Be blessed today and this weekend. So we made it through a 5-part series on The Church. I want to thank you for enduring what was essentially me laying out my understanding of what the Bible teaches regarding the Church and subsequently the church. I am really looking forward to moving on to different topics that have been placed on the back burner while I worked diligently to complete this series. However, I didn’t want to dive into anything new on a Friday, so I thought I might share some thoughts regarding the search for a new church body. I do not presume to be able to tell you exactly how to find a new church body for your family, but I would like to share some thoughts and some questions that I feel should be asked whenever the search for a church body is at hand.
Why are you looking for a new church body?
Aside from having to relocate due to work or family needs, this is perhaps the single most important question for which a Biblical answer must be found. Now, let me begin with the obvious and work toward the subtle. If the church you have been attending has wandered off into false doctrine, false teaching, or a different gospel then the “why” of the matter has been identified. We can then move on to the “how”. Are you leaving because of an individual? Personality Conflict? you were offended? These motivations are tougher to pin down, but they tend to be the vast majority of reasons that folks leave their local churches. I’ve made these categories quite broad because I don’t intend to give a panacea response for highly personal situations. I will say that personality conflicts exist everywhere, because each of us bears responsibility for our own conduct, speech, and personality. The Body of Christ is also composed of people, forgiven and adopted children of God who still walk in fleshly and sinful bodies. So, if your response to personality conflict is to leave the church, you will be leaving often. I’ve met a few church-hoppers who tend to only survive about a year or two before some drama “pops up out of nowhere” and they are “forced” to leave, usually creating as big a vacuum as possible either being on staff or in the worship team. Finally, there are those who want to leave because they (or their kids) just want to find something “cooler”, “more exciting”, or more “relevant”. This last group I can honestly say has the wrong “why”. They don’t understand the purpose for church and are instead looking to be entertained or have their itching ears scratched.
How did you leave the last church?
I have never been a fan of ultimatums. Anyone who demands the church bend to his or her will “or else I’m leaving and taking my money with me” is a carnal, fleshly, immature Christian at best. Similarly, causing a big scene to act out the fore-gone conclusion that you are leaving is equally infantile. So let us look at how the Scriptures tell us to address problems within the Church.
- A problem of false teaching/doctrine/gospel. While I consider this to be the easiest “why”, it is perhaps the most heartbreaking, gut wrenching, and difficult “how” we will face. Depending on how long you’ve been a part of this congregation, how involved you and your family had become, and how your closest friends feel about the issue at hand, it can lead many to simply never say anything or to suddenly disappear without much explanation. Why? Because this is an issue of leadership in the church. Since we just finished examining 1 Timothy, we’ll start there and I am including old-testament foundation for these rules.
- 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (ESV)
19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.
- Deuteronomy 19:15 (ESV)
15 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.
- Deuteronomy 19:15 (ESV)
- Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV)
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
- Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (ESV)
13 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.
Note: this holds true even if the sign/wonder/miracle actually happens. The miracle alone does not serve as proof.
- Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (ESV)
- One note I’ll make on this is that if the structure of the local church is in error (not in keeping with Acts, Titus, Timothy) then this matter can be very difficult to resolve. Pray, search out the scriptures, and ask for Wisdom from God the Holy Spirit, and do what is right, leaving the outcome in God’s hands. Something that is prevalent in today’s Evangelical churches is a false notion of “unity under the visionary” instead of Unity in the Word of God. It generally comes with a Mosaic church structure where everyone is expected to follow (and abide by) the word of one or two leaders and they have the final word (often times, preemptively).
- 1 Timothy 5:19-21 (ESV)
- Personal Conflict. This is a very broad category, but the Bible does cover how we are to respond in these matters.
- Matthew 18:15-20 (ESV) 15 “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 your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 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. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
- 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 (ESV) 1 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?3 Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! 4 So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, 6 but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!
Now, in the interest of full disclosure and transparency, these things are rarely easy or clean. We recently stopped attending a local church over doctrinal concerns and church-structure. We were very involved in the church and didn’t realize there any problems until some major shifts in doctrinal focus and awkward disciplinary calls forced my wife and me to start searching the Scriptures for answers. That search revealed a great deal. Still, we did not purpose to leave the church because we were sure that God had led us to that church (even more so now that we’ve grown so much as a family through the whole experience). I spent 2 months discussing doctrinal issues with the Pastor (at the time I was on staff) regarding what I believed to be mishandling of Scripture in sermon material taught nearly verbatim from popular mega-church leaders. After two months, I stepped down off of staff. A month later, another family was given a false rationale for why we stepped down and not a single elder of the church approached us. It was then that we decided we could no longer attend that church, though we longed to maintain relationships with those who truly considered us their brother and sister. We are currently being fed in a church of a different denomination, and completely different style of service from what I grew up with, but we are being fed well. We are not in a rush to become members, but we thank God for His Grace and Mercy for our family.
What should we be looking for in a church?
Who is being preached, Christ or man? First and foremost, you should be looking for a church that faithfully preaches the Word of God. This isn’t something you can determine in a single visit. If they post their sermons online, listen to them with an open bible and take notes. Pause the sermon, open to the scripture being referenced. Is the context being conveyed? Is it being used in context? Is it a full quote? Is the passage being defined by Scripture or by the speaker’s life experience? Are you being taught what the Word of God says or are you getting life advice loosely justified by a random scripture quoted out of context? Are you getting an anecdote to help understand what Scripture is teaching or is the anecdote being presented as proof that a life tip is valid? What is the scripture to pastor ratio?
