17 September, 2005

With Some Reservation: Choosing A Church * *

There are many things to look for when Christians are seeking a body of believers to join itself to. Let me say from the start that I am talking about Reformed or Presbyterian churches only. Since I am Presbyterian I am speaking out of my own presuppositions. If you are not Reformed or Presbyterian, you are free to join one! Many people will disagree on what to look for in a church since the Scriptures guide us to join ourselves to the true church and the idea of denominations is foreign to the Word of God.

We know that the history of Israel had two major factions of people who claimed to worship YHWH, but the prophets frequently speak out against the Northern kingdom and its worship.
The reason that the prophets spoke out against the Northern kingdom was that they had departed from biblical worship. The sin of Jeraboam is a frequently repeated phrase in the Old Testament. The sin was worshipping God in a way that was not prescribed in the Scriptures. One of these Northern kingdom worshippers asked Jesus Christ about his input on the "worship wars" of his day. The woman at the well, I am sure, was really interested in his opinion about her choice of "denomination". Jesus responded to the woman, "You do not even know what you worship!" He concluded that there will come a time, and it now is, that those who worship God will do it in Spirit and in Truth.

What does this have to do with choosing a church? First off, it shows that the worship of God is very important to Jesus Christ. Worship is not something that is open for private interpretation. Worship needs to be done according to the prescription of God's word.

Point One: Know how the Church views the Bible. Do they believe that it is God's inspired and inerrant Word? Do they say that it is and then deny it in the way that they order their church? (Point three includes more on the view of Scripture).

Point Two: Seek out a Church that worships according to biblical principles of worship. If you do not know what a biblical principle is, then seek it out in scripture. Be able to cite a handful of verses that support biblical worship. Do not just assume that the way things are done are okay with God. Remember the woman at the well.

Point Three: Know what the church believes. Ask about doctrinal standards. If they have written standards read them and study them. Talk with the elders of the church if you do not understand points.
If the church is Presbyterian ask about its denominations writings other than the Westminster Standards. They all have documents that help to interpret the Standards. Also ask if the church has any position papers. These will help you to see how they apply the Standards and the Bible. (For example; The OPC has a position on abortion [in a certain circumstance] that many evangelicals will not like.)
If the church is Reformed ask about other papers as well. The CRC has a position paper called "Our world belongs to God". The URC has available synodical papers that help to discuss what they believe. The Protestant Reformed people have Herman Hoeksema's Reformed Dogmatics and that IS IT!

Point Four: (This one will be strange for some) Ask about the church's history. What denomination did it break off of? What reasons did it leave the body that it once was a member of? Did it have a legitimate reason to split or should it have joined an already existing body? What is it doing to re-unify the Reformed and Presbyterian churches? Does it have a heart for "one body", or does it enjoy being "alone"?

Point Five: Is it apparent that the (professing) members have lives that are transformed by the power of the gospel? Is it apparent that her people have hearts that seek to order their lives according to Scripture? Do you see a mature zeal to have families that glorify God and enjoy him? (This will show the power of the preaching in the church as well as the teaching that the members sit under.)

These five points will begin to help you on your path of choosing a body of believers that you can join with and work with towards bringing glory to God. I am sure that there are other things that are important and others can give input from their experiences.
This is not something that should be done without prayer, much discussion with elders and other godly counsel, and more prayer. Church membership is so important that you should see it as something that your children and grand-children will be effected by. Your choice could help you in your walk with Jesus Christ and it could also be the first step towards being spiritually dead. This is SERIOUS business!

Below you will find a helpful article by one of my favorite modern writers. It is easy to read and filled with biblical advice. ( The blog, Johannes Weslianus also has some insight into this: it is linked on my blogger section).

Choosing A Church

Discussion Points:
-What would you add my five points for consideration?
-What are biblical reasons to LEAVE a church?
-What should be the "battle plan" for what is called, church "shopping"?

* * TO ALL MY READERS: I am not thinking of leaving my church, but I have friends and family that are in the early stages of seeking out a new church and this topic has been something that I have been praying about and meditating on for the sake of friends of kin!

23 comments:

Nate said...

Since I have so much reservation about this post, I reserve the right to drop this conversation at any point!

If I decide through more prayer and meditation that I am way off: I will publically acknowledge my folly.

* Those who are looking for a new church- remember that this is serious stuff!

Mr. Baggins said...

I agree with everything you have said here, of course. I might want to add that the discussion should focus on the three marks of the church: Word, Sacrament, and Discipline. Is the church doing these three things in a Biblical manner? If they, then it is a true church. If not, then search elsewhere.

shawn said...

Mr Baggins: Is the church doing these three things in a Biblical manner? If they, then it is a true church. If not, then search elsewhere.

