(Disclaimer: This blog post cannot guarantee you that the following 24 litmus tests will certainly guide you into a church where you will not end up hurt or miserable for one reason or another. However, in our opinion, we believe that these 24 litmus tests should provide you with much better chances of being successful than you might otherwise have on your own and alone in your search for a better church or a first church.)
Are you a new Christian who is looking for your first church to regularly attend? Do you feel spiritually and emotionally abused in your current Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical church? Is your back being crushed under the burden of Old Testament law, and no one will lift a finger to remove it? Are you ridden day-in and day-out with guilt? Do you sense an absence of genuine Christian love in your church? Do you suffer from depression or other mental illness issues that are made worse by going to church? If you are experiencing any of these things or anything abusive, and you are a member of a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical church, our best advice to you is to simply leave. Leave and never go back to that church or any other church like it again for the rest of your life. Simply walk away and find a new church where you can be truly loved; rest in grace and peace; feel more comfortable; and not be spiritually and emotionally abused by the pastor, his staff, and unkind church members. Many such churches are out there. As Jesus said, “Seek and ye shall find.”
You will find below 24 litmus tests that can help you find a decent and loving church of Jesus Christ that is very different from the one that is now chewing up and consuming both you and your family. These 24 items come in the form of questions you should ask the pastor at any new churches you might be considering, and you need to ask them before you start attending or join as members. Do not shy away from this. As a child of Jesus Christ and a citizen of the United States, you have a fundamental right to look over the edge of a cliff before making a decision to jump. Any pastor who refuses to answer these questions and answer them honestly does not have your best interests at heart and is not deserving of your time. If he does that, that is your signal to walk. Here are the 24 litmus tests:
1) Ask the potential pastor if he and his church believe in Biblical inerrantism. Biblical inerrantism is the belief that the Holy Bible contains no errors of any kind, factual or otherwise, and that it contains no internal contradictions. Inerrantists also believe that the Bible must be read literally. Biblical inerrantists believe the Bible is a reliable history textbook and science textbook. Therefore, if a finding in modern science contradicts a literally read verse in the Bible, then the science finding must be false and must be discarded. Yes, Biblical inerrantists tend to be more than a little crazy, and they do even crazier things.
The so-called doctrine of Biblical inerrantism (and literal reading of the Bible) are recent, minority beliefs within the whole of Christendom, and they are not key elements of the historical Orthodox Christian faith that dates back to the 1st century A.D. Fundies believe in them because their pastors order them to do so—and most of these pastors are ignorant of the fine details of world Christian history—so they have no basis for understanding that Biblical inerrantism is a very recent human doctrine in church history. If the potential pastor says that he and his congregation believe in Biblical inerrantism, then run away as fast as your legs will take you.
2) Ask the potential pastor how old the Earth is. If he gives you something approximating 5,000 – 10,000 years instead of billions of years, both the pastor and his church members have sold out to ignorant men, and you will be abused with even more ignorance and lunacy as a member of that church. If you do not want to become ignorant and stupid, and have your children grow up to be ignorant and stupid, run away extremely fast. I mean git!!!!
3) Ask the potential pastor if he and his congregation believe in the dispensations. If he says “yes,” run away fast. The whole notion of dispensations, which are God-appointed special periods of time in human history with God-appointed special and Holy purposes, did not even exist in the Christian faith until the 1800s when three fundamentalist/conservative evangelical screwballs invented them; added them to their faith traditions, and started passing them out to the general public. They are man-made, Johnny-come-lately notions that are not even in the Bible. They have been imposed on the Bible from outside of it by fallible men. In other words, the dispensations are of men and not of God.
4) Ask the potential pastor if he and most of the members of his congregation consider themselves to be religious and political conservatives. If he says “yes,” run away fast.
5) Ask the potential pastor outright if he considers his church to be a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical church. If he says “yes,” run away as fast as your legs will take you.
6) Ask the potential pastor if his church is in any way affiliated with any kind of “Baptist” organization or church, particularly an Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) entity or a conservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) organization or church. If he says “yes,” run away fast. (Note: We would caution you that not all Baptist pastors or pastors with a Baptist background are bad news. A few are truly loving, accepting, and reasonable in nature. How can you tell who is who? Ask the potential pastor this question: “Do you believe that Jack Schaap, Adrian Rogers, Jack Hyles, William Tanner, and Bob Jones, Sr. should all be classified among the historical Great Men of God?” If he says “yes,” then run away fast.
