A friend, looking for a new church, recently asked me for my thoughts on what sort of denomination she should be looking for. Obviously, I directed her to my post from a few months ago about why I can’t return to (the institutional) church since I can’t in good conscience recommend any of the traditional denominations out there. And if you are going to ignore that post and pick one of these traditional churches it doesn’t really matter which you choose, since there isn’t any important difference between any of them.
That might sound like a strange statement based on how vastly different the various denominations seem to be from each other, but these differences are primarily cosmetic. Yes, on the surface the thousands of different denominations don’t seem to be very similar to each other, but there are some important common threads that tie every institutional church I’m aware of together. Whether you are a member of a Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Southern Baptist, Plymouth Brethren, Jehovah’s Witness, or Mormon church (along with pretty much any other denomination or cult that falls under the label of the Christian religion), the common denominator is pretty much always the same. No matter which of those churches you attend, you won’t be given the good news (Gospel) that you will see your loved ones again at some point in the future (even if they weren’t smart enough to choose the right religion before they died), you’ll be told that sin is something to be actively avoided rather than something that’s already been taken care of and that it should be treated as such, and you’ll also be taught that salvation is by works rather than by grace alone.
Now, while they will pretty much all happily admit to disagreeing with the idea of Universal Reconciliation and the idea that the body of Christ has better things to think about than trying to avoid sinning (which should be enough to disqualify them as churches worth having anything to do with if you have studied Paul’s epistles), most will vehemently deny teaching salvation by works (at least most of the Protestant denominations will). Despite their protestations to the contrary, however, they are still quite guilty of teaching this. The reason I say this is because nearly all of them claim that you need to stop sinning and choose Jesus as your lord and saviour in order to be be saved. The first part of that is bad enough, since forcing yourself to stop sinning in order to be saved is obviously a works-based salvation, but even having to choose to believe is a work. If you don’t agree with me, try choosing right now to (truly) believe in Thor as your lord and saviour. Can’t do it, can you? Forcing oneself to believe something that one hasn’t organically come to believe is one of the biggest mental works a person could do, and I doubt that anybody is actually capable of it. Regardless, even if they could, it would still be an action (even if just a mental action) they had to accomplish to save themselves (or accomplish to participate in saving themselves).
Of course, Christ died for the sins of the world, and God is the saviour of all men, especially those who believe (not only those who believe; especially. If a teacher told a class that “everyone passed this grade, especially Lisa who is the only student to get an A” you’d know that everyone else still got at least a D and passed). So, while everyone has already been ontologically saved by Christ, not everybody been given the faith to believe this good news and be noologically saved (remember, faith itself is a gift, and it’s not given to everyone, but rather only to the few people God had predestined to become a part of the body of Christ and have eonian life, even if everybody else eventually will be raised from the dead). Basically, nearly every denomination out there teaches salvation by a combination of Christ’s sacrifice plus our own free will, but if salvation is by anything other than grace alone it becomes salvation by grace plus something else, ultimately making it salvation by works. Accepting Jesus as your saviour doesn’t mean choosing to allow him to save you (which would mean you would have a role in your own salvation, even if just a little one), but is rather accepting that he has already saved you after you’ve been given the gift of faith to believe the good news of your already existing (ontological) salvation.
At the end of the day, if you can’t find a church that teaches the Gospel as Paul did, you’re better off not being a part of any local assembly. Unfortunately, there are very few Christians left out there who understand Paul’s teachings, and even fewer local churches that do, so there’s a good chance you won’t be able to find an assembly to fellowship with. If you can find a good Open Church that does teach the true Gospel, however, you are one of the lucky few so don’t take it for granted.
Of course, if you yourself don’t believe the Gospel as Paul taught it, it really doesn’t matter which denomination you choose or church you decide to attend. Yes, you’ll still enjoy salvation along with everyone else at the consummation of the ages, but that’s a long time away so, in the meantime, at least pick a church with good music.