Earlier today, while reading an interesting article on church planting, I ran across this statement:
“Millions of people in the United States do not know Jesus and millions more claim to know him but have no connection to a healthy local church.”
While the first part is an undeniably true and important, it was the second part of the sentence that caught me. Just how many UNhealthy churches have I known? No, not “imperfect churches striving to follow Christ,” but unhealthy, even toxic churches? More than I care to dwell on: personality cults, Clique Clubs, “business churches” (moneymakers for the “in” group), etc. Goats dominating the sheep and misleading them is more common than it ought to be (heck, one case is too common, IMO).
But one case stands out. Oh, about 30 years ago or so, I knew of a church that was in turmoil. It seems their pastor–well-liked by almost everyone, “productive” in church growth, a “pack the pews” preacher–had admitted that by the church’s–and his own–standards, by any biblical standard, he wasn’t a Christian, did not believe that Jesus was the Son of God or had worked redemption for man, had doubts, even, that God existed, etc.
Let that sink in a bit. Accepted as pastor of a supposedly Christian church but did not believe anything that would define him as a Christian.
I suspect there are more churches in this position than are known. And, from my experience, even more with other toxic circumstances that lead many astray.
Crucial: if one is going to share one’s Christian faith, and Christians are enjoined to do so, being a part of a healthy body that is pursuing the doing of His will, with sound biblical grounding, and a clear lookout for subversion of biblical truth, is pretty darned important. If that group is just a dedicated group of “laymen” studying the Bible and praying, approaching the throne of grace in a proper attitude of humility, then that is better than becoming a part of a toxic social club or a personality cult.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”