Is 'Going to Church' Compatible with the Teachings of Jesus of Nazareth?
For those who might be new in trying to follow Jesus of Nazareth (or those even trying to understand what it means to follow Jesus), the answer to this question might be unclear. If you have been exposed to christianity, which claims to represent Jesus of Nazareth, you have been taught that the essence of being a christian involves being a member of 'the church', attending its 'services' and actively serving God through that organization. But is this what Jesus of Nazareth actually teaches?
Let's start with the basics. The English word translated 'church' in the new testament is based on the Greek word transliterated 'ekklesia'. If one looks up that word in a Greek dictionary, one will find a definition that says something to the effect of 'the called out ones', plural. Some say the word carries with it an actual gathering or meeting of people, but this author's opinion is that the plurality of 'the called out ones' is sufficient. What is absolutely certain is that the word itself does not mean a building, an organization, a leadership structure, religious or social programs, or a place to worship God. What is equally certain, by knowing Jesus' other teachings, is that the 'out' that is referred to in ekklesia's definition of 'the called out ones' is the world.
"If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." John 15:19
"I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." John 17:14
"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." (John 3:17-19)
And so the term "church" is defined by the Jesus of Nazareth as his collective followers who are called out of the world. And yet christians almost universally refer to 'the church' as the building on the corner where they go each Sunday to hear a clergyman give a speech, partake in rituals regarding 'the last supper', and sing songs about God. Even at this basic level, there is error. There is no commonality between what the word's actual definition is (and the context in which Jesus uses it as we will see shortly), and what christian's say it means. Many christian leaders of sects that say they are careful to follow the bible will say, 'oh, no, we know that the building is only the place where the church meets'. But even in these organizations, if you listen to the words of the people as they speak about 'the church' during the week, you will find that the normal usage of the term 'church' means the building, the clergy, the Sunday meeting, and the programs.
Sadly, they don't see themselves called out of anything (except perhaps gross moral sin), but rather called into a building for the weekly 'service' and a few good works that fit into their schedule. In fact, that building, leadership and organization is very much a part of the world, accepted by the world as a good thing in general. It is merely another religio-social organization no different than any other religion or good works social club. The government in the US even grants them a special tax status so that they don't have to give to 'Caesar what is Caesars'! How is it that a visible organization which is supposedly representing the kingdom of God is accepted and blessed by the world's governments? How does that fit in with all of Jesus' teachings that his called out ones will be hated, rejected and persecuted by the world?
It should be startling to the reader that Jesus of Nazareth, the one whom the christian's say is the founder of 'the church', not only says very little about 'the church', but gives teachings that go against what 'the church' has come to stand for and practice.
Here is all that Jesus of Nazareth has to say about 'the church':
"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it." Matthew 16:18
So here in the sixteenth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus simply says that Peter's confession of faith that Jesus of Nazareth is Israel's Messiah is what Jesus will build his Family (called out ones) on the rock of himself and those who have true faith in him and confess him for who HE SAYS he is. He also says that the gates of hades will not overpower his called out ones, although it will obviously try.
No buildings, clergy, programs or meeting there in those words of Jesus.
Let's look at the only other time Jesus uses the term ekklesia.
"If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." Matthew 18:17
In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus leaves his followers instructions on how to handle the situation of someone claiming to be a follower of Jesus, yet who continues in sin (harmful behavior that Jesus defines). Jesus gives a simple instruction of how to correct such a person. He says escalate the correction if the person doesn't respond to the correction of the originally offended person. If they don't respond, bring a few other followers with that original person. If they again don't respond to that, finally bring the matter before the whole little flock (God's Family) in that particular area ' the called out one's of Jesus. If they don't respond to the collective little flock's correction, then that person is to be put outside the Family and not trusted, even while they remain loved and witnessed to.
When Jesus says to bring them before the ekklesia, he certainly is teaching that his followers will have a collective life of following him in any given geographical area, thus they are organized enough to gather to consider the matter. However, how that gathering takes place - where it takes place, the format of the meeting, the place of the meeting, the details of how it is organized - and most important why it takes place - is where christianity morph's (twists) this teaching of Jesus to fit their traditions. What is left after the traditions nullifying Jesus' teachings is merely another religious based social club. One thing is for certain - this teaching of Jesus cannot reasonably and rationally be used to justify the buildings, clergy, the Sunday meeting (that contain no disciplinary actions) and programs. In fact those things are not taught by Jesus ANYWHERE in all his teachings addressing the kingdom of God and how his followers are to live, and he has many such teachings.
So, there you have it - all the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth on 'the church'.
And yet Jesus has many dozens of teachings regarding the kingdom of God and how his followers are to live while in the world. Many dozen's of teachings on eternal life - how one attains to, and remains in - eternal life. Yet only two statements about 'the church' and those two statements have nothing in common with how the term 'church' is currently defined in christianity.
