The Christian Deists: Christians Without Churches

People often ask, "Why don't Christian deists have churches?"

The word "church" usually refers to religious organizations that have professional ministers, and buildings for public worship. Christian deists do not have these.

Why don't Christian deists have churches?

Primarily, the answer is, "Christian deism is a personal religion. Churches are not necessary in the practice of Christian deism." But there are other reasons why Christian deists do not have "churches," in the usual sense of this word.

As a Jew, Jesus attended the synagogue in Nazareth and, on special holy days, he went to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. But Jesus was well aware of the problems that can accompany religious organizations.

In Jesus' day, the Jerusalem temple had become a place of business where animals were sold for sacrifices and money-changers made profits from Jewish pilgrims exchanging their foreign currency (Mark 11:15). Jesus tried to remedy the commercializing of religion by driving the merchants and money-changers from the temple. The commercializing of Christianity is an enormous problem today, as blatantly evidenced by the numerous TV and radio "evangelists" seeking money donations in exchange for audio tapes, books, and other "gifts."

Even in local churches, where many sincere ministers earn their livings, money often becomes a divisive issue among church members as they debate how much to pay the minister, how much to spend on new buildings, and other money-related matters. Often the amount of money spent on their churches far exceeds the amount spent on relieving human suffering.

Jesus' view about places of worship is seen in his conversation with a Samaritan woman (John 4:20-24). The woman said, "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain (a temple on Mount Gerizim in Samaria); and you (Jews) say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father . . . . the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him."

According to Jesus, true worship takes place only in "spirit and truth." The word "spirit" refers to the inner self of a person. It refers to a person's attitude and thoughts.

The meaning of the word "truth" can be found in Jesus' statement in John 3:20-21, where the New Testament Greek word for "truth" is translated "true." Jesus said, "for every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God." According to Jesus, "truth" means doing "what is true," or good deeds.

Christian deists agree with Jesus that buildings for worship are not necessary. As Jesus said, "True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth." We worship (honor) God through our good atttitude and thoughts, and by our good deeds.

Christian deists do not believe that Jesus intended to organize an institutional church. Those who claim that Jesus founded the "Christian church" point to Matthew 16:16-19. Here, the disciple Peter proclaimed his belief that Jesus was the Jewish messiah, and Jesus responded by saying to Peter, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This, of course, is the scripture that the Roman Catholic Church uses to claim that the church holds the keys to heaven. It is alleged that Peter became the first "bishop" in the City of Rome, and Peter passed on the "keys" to the bishops (popes) who succeeded Peter.

The Roman Catholic Church has misinterpreted Jesus' statement, "I will build my church." At the time of Jesus' and Peter's conversation, Jesus and his followers believed that they were participating in a revolutionary movement to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel, which the Jews called the "kingdom of heaven" or "kingdom of God." When Peter proclaimed his belief that Jesus was the Jewish messiah who would reestablish the "kingdom," Jesus said that Peter would have a place of leadership in the movement, as indicated in the statement that Peter would be given the "keys" to the "kingdom of heaven."

As a leader in the movement, Peter would have authority, as indicated in the statement that "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This is a phrase that Jesus uses elsewhere (Matthew 18:15-18) to say that someone has authority to make decisions.

In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus told his disciples how to resolve any conflicts between themselves, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.* Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

(*Note: "Gentiles" and "tax collectors" for the Romans are examples of persons who were usually excluded from Jewish groups.)

Note that in Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus said to all of his disciples the same thing that Jesus said to Peter, "whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." In this instance, the phrase refers to decisions made by the "church" when settling disputes among the disciples of Jesus. The "church" would have final authority to make a decision in the dispute. What did Jesus mean by the word "church?" He certainly was not referring to the Roman Catholic Church, or any other Christian church, since no Christian church existed during Jesus' lifetime.

The New Testament Greek word which is translated "church" is "ekklesia" which means an "assembly" or group of people. In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus was referring to his group of followers, then and there. Jesus was simply saying that his group of followers had authority to make decisions to settle disputes among themselves. It was the practice among some Jewish sects to discipline their members for offenses, and even exclude offenders from the group (as seen in the Dead Sea Scrolls sect of Jews).

It is clear from Matthew 16:16-19 and Matthew 18:15-18, that the phrase about "binding and loosing" simply meant "having authority to make decisions." It is also clear that the word "church" simply referred to Jesus' "group" of followers. When Jesus said that he would "build my church" in Matthew 16:16-19, Jesus was saying that personal commitment to the "kingdom of heaven," as expressed by Peter, would be the foundation ("rock") on which Jesus would "build" his group or assembly (ekklesia) of followers.

It should be noted that Jesus used a word which is translated as "church" in only two verses in the New Testament (Matthew 16:18 and 18:17). The word used in New Testament Greek manuscripts is "ekklesia" which actually means an assembly, or group, of people, not an organization of any kind. If Jesus had intended to "build" an institutional "church," like the Roman Catholic Church, certainly Jesus would have said more about it.

Why don't Christian deists have professional ministers?

Christian deists believe that everyone is responsible for "ministering" to, or serving, others. But Christian deists do not believe that a person should be paid for doing this. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach the coming of the "kingdom of God," Jesus said, "You have received without pay, give without pay" (Matthew 10:8). On their missionary journeys, the disciples were allowed to accept only room and board from their hosts, and the disciples were prohibited from accepting money payments. This sounds like good advice.

How do Christian deists worship God?

As explained previously, Christian deists believe that we should worship "in spirit and in truth."

For Christian deists, worship is a personal matter. This follows the example of Jesus. Jesus prayed by himself and with close friends in private homes. He opposed the public display of religious practices.

Jesus said, " Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

"Thus when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:1-8)

In summary, Christian deists believe that religion is a personal and private matter. Christian deists are not opposed to "getting together" for fellowship and religious education, but Christian deists do not believe in public worship "services" because such activity can easily become a hypocritical display of pretended religion.

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