‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ (Matthew 15:8-9)
What strange creatures human beings are! We can be so easily distracted by an innate need to control and order our existence, and to add perceived value to everything we do. Simply look at the history of the church, and we will see an ongoing ‘seesaw’ process of mankind shaping our own religious preference and a push to return to the pure truth and Biblical worship. For centuries, we have built church structures – both literal and figurative – that may well have more to do with us and our perception and expectations of worship than with what God requires.
The result of all of this is our various – and numerous – denominations and the often significant ‘doctrinal differences’ that set them apart. Back in the days of Acts, denominations were unheard of and doctrinal differences dealt with and resolved immediately. Distinctions between churches were geographical and had nothing to do with comfort zones or personal preference. Church was church. It was about God, not self, and it all started out with the fundamental commandment of ‘love your God.’ There was no room for man’s propensity to turn it all round into something that ‘works for me.’
While on the surface, denominational ideas seem perfectly ‘orderly’ and ‘proper,’ it’s essentially a man-made convenience that promotes separation rather than the perfect unity intended for the body of Christ. It’s based on the precept that we have the right to choose how and where to worship, and to expect everyone else to respect that – God included. While He has indeed blessed us with that ubiquitous privilege of ‘free will,’ His Word is very clear on the only acceptable ‘where and how’ of worship.
In these end times, there is a critical call to true believers: But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. We face trials and persecutions, mockery and vilification, humiliation and outright attack. The state of the world is such that we can only give thanks, daily, that the Spirit remains to check the restrain the powers and instruments of darkness, both man and the demonic.
Despite all this, the church remains divided, and a house divided against itself will not stand. They may be ‘surface differences,’ small matters of this or that and seemingly inconsequential in the bigger scheme of things, but the spiritual implications are enormous. The Bible often uses the expression ‘of one mind.’ That is the Biblical ‘definition’ of unity. We are intended to be of one mind, and that is the mind of Christ. If we depart from this, even in the little things, the very unity that is both our protection and our acceptable worship is gone.
What is more tragic is that this opens the door to other equally dangerous conditions, against which the Bible warns us repeatedly. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 says: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. What a vivid description of the church today! Creating denominational differences where God did not intend them to be puts us in the place of personal preference. It puts us in the place where we begin to worship God on our terms. And it puts us in a place where, ultimately, we will fall prey to the desire to design our own doctrines. One small step to the left or right is still off course, no matter how we excuse it.
1 Peter 3:17 says this: For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Denominational differences propound the perception that, as the church, we are free to create the worship and religious framework that suits us, without fear of being called to account. How wrong we are! When judgement comes, it will come first to the house of God. He will first set His own house in order before turning to those in the kingdom of darkness. He will first separate His sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares. He will first shake His church so that nothing that cannot stand in His truth will remain.
There is an underlying thread of pride and presumption that has invaded church thinking – that we are somehow protected and exempt from judgement because we’re the ‘new Israel,’ that we can glibly make and live by our own set of rules because we’re somehow ‘special’ and set apart, separated from the coming wrath of God. The real truth will, tragically, see the great apostasy set in motion. God will discipline His own children first. He did it with Israel, and He will do it with the church. The entire old testament provides examples of His dealing with His people. It shows us how God operates, and reveals the reality of a holy God intent on creating a holy people for His glory. God has not changed, and He never will. What He did then, He will do now.
I believe absolutely that this is the time for the demise of denominational separation, but it’s on God’s terms, not ours. The call is not true believers to muddy the waters of God-defined worship by seeking unity with any denomination, faith or religion that is not Bible based and Christ centred. This may sound good on the surface, but it essentially brings the things of Baal and Ashtoreth into the church. We are building asherah poles, not consecrated living altars. The pursuit of this kind of false unity will, in fact, be the launching point for the apostasy, the beginning of the end – both of the world and the church as we know it.
Judgement will come to the church first. God will remove the denominations and doctrinal differences that man has created. Mega-churches will slide into full-blown apostasy, and false teachings will proliferate on a level we have not yet seen. Thousands will fall away, dismayed and disillusioned, or determined to pursue their own desires. Already we see the rise and collapse of many larger-than-life public ministries, the fall of leaders who once walked in devotion and surrender to the Word and Spirit of God. Deception will increase, but God will, inevitably, draw the line of ‘Enough,’ and He will deal with His house. These are not prophetic words. They are simply the realistic interpretation of what exists already in the Word of God.
Everywhere we look, the cry for revival grows louder, but it is a cry for self – what it will bring me. The voice of those who call for Biblical-based revival – repentance and surrender, a heart for the lost, a weeping for the state of the church – is lost in the clamour for self-gratification. But revival will come. If we look at God’s people, we clearly see that that this happens over and over again. But, instead of the sweeping, global phenomenon that various movements claim are the work of God, the beginning of the great end-time revivial, the outpouring of the ‘new wine,’ we will see the revival of true worship. God, as He has always done, will raise up a remnant for Himself.
From every denomination and in every corner of the world, the shaking that is already starting will bring forth those of pure gold. Those who hear His call and give all, who willingly surrender and whose hearts are turned only to Him and to His truth – these are the ones who will be raised up in revival. These are the ones who will return to Bible-base, God-ordained worship. These are the ones to whom He will grant the grace and courage to stand against all that is coming against the church. Already, He is beginning the refining process, burning away the dross and shaping His people.
Let us remember the lesson of the virgins and not be locked out. Let us heed the warnings He has given and be ready to be called out from whichever denomination we follow. The real truth is that God would rather have a handful of faithful, obedient followers who love Him beyond all else, than tens of thousands who offer empty worship through self-created religious structures, and who constantly place self at the centre.
Let us cry out to Him for the grace and courage to say, ‘Lord, here am I,’ to cry out, “Though He slay me, yet will I praise Him.’ Our God is gracious, quick to forgive, abounding in mercy and love. He desires that none should perish, and His faithfulness will not fail. But the choice, as always, is ours.
Lord, help us in these terrible times to seek You more than ever before. Help us to throw off the false doctrines and deceptive comforts of worldly worship, to step out from the crowd and surrender to Your call. Bring us through the fire to the place of pure hearts and yielded lives. Help us to choose You first, and only You, and grant us the courage to stand on Your truth and live in Your grace, so that Your people, who are called by Your name, may endure as a living testimony to Your glory.