Some so-called nondenominational churches deal in lies and deceit. They know the word “Baptist” turns some people’s stomachs, so they are very careful to leave that word out of the official church name so people will think they are an okay church when they are really not an okay church. Basically, we are talking about churches that claim to be independent and nondenominational—but are secretly modeled after typical, highly conservative Baptist churches. They will have a glitzy, state-of-the-art website, and their church will have all sorts of big-time music productions, learning experiences, and self-improvement programs that are repackaged to deceive people by looking like something entirely new and wonderful on the Christian scene. They may even ask you to sign a written contract wherein you promise to give the church a certain amount of your money each month for your entire stay as a member. They want to suck you in by stealth, be really friendly to you, and then when you feel all warm, cozy, and settling in, all their hidden fundie crap will suddenly jump out of a closet at you and say: “Boo!!! We gotcha!!! You are our personal property now!!!” Do not allow that to happen to you. Be wary and very cautious with so-called nondenominational churches that have nonspecific, fluffy-soft names such as Faith Assurance Church, Grace Fellowship Church, Gospel Faith Church, Church of the Risen Lord, etc. They may be Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical churches dressed in clever disguises. This kind of masquerade is deceit pure and simple, and you do not want a church whose whole public image is a manufactured lie.
7) Ask the potential pastor if Jesus Christ, his words, and his deeds are at the center of his church and faith. If he says “no” or says the Bible alone is the center of his faith and the faith of his church, then run away fast. You want a church that is centered on faith in the persons of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as revealed through the Bible; by the leading of the Holy Spirit outside of the Bible; and by church tradition when that tradition has an extremely deep historical basis and is logical, sensible, loving, and reasonable.
With regard to church beliefs, we do not believe that 100 years, 500 years, or 1000 years is deep enough historically. For example, many people are not aware that the fundie Theory of Substitutionary Atonement, in its current form per se, is only about 500 years old and that it was invented by John Calvin in 1500s Europe—not exactly our idea of something theologically old, deep, and reliable in terms of overall church history. The fundie Theory of Substitutionary Atonement is not historical, Orthodox Christianity as the fundies falsely claim because it did not even exist in Christian thought until 1,500 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus was indeed a vehicle of atonement for our sins, but it was a different type of atonement that dates all the way back to the churches of the 3rd century A.D. and was well understood in those early churches.
8) Ask the potential pastor if his church is a Bible-Believing Church. If he says “yes,” run away fast. This is most likely one of the many churches where the Bible is held as a fetish, and the black book with the title Holy Bible is held in higher esteem than God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As more than just one fundie has told me, “There is a name that is above every other name—even the name of Jesus himself—and that name is “Bible.” Actually, the Bible plainly says that “Jesus” is the name that is above every other name (Philippians 2:9). You need to be Jesus-focused in your new church—not focused on the Bible as an idol, a fetish, or an endangered species.
9) Ask the potential pastor if he and the members of his congregation consider themselves to be “born again” Christians. If he says “yes,” run away fast. (Note: It is indeed true that all conversions to Christianity involve being born again like Jesus said, but the term “born again” means different things to different churches. The churches you want to avoid are the ones where the term “born again” is taken to mean that, when you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, a sudden, overwhelmingly powerful, highly emotional, and totally life-changing experience occurred that will someday feed into a little piece of two-bit drama call your personal testimony about what Jesus has done for you and your life. Humorously speaking, the ideal personal testimony for a fundie or conservative evangelical goes something like this:
Before I accepted Jesus, I was addicted to crack, heroin, alcohol, ecstasy, and seven other dangerous drugs—and cigarettes. I was schizophrenic, bipolar, and stark raving mad. I was also blind in both eyes—and all my arms and legs had been amputated at the trunk of my body. Everyone in my family died on the same day—even the uncles, aunts, and cousins—leaving me totally alone in the world. I had no friends in the world, and even though I had health insurance, my doctor would not even see me. Then in the twinkling of an eye in the tent revival down at the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Church, I was shot through with fear, accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior like a bawling baby, and escaped from Hell. In that very moment, the Spirit of the Lord seized me, and instantly, all of my drug addictions ceased, my mental illnesses went away, the scales fell from my eyes, all four limbs reappeared on my body, all of my relatives came back to life again—and I got a doctor’s appointment. I grabbed both poles of the battery in God’s Ford Thunderbird, and I felt the power of the Lord surging through my body!!! Praise the Lord!!!! Praise the Lord!!! Praise the Lord!!!
Once again—like we said—run away as fast as you can!!!
