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You will find some truth in them, however, obviously a disclaimer, it does NOT mean that if your pastor has a tattoo he is not saved, nor does it suggest he is not a sound teacher. (If he talks about his newest tattoo he is getting next week, you might reconsider) 🙂 It does NOT mean if it is a large church, or has a nice coffee shop, or any of the other external things I said (could be considered a judgment according to appearance,) this is not how to judge something to be unsound.
This is only a small (not all-inclusive) list of possible warning signs. Although Mega churches more often than not, DO have serious issues doctrinally, it does not make a Mega church false (need to clarify from someone’s misunderstanding yesterday). Mega churches, just by the sheer fact there are a lot of tares in a large church, many times have doctrinal issues because two cannot walk together unless they be agreed. Not only that, more people, more opinions that can be outside of Scripture in order to be ‘seeker friendly’. Church is the body of Christ, not a building. Therefore where we meet, is for believers to assemble. Surely a non-believer will enter, but the point of the assembly is for believers to fellowship, grow in grace, learn, teach, etc. Assembling together is not a missionary outreach, though is an arm of the church itself. We have somehow missed there, and believers are not fed, and goats and wolves are leading the flock.
Please feel free to add any of your ideas in the comment area if you would like me to add to the list. Let’s help protect the body of Christ and find places to fellowship.
TEST THE SPIRITS
This is a basic list of some ways to test the spirits, to see if you are looking for a church to fellowship with. (Some tongue in cheek, but actually important). They can be a caution, or even a ‘flee’ suggestion.
- Go to their ‘about’ page. Does it tell you about the church and their beliefs, or is there only talk about what they are ‘doing’, etc.? Not necessarily a bad thing to discuss their ‘doings’, but we need to know first and foremost, what it is they teach.
- How transparent is their webpage? Can you easily find their statement of faith and a clear gospel? If not, ask yourself, why not?
- I do not like a video statement of faith. Videos can have music, graphics, and be very compelling, AND they are not in writing and can be replaced. Their statement of faith should be very transparent and include Scripture on each point so we can “prove all things” by His Word (1 Thess 5:21, Acts 17:11)
- Check for their gospel first. Again, can you find it easily or did you have to search for it? If so, does it include any of the things that do not go with the preaching of the gospel?
- Repent or turn from sin. (They may say repent, and that is o.k. if they correctly define repentance as a change of mind). Repent from sin is not in the Word in relation to the gospel.
- Stop sinning. (Yes, this is a message I have heard from both Ray Comfort and Joyce Meyer’s own mouths).
- Sinner’s prayer. Say a prayer, repeat a prayer. (What is necessary to be saved, is to believe upon Christ and Him crucified for you. We need to believe on who He is and what He did in our place.) I am NOT saying that if they have a suggested prayer for one who has believed, that they are wrong. We are to talk to God and after they have believed, it’s a good time for them to tell God what they have believed and thank Him. But it must include an explanation that prayer does not save you.
- These should not be part of the gospel message: Repent from sin, stop, or turn from sin. Give or commit your life to Him, surrender or submit to His Lordship, put Jesus on the throne of your life, give your heart to Jesus, accept Him into your heart, make Jesus the Lord of your life, abandon all, etc. (Before you post in protest, I am not saying some of these are not things we strive to do ONCE we are believers, or things that happen WHEN we believe, i.e., Jesus comes to live in our hearts by faith – Eph 3:17)
Make sure their gospel includes our need to believe on Christ dying for our sins on the cross, as the Scriptures prophesied. That He was buried and rose again the third day as the Scriptures said. This was witnessed by people, and was the same gospel all the apostles preached. It must also include the fact of His resurrection (proves He is Lord-Deity, Lord means God, the Messiah), and that we too will be resurrected as Scripture tells us. (Eternal Security)
Once again, just possible warning signs to look for. These things could be a judgment by the appearance, so remember, just ‘signs’ to consider, not necessarily a be-all end-all form of choosing a church.
- Prevalence of quotes of men, most especially men like Calvin, Luther, Augustine or monks, church fathers, mystics, philosophers, Freud, Jung, etc.
