The right reasons to choose a chuch
In a previous blog article I listed six “wrong reasons” to choose a church: (1) The church has a popular and/or famous preacher. (2) The pastor is a really cool / nice / “hip” / great guy. (3) The church has lots of great programs. (4) The congregation has lots of people just like me, and with whom I can easily connect. I’ll fit right in. (5) The church has great music and singing. And, (6) The church is large and I can attend while remaining anonymous. In this post I want to focus on a number of right, Bible-based reasons to choose a church.
Biblical reasons to choose a church:
(1) The Word of God is faithfully preached and taught, and sound doctrine is upheld (Second Timothy 3:16-17; 4:2; Psalm 1:1-2; 119:89, 105; etc.).
Nothing is more important to the integrity and soundness of a church than a concern for the truth of God as revealed in his inspired (“God-breathed”), inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word, the Bible. If a church’s doctrinal statement or confession of faith does not clearly uphold the absolute authority of God’s Word, and if the minister does not clearly and unequivocally believe the Bible to be fully inspired, infallible, and inerrant, then run for your life! You don’t want to be sitting under the preaching and teaching of a wolf in sheep’s clothing who will lead your soul astray, nor do you want to be in the company of those whose beliefs or lifestyles compromise faithful discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how nice the pastor may be, and no matter how friendly the congregation may be, if the biblical gospel is not being faithfully proclaimed and if the Word of God is not being upheld as the final authority, then you must not associate with such a compromising or apostate congregation if you desire to be faithful to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Do not be unequally yoked with such unbelief and apostasy (Second Corinthians 6:14-18). Instead, for God’s glory and for the sake of your own spiritual health, seek out a congregation that faithfully upholds the authority of the Bible, proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fundamental purity, and seeks to live in obedience to God’s Word.
(2) The sacraments are observed according to Christ’s ordinance (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:28-29; First Corinthians 10:16-17; 11:23-32; etc.).
While the Word of God is absolutely foundational and central as the primary means of grace (for “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” – Romans 10:17, ESV), nevertheless the sacraments are also important in the life of a faithful church. Through the Holy Spirit, and by faith, Christ uses the sacraments as external signs and seals of the covenant of grace to confirm and strengthen our faith, and thus to assure us that we partake of the benefits of Christ’s redemption. Many evangelicals today have far too low a view of the sacraments. While the sacraments are not magical or automatic conveyers of grace, and while they are useless signs apart from the Word and apart from a response of faith in Christ alone on the part of those who receive them; nevertheless it is a great sin to reject, neglect or denigrate the signs and seals of God’s covenant of grace. Indeed, some of the Corinthian church members were actually struck dead as a judgment from God for desecrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (see First Corinthians 11:29-30). Our Lord Jesus told us believers to do these things, and to neglect them or to downplay their importance is to manifest a spirit of rebellion and disobedience against Christ himself. While you should avoid churches which wrongly (and unbiblically!) exalt the sacraments as automatic conveyors of grace (and thus which turn the sacraments into idols), at the same time you should look for a church in your area that has a proper, biblical understanding of the nature and importance of the sacraments.
(3) Loving, biblical church discipline is practiced and biblical standards are faithfully upheld (Matthew 18:15-20; First Corinthians 5; Second Thessalonians 3:14-15; etc.).
Sadly, faithful church discipline is rarely practiced in professing churches today. But Christ himself commanded his church to exercise such discipline. A church which does not uphold biblical standards of faith and lifestyle by the exercise of loving church discipline is a “church” which is in open rebellion against her professed Lord, Jesus Christ. In Scripture, Christ threatens to make war against churches which refuse to discipline scandalous members (for example, see Revelation 2:14-16).
By “church discipline” I do not mean the harsh (and unbiblical) practice of “shunning” as it is practiced in some communities; nor do I have in mind medieval abuses of church discipline within “Christendom,” when the coercive civil powers of the state were often employed to persecute heretics and other non-conformists. Rather, I speak of the kind of church discipline that the Lord Jesus commanded his church to observe in Matthew 18:15-20. The purposes of such discipline are wholesome, loving, and even kind. They include the restoration of the offender to a healthy relationship with God and with God’s people; the upholding of Christ’s honor before the world; and the maintaining of the purity of Christ’s church. When you are considering a church, ask the leadership if they have a policy or practice of church discipline. (Some churches, like the OPC, actually have a “Book of Discipline” that explains the formal process of such church discipline.) A church that refuses to maintain basic standards of sound doctrine and holy living through the exercise of loving church discipline is not a church that you should trust with the care of your soul.
(4) The love of Christ and the fruit of the Holy Spirit are evident in some measure in the congregation (John 13:34-35; 15:12-14; Galatians 5:22-24; First John 3:11-18; etc.).
There is no such thing as a perfect church; and therefore there is no such thing as a perfectly loving church. Nonetheless, if the Word of God is being faithfully proclaimed, the sacraments being rightly administered, and loving church discipline being maintained at some basic level, then you should expect to see some evidences of the love of Christ and the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the church. If the pastor is a spiritual tyrant, or the church is riddled by divisiveness, cliques, manipulative power struggles among prominent members, and other such fleshly, worldly-minded manifestations, then it would be best to avoid becoming involved in such a church. Again, none of us loves Christ or loves his neighbor perfectly, and no church will perfectly manifest the love of Christ or the fruit of the Spirit. So don’t expect perfection. But you do have the right to expect to see in a faithful church a people who have a basic earnest desire to love, serve and follow Jesus Christ, and to show that love to others. When checking out a church, ask yourself if the people seem eager to grow in their knowledge and love of Christ, and in their service to one another and to their neighbor.
(5) The worship is reverent, God-centered, and according to the commands and principles for worship revealed in the Bible (Hebrews 12:18-29; Exodus 20:4-7; Deuteronomy 12:32; etc.)
Worship is our highest duty and privilege. Worship is the only activity of the church in this present age which we will be engaging in for eternity. It is the church’s top priority and most central activity. Therefore, a church’s worship practice should be an important consideration in your choice of a church home. If the church includes in its worship practice man-made ceremonies or rituals or practices which are based upon mere human tradition, rather than upon Scripture command, then avoid such a church. Biblical worship is simple, reverent, God-centered, and focused upon Christ and his great work in accomplishing the salvation of sinners. The worship service should be simple, dignified and reverent, and should include such basic biblical elements as: the reading, teaching and preaching of God’s Word; prayer; the singing of praise; and the sacraments. Elaborate rituals or mere human worship inventions (for example, the “altar call,” the “sinner’s prayer,” baby dedications, the waving of banners, processing around the worship hall, liturgical dancing, the blessing of animals, etc.) are dishonoring to God and contrary to his worship commands in Scripture. Likewise, a “hollywood” style of worship where the worship service basically becomes a form of entertainment is also unbiblical and dishonoring to God. Find a church where the whole congregation is encouraged to participate in the various elements of worship, and where the focus is on Christ and his gospel, not on the “worship team” or whoever else is on the “stage.”
The faithful preaching of God’s Word, the right administration of the sacraments, the exercise of biblical church discipline, evidence of the love of Christ and the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and reverent, God-centered, scriptural worship: These are the right reasons to choose a church.