Choosing the Right Church -- some biblical guidelines
If you have recently made the life-changing decision to repent of your sins and trust the Lord Jesus Christ alone to save you from your sins and make you His child forever (John 1:12), then you are beginning to realize how important it is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). While you should be reading and studying the Bible daily, that is no substitute for the teaching and preaching of God’s Word which you should be receiving in a sound, Bible-preaching church. Hebrews 10:25 warns Christians, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Whether you have not been in the habit of attending any particular church, or whether you are beginning to question the spiritual benefit of the church you presently are attending, or whether you are attending right now a sound, Bible-preaching church, the fact remains that God commands you to regularly attend a biblical church and be a part of it. As a child of God you should take advantage of every opportunity the church schedule of services offers to hear the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, receive the necessary help and encouragement of fellowshipping with other brothers and sisters in Christ, and benefit from the spiritual oversight and care of a loving godly pastor. Listening to preachers on the radio or television or other electronic media can at best be only a supplement, not a substitute, for a biblical church. In fact, even if you find yourself bed-ridden or otherwise unable to attend a biblical church for any length of time, you should rely on the visits of your pastor and fellow church members (as well as recorded services from your church) to keep you growing and benefitting from that all-important fellowship.
The next question that normally arises may run something like this: “How can I know if the church I am presently attending is a biblical one?” or perhaps “How can I decide what church to begin attending?” I’m glad you asked, because answering these and similar questions is the main purpose of this brief study. There are at least four vital characteristics that distinguish a biblical church from an unbiblical church.
First of all, a biblical church is characterized by God-centered worship rather than man-centered worship. In John 4:23-24 our Lord Jesus Christ stated, “. . . the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” It would seem unnecessary to have to point out that God is the One to be worshiped, but, sadly, much of what passes for worship in most churches today is man-centered and self-centered. The music during these services is not chosen for its words that exalt the Father or the Son, neither is it chosen for its appropriate use of the highest and best music to support the sacred message of the words, but all too often is chosen for its shallow words coupled with music drawn from the worst side of pop culture in order to please the carnal Christian and attract the unsaved. Beware of churches that use CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). A service that is entertainment-oriented and feelings-oriented has usurped the proper focus on the Lord Himself -- all that He is and all He has done and will do. A church characterized by man-centered worship will not aid you in your spiritual growth, but rather hinder your growth.
Secondly, a biblical church is characterized by Bible-centered teaching and preaching rather than needs-oriented, feel-good-focused teaching and preaching. In John 4:23-24 Jesus repeated that we are to worship God in spirit (from the heart, in contrast to outward ritual) and in truth. Jesus also declared as He prayed to His Father, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). As you observe the emphasis of the teaching and preaching in the church you are considering, ask yourself these questions: “Is God’s Word treated as authoritative and trustworthy and is it given the pre-eminence as the only basis for belief and practice? Does the preacher support everything he says by a careful examination of the Scriptures? Are the doctrines and practices of this church based solidly on the Bible?”
Thirdly, a biblical church is characterized by a courageous biblical stand on issues rather than compromise and accomodation for the sake of “unity.” What the pastor preaches from the pulpit and what he tolerates in the leadership and policies of the church give much insight into his true convictions and the probable direction the church is going. Unfortunately, the cry for “love and unity” among Christians has been the excuse for increasing disobedience to the Word of God. God’s Word makes it very clear that His priority is obedience and that true unity and love is found only on the basis of belief in and obedience to His Word. Note several Scripture passages that point this out:
- (John 14:15) If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
- (John 14:21) He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.
- (2 Timothy 4:1-4) I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
Compromising the Truth is an inevitable consequence of compromising in spiritual and religious associations. A church that is not careful in its associations will inevitably be influenced away from obedience to the Word of God by those churches and organizations who have a weaker stand on the Word of God. The doctrine of separation in Scripture is there for our protection from false doctrine, carnality (fleshly attitudes, words, and habits), and disobedience, and is there for the protection of the purity of the Gospel message. Note some passages below that teach this:
“I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. “AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; And I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.
- (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,
(See also Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5:11; and 2 Thessalonians 3:14.)
A church that is ecumenical will not protect you spiritually and is not obedient to the Word of God. Choose a church that loves the Lord enough to separate from error and compromise.
Finally, a biblical church is characterized by a redemptive ministry, rather than a pragmatic one. By “redemptive” we mean life-changing, righteousness-promoting, missions-minded, and evangelistic. The church you choose should believe (1) that every Christian ought to be steadily changing to be more like Christ (by God’s transforming power) [see Romans 8:29] and witnessing daily to lost neighbors and friends [see Acts 1:8], and (2) that the church ought to be supporting (by prayer and finances) biblical evangelistic outreach to all the world [see Matthew 28:19-20].