- They teach from the John MacArthur Study Bible or frequently cite him. I speak from experience of seeing a teacher change teachings because of this 3,4,5.
- Lack of Bible verses or teachings.
- Plenty of catch phrases or buzz words.
- Presence of man-made creeds.
- References to the ‘church fathers’ or extra-biblical books. This should not be included as part of doctrine (not saying one cannot reference them, but doctrine should not be decided on a majority of the so-called church fathers)
- Multiple Campuses, Mega size – not saying that is always a bad thing, they may decide to not grow into a mega church, but instead branch out into smaller fellowships.
- Tithing, Prosperity, Name it and claim it declarations – tithing is not a commandment to the church, and never has been, the Mosaic law was given to Israel and has already been fulfilled in Christ. (Matt 11:13; Luke 16:16; Luke 24:44)
- A church that looks more like a nightclub – dark, colored lights, concert atmosphere.
- The staff look more like celebrities, or bartenders at a local pub. Better hair, and half shaven beards, and more artsy tattoos along with the tight clothing. (O.k., I’m just having a little fun at this point, but some of you know it’s true). I walked into one church and just about tripped as I entered – very dark, pub-like tables, latte’s, band playing punk style music, spot lights and other such interesting things. I had to stay and listen to the pastor (ahem) preach. Very interesting, not a church I would recommend. Oh, they also have yoga and all the latest fads going on. 🙂
- A lot of people wearing Christian t-shirts with logos, sayings, and/or images of Christ (not saying a Christian logo on a t-shirt is bad, just creating a word picture for fun, remember the ‘you might be a redneck’ pun, don’t get me started on the Hawaiian shirts 🙂 ). I am convicted that we likely should avoid images of Christ based on Romans 1:23, but see what you think about it.
- A youtube channel that plays the newest secular or worldly songs.
- For example: Imagine Dragons and their song “Radioactive”, just search it with ‘Christian Church’ on youtube, and you be surprised to find a quick list of 100 churches you might not want to visit…
- A bookstore as big as your neighborhood mega-book store with a coffee shop they likely would envy.
- The “Message” used or quoted in place of the Bible. I would never attend any church or take any teaching from a pastor/teacher, etc., who was not discerning enough to see the error of quoting the new age Mess-Age AT ALL, or ‘The Voice’, New Living Translation, etc.
- Likewise, be cautionary about any church that insists upon KJV only with even the members. I am not saying one that prefers and uses or teaches from the KJV, but rather one that insists the KJV is the Word of God and holds it up above the original languages such as a Gail Riplinger or Peter Ruckman. The Word of God is not just contained in a translation, although a very good one. The Word of God can be found in the original manuscripts and God preserved His Word through the manuscripts.
- Women admonished to wear dresses only vs. a request of modest dress. Likely you will find this in IFB – Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. If someone again PREFERS to wear dresses only vs. the legalism and bondage of the strong admonition, that is different.
- Over or under-emphasis of prophecy. Rick Warren’s Saddleback church is a good example. Search for the Rapture or the Great Tribulation and you will not find either, not ONE lesson. Prophecy is about 30% of the Bible, it is the testimony of Jesus (Rev 19:10), and should be included in the teaching lessons. On the other hand, some seem to do nothing but have classes, conferences, etc., on prophecy. The teaching should be balanced.
Catch phrases or buzz words that may give you a clue to avoid them
- Sovereign – God IS Sovereign, but it is a word that was not in KJV or Bibles originally translated into English. It has become sort of a reformed code word for ‘you have no free-will’. The bottom line is it means God is the author of all—meaning, He chooses some to hell, others for heaven, makes people do evil, or good, etc. (they may not explain it that way, but the sum of the equation is still the same, people have no choice, it is fatalism.1)
- Total Depravity (which means total inability to respond), it does not mean that we believe there is none good, no not one.
- T.U.L.I.P. doctrine of Calvinism.
- Limited Atonement – Christ died for ALL men! He bought even the false prophets who would deny Him, 2 Pet 2.
- Spiritual Formation
- Purpose or Purpose Driven
- Disciples – unfortunately, many people can be most taken by this, because many of us can relate to not having been discipled, taught, helped to grow within the church. This does not make it a bad term, but be careful; some use it to bewitch you into finishing in the flesh.
