Proving the Gospel: Counterfeit and Real Churches

In a recent post I discussed the proof that the apostles offered for the Gospel and the proof that we have today.

  • The apostles were witnesses of the resurrection, and the resurrection was their proof that Jesus is God’s Anointed King and begotten Son.
  • The apostles are no longer with us, but Jesus has left us a testimony nonetheless, our love and unity.

That’s both a wonderful and a scriptural theory. In practice, however, “the church” is not known for love and unity but for division, bickering, and condemnation.

What do we do?

Real Churches

There is an obvious answer that seems impossible to implement. We need to raise up churches that can produce the fruit Jesus said would cause the world to believe.

How do we do that?

There are examples of successful churches that are like the early churches. Their testimony is powerful, and they grow, together, both upwardly and outwardly. They are using the same methods the apostles used.

  • Go somewhere, find a man of peace as a beginning. (Luke 10:3-6)
  • Stay with that person only. (Luke 10:7)
  • Preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and heal the sick. (Luke 10:9)

I need to stop here and tell you that I know of ambassadors (of God’s Kingdom, not earthly ones) that have healed with miracles, with medicine, with simple training about hygiene, with donations from Christians in other cities or countries, or with a combination of all of these. I’d love to tell you that all ambassadors of the King go forth with miraculous healing power, but they don’t. Some see a lot; some see less.

  • Make disciples of the converts by teaching them to obey all things that Jesus commanded. (Matt. 28:19-20)
  • Appoint elders once the Spirit has raised them up. (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5)
  • Move on, but pray, care for, and visit the churches you have raised up.
  • Rejoice as you see your churches reproducing themselves among neigboring villages, communities, and cities.

This is all really happening; all over the world.

The Existence of Counterfeit Churches

So am I saying churches like fit the description I just gave are the only real churches?

Pretty close, though not quite.

A real church produces real fruit. It is a testimony for Jesus, not against him. It is a plain, true, undeniable fact that overall, the churches of our day, in the United States, are a stain on the name of Jesus, not a benefit.

People complain all the time that I say it, but it is simply true that the churches of the United States are far more well-known for hateful behavior, bickering, and division than they are for unity and love.

You can’t fix a problem unless you admit it exists.

I am arguing that the problem is not that the church is corrupt, but that what we know as the church is a counterfeit: a replacement for the real church. No matter how good the replacement is, it nonetheless stops us from ever pursuing the one and only real church.

The Traits of a Counterfeit Church

  • A counterfeit church can be built or reproduced by renting a building and hiring clergy.
  • A counterfeit church is a club. In organization it is just like any club, such as the Boy Scouts, the Moose Lodge, or the Masons.

These two issues are sufficient to make a church counterfeit.

A counterfeit church can share many similarities with the real church. It can have disciples in it, mixed with those who are not disciples. It can design its meetings to mimic church meetings. It can design its buildings to mimic buildings that the church has used in its past. It can title its staff with the same names the church uses to refer to its leaders.

It can even copy the church’s Gospel yet remain a counterfeit!

The church is a family, and people are born into it by the transformative power of God’s Spirit. They do not join it in membership drives.

The church’s unity is spiritual, created and maintained by God, subject to immediate dissolution when the Spirit of God departs. A counterfeit can go on forever after the Spirit of God departs because it is just a club.

Once you have built a building, hired clergy, and then called it a church and looked for people to join it, you have created a counterfeit. No matter how much you improve that counterfeit, fill it with Christians, obtain God’s blessings on your activities, you are still a counterfeit. You have still both lost and hidden from others the deepest and most central traits of the church.

The Family of God

The church is a family that people come into. We understand family. Anyone who has grown up in a well-adjusted family knows why, when I was growing up, it was okay for me to insult my brother in anger, but I would punch you in the face if you spoke ill of him. That’s how family is.

