Many parents come to me excited that their young adult children are back in church. They tell me how they have prayed for years that their children will return to the Lord. Now, they appear to have returned. Then, they tell me where they are going. I shutter because I know that this new church teaches heresy. I know that the people in this church can be active and no nothing of a living Lord. I know they follow the preacher of that church who demands complete obedience to his words. I know that this will ultimately lead these young adults to financial, emotional and spiritual ruin.
Admittedly, we often make mountains out of molehills. We point to a disagreement we have with another church in their interpretation of a Bible passage and claim they don't believe the Bible. For example, Presbyterians baptize babies. They do so because they see circumcision as the sign of the covenant before Christ. Children were circumcized on the eighth day after birth. They were set aside for the Lord in that act. They see baptism as the new sign of the covenant. Therefore, they baptize their babies.
I am Baptist. We believe that a person is baptized to make a confession of their faith in Jesus as their Savior. We also believe it is the sign of the covenant but we believe the individual makes their own decision. We don't believe their parents can make that decision for them.
Who is right? Well, of course, I am! But wouldn't that be said by both sides? One thing is for certain. Neither side should claim that the other doesn't believe in the Bible because both have some excellent evidence that they are doing baptism correctly. I am not going to stop having fellowship with Presbyterians because they don't baptize the same way as I do. I believe Presbyterians can be Christians as much as I believe that Baptists can be Christians. There are differences, but are they really that significant? Yes, enough that I will remain Baptist but no, not enough that I wouldn't claim them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
What are the sticking points we should look for? I believe there are some fundamental beliefs of faith that will indicate whether the place of worship is a legitimate Christian church or something else.
Does the church believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation? This is fundamental to Christianity. Christ did not say that He was "a "way but "the" way. Faith in Christ alone for salvation is often the most significant distinction between Christianity and cults.
Does the church believe in the virgin birth? This is essential to the deity of Jesus. He was not a man who was made God. He was God who became man. The former will lead us into believing that anyone can become God. The latter makes Jesus unique.
Does the church believe that the original manuscripts of the Bible were without error? This also is essential. The Bible has to be the Word of God or it is just a bunch of books written by people. It may contain some great thoughts but it is merely an opinion. It is either God breathed in its origin or it is a collection of thoughts which somewhat agree. It is either truth to live or die by or it is a book to follow when it is convenient.
Does the church believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus? Our whole faith hangs on this issue. If Jesus did not come back from the grave, we have a series of lies told about Jesus that make Him a good teacher but certainly not God. He cannot save us if He could not be saved. He either had victory over the grave or we will have no victory either.
Does the church believe the miracles of the Bible are actual events? This may not seem to be essential to some but each of them is an ascribed act of God. Explaining away these beliefs do not leave you with an Almighty God. Making each miracle a mere exaggeration or lie makes God impotent. An impotent god cannot save us or lead us anywhere.
Does the church preach the return of Jesus for His followers? We may not know how Jesus is going to return but we must know that He is returning. This was essential to the early believers. It was something they expected every day. This belief gives us an urgency to get the gospel to others.
These beliefs are essential to each of the major denominations. They are essential to many Bible churches. They are things that we as Christians can believe in and can determine how we should live our lives. They are things which we can understand if we are truly "in church" or we have joined a cult.
No, all churches are not the same. Yet, I have good fellowship with many denominations which do not believe exactly as I do. That's okay. We praise Jesus not how perfect our own theology is.