Does this trouble the reader at all?
Again, I hope this startles the reader, because if you listen to, have participated in, or watch christianity and its words and practices regarding 'the church', you will see two things. First, that the actual meaning of the word ekklesia has been re-defined and twisted to mean something it is not. Instead of being the called out ones of Jesus ' called out of the world and its ways and called into the kingdom of God - it has come to mean the building, clergy, Sunday meeting and programs...a religious social club.
Second, that Jesus of Nazareth cared little to teach about the called out ones collectively as the ekklesia, and thus he only does so twice. This is a great contrast to what christianity makes of 'the church'.
Who are you going to believe, reader, Jesus or your religious leaders who say they represent Jesus even while they contradict him and practice their religious traditions which nullify his teachings?
Teachings of Jesus Which Go Against the Practices of Christianity's 'Church'
Who Should the Follower of Jesus of Nazareth Follow???
First and foremost, Jesus plainly teaches that he is to be his follower's only Teacher and Leader, Master and Lord. Please listen to him:
"But do not be called Teacher (Rabbi); for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Messiah. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." (Matthew 23:8-12)
"You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am." (John 13:13)
"I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd." (John 10:16)
"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also." (John 15:20)
Truly be servant-like.
Is this what is represented in the christian or messianic organization? In truth, no. But the deceit comes in the form of, 'Oh, but God told us through Paul that there are leaders in between Jesus and his followers'. For those not blinded by their religious bible dogma, that would obviously make those who believe that statement followers of Paul, since Paul directly contradicts Jesus on this most important matter. Or another favorite one is, 'oh, but my pastor is a great servant of all'. Really? First of all, who is he serving if he disobeys Jesus of Nazareth? When Jesus says his followers will have "One Shepherd/Pastor" that does NOT mean two, dear reader. In addition, servant's stand up on a stage/pedestal and teach the people? In what culture and at what time in history? Talk about turning something up-side-down on its head! If your pastor is the lowest servant, why does he bless the hiring of the custodians to clean the toilets?! (and even if he did clean the toilets, that would not justify his disobeying Jesus' commands).
"I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd (Greek poimen)." (John 10:16)
How many shepherds? Isn't it interesting that translators at some point decided to translate the Greek transliterated term 'poimen' as 'shepherd' in John chapter 10, and as 'pastor' in Ephesians chapter 4:11. It is the same exact term used in both places and the contexts are the same - they are both talking about leadership. Now why would those translators do that? Perhaps because the Way was too narrow for them and they liked Paul more than Jesus? Perhaps faithfulness to their religious system or prior translation traditions?
I ask again, how many shepherds will the followers of Jesus have? Jesus says 'one'. Paul - and the religion founded on his teachings (and the rest of the bible apart from Jesus' teachings), christianity, - says 'millions'. Who are you going to believe?
Moreover, if you believe Jesus, how could you attend an organization which openly has teachers, leaders and shepherds/pastors? If you are a new follower of Jesus, you would approach the organization's leaders and share Jesus' Words with them and ask them to turn away from their great error of usurping Jesus' role and instead follow Jesus. If they look at you like you are crazy, or belittle you as an ignorant laymen, then what are you going to do? Continue going to a place and explicitly endorse those leaders (by your participating in their teaching sessions) who not only refuse to obey Jesus' plain teaching, but who claim to represent him? How could you, in good conscience, listen to the Words of your Master be disobeyed under the guise of actually representing him? How could you participate in the deceiving of others? "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15) says the Real Master.
Please dear reader, he mean's what he says, and to think we are "loving" people by watching his commands be nullified by those who claim to represent him, is to be deceived. The Real Jesus of Nazareth never said it would be easy or pleasant to follow him. And the only Way we will have his joy and peace in our heart, is to have him, his Words and voice ONLY as our sole spiritual authority. To disobey him or watch others do the same is not compatible with Jesus' plain commands and teachings.
This one major contradiction would lead the sincere follower of Jesus to not participate in the christian religious organizations (known as "the churches"). This should be especially true since he warms his followers plainly to not be deceived or misled by those who come in his name and claim to represent him.
What about Love/Agape?
The most important teaching of Jesus of Nazareth regarding how his followers ought to be behaving is love. Jesus defines love as selfless behavior from a heart of compassion (See What is God's Love?). One of Jesus' most important commands regarding love is this:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
How did Jesus love his first followers? He spent each day with them, helping them with life's problems. He shared all the material things he had with them, since they all had the same Father. He guided them into the Truth, which was himself. He served them by helping them each day (even washing their feet). And finally, he laid down his physical life for his sheep in order to do two very important things. First, to show them the Way Home and to demonstrate his Father's love for them in the process. Second, to pay the ransom so that they might be set free from the darkness and instead walk in and after the Light.