In the church, of course, we don’t punch our critics in the face. We are, however, fiercely loyal to one another, bound together by the Holy Spirit into the closest family on earth. Those that did not grow up with a decent family learn quickly in the church what a decent family is because they are cared for like newborns and grow up with hundreds of brothers and sisters.

Didn’t Jesus say this was GUARANTEED to us? Mark 10:29-30 says:

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one that has left house, brothers, sisters, father, mother, wife, children, or lands for my sake and the Gospel’s except that he will receive a hundred times as much, now in this time; houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and lands, with persecution, and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Is this your experience of church?

It ought to be. Until the time of Constantine it was.

Maybe it wasn’t always a hundredfold. Most of those hundred mothers, brothers, houses, and lands were in other parts of the Roman empire, but locally, suddenly you had several mothers, brothers, sisters, and houses that were yours. You were family. You didn’t knock on the door, you walked in like a son or daughter. When your plow broke, it was no disaster at all because some brother would be able to share his, while one of the many sons in the church would find time to repair your plow.

That’s church life. I’ve lived it. I’m still living it.

I don’t plow, but I do remember the day I realized that I owned three pickup trucks! I had always wanted a pickup truck, but it was never practical for my family. However, now, if I needed to make run to the lumber store, there were three members of my family who gladly loaned me their pickups as needed.

Pickup trucks are nothing. It’s the fathers, the mothers, the brothers, the sisters, the children that are the really great hundredfold return.

What Is Standing in the Way?

The counterfeit churches!

The counterfeit churches are standing in the way. They have snatched the loyalty of the disciples away from the family of God to their club.

Most Christians in the United States have not the slightest clue of what God offers in the church. They quote Scriptures about the church and don’t realize that they possess nothing remotely like those Scriptures.

For example:

[God] gave [the Anointed King] to be the head over the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Eph. 1:22-23)

The church is “the fullness of him who fills all in all”? Do you look at the churches in the United States and say, “Boy, that is the fullness of God alright”?

He who has begun a good work in you will finish it until the day of King Jesus. (Php. 1:6)

Is that your experience in your church? Here’s the experience of Christian researcher, George Barna, and probably what most of you experience in traditional US churches (of any stripe) as well:

Casual Christianity is faith in moderation. It allows them to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Christianity is a low-risk, predictable proposition for this tribe, providing a faith perspective that is not demanding. A Casual Christian can be all the things that they esteem: a nice human being, a family person, religious, an exemplary citizen, a reliable employee – and never have to publicly defend or represent difficult moral or social positions or even lose much sleep over their private choices as long as they mean well and generally do their best. From their perspective, their brand of faith practice is genuine, realistic and practical. To them, Casual Christianity is the best of all worlds; it encourages them to be a better person than if they had been irreligious, yet it is not a faith into which they feel compelled to heavily invest themselves. (Barna.org. Accessed July 14, 2014.)

There can’t be too many people like this, right? Barna says, in the same article, dated May 2009, that “Casual Christians” comprise 66% of the US population.

Yeah, correct. Not 66% of Christians, but 66% of the US population!

A Gallup poll tells us that in 2012, 77% or the US claimed to be Christian. A quick bit of math will show that this means that 6 our of every 7 professed Christians are “Casual Christians” as described by George Barna above.

Philippians 1:6 isn’t working in the counterfeit church, folks, no matter how much it tries to mimic the true church.

Note: Since writing this I have listened to large portions of the audiobook, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by Willam Law. It is a much better description of a “casual Christian” than Barna’s. A powerful, convicting sample from that book can be found on my Christian history site. That passage will convict the most committed of us and spur us on in devoting ourselves to King Jesus.

A lot of other things do not, and cannot, work in a counterfeit church.

Why? Why can’t a counterfeit church work?

Sons of the Devil

We don’t have enough appreciation of the influence of the devil.

The whole world lies in the wicked one. (1 Jn. 5:19)

In time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the atmosphere, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience. (Eph. 2:2)

Do not be deceived. The one who practices righteousness is righteous as he is righteous. The one who practices sin is of the devil. (1 Jn. 3:7-8)

Be sober, be vigilant, because your enemy, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, looking for the ones he can devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)

Notice the following in the verses we just looked at.