I agree with you, Mr Baggins, that the marks are at the crux of the discussion, though we may disagree with our definition of "TRUE CHURCH"

I would be curious to see a working defintion if you would offer one.

I have written an article here:

http://trivialsoapbox.blogspot.com/2005/07/essentials-vs-wellness.html

... feel free to comment. Thanks.

shawn said...

-What are biblical reasons to LEAVE a church?

Well on what TERMS would you unite?

http://www.reformedpresbytery.org/toc.html

maggie said...

Good points. I love the pic of Southfield, though it really looks quite different nowadays :-)

Too bad every church can't be that good :-) (I'm just kidding, Southfield has its flaws along with the rest)

Watts Sathis said...

1. Denominationalism: is unbiblical
2. Denominations are unbiblical (?)
3. If all would join the PRC, all these things would be solved (??) and the problem of denominations would be transcended (???)

This sounds like a common line passed around Christianity to get people to join their denomination. Is the teaching of Labadism anywhere pertinent to this conversation?

Nate said...

Watts

I agree that the denoms are unbiblical... we are to be the body of Christ. One. Churches took on local flavor but were united in doctrine and practice.
Church at (insert city name).

I am not sure what the PRC is..unless you are referring to the Protestant Reformed Church...if so that was tongue in cheek (or foot in mouth, I am not sure which one)!

Nate said...

And as far as Labadism goes...we are Reformed not Jesuits...they hated us.

Anonymous said...

About time you add Free Reformed to your links of churches!

Jeff said...

hmmm... and the Belgic Confession states that the distinction between a true and false church is easily distinguishable. Sometimes, it doesn't seem so easy to me. Those reformers must have had brains the size of planets or something (either that, or it's because they didn't have any exposure to television induced stupidity).

Watts Sathis said...

'And as far as Labadism goes...we are Reformed not Jesuits...they hated us.'

No doubt Jesuits hate reformed people but that's another discussion...
I'm referring to followers of Jean De Labadie ...who was trained up as a Jesuit but joined a Reformed congregation...a Brakel had something to do with him. He 'vied for a church of believers only.' A sort of Ecclesiastical perfectionism within the body as applied to those within it.
If I used the wrong initials for whom I was 'addressing', ie PRC, my apologies. I was intending the post to be addressed to covenanters/steelites, but certainly with those Protestant Reformers I know, the post could be well addressed to them. Hoeksema's cool but his disciples tend to not acknowledge any other denom. as orthodox. They are the 'truest true'.
Also why is it that when I hear the covenanter spiel about Ireland, Scotland, and England, etc. I start to think of papal/apostolic sucession...and the 'true' line...eek.
If I don't join them, ultimately I'm disparaged as joining a falsely constituted Church hopelessly inferior. Good grief, this smells way too much of Rome's line of logic...
No getting around it, Steelites are yet another denom., perhaps an historically older one, but a denom.

Nathan's Servant said...

Nate has said a possible discussion point could be what are bibilical reasons to leave a church. Shawn has said the same. Now, I would like to ask that also.

What are they? Where does one 'draw the line'? It seems like too much "church hopping" goes on in the Reformed circles. (I am sure it happens outside of the Reformed circles as well).

And I would like to note that I do not think that those for which this post is written are "church hoppers." It was just a general statement.

So, anyways, do we just reverse the 5 points,or as Mr Baggins has stated--Word, Sacrament, and Discipline? If that is lacking, then those are OBVIOUS reasons. I would like to know the less obvious, yet bibilical reasons.

ANYONE?

Watts Sathis said...

'I agree that the denoms are unbiblical... we are to be the body of Christ. One. Churches took on local flavor but were united in doctrine and practice.
Church at (insert city name).'
Nicely put, we see the body of Christ organized around a confession, and those truths are from the Bible. Ought a minister from a HNRC be denied from Preaching in a Protestant Reformed Church, or an ARP church, or a Free Reformed Church, or OPC church or URC or OCRC or...
'Churches took on local flavor...'
Is there a problem when 'local' eg the British Isles is vieing for universal?
On the subject of blogs, what is the deal with the word verification. I cannot reason a purpose for them other than to annoy...

Watts Sathis said...

Nathan's Servant:
'Nate has said a possible discussion point could be what are bibilical reasons to leave a church. Shawn has said the same. Now, I would like to ask that also.'
-Yes, I see. I'm getting off task a bit. My apologies...my frustrations boiled up at an inopportune time.

eChuckler said...

Watts,
The purpose for word verification is to slow down/stop spammers. Recently, they've begun posting some links to some, uh... un-orthadox websites.... So pretty much everybody has word verification by now.