10) Ask the potential pastor if he and the members of his congregation consider the mainline Christian churches (United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church USA, Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, etc.) to be apostate churches that are enemies of God and all that is Holy. If he says “yes,” run away fast.
11) Ask the potential pastor if he and his church believe in a pretribulation event called “The Rapture.” If he says “yes,” run away fast. The whole notion of a pretribulation rapture, and even the invention and use of the term “rapture” itself (not a Bible term) is a very recent invention that happened in the 1800s and was added to the Christian faith by Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals. It is not an Orthodox doctrine that has been historically shared by all of Christianity. If you were to explain the term, as understood by fundies like Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye today, to a 3rd century Christian in Judea, he would likely have no understanding of what you are saying because it was never part of the original Christian faith. He would only say that Jesus will return one day. The notion of a pretribulation event called The Rapture is recent fundie bulldoody—plain and simple.
12) Ask the potential pastor for a tour of the church library. If the shelves are heavily stocked with books by well-known Christian bookstore authors such as Tim LaHaye, James Roberson, Charles Stanley, Hal Lindsey, James Dobson, Kenneth Copeland, Chuck Swindoll, Rick Warren, Josh McDowell, Charles Colson, Joyce Meyer, and other such typical Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical authors, run away as fast as you can go. You want a church with a library that is heavily stocked with books on Christianity by noted Christian scholars and theologians at major American and European universities such as Harvard University, Cambridge University, Oxford University, Duke University, Vanderbilt University, etc. and more readable ministerial and lay Christian books based on, rooted in, and patterned after such well-grounded scholarship. You want a church with the high-quality and firmly grounded Neiman Marcus-Macy-Bloomingdale-Harrods Christian faith—not a church with the K-Mart, Wal-Mart, plastic pink flamingo Christian faith.
13) Ask the potential pastor if he thinks the daily practice of Christian faith is first and foremost a matter of adhering to a system of Bible-based moral laws, rules, and regulations that are understood to be absolutes, regardless of the unique characteristics of a particular situation or life circumstance. This is a church that pursues what the Apostle Paul calls the “way of death” as a matter of daily Christian practice, and they pursue this “way of death” as an unconsidered, fearful, harsh, humorless, mean-spirited, joy-killing lifestyle that is as far away from the spiritual liberty and abundant life promised by Jesus Christ as the east is from the west. If you are an introverted, shy, naturally sensitive, or soft-spoken soul in your dealings with other people—or you have mental health issues (treated or untreated), you will most likely be miserable and depressed in this pastor’s church—and it could even lead to your own eventual suicide or the suicide of a nuclear family member. If the pastor says “yes,” flee for your life!!!!!
14) Ask the potential pastor if all public schools should be shut down because they are tools of Satan, and ask if he thinks all children should attend church schools or undergo homeschooling instead. If he says “yes,” run away fast.
15) Ask the potential pastor if he holds down a day job at some place other than his church. Inquire about where he works and what kind of work he does. Carefully notice if it is some sort of menial day job or night job such as factory worker, warehouse worker, feed store worker, deli worker, retail store worker, butcher, baker, candlestick maker, etc. If he says “yes” and it is a job like one of those, then run away fast!!!!
More than just a few Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches have pastors who never graduated from high school; have only a high school diploma; or possess only a degree or certification from an unaccredited Bible college, a phony diploma mill, or some other poor-quality educational institution. This is why they have a menial day job. As the old Black Box Computer saying goes, “Garbage in and garbage out.” Some version of “garbage out” is what you are likely to get in sermons and Bible studies because the pastor preaching to you and teaching you will not have the proper educational background and credentials for doing it—and any degree they do have may not be worth the paper it is written on. I should know because I had a Pentecostal uncle who was a pastor. He was a high school dropout, and he worked daily Monday-Friday on the floor in a factory for low pay. Beware!!!
16) Ask the potential pastor if the Christian faith is primarily about human sin; God’s incessant anger at human beings because of their sin; God’s planned vengeance against sinful people; and a unique fire insurance policy that will allow a few to escape God’s rage-filled vengeance. If he says “yes,” this is your signal to run away fast. The pastors of such churches would never openly admit it, but churches with this spiritual viewpoint tend to see God as an incessantly angry and abusive entity who is just itching for the tiniest opportunity to wreak vengeance on human beings in this life and the next. For example, God might give your husband cancer as payback because your two-year-old son shoplifted a candy bar at the grocery store when you were not looking. After all, your husband should have taught the child better, and now God is going to torture and kill him with a terrible disease for this small failure in child raising. In such churches, the primary emotion that under girds nearly everything is fear, so much fear that the sign out front should really read First Church of Fear. In such churches, God tends to be viewed in the same vein as a human father who easily becomes violent and abusive at the drop of a hat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As children who grow up in alcoholic home environments well know, the prime directive is always to find unique behavioral ways and means to appease daddy’s hair-trigger anger, and by so doing, avoid a beating or cigarette burns when daddy is on one of his addictive-substance-fueled rages.