  • The devil is looking to devour us.
  • The world is under his sway.
  • Prior to leaving the domain of darkness for the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, we, too, were moved by the same spirit that moves the sons of disobedience.

As a result, the sons of disobedience/sons of the devil/sons of Belial are open doors into the church for the one who wants to devour us, if we let his children into the church. That is why Paul warns:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what sharing is their between unrighteousness and righteousness? What fellowship does light have with darkness? What agreement does the Anointed King have with Belial? What part does one that believes have with an unbeliever? “Therefore come out from among them, and be separate,” says the Lord. “Do not touch the unclean thing, and I will receive you.” (2 Cor. 6:14-17)

Whew. That’s hard-nosed. That’s sharp and draws some sharp lines.

Yeah, and we don’t really have any choice but to follow because it’s an apostle who taught us this.

We don’t mind quoting this passage in reference to a marriage or a business partnership, but is that really what Paul is talking about in 2 Corinthians 6 and 7? It doesn’t look like it to me. It looks more like he is repeating what he said in his first letter to them: “Purge the leaven … Put out that wicked person from among you!” (1 Cor. 5:7,13).

General Tendencies, Not Absolutes

At this point, everyone always brings up the wheat and the tares. I could point out that in the parable of the wheat and the tares, the field is the world, not the church. I could point out that the harvesters represent angels, not men.

I won’t, though, because the point is true enough.

The church is not full of perfect people. We are all on a path, and we are at different places on that path. The church is a hospital for sinners, and the strong have to help the weak, which means the weak are in the church. Christians fall away, and sometimes it takes a while to even conceive of the idea that this former saint has really gone bad. We bear with them, plead with them, warn them, pray for them, and hope for them, sometimes to avail and sometimes not. While we are doing all this, they are in the church.

This is not only okay, but it is good and right.

The examples of the the church we see in Scripture are not perfect. There are hypocrites. “Hypocrite” is one of those untranslated words. The Greek is hupokritos, and it actually means “actor.” Sometimes those actors are pretty good, and they hang out in the church pretending and deceiving the rest of us for years.

There is absolutely nothing we can do about this but wait for our Lord and King to judge.

This weakness, inherent when working with humans even in the divinely empowered church, does not justify a counterfeit system designed to yoke believers with unbelievers.

Almost no counterfeit church has any system at all for knowing all their members, much less watching over them enough to follow the commands of Paul not to allow the sons of the devil into the congregation. When have you ever been told to guard the loaf that is the church from leaven except insofar as purifying yourself?

Never. It doesn’t happen.

The counterfeit churches we have today are specifically designed to include the sons of the devil. That is what they were made for 1700 years ago, and that is what they were made for today.

Spiritually, it is impossible to unite a Christian and a non-Christian. It is the spiritual unity and love, poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that makes the church. That cannot be done with a person who has not had the love of God poured into his heart by the Spirit of God. It is impossible.

Worse, every time you try to build the church with someone who does not have the Spirit of the Anointed King, you separate and weaken the wall of the building—the one composed of people—because the perfecting bond of unity does not exist between that stone and the others. Insert enough stones that cannot be bound to the others, and you can send the building crashing to the ground.

Counterfeit churches pander to the world in the name of evangelism. Churches, real churches, are not clubs. They cannot simply sign up new members. Membership in the church is a supernatural event, sealed in baptism. They can proclaim the Gospel outside the family, inviting others to come in through the doorway of the new birth and baptism, but they cannot bring the sons of Belial into the house of the Lord.

Counterfeit churches do it all the time because they are not organisms, but organizations. The family of God is the body of the King. It is like the human body in that it has an immune system consisting of spiritual members. It will eventually recognize, surround, and then eject the foreign invader.

