson many take from this passage is that God speaks to us quietly in a way that is often very hard to hear. If we will just listen carefully God will tell us His will. However, 1 Kings 19 has nothing to do with how Christians today find the will of God. Even if it did, the passage does not prove what is being asserted. God did not speak to Elijah in a still small voice. After Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave. Then God spoke with Him. The conversation that Elijah had with God was clear and audible. God asked Elijah a question, Elijah answered and God gave Elijah specific instructions. When God began to speak with Elijah, there was no whispering involved. There was no gentle prompting of the heart. God spoke clearly.

If the still small voice is not God whispering to our soul, what is it? The still small voice was part of an object lesson to Elijah. Elijah was a fiery prophet who had just come from a great, dramatic victory. After the victory the people praised God, the prophets of Baal were put to death, God sent rain to end a 3 1/2 year drought. Things were going great, God’s power was on display and then Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life. In an incredible emotional reaction, Elijah fled to Mount Sinai.

At Mount Sinai Elijah saw the fire, felt the earthquake, heard the roaring wind, but God is not in them. God is not using those things to reveal Himself to His people. Instead, God was doing something else. God’s plan is not for a dramatic display of His power. God planned to do something even more effective- the quiet, almost unnoticed work. God was telling Elijah that He can and does work just as powerfully in the quiet as in the dramatic.

The still small voice of God is not the secret whisper of His will to your heart. The still small voice of God was an illustration to Elijah that God works in ways that are easy to overlook. God’s gentle goodness works powerfully to accomplish His perfect purposes. We do not need to listen for a still small voice in our hearts telling us God’s will. God speaks to men today just as clearly as He did to Elijah. His words are not audible, they are written down clearly for all to see and understand.

What is Soul Sleep?

If a couple Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on your door to tell you about their church, there is one doctrine that they probably won’t talk about right away. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are the two most well known groups in America that believe in soul sleep. The doctrine of soul sleep teaches that when a person dies, the soul, just like the body, loses all awareness and sensation. At death the soul of the person does not cease to exist, nor does it enter into heaven or hell, but it becomes unconscious of anything until the day of resurrection.

This doctrine finds support in the Bible’s use of the word “sleep” to describe death. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, He told His disciples that Lazarus was asleep. In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul refers to those who have died when he says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep.” Proponents of soul sleep believe the figure of sleep applies to the deceased’s body and soul.

Other support is found in passages like Psalm 146:4, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” and Psalm 6:5, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” Since man is more just body, since the dead do not think, and since the dead do not praise God, then the soul the soul must go into an unconscious or unaware state after death.

While this may seem to be reasonable and compelling evidence, the Bible makes several clear statements death which make the doctrine of soul sleep impossible. When Jesus taught about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 He plainly taught that when a person dies he immediately enters into his conscious reward. There is no delay between death and awareness. If the soul has no awareness, then the rich man could not wake up in hell. He would be aware of nothing until the resurrection. If the rich man awoke at the resurrection, Abraham was a liar when he said that the man’s brothers could read the Old Testament and thus be saved from hell. What Jesus describes is immediate, conscious awareness of the afterlife.

The book of Revelation tells of martyrs at the throne of God pleading for the punishment of their tormentors. They are clearly conscious, clearly communicating with God and clearly in heaven between their death and the resurrection. Why would they be asking God how long until He would judge their persecutors if they had been resurrected and were at the judgment the same time as their murderers?

The Bible uses sleep as a figurative term to describe the apparent condition of the dead. Sleep is not intended to describe the condition or awareness of the soul. The poetic passages of Psalms and Ecclesiastes that refer to the silence of the dead are speaking of the inability of the deceased to do any thing upon this earth. Soul sleep is not a Biblical doctrine, but a false teaching which denies the clear truths of the Bible about death, judgment and the afterlife.

Why do churches take up an offering?

One of the most common complaints that I hear about churches is that they are always asking for money. The implication is that the pastor or the church is just trying to get rich by taking money from the hard working people people who attend. This accusation has an elelment of truth. Throughout church history there have been those who used the church as a means to get rich. Today there are a number of high profile pastors and evangelists who make millions off their congregations. One recently made the headlines by asking his followers to donate $54 million so he could purchase a private jet. Far too many church leaders follow the “the way of Balaam” because they love money more than God or man. (2 Peter 2:15)

Despite the high profile abuse of greedy false teachers, most churches and pastors are not trying to get rich off their parishioners. For every greedy pastor there are many more who labor long hours for little or no salary. The average pastor is not trying to live the easy life by sponging off his church members. So why do churches collect money every week? Why do churches teach that Christians should be give a part of their income to the church?

The most obvious answer is that churches have to pay the bills. The gospel is freely extended to everyone, but gospel ministry is rarely cheap. The work of the ministry comes with many costs. Heating, cooling and maintaining a building involves substantial monthly expenses. Any effort to provide physical help in the community or to reach out to the community with the gospel requires money be spent. Materials and resources all cost something. Many churches send monthly payments to help those doing gospel work in foreign countries. The basic operational costs of a church can reach a substantial figure every month, even before including salaries for the pastor and any staff members.

