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No Substitute for Scripture

The downside of inviting new Christians to church

Your neighbor who has long avoided you is now eager to know what it means to follow Christ. She can no longer tolerate her life of pain. She’s admired your life from a distance and she wants to ask Jesus to come into her heart. You lead her through the sinner’s prayer—and together you both rejoice as she will embark on a whole new journey. What happens next? she wonders. You tell her to find a church; in fact, you invite her to your church. You tell her all about the wonderful programs and ministries to keep her connected and growing with Jesus. There's nothing wrong with inviting her to your church…is there?

Many new Christians are told, once they accept Jesus, to find a church. In my personal experience this is the wrong advice. Sure, we need to be in community of fellowship with other believers; however, the advice new Christians should be given is to start reading the Bible. If they don’t have Bibles, we should provide them. Our family paid the price for not understanding the importance of Bible reading for ourselves.

The Gospel of Prosperity

As new Christians, our family struggled very badly in our finances. We were losing our house and our vehicles and we could barely feed our then-three children. After our conversion, we were invited to a prosperity-preaching church. We thought going to church would automatically change our lives, and since no one ever told us the importance of reading the Bible we simply went to church and hoped we would somehow come out of our situation.

In a Wednesday evening service, the pastor preached on the importance of tithes and offerings. He used Proverbs 11:25: “The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” Not knowing the Word of God for ourselves, we simply took the preacher at his word. He said this verse was about giving to the church and if we gave to the church we would see our finances increase. He even shared personal stories of people who had great financial success in their businesses because of their tithes and offerings to the church. Had we known how to read the Bible for ourselves, we would have known that verse isn't really talking about tithes and offering at all. Instead it's more about our generosity toward one another. At the end of that service, however, everyone gave money. My husband and I reached into our pockets and gave all we had. It felt like an infomercial seminar. Week after week we gave money we didn't have to that church, hoping our finances would increase. We simply thought the reason for our financial problem was because we hadn’t been Christians and because we didn't tithe to the church.

It's no surprise that our finances did not increase; in fact, things got worse. We were taking money for bills and tithing with it. We had no money to feed our children, so on free grocery day we would drive back to the church with the hope of getting food. There was usually not a lot available, and we threw away much of what we did manage to bring home because the expiration dates had passed. Had we known how to read the Bible for ourselves, we would have known that 2 Corinthians 8:12 gives a clear guideline for giving responsibly: “Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.”

If We Had Prayed

Because we weren't led to our Bibles as new Christians, we didn't understand prayer and we didn't know we could have prayed for God to supply our basic needs. Studying Scripture, we would have known how much God loved us and that he wasn't punishing us, as we thought for a very long time. If we had known how to pray, we would have ended up at a church where God wanted our family.

It's natural to invite new believers to your church because you think your church is great. That might very well be true, but just because it's great for you doesn't mean it will great for the person you led to Jesus. God may have different plans for that person and may have used you simply for one area of ministry in the person’s life. If our main concern is growing God’s kingdom, we can trust God to lead his children to the right church for them.

After leaving the prosperity church, we ended up at a megachurch where we stayed for almost three years. While this church was wonderful in many ways, I was unprepared for the infighting within women's ministry. The Bible warns us in 1 Peter 5:8 that the devil is like a lion, looking to devour. Reading the Bible myself would have taught me that the devil wants to destroy the church and uses every scheme necessary to do so. There were issues within women's ministry, and I was live bait for the devil. I wasn't armed with the Word of God, so I was easy prey to be devoured. I took everything personally and was easily offended. I left that church like a wounded puppy instead of standing up to Satan. God's Word says to resolve conflict in the church (Philippians 4:2-3), and he does not want us leaving any church offended

(Matthew 18:15-17). Had I known what the Bible teaches, I would have resolved all issues prior to leaving, which would have strengthened God's kingdom.

Church Is Vital, But…

Being in a good Bible-based church can be an amazing thing, but being in your Bible daily is more amazing. Not every church will emphasize Bible reading; therefore, as leaders we need to make sure new Christians understand how important Scripture reading is for their lives. A.W. Tozer once said, “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.” I went to church six days a week as a new Christian, but I did not grow spiritually until I started reading my Bible and applying it to my life.

The Word of God cannot take a back seat to the church. The church will fail us at times, but God's Word will never fail. The church is powerful in God's kingdom, but the Bible is power that cannot be bypassed. When I began to read the Bible for myself I saw my life change. God was no longer a distant stranger. He was no longer up in heaven waiting to strike the moment I made a mistake. He was a loving Father who cared and wanted to take care of our family.

The Bible says in Matthew 7:7, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” After I started learning how to read the Bible and trust God myself, I prayed that verse one afternoon. We were still struggling financially and we needed $200 to reconnect our disconnected telephone. I remember praying, “Lord, I'm asking for your help. I don't care how you provide; I just ask that you provide your way.” Later that evening a family friend stopped by our house unexpectedly after returning from his vacation. He had some souvenirs for my husband, who had stepped out. He spoke for a moment about his vacation. As he was leaving he said he had tried calling but our phone was disconnected. I assured him we were okay and we would pay the bill that week. I said nothing else to him; however, he reached into his wallet and handed me $200 and said, “Go and take care of your phone.” Of course I nearly fell on the floor, but I quickly remembered, through God's Word, which is his promise to us, and through my prayers to him, God had answered our need.

People move every day because of job changes, military transfers, retirement, and so forth. That means a new church every time. A new church brings a new pastor, new ministries, new people to meet, but the Word of God is the same throughout life’s changes. The Bible is God’s voice to his children and he wants us to know it so we can live the life he promised for us. Although the church is great, it cannot give us the love we need. It can come only from God, through his Word.

I once heard someone say, “A Bible that's torn apart belongs to a person who’s not.” It took me a moment to get it, but it means the worn-out pages represent God's strength in that person. It does not mean strength like Superman, but total submission as God’s Word lives inside us.

I wish I could share a picture of the now-torn-apart Bible I was given nine months after becoming a Christian. I still have it, and I’m grateful to the mighty saint who gave it to me. As I study my Bible my relationship with Jesus grows stronger. I once thought nothing of myself, but now I know God thinks the world of me. I once had no faith in God, but I can share countless stories of his provisions. Only through daily Bible reading can we change from the inside out. The church is an extension of our relationship with God, not a replacement. Yes, we should invite new Christians to church, but it should be after we've expressed to them the beauty of God's Word—the Bible.

Saleama A. Ruvalcaba is a wife and a mother of five. She is a writer and a regular contributor for Gifted for Leadership. Her book Breakthrough: Your Doorway to a New Destiny was released in May 2014. She writes leadership resources on her blog at salruv7.com.

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