In part one, I included the first five items for my list of man-made teachings in the church. As I mentioned in the last article, most of these teachings come from “church” or “Christian” culture.
The following list includes five more points that show how man-made teachings have crept into the church. Although the list is not exhaustive, I hope it is instructive.
Instead of following “what has always been done” or going with the flow of American culture, we need to examine teachings and practices according to God’s Word. Only then can we clear our minds and hearts of unhelpful burdens and traditions that hinder our witness for Christ.
1. Discipleship Means Going to Church
I have talked to multiple ministry workers that I know, including pastors, about what their churches do for discipleship. Their replies were essentially the same: they assume discipleship happens when believers go to church.
Many churches, though not all, create a program for discipleship when new believers become a member of the church. This approach to discipleship fails to recognize that discipleship is not a one-time program, but a continual process.
Francis Chan, the author of Crazy Love, said in his book Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, “We reduce discipleship to a canned program, and so many in the church end up sidelined in a spectator mentality that delegates disciple-making to pastors and professionals, ministers, and missionaries. But this is not the way it’s supposed to be.”
Jesus gave all believers the task of making disciples, not just a select few (Matthew 28:18-20). In our local churches, we need believers who are dedicated to growing in Christ and discipling others.
Instead of passively thinking that discipleship will occur in church, we need to be intentional about helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus.
Going to church every Sunday will not automatically result in discipleship. Thus, Christians need to take intentional steps to help other believers learn and grow in Christ.
2. Jesus Died So We Could Have the Best Life Ever
Prosperity teachings have found their way into Christian circles. Although numerous pastors, teachers, and websites have exposed the falsehood of the “prosperity gospel,” the idea that being a Christian is about living the “best life” appeals to people.
Our sinful natures want comfort and pleasure. Prosperity teachers are dangerous because their message is enticing to people who want to have a lot of money, great health, and carefree life.
To them, the idea that Jesus died to give us our best life ever is a motto they can agree with enthusiastically.
The problem is that the world has a distorted view of happiness. Prosperity teachings insist that we can have happiness if we are rich and live out our American dream.
However, happiness is fleeting. Joy is forever. Jesus came to give us abundant spiritual life. Only He gives us everlasting joy that will never fade (John 15:11).
Unlike prosperity teachings, Scripture does not promise us material good or riches if we trust in Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, He died for the sins of mankind, paying the debt we owed (1 Peter 2:24).
He endured suffering and death to bring us new life in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we trust in Him, we receive the gift of salvation and eternal life.
The Bible tells us that we should expect trouble in our life as a follower of Christ, not “blessings” of financial comfort and ease (John 16:33).
Also, Jesus calls us to lay aside our desires and plans, to die to ourselves so that we can follow Him (Matthew 16:24-25). A true “best life” involves knowing and loving Jesus and devoting our lives to making Him known by loving others as He loved us.
3. Christianity Is about Following a Set of Rules
Another common teaching found in “Christian” or “church” culture is that Christians are supposed to follow a set of rules. Often people assume that the Bible is just a rule book and that if they do not fulfill the list, then they will experience condemnation from God.
Of course, people who have placed faith in Jesus know that Christianity is about a relationship with their Savior (John 17:3).
Christians were saved from slavery to sin and set free to live a new life (Romans 6:18; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Our lives look different because of what God has done in our lives, not because we follow rules.
Legalism in churches has supported this false idea about rule-keeping. Many Christians have created unspoken rules about their preferences, which they then enforce on others, much like the Pharisees did (Matthew 23:23-28).
For instance, a church might have a tradition of congregants wearing formal attire. There is nothing wrong with wearing a suit or dress to church, but this becomes a problem when people make it an unspoken, legalistic rule.
Other examples of this include insisting that believers must follow the Law, be married to be a complete Christian, or only read the King James Version of the Bible.
Believers want to obey Christ because of their love for Him. Legalistic rule-keeping is not a part of the Christian life (Colossians 2:21-22).
We live a transformed life by allowing the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in us (Galatians 5:22-23). A fully devoted Christian life will look different than how people live in the world, but it will also look different from those who advocate for rule-keeping and legalism.
4. Church Is about Our Preferences
Modern society focuses on preferences. In many ways, having personal preferences is normal because we like our breakfast a certain way or prefer one genre of music over another.
However, the obsession with having things our way has crept into the church. In trying to cater to the personal preferences of their attendees, some churches have created disunity.
Traditional and contemporary worship services are offered at separate times to cater to different tastes in music. Some people like hymns, and others enjoy contemporary worship music, but why can’t a church have both?
Scripture tells us to sing “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). However, the Bible never tells us to divide fellowship because of musical preferences.
Worship is only one area where preference has taken precedent in our churches. Believers often shuffle through churches to find the right programs or activities that fit what they want in a church.
Going through a checklist of items, they decide if the music, Bible studies, attire, and monthly events suit their tastes. In many ways, Americans have turned churchgoing into a shopping excursion or social club.
This dangerous mentality of entitlement has also affected the way people perceive Christianity. Instead of following Scripture, people pick and choose what they want to believe based on their preference or opinion.
If someone doesn’t like what God’s Word says about homosexuality, then they think it’s okay to throw that out or reason it away. Also, individuals believe they are entitled to add in elements from other religions such as New Age beliefs.
Because of a sense of entitlement, many people worship gods of their own creation instead of following the true God of Scripture.
5. We Should Attend Churches Where People Look Like Us
Just as people search for churches that cater to their preferences, people often assume they should find a church where the members look like them. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was correct in saying that Sunday mornings are the most segregated times in America.
Congregations are divided because of the color of people’s skin, social and political status, and even over something as simple as what someone chooses to wear to church.
In Christ, all people are equal (Galatians 3:28). The church should not have a spirit of division, racism, or superiority.
The Bible tells us that one day in heaven, believers from around the world will worship Christ together in unity (Revelation 7:9).
Shouldn’t churches reflect that reality now? Instead of treating the church like a clique, we need to make an intentional effort to welcome other believers and celebrate diversity.
What Can We Do?
Christians can combat these man-made teachings by following God’s Word instead of going with the flow of established “church” or “Christian” culture.
When discipling others, believers can help them distinguish between the teachings of the Bible and the traditions and trends in churches.
When we encounter false teaching in church or among our Christian friends, we need to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Instead of giving into the pressure of pharisaical traditions and false teachings, we can choose to follow Jesus wholeheartedly.
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.