Updated! Correct theology “OR” Love thy neighbor as thyself? My struggle to find a church.

Do the hungry, lonely, addicted, poor people in my community care about Predestination and Free Will? Does the single mom struggling to raise her kids care about whether a woman should speak in church? Does the alienated, non-white teen boy who needs a place to play with other kids want to discuss dispensationalism or eschatology ?

Even more important, did Jesus give the woman at the well a theology lesson or did he show her love? Love came first. Forgiveness and teaching came later.

img_1077
Me stubbornly pushing myself to the point of injury last year, all the while too focused on doing it right and going fast.

As I search for a church where I can settle in for hopefully a long time, I have prayed and asked God for help because this has been a very difficult process. Last Sunday while praying , these are the thoughts that came to me. Thoughts about what to look for in a church. I had been searching unsuccessfully for a church that met my standards of theology.  I decided to ‘visit’ a church that I attend weekly for a non-denominational, very Bible-focused, Bible Study called Community Bible Study. I’ve been attending the Bible study for many years, but I do not attend this church. Why? Because it is a more liberal denomination than I normally attend, Methodist to be exact. They have a male and a female pastor. I’m not sure of their exact theology, but I know it is not the same as the one that I believe to scripturally correct.

We left our last church partly because we were not comfortable with what we considered very light sermons and poor Sunday School curriculum. Think Beth Moore and Lifeway.  I like to go deep! Yes, I am one of those that modern ‘pastors’ often scorn , that enjoys learning theology.  I am not a fan of lessons that are more interested in how I interpret a verse.  I do believe that God had a meaning in mind when he gave the words to the authors of the scriptures. God is teaching us something in his Word and it is not different for everyone who reads it. Also, the Old Testament is not old news. Jesus constantly referenced Scripture from the Old Testament! We need to learn the whole Bible , not just the Gospels or the Book of Acts. “Those are just your beliefs”, you might argue. Yes, but I do consider some beliefs to be true and correct and not flexible if they are based on careful study of  the Word of God. Truth is not relative. One thing I am finally realizing, though, is that the message underlying every verse is the same, that ‘ since the beginning, from Adam until now, people are completely unable and unwilling to do the right thing, according to God’s holy standards, 100% of the time, which is why Jesus demonstrated his love for us by dying in our place for our sins to save us from eternal damnation and separation from God.”

That said, back to my point, do the non-church going, or occasional visitors, who are in social or emotional crisis care about theology at the time they come looking for help? I doubt it. Will they possibly be open to learning about the truth later, I think so. I would venture to say that many people move to a small town and feel pretty isolated and lonely. Or maybe they’ve lived there all their lives and were doing okay without God, in their mind, but now they have lost their job, or have cancer, or need a friend, or one of many reasons that can make a person start to feel helpless and consider looking for help. They ask around and people say, this church has this to offer. They go and ask. They meet kind people offering help in Jesus’ name. This may be God’s way of softening and preparing their hearts to receive salvation, we don’t know. Even if we believe in Predestination, we don’t know who is going to be saved, so we must serve first and then evangelize! Do some of them take advantage of the generosity of churches, even visiting many churches to get as much as they can? Yes, but that is between them and God.

So why can’t I find a church that preaches the whole truth and nothing but the truth and does it based on a Biblical model (in my favorite style)  ,  that also has programs that help the unsaved? Does serving the public make a person care less about theology? Does looking into the eyes of the lost cause one to have so much compassion that they forget they these people with immediate earthly needs are going to hell unless they understand their need for Christ’s forgiveness? Or am I expecting too much, which is often the case for me. Am I being too focused on MY preferences and my love of learning? Is it the perpetual teacher and student in me that has blinded me to see this tendency until now? Maybe I should stop looking so hard for theologically focused sermons and should focus more on how they demonstrate Christ’s love and then leave the saving up to God, where it actually starts anyway. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 The good news is this church does offer advanced level Bible study , so I may get the best of both worlds!

After all, the greatest commandment according to Jesus himself  is to love God with all your soul and mind, and to LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF, not,  love God and debate your hungry, sick, lonely, neighbor over theology.

In case you’re wondering, I went to this church on Sunday and the sermon really spoke to me. It was based on Matthew (NOT Acts, thankfully! ), the familiar Beatitudes. The preacher brought out how we who are saved are #blessed, or #happy, or #makarios, even when we are not getting new Lamborghinis from our pastor husbands or going on vacation getting a promotion or whatever social media event our friends are sharing. We have everything we need in Christ alone. Our blessing is Christ.  Our happiness comes from the knowledge that Christ is working in us to make us more like him. Obedience to the message of the cross leads to happiness which we can have despite our circumstances. There was absolutely nothing said or done in the service that I felt would lead people away from God’s truth.  I’m thankful that God is still working on me, a stubborn, slow learning, often lazy and selfish, sinner saved by Grace! In fact, writing this has helped me see that I do not have to be so black and white. I can enjoy deep study and also show the love of Christ without the need to judge or be too eager to teach. I need to wait on the Spirit and trust God to do the saving.

PS: Here is a post I wrote a while back that should have answered my own questions on this topic. Like I said, I’m slow! God Really Loves Us!

Update! Six months later I am happily attending this same church . Turns out my perception that it might be too liberal for me was wrong . I feel very comfortable and welcome here and I’m so thankful for that .

