@Auron, I agree that corruption in substance can be devastating! I think the books of 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians have some relevant verses for us to discern how to handle denominations. In 1 Corinthians, Paul was addressing Corinthians who were divided and having quarrels over whom to follow …should they follow Apollos, Cephas, Paul? In 2 Thessalonians, Paul was addressing how to stand firm in faith amidst deception in the last days. I think both books give us much information on what kind of “substance” is important. Here are some verses to consider -
1 Cor 1:17-18 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
1Cor 3: 1-3 3 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?
1Cor 3:11,14,15 - 11For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
1 Cor 4:6 Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.
2 Thess 2:15 Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.
2 Thess 3:6 But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.
Paul seems to be laying out what can be counted as "substance " - the power and wisdom of God through the Cross of Christ - the gospel, seeking to live by the Spirit of God, good works that come out of love for Christ, not going beyond what’s written in the Word, holding to teaching and traditions of the apostles. Holding to apostle’s teaching is important as many false Christs (Matt 24:4) will come in the last days. Whatever is added to the substance and not on the foundation of Christ will be burned up on judgement day, though the person may be saved because of faith in Christ. While no church is perfect, we can assess the heart behind the church through the “substance” of beliefs. The substance of the gospel does not change with time or culture and it’s what holds the body of Christ together with those who have gone before us in Christ and those who will come after us.
Form tends to change from culture to culture and with time. The form is more like “words” and substance is like “language”. However, sometimes form must be given importance when the message gets skewed by the form. Form in itself can have a meaning based on culture. At such times, the substance may need to be presented separate from the form. For example - When presenting the gospel in India, it needs to be separated from being considered a “Western” idea. It needs to be made locally relevant.
In assessing local churches we may need to thoughtfully apply these scriptures after getting to know the beliefs and practices of the local church. I hope this helps you sort through “substance” and “form” a little. Looking forward to any further questions this brings up. May the Lord’s wisdom guide you and help you in finding a church home toward spiritual fulfillment in Christ.