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Which
Church is Right?

by Kim Harrington 

  

     The woman said... "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

John 4:20-24(NIV)

     The woman at the well started getting defensive when Jesus began talking to her about spiritual things. It's a common enough response, for many feel threatened by someone who is bold enough to offer unsolicited religious advice. But Jesus wasn't there to argue religion or to slam her forefathers. He saw a wounded person, someone who had gone through several marriages with all the resulting emotional pain and frustration, and he wanted to help her to get her life back together in a truly satisfying way, not just covering up the past, but actually finding the meaning and purpose of life in the first place.

     Jesus was a Jew and the woman was a Samaritan, and there was a deep religious rift between the two peoples. They both worshipped the God of the Bible, but had developed different religious traditions over the years. How did Jesus handle the differences? How did he address the woman's defensive attitude? How did he steer clear of trivial arguments and help her find life?

 

He Didn't Sidestep the Truth

     "You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews." (vs 22) He didn't give credence to some sort of syncretized ecumenical system of belief. That is, he didn't say, "That's all right, we all worship the same God in our own various ways." There is such a thing as truth, and someone who really wants to help another can't be soft-pedaling the truth in order to keep from offending someone. Only the truth could set this woman free, a watered-down message couldn't have the desired impact in her life. Jesus knew this and gave it to her straight.

     We live in a time when most people consider the truth relative, not absolute. That is, most believe that whatever seems to work for you personally is good, but is not necessarily right for them; that each individual has to find their own truth and live with it. Jesus would never have bought into this kind of thoughtless, politically-correct foolishness. He knew the truth, and also understood that anything that isn't the truth is a lie--and people cannot build a successful life, much less a successful eternity, on a lie.

     If the truth is relative, Jesus is a liar and a fraud. He spoke in absolutes. He said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) You can't accept Jesus simply as one of many facets of a universal revelation. You have to accept him as who he said, or reject him outright--you can't redefine him and his teachings.

     Someone is right and someone is wrong (at least partially) in every debate. Even when Christian theologians, or entire denominations, disagree, someone is right. They may both be sincere, and have good reasons for the conclusions they've drawn but one or the other is not coming up with the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So Jesus told the woman that her church was wrong.

 

"Yet..."

     But he didn't dwell upon it. Notice the word, "yet" in the next verse: "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks," (vs 23). "Yet" means, "but don't get bent out of shape, lady--this is not the real issue." Doctrine is not uppermost in God's mind right now. He's more concerned about the state of your heart. He's more concerned with your actual spiritual condition. He's more concerned with you as a person.

     God cares more about your personal relationship with him than your doctrinal position. He would like to see you spending time in prayer. He wants to know if you take the time to read his Word and obey it, or if you just make up your own religion as you go along, taking bits and pieces from various philosophies gleaned from books, magazine articles, television shows and discussions with friends. He cares about you and wants to help.

 

The Real Difference

     If the truth be told, most Christian churches are very similar in doctrine. Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelicals, Pentecostals and Charismatics all agree with the truths expressed in the "Apostles Creed"...

I believe in God Almighty; and in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and was buried, and the third day rose from the dead, who ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, whence he comes to judge the living and the dead; and in the Holy Spirit, the holy church; the remission of sins; the resurrection of the flesh, and the life everlasting.

     Certainly there are differences, and some believers could fight all day long about Calvinism and Arminianism, dispensationalism, amillenialism and all the other isms and schisms that have developed over the last two thousand years, but there is, nevertheless, a genuine consensus on the fundamentals; the church is not as divided doctrinally as many suppose.

     The real difference between born-again Christians and many of those in the mainline churches is in how seriously they take the things of God -- how much they believe in what they say. You may say that you believe the Bible is the Word of God, but if you haven't even bothered to read it, then you must not really care. You may say you believe in everything it says, but if you don't believe in hell, you're denying a well-developed truth of Scripture, a subject that Jesus spoke upon often in his discourses. If there is a hell, you'd better find out how not to go there. You can't hide behind a sentimental statement like, "I just don't believe a loving God would send anybody to a place like that..." And don't say "I'm a Catholic," or a Methodist, or a Lutheran--for the doctrine of hell is right in the doctrinal statement of those churches and every other orthodox church.

 

The Real Issue

     The real issue is: do you really know God? Have you got down to brass tacks with him, finally faced the issue of your personal need for forgiveness of sins and eternal life? Have you decided to be honest with him, or are you still taking refuge behind a pile of rationalizations about your own shortcomings? Have you admitted your pride and selfishness? Have you been honest before God about your desperate inner longing for real life, something that makes your existence meaningful?

     Have you asked Jesus into your heart and made him the Lord of your life? Is he your personal friend? Do you take time to talk with him and read your Bible every day? have you left off your old sinful ways and begun walking the paths that he wants you on? Are you saved? That is, do you know your sins are forgiven, and that you have eternal life?

     God's not going to ask you what church you went to when you stand before him at the judgment seat. He's going to ask if you worshipped in spirit and in truth, if you really got serious about him and lived for the eternal things. If there's any doubt at all in your mind today about that, just ask Jesus to forgive you for your sins and help you turn away from every one of them. Then read your Bible to find out how he wants you to live. And get yourself into a church, one that preaches the whole Bible and really believes it.

     Hope to see you in heaven...

 

Copyright 1998 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.

 

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