Every church has an obligation to pay its pastor. The New Testament specifically commands this. (1 Timohy 5:17-18; 1 Corinthians 9:4-11) Consider how much a church needs to collect each week just to pay the pastor the average salary of your community? If you add health insurance and a retirement plan, things most American workers expect, how much more will the church need to bring in each week? Churches collect an offering to help Christians obey God’s command to partner financially with the ministry and pastor that teaches them. (Galatians 6:6)

All these expenses add up so that even small churches in America often operate on annual budgets reaching six figures. This means an average sized church in America needs to bring in at least $2,000 a week to meet their ministry obligations. Taking up an offering every week helps the church meet their expenses. Since God requires Christians to financially support their church, churches give their members an opportunity to obey by passing the offering plate every Sunday. On top of all this, God promises rich blessings to those who give generously to the work of the church. The weekly collection is just one more chance for you to be blessed.

Are people today guilty for the sins of their fathers?

The Bible seems to indicate that descendants bear some weight of the sins of their ancestors. The Old Testament prophets confessed the past sins of Israel and included themselves as sharing in that guilt. However, the book of Ezekiel rejects the idea that a son is held guilty for his father’s actions. How are these things to be understood? Are Christian’s today guilty for sins committed by their fathers?

Consideration needs to be given to office of prophet. The prophets of Israel spoke to Israel on behalf of God. Moses, Daniel and Nehemiah show that prophets also spoke to God on behalf of Israel. As prophets they held a position and responsibility that is not held by any man in the church today. The prophet’s ability to speak to God for the nation does not exist in the New Testament church. Even if the prophets could be said to represent a principle that Christians today should follow, this kind of confession is very rare. Though Israel spent a thousand years in miscellaneous rebellions against God, the prophetic kind of confession only occurs a few times in the Old Testament.

When God decrees a fathers guilt is passed down to the children He does so primarily for the purpose of salvation. All are guilty in Adam that we all may be redeemed by Jesus. (Romans 5:19; 11:32) God does not hold children guilty as a way of penalizing them for sins they have not committed. God condemned all men in Adam that He might have mercy upon all.

In the books of Moses God warned that later generations would suffer as a result of the sins of their fathers. When one generation began to worship God they were taken into captivity. Of course, their children went with them. These children grew up in captivity, and at times had their own children in captivity. The sins of the fathers brought suffering to their descendants, but God did not hold the children guilty for that which their fathers did.

The book of Ezekiel is clear that all guilt for sin falls upon the people who commit it. While later generations may suffer because of the sins of their forefathers, God only holds them guilty for their own sin. The New Testament makes this even more clear. Romans 14 says, “So then everyone of us shall give account of himself to God.” The New Testament never calls converted slave-holders, government officials, tax collectors or false teachers to confess any sin but their own. Herod came in a long line of despicable Herods yet John the Baptist called him to repent of his own sin, not the sin of his father.

This does not mean Christians today should ignore the sin of previous generations. We ought to honestly acknowledge the errors of those who have gone before us, but we do not confess those sins as if we somehow bear responsibility for them. If a denomination, church or Christian engaged in racism or allowed racist practices, then they should repent of their own sin without making excuse for the sin of previous generations. The sinner ought to acknowledge that he has disobeyed God. However, the Bible does not place upon him any extra burden of guilt because of what his fathers did.

Should Christians confess the sins of their ancestors?

From time to time, especially when racial tensions flare up in America, various Christian groups confess the sins of their ancestors. A group of Presbyterians who formed their own Presbyterain denomination in support of the South during the Civil War recently apologized for its racism and support of slavery. The Southern Baptist Convention has long faced pressure to apologize for its support of slavery during the Civil War. Some groups are quick to say Christians should apologize for the actions of their antecedents. Others deny Christians bear any responsibility for the actions of earlier generations.

Do Christians have a Biblical responsibility to repent of the sins of their ancestors? This is not a question about the evils of racism. Christians should oppose slavery, but that is not the issue. The question is whether Christians ought to repent of sins committed in previous generations by their spiritual or physical fathers. What does the Bible teach about an individual’s responsibility for the sins of his ancestors.

The Bible addresses this issue, but reaching a clear conclusion from its teachings is not easy. The answer is a bit more complicated than yes or no. The Old and New Testaments teach that later generations bear the consequences of the sins of their ancestors. In the books of Moses God warned that He would judge later generations for the sins of their fathers. “For I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;” (Exodus 20:5) The New Testament, especially the book of Romans, presents a powerful case that all generations of humanity are guilty and suffer under the curse of sin because of the sin of our common father, Adam. A Biblical case can be made that generations alive today bear some weight of the sins of their ancestors.

The Old Testament also shows certain prophets confessing the sins of Israel and previous generations of Israelites. In Daniel’s marvelous prayer he confessed the past sins of the nation. He includes himself in that confession when he says, “We have sinned, we have done wickedly.” (Daniel 9:15) Nehemiah said, “Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.” (Nehemiah 1:6)

However, in the book of Ezekiel God specifically rejects the idea that children bear the guilt of their fathers. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekiel 18:20) How is one to understand this apparent contradiction? The next article will seek to provide some clear answers.