Find the Bible, Then a Church
We tell "the lost" to "find a church," but I believe we first need to find the Bible, then a church. In a perfect world, a new believer could rightly assume that all Christian churches are preaching and teaching the Bible. If so, finding a Biblically sound church would be easy. But unfortunately, we live in a fallen world, and "the church" today may be as lost and scripturally dysfunctional as the person seeking it. Therefore, we need a compass--The Holy Bible--to show us The Way. Find the compass, read it, and it will lead us to God's Church. Bible first, church second.
A Radical Suggestion for Radical Times
Why am I offering such a radical suggestion to find the Bible first, then find a church second? After all, the most "radical" thing I've done in decades is to mix strawberry and chocolate ice cream, far outside my chocolate and vanilla comfort zone.
For many, the traditional sequence is correct. Traditionalists believe that lost souls must first find their way to the church, where a "qualified" shepherd can preach and teach the Good News found in the Bible.
The assumption is that the pastor(s) will lead and inspire the congregation to a robust understanding of God's infallible Word. Further, that personal Bible reading and study (that includes all 66 Books/Epistles) is expected and will lead us to spiritual maturity.
We assume Christian pastors will also guide us to a "Biblical Worldview" (rightly seeing the world through Jesus' glasses) instead of Professor Baal's cosmopolitan shades. This is a reasonable assumption because pastors ostensibly have knowledge, awareness, and skills related to scripture that the "lost" does not have.
In addition, pastors have professional credentials and the credibility that comes with them. They have the power to influence. Finally, and most importantly, they share the Biblical Worldview that keeps them grounded in the Bible and their personal and professional lives. In short, they walk the sermon. Or do they? More on that in a bit.
But we are NOT living in traditional times; we are living in the end times where radical ideologies have fundamentally changed what we know as "the church" and the pastors who lead them. Unfortunately, some pastors and the congregations who follow them seem to use a different Bible compass to find The Way. If my compass points North and theirs points South, how can this be? Isn't it the same Bible? How could our biblical worldviews be so different and still call ourselves "Christians?"
A Familiar Example
For example, my NASB Bible says,
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulters, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." 1 Corinthians 6:9
So how can America have a senior Christian church pastor who is openly and unrepentantly united in gay marriage and dresses up as a drag queen for Sunday service? This pastor either knowingly deceives the congregation or tells them what they want to hear.
Either way, it is antithetical, 180 degrees, opposite what God's compass shows. It does not reflect the biblical worldview we expect from Christian pastors or our brothers and sisters in Christ.
If it sounds like I am judging, and God agrees, I'll ask for forgiveness and repent. But this post is about how we automatically recommend "the lost" find a church without considering the consequences for that person. Is this where we want to send a new believer to find Jesus? Would you recommend it to a loved one? I don't think so.
Perhaps this example is extreme and doesn't reflect your community's "typical" Christian church. But how confident are you that the majority are teaching and following a biblical worldview versus some hybrid that blends the Bible and humanistic psychology? Or are they mixing scripture with the Bhagavad Gita in an attempt to "co-exist" in love and harmony? Blending different flavors of ice cream is fine; get as radical as you want, but not with Christianity.
Current Research That May Surprise You
In May 2022, the Cultural Research Center (CRC) at American Christian University released findings from their American Worldview Inventory 2022. The inventory measured beliefs and behaviors in eight categories:
Bible, Truth, and Morals
Family and the Value of Life
God, Creation, and History
Human Character and Nature
Lifestyle, Behavior, and Relationships
Purpose and Calling
Sin, Salvation, and God Relationship
The CRC surveyed America's Christian pastors nationwide using this inventory. They published their results in "New Study Shows Shocking Lack of Biblical Worldview Among American Pastors."
Highlights to Consider
I want to highlight a few points from this report relevant to my radical suggestion to find the Bible first, then a church.
Only 37% possess a "Biblical Worldview," while the 62% majority hold a hybrid worldview, Syncretism (an attempt to join together different religions and schools of thought);
Pastoral position accounts for some variability in worldview:
Senior Pastors: 41% hold a biblical worldview;
Associate Pastors: 28% hold a biblical worldview;
Children & Youth Pastors: 12% hold a biblical worldview;
Teaching Pastors: 13% hold a biblical worldview.
Syncretism is the preferred worldview of 88% of American adults;
Of the eight categories, here's how pastors align with each category relative to a biblical worldview:
Bible, Truth, and Morals: 39% biblical worldview
Faith Practices: 43% biblical worldview
Family and the Value of Life: 47% biblical worldview
God, Creation, and History: 44% biblical worldview
Human Character and Nature: 43% biblical worldview
Lifestyle, Behavior, and Relationships: 40% biblical worldview
Purpose and Calling: 57% biblical worldview
Sin, Salvation, and God Relationship: 43% biblical worldview
Shocking Results, Indeed!
