Washington Heights Church in Ogden, Utah was recommended to us by several people. We’ve heard both good and bad things about this church, so I’m very curious to check this church out. They’re one of the bigger churches in Utah with over 3,000 likes and follows on Facebook and over 700 followers on Instagram as well.
So, let’s get to it, shall we?
Church Website: http://whc.faith/
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/WHCutah/
The Washington Heights Church website is packed full of information. Whether the information they have to offer is what we need for a helpful review, we have yet to find out, so let’s not waste any time.
On the homepage, the first thing we see is a video clip giving you a quick view of what the church environment is like. I’m immediately reminded of SMCC (South Mountain Community Church). With a beautiful large building, a cafe/coffee shop, tons of activities and groups for the kids, happy smiling faces, and what appears to be an awesome rock show for a worship service, this church clearly does a lot to make YOU feel welcome, comfortable and entertained on Sunday.
And as many of you already know, this is a red flag. None of these things put the focus on God, the Word, or the Gospel. It’s all about people serving, not necessarily God serving. And why do churches prioritize serving peoples’ interests above God’s? For more butts in the seats, and of course, for more money.
As far as red flags go, that’s all we really see on the Homepage, and we have plenty to get to, so let’s move on.
If you click on the New Here? link on the menu at the top of the webpage, you can learn a lot about what to expect from this church. And once again, we see just how important being popular with people is to this church.
“Our goal is that you feel right at home the minute you walk through the doors at Washington Heights. Feel free to dress as casually as you like, and make sure you grab a cup of coffee or a smoothie before heading into the auditorium…”
It’s another red flag of money serving, people.
When you go to the About Us page, you can dig a bit deeper into the “core values” of WHC.
Their Mission statement:HELPING PEOPLE MEET & FOLLOW JESUS
Our entire focus and purpose as a church community, is to share the love that Jesus has given us with the people around us. We firmly believe that the mission of Washington Heights Church is helping people meet and follow Jesus. We do that by living out our core values.
No red flags here. It all depends on what their core values actually are, so let’s find out.
Under “Love God” it says, “By gathering together on Sundays and spending personal time with God throughout the week, we develop our relationship with Him.”
I’m a little confused about this statement. Do we really need to go to church on Sundays in order to love God? And what does “personal time with God” look like exactly?
Under “Love People” it says, “By joining in small groups we develop close relationships that
allow us to serve others and our communities.”
More confusion and red flags. Must we really join small groups at church in order to love people? I guess it’s one way, sure. But loving people certainly isn’t limited to, nor exclusively within small groups with the other Christians in your local church. It’s so much more than that, and you definitely don’t need to be a part of a small group in order to love people.
Same with loving God. It seems too cryptic and vague to me to say that the way in which we love God is by going to church and “spending personal time” with Him.
Then there’s “Serve the World,” which says, “By meeting needs in our communities and across the globe in practical ways, we can express our faith beyond ourselves, showing the same compassion Jesus shared with us.”
And lastly, “Invite a Friend”: “We long for others to experience what God has done for us. We do that by inviting friends to join us in a church service, a small group, or in an effort to serve others.”
I don’t know, guys. It looks like a funnel into church slavery if you ask me. The gist seems to be that WHC believes we love God by going to church, love people by going to small groups through the church, serve the world by serving the church in “practical ways”, and lastly, don’t forget to invite a friend to church! It’s all very superficial in meaning and application in my opinion. And it’s all about church, not really your personal relationship with God.
Statement of Faith
Washington Heights Church Statement of Faith: http://whc.faith/statement-of-faith/
Red Flags Here:
The Church: WHC believes that the church isn’t just anyone that belongs to the Body by faith, but that, in addition, “...this body expresses itself in local assemblies whose members have been immersed upon a credible confession of faith and have associated themselves for worship, for instruction, for evangelism, and for service…”
This is a red flag of legalism, you guys. The statement suggests that being a Christian within the Church requires more than faith and love, but church attendance, baptism “upon a credible confession of faith”, and an “association” with “worship, instruction, evangelism, and service.” No, sir. The Church is a body of believers. Whether a believer does any of these things or not is irrelevant. All that matters is their faith in Christ and their relationship with God.
Matthew 16:18 & 18:15-17, which are referenced at the end of this particular statement, do nothing to support these claims, but only reference where Christ establishes His Church speaking to Peter and how to handle dealing with a brother or sister in Christ when they sin against you. Neither reference explains how the Church must express itself in the ways WHC is claiming.
