“Some Christians seem to confuse the worship of Jesus Christ with worship of the Bible.”
This comment, from a Chosen fan on Facebook, elicited a lively conversation. Some commended the post with a thumbs-up, while others challenged it by quoting John 1:1 and 14, saying Jesus is the Bible.
I highlight the above quote not to delve into this excellent show—as much as I adore the show myself—but to broach a related issue.
Some Christians seem to worship their church.
Don’t get me wrong; both Testaments affirm the central role of the local church. It’s good to beckon each other to the Lord’s house (Psalm 122:1) because we should never forsake gathering with fellow believers (Hebrews 10:25). Communing in His house should be done with reverence for the King we serve.
Having said the above, nowhere does the Bible instruct anyone to worship the church.
Those who might have been guilty of this act likely did not set out to idolize their church. But because a healthy affinity for your church (or denomination) can slide into a single-minded obsession with how perfect your church is, it’s essential to check your heart for these five signs:
1. No Need for Any Other Ministry
Do you just love your reverend’s sermons? You may or may not extend this attitude to cover the entire pastoral team, but to you, it’s hard to rank the sermons at your church as anything less than superb. That’s why you also shrug off suggestions of supplementing your spiritual diet by subscribing to other preachers.
This is normal. To a degree. After all, there are many parts to the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). If God intended for you to be a part of the eyes, for instance, it makes sense for you to join a church that preaches all about eyesight, like Maintaining 20/20 Vision in the Dark or Eyes in the End Times.
Besides, attending this “eye church” will afford you the chance to hobnob with fellow Christians who are also called to be eyes.
Since you’re into eyes, it’s also understandable if you’d forgo any ministry that caters to Christians called to be another body part—say, cuticles. After all, most of their sermons will focus on things that cuticles need to function optimally. But since you’re not made to be a cuticle for the body of Christ, their sermons don’t interest you.
Which is fine.
But if you disrespect this “cuticle church” or other churches different from yours, please read on.
2. Other Christians Are Inferior
Members of my family attend churches from a handful of different denominations. While we all affirm Jesus as Lord and Savior, our beliefs vary. Name any major doctrine or religious practice, and chances are, there are members of my family who support it while others… not so much.
At times, it can be hard for me to remember that relatives who disagree with my theology are still my equal. It’s easier to relegate them to a one-down position, as though my beliefs make me better.
Can you relate?
Perhaps Paul penned 1 Corinthians 12:22-23 for Christians like us: “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we consider less honorable, we treat with greater honor” (BSB).
These verses provide a potent antidote against the pride of treating other members of the Body with condescension—even if we only do it in the privacy of our minds.
3. Never Miss Your Church Service
Do you insist on streaming your church service live, even while traveling, including if it involves mental gymnastics of converting the service time into your current time zone? Do you prefer it over finding a local church you can attend in person?
These questions aren’t designed to shame you for watching church online, especially if COVID poses a real threat. The rise of this pandemic has prompted some—especially those with compromised immune systems—to avoid crowded places, including church sanctuaries.
What matters is the attitude of your heart. If you sense a tendency to keep up with your church back home than to ever visit another body of believers, be curious about why.
Is it because you doubt other ministers can teach you anything useful? Are you concerned listening to another pulpit might lead you astray?
Truth is, just because another preacher shares something our pastor has never taught before doesn’t mean it is automatically unscriptural. It’s possible—even probable—that we’ll get nutritious nuggets each time the gospel is preached, provided the speaker adheres to the Bible as the authoritative Word of God.
That’s the promise of Isaiah 55:11, “My word that proceeds from My mouth will not return to Me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and it will prosper where I send it” (BSB).
4. Unconditional Acceptance of Your Pastor
Being a member of a particular church often means giving the pastor(s) the benefit of the doubt. If you vetted this church before joining them, it makes sense for you to accept the sermons your ministers preach regardless of foibles or fumbles they might have created.
However, automatically absorbing whatever anyone teaches is risky business, especially in our day and age. Consider this warning: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).
No authentic Christian will incorporate demonic teachings into their belief system, especially if they knew the evil origin of said lessons. However, the devil fathered lies (John 8:44). That’s why demonic spirits scheme to convince Christians to cling to falsehood.
What better way for these foul spirits to do so than by feeding their twisted theologies for clergy to preach?
Please hear me: I don’t intend to sow distrust or dissension. My aim isn’t for you to start scrutinizing every word your reverend preaches from now on.
However, we are to “obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29).
One way to execute this verse is by always submitting the sermons we hear—whether from our own pastor, a minister from another church, or a different denomination altogether—to the Holy Spirit, who “will teach us everything and will remind us of everything Jesus has told us” (John 14:26, NLT). He will show us what’s a keeper and what’s not.
5. Confusing Loyalty to Jesus with Loyalty to Your Church
To test if this point applies to you, imagine the following scenario. Let’s say cousin Laura is leaving your church to join another. What say you?
It makes sense if your inclination is to find out if the other church preaches a “different gospel” (Galatians 1:8-9) or the real one. If the answer is the former, I can understand you raising this concern with Laura. You care, right?
But say the answer is the latter. That is, Laura is now worshipping at another Bible-believing church, even though they practice doctrines that yours doesn’t.
Do you take this move as though Laura has backslidden?
Then my experience with a friend’s mother might help you. Growing up, I routinely attended church and Sunday school. That’s why I knew the importance of inviting friends to church—even at six years of age.
So, while playing at her house, I asked Alice to come to church. To my church.
When Alice’s mom heard this, her response set me straight: “Audrey, we have a church. Invite someone to your church only if that person doesn’t go to any.”
Now that’s wisdom. I don’t need to convert other Christians to my church or my way of worship or my anything, really.
When anyone moves to another church, let’s focus instead on whether that church qualifies to be called “the church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22-23, NKJV). If you’re not sure what this means, ask the Holy Spirit.
Only God, the Judge of all, has the right to evaluate whether that move is fitting.
Shall We Change?
If you’ve felt the gentle conviction of the Holy Spirit while reading this article, whether you realized it or not, the ball has plopped into your court. You can ignore it and walk away, but I propose something different.
Let’s pick the thing up and toss it back to the Holy Spirit.
In other words, let’s ask Him for forgiveness for worshiping the men and women wrapped up in our local church.
Let’s also ask Him to change our hearts and minds so we’d stop venerating our church and ministers.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/poco_bw
Audrey Davidheiser, PhD is a California licensed psychologist, certified Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapist and IFSI approved clinical consultant, as well as author of Surviving Difficult People: When Your Faith and Feelings Clash. After founding and directing a counseling center for the Los Angeles Dream Center, she now devotes her practice to survivors of trauma—including spiritual abuse. Visit her on www.aimforbreakthrough.com