Make no mistake, in the midst of a culture where fewer and fewer people are desirous of organized religion, there are still people searching for the right church. Several times in the last week, whether in conversation, social media, or otherwise, I have come into contact with people who are trying to make a decision about where they will worship and abide in a local body of believers.
We need to be careful about calling “church-shopping” self-centered. After all, we have all been looking at one time or another. Perhaps we moved to a new city. Maybe we had to leave an unresolvable spiritual problem in the congregation in which we had been serving. Maybe Bible study helped us to reject human traditions and simply follow the pattern of Biblical teaching. Let’s face it, if the only reason we are worshiping where we are is because of our ancestors we may not possess our own personal faith. We cannot be afraid to challenge our thinking. If we believe the Bible is the word of God then we need to trust it enough to take us where God wants us to go. And none of us would be so bold as to think we have nothing to learn!
So here are some God-given, Biblical principles for how to make the right decision about church:
1. Does it use the Bible as its only guide over spiritual matters? The standard by which true faith is to be measured is divine. It is found in the word of God (Romans 10:17). The true church teaches that the word has all authority and is inerrant. This will lead the individual to absolute truth (John 8:31-32). In reality, it is not the church that chooses the Bible, but the Bible that chooses the church. The Bible is the mind of God in human language. The only way we can know we are pleasing God in the church is through a study of what God has on His mind (1 Corinthians 2:9-13).
2. Does it teach the plan of salvation correctly? This is where it all begins. We cannot go to heaven and have salvation wrong. God is the one who adds people to His church in the universal sense (Acts 2:47). He is the one who has called us into fellowship (1 Corinthians 1:9). He is not adding people by different methods. In our confused postmodern world, a person could visit 50 churches, ask what to do to be saved, and get 50 different answers! So we must get back to the book. There is a pattern for salvation in the New Testament. The true church of Jesus Christ will not walk away from the plan.
3. Is Jesus the only and ultimate head of the church? Jesus said He was going to build His church (Matthew 16:16-18). And yet we have so many churches that glorify men and not God. They have human founders and modern-day “prophets.” They have human creeds and man-made rules and traditions. Some even have earthly headquarters or governing bodies made up of fallible humans. They have fathers and reverends and exalted mediators. But the true church has no Father but Jehovah, no Lord and Mediator but Jesus Christ, and no Spirit except the Holy Spirit who has once and for all delivered the faith to the saints (Jude 3; 2 Peter 1:20-21). There can be no Head over the church other than the Christ who purchased it (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18).
4. Does it worship according to the New Testament? This is so important! The church that Jesus built worshiped differently than the Israelites (Hebrews 8:6, 13). Just as there is an exclusive way to be saved (John 14:6; Acts 2:38), there is an exclusive way to worship Jehovah. Worship is for God. While mankind benefits from worship, true worship is not about talent, or aesthetics, or anything that is derived from the human perspective of what we may deem acceptable. Just because we attempt worship doesn’t mean God has to accept it. He is God. We are not. The true church will worship God according to His commandments and with the right attitude (John 4:24; 14:15).
5. Is it loving? Jesus said others would know we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35). He commanded His followers to love each other the way that He loved mankind. What a task! And yet, what an opportunity! Even if a local body teaches the doctrine correctly, and checks all the Christianity boxes, if there is no love, they are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The church should love God supremely, and love others as they love themselves (Matthew 22:37-39). Jesus said that the entirety of the law and prophets rested upon these two principles. The true church will find a balance between a love for doctrine and a love that extends the grace and favor of God in spite of human weakness and sin. It will not be selective in its love, but will extend the same love to all people, no matter their spiritual or physical condition.
Jesus is the Savior of the body (Ephesians 5:23). The body is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18). When Jesus returns He is only going to take people to heaven who are in the body, His church. So yes, you not only need to select the right church, you need to be a part of it. It is absolutely and eternally necessary. May God be with you in your search!
“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:21
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