The findings of this research are shocking. At least, I was shocked. If only 41 out of 100 senior Christian pastors hold a biblical worldview, what are the others teaching and preaching? If "the lost" are told to "find a church," they have less than a coin toss chance of stumbling into one led by a Bible-Believing pastor.
What if you are a "lost" parent with children? Do you roll the dice and gamble your eternity (and theirs)? Twelve in 100 isn't great odds. So how can we have only 12% of the children and youth pastors holding a biblical worldview? The odds are about the same among public school teachers.
And only 13% of teaching pastors hold a biblical worldview? I've been demonized and chastised for being a retired secular university professor because "we have no faith in the university." While this may be true for liberal higher education, how do we explain away this low percentage in Christian education?
You can judge for yourself if these findings are shocking or not. We can also question whether the results generalize to your community. Is your community different? Will God give everyone a "pass" just because they followed the crowd to any Christian church in their neighborhood? Instead, God seems to place more responsibility on each person who says, "Lord, Lord!" He may have some "conditions" associated with His perfect love.
So is my suggestion to find the Bible first, then a church second, really that radical in these "uncertain times?" No. If we read it, God's Word will point us in the direction of His church, not the enemy's church in disguise.
Who May Benefit From This "Not-So-Radical" Approach?
So, for whom is this post intended? Obviously, not the ones who are settled comfortably in a solid Bible-teaching and preaching church. They are out there.
Nor am I trying to steal away committed progressives or prosperity-oriented believers who are good with blending Christianity with other systems of thought. That's between them and God.
Instead, it's for anyone feeling God's Divine Wind stirring around them. It's for people who are new, or newly disillusioned, with Christianity today. Finally, it's for anyone who feels lost to God and wonders if God can come and find them.
Take heart; you are not lost, only temporarily disoriented to the truth. God knows you and where you are spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and physically. He is your Good Shepherd, and He is coming to save you. But first, He is sending you a compass to find The Narrow Path to His church.
God expects you and me to read His Word. No excuses. No free pass to heaven.
Bible Verses Supporting Bible First, Church Second
Again, reading the Bible first would be unnecessary in an ideal world because we could assume the church agrees with a biblical worldview. But, unfortunately, as we know anecdotally and through current research, this isn't the case. So how can we be sure my suggestion is aligned with scripture? Here are some references.
First, I assume the "lost" person has been found by God; otherwise, they would not have felt the Divine Wind. The church didn't do it; Jesus did. Jesus said, "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear His voice, and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out." John 10:3
Once we (believers) are led out, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. "And He was saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.'" Luke 9:23
But to follow Him daily, we need to know what to do and how to act consistently with His Word. Specifically, how do we find and maintain a compass heading that leads to a biblical worldview? The Bible, of course. But don't we need a qualified pastor to teach us? Not according to scripture.
"As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him." 1 John 2:27
Abiding in Him assumes that we are reading the Bible. The Holy Spirit doesn't inject truth serum and miraculously infuses us with God's wisdom. No. Some sweat equity is required from us. Study God's Word and see how quickly the Holy Spirit orients you to the true north.
Reading the Bible, every page of it, is necessary if we are to test the church and those leading it. Scripture warns us,
"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?" Matthew 7:15-16
If we go to church without independently studying the Bible, we may receive only milk instead of solid food. See what the Apostle Paul (most likely) says in the Book of Hebrews.
"For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil." Hebrews 5:13-14
Discerning good from evil is the purpose of reading the Bible before finding a church. With the Bible as our compass, we can move steadily in the direction of God's church. Knowing the truth revealed to us through the Holy Spirit allows us to "test" the spirit of the church before we commit.
Finally, once we have committed to reading the Bible (even once quickly), we can use the Apostle Paul's words he spoke to the Ephesians. He said,
"Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." Ephesians 5:6-10
We can't very well know how God defines darkness and that we were part of it without reading the Bible. We can't expect someone else to teach us to walk as children of Light if they don't do it themselves.
This makes a compelling case for finding the Bible, reading it, and then asking the Holy Spirit for direction to God's church. I'm convinced that in the process of dedicated, daily Bible study, God will have Divine Appointments to help clarify any questions you may have. And then, the "lost person" will see the Light on the horizon that guides them to their church home.
If this were the 1950s America, we could easily recommend "the lost" find a local church and then find the Bible. But, unfortunately, we can no longer consider this sequence the gold standard. Radical ideologies have fundamentally changed what we know as "the church" and the pastors who lead them. Current research suggests that less than half of American pastors hold a biblical worldview. Moreover, only 12% of children and youth pastors see the world through a biblical lens. Thus, "the lost" have a vested interest in finding the Bible first, reading it, and then looking for a church that reflects the Bible. Best of all, the Bible supports this view, as we have seen.