Churches like this do not have a healthy, kind, and loving respect for God, which is the classic theological definition of the Bible term God fearing. Instead, the pastors and members of these churches believe the term God fearing or fear of the Lord is a signal to be scared to death of God 24/7/365. In these sad churches, the so-called daily Christian walk is all about obedience to Old Testament law and turning every verse in the New Testament into New Testament law. It is little more than a careful tip-toe journey across a bed of legalistic eggshells that must remain unbroken to escape God’s incessant wrath and vengeance. Churches with this sort of viewpoint may be brightly lit inside, but they tend to be mentally and emotionally dark places that weigh heavily on souls and destroy them. Instead of such awful places, you need a warm and loving church that emphasizes God’s love for all human beings; your love for Jesus; forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God through grace via Jesus Christ, and taking actions in this life to love and meet the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of all 7 billion of our human neighbors on this Earth. We need to love them as we love ourselves—and for those of us with unhealthy self-esteem problems—love them far more than we love ourselves—and learn to love ourselves much better.
17) Ask the potential pastor if women are allowed to be pastors and teachers of men in his church. If he says “no,” then run away fast. This church most likely has an official or unofficial policy of discriminating against women. Generally speaking, such churches believe any form of feminism is evil. They will say this misogynist belief is based on scripture. The fact of the matter is this. Scripture is confusing on this issue. Some verses in the Bible appear to support such a stance while others are clearly opposed to such a stance. Many churches, particularly in the American South, take this anti-feminine stance in order to maintain a pre-1960s secular cultural tradition that women are inferior and dangerous creatures deserving of tight male control. They believe a woman’s proper place is at home cooking, cleaning the house, watching soap operas on television, taking care of their man’s children, and staying as barefoot and pregnant as humanly possible. If you are any form of feminist (Christian or otherwise) or you have a professional career, you will most likely be miserable in this pastor’s church. Once upon a time, I actually met a Southern Baptist pastor’s wife who appeared to no longer have a brain of her own. Her answer to virtually every question I asked her during a conversation was: “I don’t know. I will have to ask my husband.” If you do not want to end up being a female zombie, Stepford wife, or dog on your husband’s leash, flee from this pastor’s church like a jack rabbit being chased by hounds.
18) Ask the potential pastor if the women in his church are allowed to keep short haircuts, wear jewelry, and use makeup. If the answer is “no,” that is your signal to run away fast.
19) Ask the potential pastor if the men in his church are allowed to have long hair and beards at all times. If the answer is “no,” that is your signal to run away fast.
20) Ask the potential pastor if his church allows the use of musical instruments and dancing in worship services. If the answer is “no,” that is your signal to run away fast.
21) Ask the potential pastor if his church allows boys and girls to swim together in the same water at the city pool, motel pool, or lake. If the answer is “no,” that is your signal to run away fast.
22) Ask the potential pastor if all boys and girls in his church are required to obey the 6-Inch Rule in church and in their daily lives. If the answer is “yes,” that is your signal to run away fast.
23) Ask the potential pastor if the members of his church may dance, play card games, and listen to Taylor Swift songs. If the answer is “no,” that is your signal to run away fast.
24) Ask the potential pastor if the members of his church are allowed to attend major motion pictures and read books such as Catcher in the Rye. If the answer is “no,” that is your signal to run away fast.
Do your homework on all churches carefully and refuse to continue being a victim of spiritual and emotional abuse in your current church. If you are in an abusive church and want to find a new church or if you are a new or prospective Christian looking to find your first church, you can use these 24 litmus tests. If a potential new church that you are evaluating fails even one of these litmus tests, be extremely cautious. If it fails two or more of these litmus tests, then run away and keep running until you find a church that does not fail two or more of these litmus tests. If that fails in your area, find some local Christian friends who are just as fed up as you are and start your own new and independent church—even if it is just a few people meeting together in a person’s home, as was often the case in the earliest churches of the ancient world. The real Jesus Christ you have never met and never experienced at your old church will be waiting for you there, and you can experience real Christian love, peace, and joy for the first time in your life. May God bless you in your search!!!