Let’s take God out of the box.
The idea of that one church, religious group, or denomination has a lock on God is ludicrous. The idea that God will only lead a person to one church organization is equally not supported by scripture. Frankly, when a person lets Christ into their heart and life, nothing else is needed, they are already a member of God’s church. God never says, “Now find a Pastor from _________church, and then you’ll be alright.”
My husband and I were talking about this point because we noticed how easy it is to get comfortable with church attendance in any Christian church you can name and use that as a ticket to heaven. We are both striving to stay free from that type of complacency as we focus on obeying the leading of Christ. God is and always has been about a personal connection with Him.
In my experience, this becomes a problem for conservative, fundamental, literalists. They tend to believe that their way is the only way God will connect with people.
God is not that small.
Conservative church leaders seem eager at times to hide the liberal position of our Savior on this matter. Even though the Bible teaches one faith (the gospel of Jesus Christ), Jesus left room for how and through whom his teaching would spread to the world. Christ left room for diversity in this matter. The King of Kings understood that his message needed to reproduce through a variety of sources.
God had a plan in the spread of the gospel. Christ immediately started to include Gentiles and women as disciples (women were usually not allowed in such settings). Something that had not been done before. He focused on those that knew the one true God, meaning Isreal, (see Matthew 15:4) but the plan all along was to include the entire world. He just had to make Peter and the other disciples understand his acceptance of all people first (See the Lord’s struggle to get Peter to accept Gentiles in Acts 10:9-23)
In the spread of the gospel, Jesus rejected group-ism and exclusivity.
How do we know this?
Jesus had to correct the disciples about their small view of God.
“And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.” (note that the person believed in Jesus’ teaching, but “he’s not with our group”). But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is for us. Mark 9:38-40
In our small group, not only was this scripture rarely if ever taught, but John 10:16 where Jesus said he had other sheep, not of this fold was taught like this: the Church of God was the fold, and the “other sheep” were people outside of the church who may be saved but needed to come to the “truth” of our group. That’s a little twisted right?
But my denomination is not the only one that makes this error of calling the fold their particular church or denomination. Numerous fundamental churches and Christian based cults twist this scripture.
This type of theology confines God to a tiny box where he only accepts those that believe like” we” do and who follow us. It’s more of the “we are the only ones right” mentality. If a person has an extreme amount of special light, wouldn’t God give them the love, patience, and humility toward others that would mirror the love of Christ?
Instead, the result of claiming special light has disastrous consequences.
I interviewed a former member who belonged to our group as a child, and she stated that she thoroughly believed that anyone that wore pants and jewelry and didn’t belong to the Church of God and follow our rules were just not saved. It took her a long time after she left to accept even family members she knew as true Christians fully. What is wrong with that picture?
Toxic atmospheres breed toxic thinking. Certain things we breathe in when we’re in the wrong atmosphere.
She went on to say that as she met other Christians, she realized that many of these “outsiders” were in better spiritual condition than the people in the church. They had good spirits, were kind, open, and loving. So it wasn’t the membership in our group that made them spiritual. So why teach that it’s a pre- or post requisite to ‘true’ Christianity?
I notice that such scriptures are hidden and avoided in churches that like to think of themselves as exclusive. The simple fact is that God loves all, and embraces everyone who follows him, and He cares about even those who don’t. It doesn’t matter if they are members of your particular organization.
I’ve heard from so many former members that have struggled with this separatist view. Several have indicated that they cannot get their parents to accept their relationship with Christ, not because of any sins they may have committed but because of things like clothing or church standards held by their Church of God congregations. Completely bypassing that they are committed to living the Christian life.
Note the surprise and condemnation in the tone John’s statement that someone who was not in their immediate circle, but followed the teachings and influence of Christ was doing something that they had failed themselves to do–cast out devils.
Jesus’s simple response “Forbid him not,” spoke volumes against an “exclusive” “separatist” spirit. What harm was the man doing? He was still publishing the name of Christ. He didn’t follow in the same way the disciples did, but Christ was okay with this. Christ didn’t even examine what the man was doing to make sure he was representing a certain way.
Christ’s demeanor about this is something for us all to consider.
When one only focuses on membership and fails to teach on the heart condition and connection with God himself, this is leaving out an essential aspect of Christ’s teaching.
Churches have to be careful about demanding that theoretical perfection be a reality in their circle when there is evidence to the contrary and little effort is made to teach the gospel properly. It leaves little room for honesty.
We all know that God did not cease to save souls in the denominations. We know he is still saving every soul that turns to him, regardless of where that soul is. We know that hundreds of thousands of people are being converted in the denominations every year. This is a certainty. What does it signify? It signifies that the harvest of souls is not past, as we had supposed. It signifies that God has not ceased to work in denominations. It signifies that we were wrong in what we taught on the subject. There is no use glossing it over–we were wrong
—–Charles W. Naylor, Author of Heart Talks, Church of God holiness movement pioneer and author of numerous Christian hymns
from his book The Teachings of D.S. Warner and His Associates.