Yesterday, I closed the message saying that there are some basics we need to look for in a church. So, first of all, I John 4:1-3 tells us to be careful, so we do not fall for doctrinal error, because of that we need to find a church that holds to Christ as the Eternal Son of God, the Savior from our sins through His Death, Resurrection and the true head of the Church.
Proverbs 16:25 say “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” and the only way to keep a church doctrinally correct is loving, teaching, and preaching the Bible, so look for that. When the preaching is all philosophy and psychology, and small group discussions are what everybody thinks, look out! The Bible needs to be in their hands; it needs to be used and marked and loved and lived. I hate seeing Bibles where they have never broken the binding—shoot one of my favorite Bibles is held together with duct tape!
Now beyond truth, there needs to be Grace. Jesus was full of both (John 1:14). A church can hold to absolute truth, but be totally dead, and not even know it. They can even be totally belligerent in the way they hold to the truth! When you are searching for a church, do you see a real sense of worshiping the Lord in the church service? Or is it simply honoring Him with their lips, when their hearts are far from him? And don’t be fooled by all the fancy sound systems and professional sounding bands. There must be True Worship.
You need to see if there is sincerity in their worship, or are they putting on a show, trying to work up a purely emotional response? Who are they trying to impress, you or the Lord? Do the people mention the Lord’s name in their conversations? Do you see new Christians being born again? Look for signs of life! There also has to be evidence of maturity. Do the members outgrow the Pastor?
What do I mean? Well, back in the “old-days,” the days when there was a one-room schoolhouse, the first-graders helped the kindergartners; the third-graders helped the first and second-graders, and that is what you should expect in The Church.
Do you witness sincere worship? In the early church, trusting God meant more than a teary-eyed testimony about “the time I came to trust the Lord.” No, it meant believing that even if obedience to God required great suffering, He was trustworthy to bring a person through it.
Clement declared, “A person who does not do what God has commanded shows he really does not believe God.” To the early Christians, when they claimed to trust the Lord while refusing to obey Him was a contradiction (1 John 2:4). Their Christianity was more than a verbal exercise. It was an active, living faith. As one early Christian expressed it, “We don’t speak great things—we live them!”
One mark of the early Christians, something that distinguished them for all others was their childlike, literal obedience to the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. They didn’t feel they had to understand the reason for a commandment before they would obey it. They just trusted that God’s way was always the best way. Clement asked, “Who then is so irreverent as to disbelieve God, and to demand explanations from God as from men?”
They trusted Him because they lived in awe of His majesty and wisdom. One Christian author put it this way: “God is greater than all our perceptions—He is infinite, immense. Only He truly understands His true greatness; our hearts are too limited to really understand Him. We are making a worthy estimation of Him when we say that He is beyond estimation . . . Anyone who thinks he knows the magnitude of God, diminishes His greatness.”
How many of us can make such a declaration? I have seen churches that are on both sides of the fence. Some are totally immersed in very practical, nuts and bolts type of ministry. They feed the poor, have missions into the inner city, but are weak in the area of spiritual warfare. Others, on the other hand, are strong in prayer and spiritual warfare, but their lives are lived out in a purely theoretical sphere and have no heart for the poor. They may be solid in their doctrine and understanding of the Word of God, yet poor in a very practical ministry and hands-on type of help.
If, in your search for a church find the Lord leading you to a particular fellowship, join them. I mentioned this before, but be baptized (if you haven’t done that yet), and get your name on the membership list. Yes, that is important! Don’t have your membership back in good ol’ Pottersville just because they buried your ancestors there. Take your stand with the local body, which says, “I am one of you, I belong to you. I want to submit to you and share your life in Christ.”
Once you make that decision, stay with it! Don’t runoff when someone does something or says something you don’t like. Get the relationships settled before you leave. Too many people are carrying with them the grudges and hurts from other relationships and never get them resolved.
A friend of mine brags that he has been “kicked out of some the best churches in town.” If you have run into that problem, I will tell you, exactly what I told him: “Maybe, (my friend’s name) you need to examine your own heart. Maybe the problem wasn’t them.” Look, if they were indeed flaky, then look for a church that isn’t all goofed-up. But when you find it, become involved and let them see a life of faith lived out!
I remember Larry Tomczak—an evangelical teacher—stating that he remained in the Catholic Church—despite having great difficulties with many things they taught—because he was able to touch so many lives with what God had done in his life.
Think about marriages, again. Most people recognize that a marriage is a bold adventure but you normally don’t enter into it with the benefit of an escape clause (certainly there are exceptions but hopefully you can catch my example). The essence of most marriage vows is their unconditional quality. A man takes a woman not, as in a contract, under certain specified conditions, but “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.” The commitment is unconditional and for life. The fact that some people fail in this regard does not takeaway the intention of the glorious undertaking.
In the Christian Community my wife and I once belonged to, the members actually entered a covenant with the other believers. They did not enter into their commitment lightly, it required much prayer and counsel, nor did they break that covenant without much prayer and counsel. The Covenant stated that:
“In order for us to respond to what God is doing among us and to be the people he is calling us to be, we give our whole lives to Him, to follow His Son, Jesus, and to live lives as true disciples, through prayer, study of His Word, worship, evangelism, and hospitality. [But most importantly], To consecrate our lives to Him not as individuals but as members of (our particular community).”
So, in a very real sense, we were committed to the body, to a specific group of believers.
Ray Ortlund wrote that as the Pastor of a small church, he became so dissatisfied with the lack of “Life” in his church; he made a covenant-of-sorts with his people. At the end of what could have been his last sermon, he said that he needed people to commit to each other to pursue Christ, or he had to leave. Amazingly, several people signed up. They were evidently waiting for him to commit.
Okay. So after you make this commitment to your fellowship, you need to immerse yourself as deeply as you can into the life of that local body. Worship right among them—not by radio or television at home; not even sitting out in the Narthex (even if you can hear it over the speaker). That is not the point of “going to church.” You need to be shoulder to shoulder, sharing others reactions to it all, and letting them share yours. They need to hear you sing! (Even if it is off-key). They need to catch the intensity of your worship. (Someone noticed that I always sit in the first row when I’m in a service, and they figured it must be because I was so spiritual. That was until I explained that I sat in the front row so no one had to hear me singing. I was just trying to save someone from having to bear that cross during the service).
Even beyond this, you need some sort of congregation of a few dozen who can get to know who you are. They know your name, you know theirs. You see each other at parties, Bible classes, and church events. They help you know you belong, and you help them know they belong!
So many times I hear comments like; “They are so closed, just a bunch of cliques.” “I feel like such an outsider.” “They are so cold.” etc., etc. I always wonder what steps those complainers took to get involved? What did they do to become a vital part of the fellowship? Did they discuss their feelings about the group to anyone within that group, or just with people outside of it? It is so easy to put the blame on someone else. What are you going to do? You need to give of yourself.
Now, after you have fulfilled all this congregational stuff, you need at least one cell in your life. That is so important I had better spend more time on it.
With these Morning Messages, I take you on guided tours to, as Bunyan described, the Celestial City. At times we linger at corners familiar and unseen. And explore the depths of our faith along the way.
The trail is long, but there’s no hurry. Though we do need to stock up on supplies for the way, and that’s where I need your help. If you enjoy these messages, please consider becoming a contributing member of this tour group. It will be very much appreciated.