Christian Conduct: WHC also believes that “... the supreme task of believers is to glorify God in their lives and that they should seek to live in such a way that their conduct be blameless before the world. We further believe that they should be faithful stewards of their possessions and that they should seek to realize for themselves the full stature of maturity in Christ.”
Next up is WHC’s Next Steps page, which clarifies that “following” Jesus “...means there’s always a next step you can take on your journey…”
The Red Flag here:
Here we see what WHC actually means when it says they try to help people “follow Jesus.” What they seem to mean is, you need to sign up for their Next Steps programs. That’s it. Again. Superficial. But FYI: You don’t have to enroll in a local church’s programs in order to follow Jesus. You can if you want to, but Jesus cares about the state of your heart, whether that be in a small group, a volunteer activity, at home with your family, or in prison with your inmates. That’s right, you read that correctly. Church or not, you can follow Jesus anywhere and with anyone.
The last thing we’re going to look at on WHC’s website is the Love Gives page. They do have a Give Now page for people who want to give online, but I see no red flags there, surprisingly. I was expecting an onslaught of arguments and Scriptural references to pressure giving. Their Give page is free of any of this, however.
What does concern me is the “Love Gives” Page.
Here is where the church seems to lay on the pressure to give, in the name of the Christmas season. This is what many churches do in the name of loving God and others in fact, offering a plethora of volunteer and financial opportunities for people to serve the community for the Christmas season. It all seems so loving and giving and kind. The question I have is one that people should really ask more these days:
How transparent is the church with how donations and funds for each of these causes are distributed? Is 100% of the money donated for these causes actually used for the specific cause, or does the church take a skim off the top of the $75,000 they want for this Love Gives campaign?
I emailed Vicki with WHC on 12/28/19 to see if she could answer my question, but have yet to see a response. We’ll see what we can find out and update the post accordingly.
Additionally, when you click the “Donation Options” link, you see another red flag. With a list of reasons to give to WHC, you’re basically given the impression that only through your financial support can others “come to love God through worship and biblical teaching,” or “come to love others by getting connected” at WHC.
While it’s nice to see no manipulation of Scripture in order to pressure giving here, I dislike any kind of pressure to give financially to a church.
All in all, we’ve seen several red flags with the Website Review for WHC. For both legalism and money serving. So far, not looking good, people.
The first two email addresses we tried to contact the church through came back as undeliverable, so we PM’ed the church’s Facebook Page and after a little more digging, we found some legitimate email contacts to try.
We emailed Angie with the church staff to get some answers, so I won’t go so far as to say that we’re being stonewalled this early in communications with the church, but I’m not going to hold my breath. It’s been about a week now and I still haven’t gotten a response.
All of that being said, if at some point WHC does answer our questions, we’ll update the post accordingly. Until then, let’s see if we can answer some of these ourselves.
1. What is your church's official position on tithing?
While we see no mentions of tithing on the website, we did notice the following statement worth noting in the church’s Statement of Faith (emphasis mine):
“...We further believe that they (Christians) should be faithful stewards of their possessions and that they should seek to realize for themselves the full stature of maturity in Christ…”
In addition to the multiple red flags of money serving and pressured giving all throughout the website, I think it’s safe to say even though this church may not preach the law of tithing itself (we don’t know this yet), they certainly pressure financial giving.
2. Does your church have an official membership with a membership agreement or contract?
While we see many opportunities to give, get involved in the church, serve, volunteer, and join small groups and other ministries with WHC, we don’t see anything on the site to suggest that this church has official memberships with agreements or contracts. Of course, it’s possible that they do, but since we don’t have confirmation from the website or church yet, we don’t know for sure.
3. Is your church transparent with its financial information? How much does your church bring in through donations and tithing, plus additional income, and how is that money distributed?
As usual, this isn’t a question very many churches are willing to answer, and until we get a response from WHC, if we even get one at all, we don’t know the answer to this.
4. Which denomination does your church align with the most, if any?
Google describes WHC as a non-denominational Christian church, and we don’t see anything on their website or Facebook to suggest otherwise.
5. Is your church's pastor available for other questions or comments regarding the church, its doctrines, etc.?
This I’m not sure about yet. When I tried emailing the church directly, both email addresses came back as undeliverable. When I PM’ed the church’s Facebook Page, they suggested I contact a woman named Angie. She did email me back within a few days to let me know that she’d pass my questions on to the proper member of the staff, but whether that’s the pastor or someone else, I don’t know.
Whether I’ll ever be able to speak with pastor Roy directly has yet to be seen, but he does have an email address available on the church website (http://whc.faith/about-us/our-staff/).
If/when we receive some answers to our questions, perhaps we’ll know more.