- Torah, God’s commandments or instructions (again, understand, not suggesting we do not want to rightly follow the Lord’s desires for us, but lawkeepers will put you back under the law.
- Radical, Paradigm, Jesus followers, Relevant, Revolution, Change Agents, etc.
- Spirit-filled – Yes sadly, usually suggestive that other believers do not have the Spirit. Usually Pentecostal or Charismatic, most who believe it is a separate event, against Scripture (Romans 8:9; 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 4:4-6)
The Counterfeiter will often take words that we have learned to associate with a certain belief system, and hijack them.
- Grace – Caution: Unfortunately, (NOT ALWAYS) many of the reformed churches will use the word grace, often, Sovereign Grace. Some will call themselves ‘free grace’, again hijacking a term, but teaching something completely different then His gift of grace being free 3,4,5.
- Bible, God or Christian, etc., may be used – although, at times, may not mean any of them. I.E., Church of Christ or Church of God.
- Non-denominational – (used to be all I looked for, now it may simply mean ultra-liberal).
- Evangelical – used to mean those who were Bible based, and believe in missions, not so much so any more.
Good things to look for
- A sound gospel.
- A good definition of repent or repentance.
- Expository teaching – (books by chapter in order).
- Topical teaching is fine, but be careful that is not all they do.
- Bible studies where they use the Bible, not necessarily men/women’s books. If they do, ask for the person’s name, ‘prove all things; hold fast that which is good’.
- Pastors open to questions on doctrine and willing to answer with Scripture.
Church denominations to leave out of your search
This comes with the assumption you already understand about Jehovah’s witnesses, Mormons, etc.
- Pentecostal, AOG, Foursquare (All say you can lose your salvation along with other problematic areas).
- Any church at all that says you can lose your salvation.
- Most charismatic churches like Bethel (Redding), IHOP (Mike Bickle, Rick Joyner), any signs and wonders word of faith, etc.
- Oneness Pentecostals – T. D. Jakes is a good example.
- Non Trinitarian churches. They speak of Jesus, they just don’t happen to believe He is God.
- Reformed/Calvinist – churches that are reformed may not just be Presbyterian, Lutheran, Dutch Reformed, Anglican, etc., but may have generic names such as: Covenant, Bible, Community, however, may still be reformed.
- IFB – Independent Fundamental Baptist – Not saying each and every one is to be avoided, some have told me a few had good teachings, but many have gone the legalist, Lordship, or Calvinist route.
- Church of Christ – adds baptism as a necessity in order to be saved.
- Watered down gospel churches that leave out the Word of God and do not preach about the wages of our sin, and Christ’s death upon the cross, and His resurrection again, His victory over death. His Work for us on the cross IS the gospel message. This includes small as well as mega churches like Joel Osteen’s or Rick Warren’s for an example.
These are citations only and do not necessarily mean I recommend the source, just a citation. It also does not mean I do not think it is a good source, I believe the quote to be true. Wayne Grudem attends my old church, Scottsdale Bible Church in Arizona.
1 Wayne Grudem, while attempting to defend Calvinism from the charge of fatalism, gives a very good definition of what I have in mind when I speak of fatalism. Unwittingly, he also concedes Calvinism to be a fatalistic system. According to Grudem:
By fatalism is meant a system in which human choices and human decisions really do not make any difference. In fatalism, no matter what we do, things are going to turn out as they have been previously ordained. Therefore, it is futile to try and influence the outcome of events or the outcome of our lives by putting forth any is offered to them in a truly scriptural proclamation of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1–3).
These factors alone more than justify the kind of probe into Reformed Theology that The Dark Side of Calvinism is meant to be. 2
2 Quote from: “The Dark Side of Calvinism”, by George Bryson, can be found in book form, or in pdf form online here, http://www.calvarychapeltheology.com/the_dark_side_of_calvinism.html
3 John MacArthur’s Gospel – see here
4 John MacArthur, asst. Phil Johnson on taking the Mark of the Beast – see here
5 Is Grace really Grace? (John MacArthur’s Grace to You church) – see here