So, just how is the local christian religious organization's members living out the love that Jesus taught and demonstrated? Through the several times a week meetings? By paying 10 percent of their income to pay the staff's wages and overhead of running the organization? Just how much is the pastor/shepherd involved in the daily lives of those he says he shepherds?
The contrast between the love Jesus taught, lived and demonstrated and the love the christians have for one another is great for those with eyes to see.
Is the christian organization significantly different that the local synagogue or the local mosque? Is it significantly different than the social/religious clubs like the masons or the elks lodge or the knights of Columbus? The christians will scream, 'yes, very different'. But what they mean by that is their doctrine and beliefs about things ' which doctrines and beliefs have virtually no bearing on how they live their lives - is different. In truth, the christian's lives are not significantly different from "non-believers", only what they say they believe.
How sad the difference between reality and how Jesus says it ought to be.
Why, dear reader, would you want to participate in empty, cold, shallow, hypocritical religion when you could be part of the Father's Family instead? (see A Call to Family) In fact, it would be better to be alone than part of that which make's one's heart hard by practicing hypocrisy.
Pay Other's To Follow Jesus For You
Sadly, christianity as well as its messianic brethren, very much like their mutually self-serving system. They choose, hire and bless their leaders who essentially tell them they are accepted by God if they believe a certain set of doctrine and if they participate in the organization's meetings and rituals ' or at least give them money to support and run it. And of course the leaders are only too glad to tell the people what they want to hear and at the same time be provided a living by making weekly speeches called, 'sermons' or 'the teaching of God's Word' or some other such label. Their leaders also very much like having people say to them in the market place, 'oh, pastor, pastor'. They also get the seats of honor at all the important life events like baby christenings, marriages and funerals ' heck, most even get paid for presiding they are so esteemed! Of course many of their leaders actually think they are helping the people of their flock by substituting for the Good Shepherd, but oh how horribly deceived they are. They think that their counsel to their members is wise and good as it comes from 'a calling', experience, education, or 'God's Word' ' all the while they ignore the most important teachings of the real and living Word.
Please listen to what Jesus calls those leaders who accept money to 'pastor the flock':
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep." (John 10:11-13)
For those willing to receive it, Jesus calls all men who usurp his role of the 'One Good Shepherd' and accept money to do so, 'hirelings'. And what does he say of the hireling? That when real trouble comes, you can expect him or her to say, 'well, it's been good knowing you, I'll pray for you, good bye'trust in the Lord!' When it really comes to laying down their literal life for you, they will fail, because they love their life in the world. This is why the Real Jesus of Nazareth is the only true "good Shepherd". He will not fail you, and he will lead you to his Father and Life eternal IF you are willing to "listen to HIM" (Matt. 17:5).
Pointing out the other rituals and traditions of men which nullify Jesus and his teachings under the guise of 'the church' will not help the reader, if the reader is not willing to receive the critically important one's above.
If a person brings this article (even though it is based on the teachings of Jesus) to their religious leader(s) for his/her opinion, what they will typically hear is a psychologically based defense. It goes something like this - 'oh my, where did you get that sad (or confused or even silly) article? You know there is a lot of junk on the internet. The person who wrote that article is very bitter and probably had a bad experience with a church. The only thing you will learn from bitter people is to be bitter yourself, and you don't want to be a bitter, negative or judgmental person, do you?'
If a person just brings the teachings of Jesus' in this article to their religious leaders, then they will hear the usual nullification, 'oh, he doesn't mean that, he means...'
Notice how the former in the previous paragraph is a personal attack on the article's author without any reasoned arguments regarding the article's contents. The response does not deal with the content of the article, nor the points which the article makes. Rather, it attributes bad characteristics or motivations to the article's author and then suggests that the person who shared the article with them might have the same characteristics. It also suggests that all content on the internet is junk or at least unreliable. A very clever way to avoid the truths in the article. After all, who wants to be 'bitter, negative or judgmental'? Or who wants to be the sucker believing everything they read on the internet?
So, dear reader, you have a choice of the voice or voices you listen to, and you must make the judgments as to what is true and what is false. If you have the Light and his teachings as your standard to judge truth, then you will know that the following Words come from the true and living God.
"Many false prophets (those who claim to speak for God or claim to represent God) will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased (Jesus is the Lawgiver of love), most people's love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved." (Matthew 24:11-13)
"I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to little children." (Matthew 11:25)
"For many are called, but few are chosen." (Matthew 22:14)
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)
"For false anointed ones and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect." (Matthew 24:24)
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 11:15)
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