Real Churches Using Organization and Structure

Real churches use structure and organization as tools. They use buildings as a tool. Having structure or an organization does not make them counterfeit. Beginning with structure and organization, rather than people, make them counterfeit. Only people can be the church, and only people can be the house of the Lord. Referring to a building as “the house of the Lord” is a violation of clear New Covenant teaching, and it is a cloak that hides the truth of the church from disciples that might otherwise be enlightened, joined to one another, and perfect in love as the testimony to the world chosen for the church by our King himself.

My Closer

All sales pitch have a closing line. You have to clinch the sale or at least tell the buyer the response you are asking from him.

I am asking you to end your alliegance to the counterfeit churches. I am asking you to look around and become uncomfortable and afraid. God has a picture of what the church is, and the vast majority of American Christians, even the real disciples, have never been told about it. They have never noticed that those people they have been told to work with and encourage and pray and hope for are really sons of Belial, sent by the devil to separate them from the next real disciple, 9 or 10 seats down the row. They have no idea that if they were join themselves to that disciple, their love and unity would bring a demonstration of the Spirit of God that would drive away or convert those 8 or 9 people sitting in between them.

That’s probably too much for most of you to swallow. I wish I could say it better.

This plan is not simple, safe, or easy, but until we “come out from among them and be separate,” it is impossible.

You may be satisfied with the counterfeit. It has some benefits, many of them described by George Barna above. It is comfortable. It’s not enough for us. For the rest of you for whom it is not enough, This post was to help you know why the system does not work and cannot simply be improved, and to invite you to come join us.

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3 Responses to Proving the Gospel: Counterfeit and Real Churches

  1. Joel D. says:

    Hi Paul, this is a great, meaty post! Not for the faint of heart or the happy-to-continue-drinking-milk people. Something that I’ve heard taught in the past on Mark 10:29-30… How “father” is omitted from the list of returns. I liked what I heard, as it was stated that God is our one and only Heavenly Father and essentially fulfills the one hundred fold return in our hearts and we need not have any other father. But from experience, I am grateful to 40+ men, including my father, who have all in variying ways added to my life, some who I’m not ashamed to say, have had “dad” like roles in my life as well… Would this all be chalked up to the “brothers” category in Mark 10:30? I would consider fathers having an important role especially in young ones lives, is this always supposed to change? I like that my dad and I have a comradery within our church but I still call him “dad” and I don’t see that changing anytime soon 😉

    Thoughts?

    • Interesting, I hadn’t noticed that “father” wasn’t in that list…hmmm…not quite sure what to make of that… However, what about what Paul says about his own fatherhood?

      I appeal to you for my child, One′simus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment (Philemon 1:10)

    • paulfpavao says:

      Yes, like RP I think I’ve never noticed that before.

      So after 3 minutes of research, here’s my response. Only Matthew and Mark have that passage, and Matthew doesn’t have a list of what the hundredfold return is, so he couldn’t leave out fathers. I’m not sure that’s a purposeful omission, and if it is, then, as RP points out, it violates what we see in Scripture. As you point out, it violates our experience.

      Matthew 23 doesn’t say anything about calling an earthly person father, despite the fact that Jesus used those words. In context, it is glaringly obvious that Jesus is concerned about proud titles. Rabbi Goldberg, Pastor Cheatham, Father Wilson, Reverend Pavao, Bishop Frances are all alike forbidden by Jesus. Referring to someone as a teacher (no sense using the Hebrew “Rabbi” if you’re not of Hebrew descent), a master, a father, a bishop, etc. is perfectly okay.

      I’m sure some would argue that Pastor Jones can be used by Pastor Jones without arrogance. Sometimes. Jesus said not to do it. The context is clearly titles of address, not descriptions of a person.

      In that same vein, if I were refer to a my own mentor as “father” when I talk to him, or even “Father Bill,” I don’t think that violates Matthew 23. I think it’s the general title, printed on marquis (what’s the plural of this??), office doors, desk plaques, flyers, etc. that is the violation of Matt. 23, and Protestants violate it as badly as Catholics.

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