16 comments

  1. Paula, we can definitely separate love from a lot of intellectual discussions regarding interpretations of what scripture is saying. But, we can’t separate love from the gospel of our salvation, for that is the ultimate in love. Yes, loving people as God loves them isn’t about having intellectual debates about Christian theology. I so agree! But, we can’t remove the gospel message from loving people, because then that is not really loving them as Christ loved and loves us. For, his ultimate love sacrifice for us came through his death for us on the cross that we might be delivered from our bondage to sin and be set free to walk with him in righteousness.

    Yet, I agree with you that it is very difficult these days to find a church fellowship that teaches truth but that couples it with love and grace. Many are all about doing “good deeds” but are absent of teaching the truth about the gospel of our salvation. And, then there are those who are so hard-nosed about their doctrinal beliefs that they fail to demonstrate the love of Jesus. Jesus Christ, though, sets the model for us in how we should be, and how his church should be.

    Jesus is a model to us of how to combine mercy and grace with truth, for he spoke not only the truth, but he spoke the hard truths that got him killed, too, and that got him hated and rejected and persecuted. But, he spoke the hard truths not because he was about having theological debates, but because the truth is what sets people free. But, the truth he proclaimed was very simple, although many regarded it as hard. The truth that he proclaimed was that simply coming to him in faith means we forsake our former lives of living for sin and self and we now follow him in obedience and in surrender to his will for our lives (See: 1 Pet. 2:24, the gospel in a nutshell).

    So, it is possible to show people genuine (divine) love and share the truth with them at the same time. It is all in our approach. And, it can’t be about intellectual debate or getting into arguments over details.

    If we just share the simple truth that Jesus died to deliver us out of our addictions (bondage, slavery) to sin, and that by trusting in him as our Lord and Savior, we can walk in freedom, and we can live godly and holy lives, pleasing to him, not in absolute perfection, but in daily dying to sin and self and in daily putting on the armor of God with which to fight off Satan’s evil schemes against us, then we are demonstrating the love of Jesus. But, it can’t be all preachy, too. We have to demonstrate his love with our lives and with how we treat others, for we do need to comfort the sorrowful and feed the hungry and give a cup of cold water to the thirsty, etc., too.

  2. Oh churches…. 😦 I don’t even want to get into it, lol. But I hear what you are saying. It’s hard to find a church that satisfies “our” wants and desires and also shares Jesus’ love with others. I honestly think a lot of people are having this issue and my family is also of at a crossroads with church attendance at the moment. It’s a tough issue. I pray you find what God is leading you towards 🙂 God Bless!

  3. You are experiencing things very similar to what my wife Betsy and I did some years back: in short, we wanted to know where is a church that puts what God’s word has to teach us into action? We love to study God’s word, but if it never makes it to action, who is being edified? We had had enough of the ‘soft-sell’ gospel, where everything will be ok in the end. Cheap grace was not what the bible was showing us!
    For us, we eventually branched out on our own, so to speak. I went back to school both for biblical training and practical application. We started Lakeside Christian Ministries during this time, trusting God to show us what and where He would have us. (For more on us, please check out http://www.lakesidechristianministries. org) We serve under the headship of the Elim Fellowship in Lima New York.
    Our daily goal is to be the hands, heart and feet of Jesus in our community, meeting folks like He would, right where they are. For example, we are involved with another fellowship that provides free dinners on Tuesday evenings (I’m on my way there as soon as i finish this!) and we take our bible study ‘On the Road,’ meeting people in their homes and catering the study to them, without ever compromising the Truth of Scripture. We also fill-in at local churches if there is a need for preaching or leading worship.
    My word of encouragement to you is: keep pressing in to God and never under estimate what He will present you with for His service. We are still blown away by all He’s doing here, and look forward with great excitement to what is next.
    Blessings,
    Pastor Chuck
    PS: please feel free to reach out with any questions
    C

  4. I really do not think you should have to choose between theology/ sound biblical teaching and love and compassion. As a matter of fact, I am of the belief that they do come together. Where you find one, the other shouldn’t be too far behind. Or something is terribly wrong

    • Do you think it’s okay to go to a church that is ‘mostly’ in agreement with you on the ‘essentials’ but not on some topics that men have debated for centuries? Such as the things I mentioned in my blog. Arminianism teaches that we CHOOSE God. Original Christianity taught that God CHOOSES us and we merely respond. But in practice , it looks pretty much the same as far getting saved. And we are told to spread the gospel, so that is the important thing, right?

  5. It’s a matter of priorities. You need a church that is actively loving and with which you can agree on what you believe are the BASICS. You don’t need a church that is perfect and complete – that would be a church that doesn’t need you! You are going to church not just to “get something out of it,” but to make your own unique contribution. Maybe look for a church that is admirable, yet lacking in a particular area where you are gifted…?

  6. I’m more concerned that the church preach Christ and his grace by the blood of his death and eternal life by his resurrection and have spiritual fruit as evidence of it being alive in Christ.

    I’m convinced that when we stand before the throne, there will not be one single person that had the theology quite right. I don’t believe we can really get the whole picture until we actually are with God. I have my beliefs but I realize they are limited by my human understanding and I look through the glass darkly.

    • I agree, as long as they are not teaching outright heresy, such as that God just wants you to be rich and happy all the live long day, just ‘speak’ and your prayers will be answered, that the Bible is just a book written by men, that Jesus didn’t actually get resurrected,etc. As long as they teach the Gospel as written, that all men are sinners in need of redemption, and that God is going to judge the world, and maybe a few other things, I’m willing to overlook some of the things I disagree with.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s