6. How is your church's doctrinal flexibility and tolerance regarding minor, non-essential doctrines? If a member has a disagreement with the pastor or leadership on a certain doctrine, how is it handled?
While the church’s Statement of Faith seems pretty straightforward and mainly focuses on the major essentials of Christian doctrine, there are topics mentioned in much more non-essential areas that are liable to cause contention and confusion within this church.
For example, Christian Conduct and the Church. How the church handles disagreements in these areas I’m not sure, but if they do have an official membership wherein which congregates must agree with the statement of faith in order to be members of this church, I’d imagine there isn’t much flexibility. We’ll just have to wait and see in the coming days as we continue our emails with WHC.
7. Does your church require that its members be baptized? What is your church's official position on baptism?
On the Next Steps page of WHC’s website, you can see their page on Baptism. Here we find what I believe to be the church’s official position on baptism:
WHY DO WE BAPTIZE?
Because Jesus was baptized and asks us to follow His example: “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20a)
Baptism does not gain us any extra favor with God. Baptism is done in obedience to Christ. It is merely an outward, public expression of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
The original word in the Bible for baptized is “baptizo” and its specific meaning is “to immerse in a body of water.” So we do just that.
Below these statements we find that if you’d like to get baptized at WHC, they do in fact have a Baptism Class that you must take in order to be baptized.
8. Please describe what a typical service and/or meeting looks like in your church.
As we’ve already pointed out in the Website Review, WHC is very focused on making attendees of the church comfortable, caffeinated, and entertained. On the New Here? Page of the website, we read this about what their services are like:
WHAT TO EXPECT
Our goal is that you feel right at home the minute you walk through the doors at Washington Heights. Feel free to dress as casually as you like, and make sure you grab a cup of coffee or a smoothie before heading into the auditorium. If you have kids, pre-teens, or teenagers, volunteers with a nametag can help you check them in to fun environments especially designed for them, or you're free to experience a service together if you prefer. We'd love for you to be a guest this Sunday!
9. How many people do you have on staff at your church, both paid and volunteer?
You can see the church’s staff on their Staff page of the website, but whether this list includes all volunteers, paid staff, or neither, we don’t know yet.
10. What is the pastor's educational history?
While the church website doesn’t provide any of Pastor Roy Gruber’s educational history, his Facebook Page says that he attended Northeastern Bible College in Essex Fells, New Jersey and Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania.
11. How does the church discipline its members with their sin?
Another question we won’t know the answer to without getting a response from the church, or inside intel from attendees of the church itself. The website doesn’t mention any official memberships, nor do they appear to hold a membership class, so it’s unclear whether there is any official policy regarding this issue or not.
12. How is the pastor compensated (income, benefits, bonuses, etc.)?
We will have to wait and see how financially transparent this church is, including regarding the pastor’s income, if/when our questions are answered over the next few days.
Any bets on whether they’re willing to answer this question?
13. What is the size of your church and any other space the church owns for meetings and church services?
While we don’t know the size of the church building itself, we can see that the church’s Facebook Page has over 3,000 likes and follows, which means it probably has somewhere close to 1,000 regularly attending members. We may be able to get a more accurate number if/when someone answers our questions.
Overall, we haven’t been able to answer most of the important questions. With very little of the information we need to make a thorough review and several red flags so far, things aren’t looking good.
While the church’s online sermons found on their website’s archives don’t include their worship services, if you watch services Live on Sunday, either on Facebook or their website, you can experience their worship services from home.
The worship service we’ll be reviewing for this check is from December 15th. Click here to see it for yourself on the church’s Facebook Page.
It’s pretty much just like most other modern-day Christian worship services in America. All about the band, the performance, and the show. We don’t like worship services like this, as they honor people, their talents, and the church’s materialism, more than God.
So just like too many other church worship services, we can’t say we liked this one that much at all either.
Speaker: Pastor Roy Gruber
Date: May 5th, 2019
Just as with the Rising’s Sermon Check, we decided to go further back and find a sermon more relevant to the kind of information we’re looking for in churches, rather than the commonly Bible-themed messages that pop up in most churches during Christmas-time. While it’s nice that most churches take the time during December to actually study the Bible regarding the birth of Christ, Word-focused sermons should be a year-round affair, not just during Christmas or Easter.
Anyway, I picked this particular sermon because it answers a big question that many money serving and legalistic churches will answer much differently than a gracious, God serving church would. When I saw the title of this sermon, I was too curious to pass it up. So let’s get to it!
Is the sermon topical or verse by verse study through the Bible?
This is a topical sermon, as the title clearly suggests. Can you follow Jesus and not go to church? Well, you know what our answer would be to this question, but let’s see how WHC answers it.
