From the era of Constantine we have seen many different churches and religious organisations setting up their churches, schools and colleges teaching Bible principles. The figures today showing the different denominations across the world are quite astounding. Gordon – Conwell theological Seminary annual statistics show that there were 31,100 denominations in the year 2000 which has now increased to 44,800 in 2020.
There now exists thousands of different Christian denominations with their own specific doctrines and beliefs instead of the one church established by Jesus Christ.
So we are faced with a question. Which (if any) of these Christian denominations are teaching the correct gospel? Today we have thousands of variations of Christ’s message, most of which are accepted by church members. In the early church there were only a few different variations of the Gospel and even then Christians and potential converts questioned what the apostles taught which we will read about in our article the early church.
How many of the preachers have actually been called by God to preach like the apostle Paul? He was someone who knew he had been called to such a position as he tells us in scripture he was ‘appointed’ (1 Timothy 2:7, 2 Timothy 1:11). Institutionalised religions of the day train up pastors, vicars, bishops etc, they go to college or university, come out with certificates, live in paid for properties with wall to wall books on theology, but how many actually have any discernment on spiritual matters? How many are walking by faith and not bowing down to pressure from the organisation or institution or the world on biblical matters? Now I’m not discrediting theologians, historians etc who dig deep into biblical history and I do believe they have their place within the body of Christ. But understanding the spiritual realm is of vital importance and Christians can only obtain this knowledge by relying upon the Holy Spirit to uncover Gods Word. It’s only the Holy Spirit who brings the Word of God alive and that’s why God reveals this to us in so many places in His Word. Many churches are spiritually dead because there is just no spiritual understanding of Gods Word.
Now there is nothing wrong with hearing spiritual truths from another brother or sister. We know God uses others to speak to us individually so that is not the issue here. It is when week in week out Christians are completely reliant upon the pastor or preacher for these spiritual truths and sadly many of these preachers are still carnally minded and preaching from their flesh instead of their spirit. The congregation leaves the church with many accepting what they have heard without validating it against scripture.
Like the Jews of Jesus’ day, many Christians have chosen to get their information from human beings which Jesus told us would happen in John 5:43,
“I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.”
Throughout the New Testament we are warned by Jesus and His apostles to never trust human preachers but rather to read and study the scriptures for ourselves to obtain true understanding and to validate any teachings we hear. Jesus emphasises the importance of ’where’ we get our information in John 8:31 when he declared that Christians are not ‘truly’ His disciples unless they are following or learning His Word;
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.”
The New Testament Greek translation of the word ‘disciples’ means pupil or learner and Jesus called His followers ‘disciples’ which we can see in Matthew 26:18;
“And He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, “My time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.”
As Jesus promised in John 14:26, it is only through the Holy Spirit who now indwells in us (1 Corinthians 6:19) who will teach us all things and bring to our remembrance all things that He said.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
So we can see that we have a responsibility as Christians to not be reliant on professional preachers but on the Holy Spirit and to soak ourselves in Gods Word and John reaffirms this in 1 John 2:26-27;
“These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him”
If we are not doing this then we leave ourselves open to preachers who may be preaching the wrong message and many are doing so for their or their organisations own personal gain. Jesus and His apostles warned us about false teachers, teachings and doctrines throughout scripture. Whilst with His disciples, Jesus warned them to be wary of those who appear to be legitimate disciples but are in fact ravenous spiritual wolves in disguise and to be thoughtful, wise and cautious.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Matthew 10:16
The apostle Paul warned about others who would be motivated by the power and influence that a cleverly distorted message might produce in order to attract their own following. He similarly labelled them as ‘savage wolves’ and predicted how Gods people would recognise the preachers as apostles of Christ.
“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” Acts 20:29-30
He goes on further to emphasise the point in 2 Corinthians
“For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” 2 Corinthians 11:3-4
The apostle John wrote how during his time, Christian preachers were rejecting Christ’s teachings to promote their own versions of Christianity.
“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” 2 John 1:10-11
The apostle Peter also warned that from among Christian fellowships false preachers would come out and would even speak evil of Gods truth,
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.”
When Jude wrote his epistle the same was happening. Private gospels were being shared which contradicted the teachings of Christ by preachers who were sneaking into Christian fellowships to promote their false teachings.
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jude 1:3-4
Titus was warned by the apostle Paul of many in the church world who were rebelling against the message of God's word in Titus 1:10-11,
"There are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain"
Paul was saying that they had been deceived by the meaningless chatter and religious deception that came from the legalists, who loved to persuade people by the ways of the law. He emphasised that these men be silenced with the truth, because they were undermining the spiritual well-being of entire families. Not only were they teaching things that were biblically unacceptable, their motivation was the financial advantage they could acquire by peddling deceptions. So many today are tempted to go after the material gain that can be obtained from those who will accept and embrace religious schemes.
So as we can see there is a long history of Christians who prefer the teachings of a church preacher instead of opening their Bibles and actually reading the teachings of Christ. We know how the apostles described a new type of Christian preacher after the death of Jesus. A preacher who is cut from the same cloth as the ancient Rabbis and just like these Jewish leaders they desire pre-eminence over Gods people (3 John 1:9-11) and incredibly financial demands for their services (Jude 11). Just like the Rabbis, by contradicting the words of Jesus (1 John 2:19-23) they are able to justify their self appointed authority and financial demands. And so what follows in the years after Jesus’ death is the continuation of these practices and emphasis on the word ‘Religion’.
Church Rethink Series
Part one: Churchianity
Part two: 44,800 Christian denominations
Part three: Religion
Part four: Legalism
Part five: The Tithe
Part six: The Early Church
Part seven: The Future Church