Where Do We Draw The Line?

    We've all been to a church that wasn't right for us, but as I struggle to find a church home I find myself asking what are acceptable reasons for not returning to a church and what are minor quibbles?At what point does a church go from "not perfect" to "not even a church"?


    Recently I was chatting with some friends about our collective struggle to find a church home. I think most people who have moved around can relate to this. It seems as though finding the right body is one of the most difficult tasks on my to do list. During the conversation, one person said “well, you know no church is perfect.” …and I have some thoughts and questions.

    Reasons People Dislike a Particular Church

    If you’ve ever visited a church and felt it wasn’t the right fit, there was a reason you didn’t like the church. A few common reasons I’ve heard from various people (mainly young adult women) in no particular order:

    • bad music
    • judgmental congregation
    • unwelcoming
    • not enough young people
    • no single men 😂
    • watered down gospel or milk teachings (see 1 Corinthians 3:2)
    • false teachings
    • too conservative/too progressive

    In this list however, I find very different levels of discontentment. I think we can all agree there’s a huge difference in “I don’t like the songs they sing” and “the pastor said it was OK to steal and murder.” But what about the in between?

    As someone who studies the word a lot on my own, the primary goal for me attending a gathering of believers is fellowship. Yes, its possible that the Most High has a word He needs me to hear from someone else’s mouth, but truthfully I can find sermons online. If I show up to a building but no one is interested in fellowshipping, what is the difference in me watching from home? Again, there are levels within this. For example the church I attended in South Florida was pretty large (~900 people between 2 services each week), so of course not everyone was friendly and looking to fellowship, but some were. In contrast however, I visited a church in Texas that only had about ~20 people in attendance and not a single person spoke. And, somewhere in between these examples is the church I visited where someone spoke to hand me a leaflet on how to become saved without bothering to ask where I was at in my journey. Perfect or not, first impressions matter.

    Defining the Line of Acceptability

    The real question I have though surrounds false teaching. When we talk about false doctrine, there’s still a spectrum. The person who asserted that no church is perfect did so after I mentioned being turned off by churches who teach things I don’t agree with. All though there are many examples, which we’ll touch on a few, the specific example I brought up was the observance of pagan holidays.

    I moved to my current house in early October and nearly every church I passed was celebrating Halloween. Similarly, as we approach the beginnings of spring, many churches are gearing up to celebrate the pagan holiday of Easter. These churches look no different than the world and they’re doing the same things my atheist and agnostic friends are doing. They’re all dressing up for Halloween, decorating their house for Christmas, and taking their kids to Easter Egg hunts. Some might argue the same about secular holidays like Veterans or Independence Day, but those are not holidays with pagan origins that the church is passing off as her own. No one is going to service on Veterans Day thinking that has something to do with God or the Messiah. With Easter and Christmas in particular, Halloween if you’re Catholic or start dabbling in Catholic teachings, people are bringing idolatry into the metaphorical temple. Doesn’t Galatians 5:9 tell us a little leaven leaventh the whole lump? Now to be fair, there are churches still in the dark on the history of these holidays. A church in my hometown has switched to calling Easter “Resurrection Sunday” to try to differentiate and others have stripped Christmas of Santa and trees to “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” While I still disagree with celebrating these things at all, they’re clearly on a journey and I respect that its not an overnight decision for many. However, there are churches who know the history and still choose to participate—to me this seems like direct defiance of God. Thus personally I find this reason not to attend that church as they’re exhibiting a willingness to follow the world instead of God.

    But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or a greedy person, or an idolater, or is verbally abusive, or habitually drunk, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a person. 📚 1 Corinthians 5:11

    There are more minor teaching faux pas that have occurred, as well. There are lots of beliefs that permeate through the church that have little to no basis in scripture. For instance, Adam and Even did not eat an apple or rather we don’t know what they ate. Quite frankly I hope it wasn’t actually an apple because those are pretty lackluster to give up paradise for. Similarly, I’ve been to a few services where reference is made to people having never seen rain before the flood. The Bible doesn’t explicitly teach this though, its speculation that people are teaching as fact.[1][2] Another church I attended was teaching that Moses stayed with his mother until he was 12 years old—Exodus says he stayed with his birth mother until he was weaned (re: could eat real food on his own), which probably would have been before the age of 5. These are things I ask how important is it? Is it a one off, is it constant? Does it effect the overall teachings?

    Some more examples of “small” doctrinal differences.

    Because they’re the largest body of Sabbath keepers, Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) churches are the easiest to find for Sabbath keepers like myself. The official SDA Church states that people should not wear jewelry unless its “functional” (this exception basically allows for watches and more recently, wedding rings). I disagree with them, but does that mean I can’t fellowship with SDAs? I can’t answer that because each congregation and each individual behaves differently. Many members of the church I attended in South Florida wore jewelry however jewelry wasn’t allowed on the pulpit. I attended a church here in North Carolina and not only did members of the praise team have on jewelry, but the woman delivering the sermon had on earrings. In contrast, I’m fairly certain the reason I was handed a “how to become saved” pamphlet at the one church is because my earrings were a telltale sign that I wasn’t one of them, as no one at that church had on any jewelry. This differing of belief could lead to feelings of judgment, isolation, and ostracization.

    Similarly, the issue of music has a wide range of possibilities. It could be surface level music preference (e.g., I’m not a fan of bluegrass), in which I would agree with the saying “no church is perfect.” In college, a friend and I used to show up late to service each week because we didn’t like the music. However, sometimes it goes beyond mere preference. There are some who believe certain genres are not appropriate for worship, and while I don’t agree with them, I can see how that might make the situation more uncomfortable than merely not enjoying the song. For them the worship service isn’t worship; they might even see it as disrespectful. Somewhere in the middle is the time a church played a more contemporary song that had stolen its beat from a popular rap song and the lyrics of said rap song are what started running through my head during worship…

    The Question

    So my question to you is, where do you draw the line. When do you categorize a church as fallen versus simply “not perfect?”

    References and Footnotes

    1. Don Stewart. “Does the Bible Teach That It Did Not Rain until the Genesis Flood?”. Blue Letter Bible; visited March 16, 2024
    2. Had it ever rained before the Flood in Noah’s day?”. GotQuestions.org; visited March 16, 2024
    Published on Saturday, April 20, 2024
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