Is it Biblical? How frequently is the Bible used? Is it interpreted in context or twisted to fit the narrative of the sermon?
Personally, I don’t think it’s biblical to claim that church is somehow necessary for one’s personal relationship or walk with Jesus Christ. It’s an idea that a lot of Christian churches more interested in membership numbers, financial goals, and service needs push, but that we don’t really find in the BIble: that Christians MUST go to a local brick and mortar church in order to follow Jesus. The Bible is used occasionally throughout the sermon to support this message, but it’s taken out of context and cherry-picked rather than interpreted or read contextually.
Additionally, Pastor Roy’s attempts to answer the straw men he’s created for the sake of the sermon fail every time, if you ask me. Cherry-picked verses that reference Christians working together are always made synonymous with the local brick and mortar church, when they can very easily be seen contextually and as what they actually say: other Christians.
Other Christians are everywhere, not just at your local brick and mortar church. And you can support, encourage, love, and do any number of the things the Bible references with your brothers and sisters in Christ, anywhere. Not just at a church.
Specific contextual passages in the Bible that state you must attend a local brick and mortar church in order to follow Jesus are nowhere to be found. Where two or three are gathered, He is there in the midst of them. Christ is in us, not a building. We are the Church, not the building, and we can follow Him whether we decide to attend a local church building once a week, twice a week, or zero times a week. We can follow Him if we’re at work 24/7, or at home 24/7. We can follow Him if we’re in solitary confinement, or in a country that has criminalized faith and there are no local church buildings to attend. We can follow Him if we’ve never been to church in our lives and if we go there every day.
But WHC apparently doesn’t see it that way.
What’s at the heart of the sermon? What’s the main point and purpose of the message?
The heart and main purpose of the message is clearly to convince Christians that they MUST attend church if they’re to properly follow Jesus. Pastor Roy even takes it so far as to say things like, “Following Jesus must be “we” not just “me,” and further, he claims, “There is an essential aspect in following Jesus that can only be filled by connecting with other people.”
This is extremely unbiblical, and untrue. Following Jesus IS just about YOUR relationship with HIM, and nothing else. There is one mediator between man and God, and that is Jesus Christ, and you don’t need anyone else to get to Him. Inserting church and other people between you and Jesus is religion, not the Gospel. Period. It’s idolizing church, and it’s not okay.
I’ve said it many times now and I’ll say it again: the local church is a privilege, a blessing, and a gift, but it is NOT a requirement for anyone to have a relationship with God or to follow Him. Local churches want you to believe otherwise because they have a vested interest in the idea that church is essential to our walk with Him, but it’s not.
Were you fed the Word of God or the words of men?
The Word was cherry-picked and taken out of context in order to push the ideas of men, which state that we need a local brick and mortar church, and other people, in order to follow Jesus. The Word tells us otherwise. This was definitely not a feeding of the Word even by the milkiest standards.
For Scriptures supporting my particular position on this issue, study the following:
2 Corinthians 3:17
1 Timothy 2:5
1 John 4:16
There is no question that the fruit of the Spirit is love, and God commands us to love others. It’s good for us to come together, build each other up, support each other as the Body, and to take advantage of the blessing and gift of the Bible teaching, Gospel preaching, God serving local church, if available to us. This does not mean that we NEED the local church in order to follow Jesus or that the local church is REQUIRED for Christians to be connected to God. That is done through and by God alone.
This also doesn’t mean that the only way we can love others or support the Body of Christ is by attending a local brick and mortar church. It’s not.
Let’s not get confused, people. We’re in a relationship, remember. Not a religion.
While so far we’re still unsure about whether this church has an official membership contract, preaches tithing, or requires service and activity in their church, we still see a few signs of legalism here.
The hint at tithing, or at least required giving, in the Statement of Faith, the legalistic message of the Sermon, and the various pressures to serve and be active in the church all point more toward legalism than grace or freedom in Christ.
We don’t see any signs of political bias on the church’s website or in any of the sermons we’ve listened to so far. So, we’ll put them right in the middle of the Political Scale.
Controversies & Scandals
While there aren’t any serious controversies or scandals to note regarding this church, we did see some Facebook reviews worth sharing. It seems our impression of this church so far isn’t the only one that finds WHC particularly showy or “carnival”-like, as one reviewer put it.
Go to WHC's Facebook Page to see these reviews for yourself if you're curious.
Overall, while we’re still missing some important information regarding membership, tithing, and the answers to our Questionnaire, we see too many red flags, signs of legalism, money serving, and a lack of transparency to even be on the fence here.