By Donald P Ames
The other Sunday, while driving to worship services, we passed one of the local denominational buildings, and my youngest son remarked, “That’s a bad church, isn’t it, Daddy?” Of course, one’s first reaction is to point out that calling it a “bad church” is not polite, but that it is a church that does not follow the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. To this, he promptly replied, “But that makes it a bad church, doesn’t it?”
Perhaps this is one of the problems we are facing today. We have become too concerned about being polite, and have not called a spade a spade. By this I do not mean one should go out of his way to deliberately be insulting and offensive, but on the other hand, we need to make a clearer distinction between the Lord’s church and those of the world. Yes, it this context, it is a “bad church!”
But, what characteristics make up a “bad church.” Surely none of us would want to be affiliated with a church that was bad, so we ought to give some thought to this very idea. If a church can be described as “bad,” then it cannot be part of that which came from God (James 1:17), and we should want to avoid it at all costs.
First of all, we might note that a church is “bad” if it does not care enough about the Lord to honor Him by wearing His name. We would not term women of the world as “good” if they went about dishonoring their husbands as their heads and seeking constantly to be identified as belonging to someone else instead. Even so, the church of the Lord belongs to Christ. He purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28), and loves it as husbands are to love their wives (Eph. 5:22-33). Since it is the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:2), it is but natural that it would be identified as the “church of Christ” (Rom. 16:16). Any church that does not give the Lord the respect He deserves in this way, but prefers to flirt around with the names of human origin in reality dishonors Christ by such actions, and is a “bad church.”
In this same line of thought, a church could be identified as a “bad church” (even if it honored Christ by wearing His name) if it refuses to honor Him as truly being its head. Again, if Mrs. Jones was willing to wear the name of Mrs. Jones, but refused to be in submission to her husband and preferred to run after other men, she would be termed “bad.” Even so, Christ’s being the head of the church (Eph. 5:23-24), has the authority to direct its activities. Not only does the Bible so affirm (Eph. 1:20-23), but such is inherent in the very confession we make in obedience to the Gospel of Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). But too many churches today have set aside the headship (authority) of Christ and begun to flirt with practices and doctrines of human origin.
Whether it be following the creeds of men, the pursuit of the Social Gospel, or practices of human origin such as instrumental music and centralized cooperative arrangements; if such cannot be justified by the word of God, then it has originated and developed by the flirtation and seeking of the good favor of men. As such, the church would stand in rebellion to its head, and thus be correctly identified as a “bad church.”
Again, a church can be identified as “bad” when that which it teaches is designed to deceive and mislead others. If someone was able to lead you to great riches, but instead sent you off on a wild goose chase that resulted in you being lost all day and perhaps even cost you your life, we would say such a person was mean and bad. The same is true of the church. This is not to say that all do so intentionally, but denominational churches deceive and mislead people into thinking they have found salvation, when in reality such is not so. They convince them they can be saved by “faith only” and thus they feel “safe,” when in reality their soul is still lost and seeking. They convince them that sprinkling is acceptable as baptism, but the Bible plainly teaches that baptism is by immersion (Rom. 6:4), and that in such one obtains the forgiveness of his sins (Rom. 6:7, Acts 2:38). They claim it makes no difference of what church one is a member when in reality Christ died to purchase His church (Acts 20:28) and this is the only one He has promised to save (Eph. 5:26-27). Others would even go so far as to deny that there is any need to be concerned whether or not the word of God was so – and usually deny it in the end. To them, the important thing is that you “do your own thing.” However this too will result in souls being lost for eternity (Matt. 7:21-23). Such deception and misleading certainly makes a church “bad” in that regardless of their good points, they still give a false security that results in one being lost. Even though one may sincerely believe a lie, that does not make it right in the sight of God (read 1 Kings 13, particularly v. 18 and 21).
But other churches decline to teach all that God would have them, and engage in practices that contradict God’s word (silently assuming it is acceptable, and are unconcerned about it). A woman may not teach that fornication is right, but if she practices it anyway, her practice is a testimony against her that she is bad. So also with the church. Some will not teach for the instrument, institutionalism, and fellowship with those engaged in practices contrary to the word of God. If you pinned them down, they would probably reply, “I’m not sure yet. I haven’t studied it.” Yet they go ahead and practice it – and this in direct violation of the statement in Rom. 14:23. By their silence, they are giving their approval. They are, in reality, in the same class as those Edomites whom God reproved Obadiah 1:11: “In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou was as one of them.” They, too, are deceiving the people, and shall have to give account in the Day of Judgment, just as those who “sufferest that woman Jezebel which calleth herself a prophetess to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication” (Rev. 2:20). Such a church is not a “good church” in God’s eyes, and thus would be “bad” for failing to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).
Yes, we need to be more emphatic! Quit minimizing the error of denominationalism! Quit being so polite that people do not get the point of our lessons! No, we do not need to go out of our way to be rude and offensive, but on the other hand, if it is the truth, let us be men enough to stand up and say so! “Yes, son, it is a ‘bad church.'”
Truth Magazine, XX:26, p. 9-10
June 26, 1976