Christian Denomination. This is NOT a denominational choice, because there isn’t a denomination that has a corner on the market. Denomination plays a major role in familiarity and a sense of commonality for many people, so if you are uncomfortable stepping outside of your denomination, then you must continue to focus on faithful preaching of the Word of God, you just might (depending on your geographical location and preferred denomination) be choosing from a very small pool of churches. When it comes to denominations, it is important to gauge each denomination’s doctrine against the Scriptures, not by what one denomination accuses the other denomination of believing. I find this particularly true of the “Reformed” (Calvinist) denominations who are very quick to call anyone who disagrees with TULIP a Pelagean. The best example of this is that despite the Catholic Church declaring Pelagianism heretical (Council of Trent) most Reformed Churches lump Catholics under the semi-Pelagean banner because of their emphasis on man’s response to the Gospel of Grace (Council of Trent also declared the doctrine of passive grace heretical, basically the U, I, P in TULIP). So yeah, take each doctrine and compare it to the Word of God, not to some other doctrine since not every point of each doctrine can be taught from Scripture because they attempt to explain in-depth what the Bible doesn’t explain. What the bible does explain, like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they must agree upon (and for the most part Protestant denominations do agree on the Gospel). Now, among Protestants there are 2 major divisions, Monergists and Arminians. Monergism is a label that covers Lutheran and Calvinists (who disagree on double-predestination and sacraments). Calvinists are found in Baptist and Presbyterian traditions, though some Baptists lean more Arminian these days. Arminians disagree with TULIP in that they believe that Christ made the only way of salvation but did not preassign people to believe or not to believe; rather, they hold that in the hearing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, man must choose whether to listen and accept the Word of God as the Only Way of Salvation, or reject it and be condemned my their lack of faith. This doctrine can generally be found in Wesleyan Methodist Churches, Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Free-Will Baptists. I’m still dealing with these categories in broad terms, but hopefully you can see that there are denominations you might actually find some common ground with you weren’t aware of before. Once again, the standard is the Word of God… not the denomination you grew up in.
Who is being praised and worshiped? Okay, so we haven’t spent a great deal of time on this one here at Faithful Stewardship. But who is being praised in the Praise and Worship at the church. Is it truly focused on God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? Or is it focused more on who we are, what we are doing, and what we are going to get? Are we worshiping the Biblical Savior or are we just sort of singing love songs understood to be pointed at Jesus, but not clearly articulated as such? Is it about praising and worshiping God or is the focus more on entertaining non-believers?
Non-Denominational or Evangelical? While each of these labels has some meaning to those who wear them, they lack any solid definition that could serve as a filter for looking for a new church.
- Non-denominational. What it should mean is that they don’t point to any ideology of man and their aim is to stick with Biblically defined Christianity. In practice, what you will find is that they broke away from one of the denominations and still hold to most of that denomination’s doctrine except for a few key points. What makes them problematic is that you have no way of knowing up front what they do or do not believe/teach. You just have to talk it out, or attend their membership information classes (even then you still need to ask all of the questions that you can). Many take the road of dividing what they call “essentials” and “non-essentials” of the faith… but rarely are the “non essentials” clearly defined. I have also seen that most “non-denominational” churches are former Pentecostal or Charismatic churches looking to distance themselves from the label. Perhaps one of the most dangerous elements of non-denominational churches is that they are rarely held accountable by anyone. In the New Testament, the Church in Antioch looked to the Church in Jerusalem for encouragement, direction, and guidance. Paul strongly rebuked the Galatians for blindly accepting the false gospel of the Judaizers and exercised authority, correction, and instruction over them.
- Evangelical. This is supposed to mean that the church’s focus is in Evangelism, or Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What has been taking root in modern Evangelical churches lately is a false social gospel, where the goal of the church is to entice non-believers to enter their doors and stay long enough to hear the Gospel. Much of the church-growth, seeker-sensitive, emergent theology expansion has been within evangelical churches. In order to achieve rapid growth and high attendance numbers, they’ve abandoned preaching Law in accordance with Gospel, therefore we get a half-picture of a Savior but we don’t get an understanding of our need for a savior. Prosperity and Word of Faith doctrines also thrive in non-Denominational/Evangelical circles.
Fathers, remember your role.
In closing, I want to remind fathers to remember your roles as heads of your house. You are the priest of your home. Whether you are members of a local church family, struggling through trials and tribulations, or searching for a new body of believers, your responsibility to feed, nurture, and instruct your family never goes away. Pray continuously, and dig into the Word of God and bury it in your heart and share it with your wife and kids. Church is not a means of offloading the responsibility of leading your family spiritually, church is where you get the training you need to better fulfill your responsibility. Plugging your family into church is essential for Christian living, so I’m not suggesting that a father can replace the church, he can’t. My point is that regardless of church membership, a father’s role remains the same.
Well, this ended up being longer than I anticipated. In trying to address a broad scope of issues, concerns, and categories of doctrines, it is possible that some may feel I misrepresented their denomination or church. That was not my intent, I’m just trying to give some broad-scope definitions for those who (like I was a year ago) might never have thought about what all of the denomination stuff really meant. I’m not interested in bolstering or attacking any denomination or doctrine of men here… my only focus, and sole purpose here is to point to the Word of God and what it teaches. As always, if you have additional or specific questions/concerns, feel free to comment or contact me directly.
Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.