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How to Find a Good Church Home
By Mike Oppenheimer of Let Us Reason Ministries
It's not the label on a church that makes it what it is, but the teachings and the people following Christ. Mormons say they have the name of Christ on their Church, therefore they are his Church. Anyone can put a name on the outside, and most do use the name of Christ but it’s what is on the inside that counts. A certain denomination or non denomination may often mean it has a good reputation but it is no guarantee for Biblical accuracy. Do they have the life of Christ - is His Holy Spirit indwelling the people and the congregation, is the Bible believed and being taught and practiced? We do not just look for a church that teaches the Bible but a church that teaches the Bible correctly, the whole counsel of God and having the goal to live by it.
A church is composed of numerous elements. Without putting things in order of importance, the people are the church, not the building. When looking for a church to make it your home there are certain elements necessary for it to be healthy and of God. The foremost is that they uphold the Bible as their authority, being the Word of God. Do they teach through the Bible, not using certain doctrines but teaching the whole counsel of God? Is the church operating from Scripture as best as possible and are they feeding the sheep for growth in their spiritual lives to make them mature? Are they pursuing God's kingdom and His will for their lives as individuals and as a Church? Are they Christ centered and preaching the gospel of grace through faith alone for salvation? Are they mission-minded? Is the Church centered on the needs of its people, not neglecting its own, especially those out on the mission-field? Are sheep producing sheep which will turn into growth for the Church, or are they relying only on the leaders to do the work of the ministry? Some churches turn over much of the ministry into the hands of the layman even if they are new to the faith. This saves them time in taking care of all the problems that arise, as well as money to pay for more ministers. The Bible teaches us not to do this, that one must be mature in the teachings of Christ as well as having maturity as persons, we are not to let a novice teach. There needs to be a balance in this philosophy of ministry. While many are attracted to opportunities to being in ministry, in the long run if a church is open to this it causes problems. The leaders are to be proven men of the faith adhering to the Biblical requirements.
Is there prayer for the needs of people and open for anyone to join in? Do they accept you for who you are without conditions and are willing to help you mature in Christ? Is giving freely encouraged or is there coercion on tithing and raising money. Are there open record where the money goes?
Is the gospel proclaimed regularly from the pulpit and people encouraged to share the gospel outside the assembly?Are they teaching the essentials of the faith to the new believers and right doctrine and practice for the mature to find their purpose in God (1 Tim.4:6, 13-16.) In finding a Christian church specific questions sometimes need to be answered. Such as do they accept the Bible as inerrant and infallible, that it has been preserved throughout history? Do they believe Jesus is the Son of God and what do they mean by this (almost all cults will agree with this on the outset). Is Christ fully God and fully man, did He raise from the dead bodily. Do they teach and uphold doctrine especially on the nature of Christ being God in the flesh and God being Tri-une in nature?
Do they have different weekly Bible studies one can attend so people can get to know one another and fellowship when they have time? Is there freedom in the church for people to exercise their spiritual gifts and talents to be used for each other and their community (1 Thess.5:19-20; 1 Cor.12-14)? Are they looking for ministry opportunities as God moves in the lives of their individual members, are they encouraging people to pursue God's calling in their lives (1 Tim.1:9; Rom.8:28-30; Eph.2:10).
Does the church encourage you or help you to discern and answer false religious systems (1 Jn.4:1)? Do they teach how to witness to other religions, or do they feel that everyone can pursue God in any way they choose (Jude 3; 1 Pet.3:15)? Do they recognize the cults and are they equipping people to know the differences between what is true and what is error - and equipping them in apologetics to give them confidence in their witnessing to them (cultists)?
Sometimes one needs to ask for a history of where the church began and how. Who they are affiliated with? One may have to consult cult watch organizations for further information on their history and doctrines, it's always better to ask first before you leap. Do they belong to the National Association of Evangelicals or the World Evangelical Fellowship, are they accountable to others? Do they work with and enjoy fellowship with other churches and denominations that are sound? What books do they promote for their members to read? Wisdom is needed so one should pray for all wisdom and discernment in their decision (Phil.1:9), so that you don’t spend your time there and find out later what you should have known beforehand.
Choosing a church may take time and sometimes caution may be necessary. A church is to be friendly but we can first be easily attracted to the warmth and friendliness of the people and later find they are theologically off. It’s best to ask for a statement of faith, a creed and history, as well as questions before joining. Some faith statements do not mean what they say so one needs to ask deeper questions if there are any doubts. Best to know beforehand than invest your time and find out later. (The Mormon’s articles of faith sound on the surface as evangelical - but are deceptive). Do they have a public Statement of Faith? Beware when a church says their statement of faith is the Bible and that is all they have (such as the International churches of Christ). You can consult various books such as Elwell's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, The Encyclopedia of American Religions by J. Gordon Melton or even the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements by Burgess, Magee, and Alexander for further research on certain groups and movements.
If you find a church that is actively pursuing these things then you have probably found a healthy environment for your spiritual growth in Jesus Christ - you have found a good church home. Every church has a different flavor and one can find two churches that may teach the same things but have a different philosophy in how they do ministry. This can sometimes be a personal preference for you as an individual. Some believe in gifts, some do not, some have differences in eschatology (study of the end-times). Some churches believe in using instruments in their worship, others do not. Some sing the old hymns, others sing new songs with different styles of music. Again this becomes all personal preference as we look to find a church home. One must see if they are using worship and praise songs or entertainment to hype the people up to keep coming back. If there is room to grow and serve and the people love and genuinely care, that’s a good place to be. We need to be in a place that we can grow together in and be used of God, not just fellowship or have things to do.
Remember that the people are the church, not a certain denomination, group or church building. Those who hold to the core doctrines without aberrations are in the body of Christ and we should accept them and be in unity with them.
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