For me, personally, the denomination does not come first. It's the church. What's the preaching like? Then, the service. Then, the people of the church. Then the church's society structure. Then the theology. (these are alongside Nate's 5 points)

I like to stick to basics. You have to seek out the strong points, then see if you can live with stuff like "xtreme babi boomerz bible study". Chances are, if the preaching's good enough, you can.

Rachel said...

It kind of startled me to see my church at the top of your post! Very good points. I can't think of anything to add. BTW, I assume that the word verification is to keep spammers away.

shawn said...

1. Denominationalism: is unbiblical
2. Denominations are unbiblical (?)
3. If all would join the PRC, all these things would be solved (??) and the problem of denominations would be transcended (???)


Hello Mr Sathis,

I'm not sure why you think this represents the teaching of the PRCE, RPNA, Steelites, or Covenanters, but it does not.

Nor do we "vie for a church of believers only". I'm not sure where you are getting your information.

I'm not sure you want to defend denominationalism either, so I won't accuse you of it, but rather ask you if you are content with the present system, or do you desire a more Israel/Apostolic model?

As for apostolic succession... If you mean following the teaching of the Apostolic Model, then I want to have Apostolic Succession. James Walker writes a great essay on Scotland and Apostolic Succession in the book: "Theology and Theologians of Scotland"

But of course if you mean the Papal, or Episcopalian version, then the Covenanters have denied and have sought to uproot such heresy.

As for Rome's line of logic, Rome would never teach of a "falsely constituted Church". According to them, you are either in their Church and therefore a member of the VISIBLE Church, or you are outside of the VISIBLE Church, and outside of Salvation (of course post Vatican II - they have adopted a version of Universalism.)

Denominationalism is the result of a) The Church (and State) denying the Establishment Principle.
b) A body wanted to be independent or separate the Body of Christ into schismatic factions.

-OR-

c) Necessary separation from a Schismatic denominations, therefore resulting in being a faction or denomination.

Yes the Covenanters today are in a denomination but for reason C. And they also seek to promote the uprooting of denominationalism, and promote and protect established Presbyterianism.

If the positions of the Covenanters were truly what you say they are, I too would be frustrated with them. But this is not the case.

Thanks for the comments.
-Shawn

shawn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
shawn said...

Nicely put, we see the body of Christ organized around a confession, and those truths are from the Bible. Ought a minister from a HNRC be denied from Preaching in a Protestant Reformed Church, or an ARP church, or a Free Reformed Church, or OPC church or URC or OCRC or...

The Westminster Assembly took up this issue as well, when the majority promoting the Presbyterian Church model were debating the Congregational Church model.

The Presbyterians asked the Independents...

P: Can you worship with us some of the time?

I: Yes.

P: If you can worship with us some of the time why can't you worship with us all the time?

I: Well we could.

P: If you can worship with us all the time, then why are you separated from us?

I: ?

You see, the goal of the Confession (btw - which confession?) is to unite the Body of Christ by having in Her constitution a body of Truth. This Confession should make the HNRC,
PRC, ARP, FRC, OPC, URC, OCRC, ETC
ONE BODY. If they are confessing the same things, why are they saying they are separate?

The Westminster Assembly would never stand for such schism in todays Church. The schism that all these bodies promote by remaining separate.

The question might better be asked:
Ought a minister from a HNRC seek to be united with the Protestant Reformed Church, or the ARP church, or the Free Reformed Church, or the OPC church or the URC or the OCRC or any other Church? and Vice Versa?

Thanks again for your comments.
-Shawn

Nate said...

The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland also believes in the establishment principle, yet are not "Steelites" or "Cameronians".

I am sure that they would seek to be established as well, yet remain stuck in a denomination due to current circumstances.

shawn said...

** WARNING** This may be too long for your to stomach. Proceed with caution. It is a response to Nate's Servant.

“’…bibilical reasons to leave a church’ - What are they? Where does one 'draw the line'?”

Well it is good to recognize that there is a line to be drawn. Most people don’t even realize that they are judging Churches by leaving one and going to another.

I submit terms, Nathan submits points (actually both of our lists are quite similar, though I believe that there are more points to consider) But whatever list one has, it ought not to be based upon either Christian liberties or theological matters that have not yet been settled by reformation of the Church. In other words, you should not have points of separation/unity that are indifferent in and of themselves (ie movies, card playing, women long hair and dresses, men short hair and ties, etc) nor theological issues that the Church is still dialoguing about (Creationism Vs Truducianism, Supra- Vs Infralapsarianism, etc).

At the same time, the points should revolve around issues of DOCTRINE, WORSHIP, DISCIPLINE and GOVERNMENTS that have been settled.

Let me also say that leaving or uniting with a Church CAN NEVER be separated from leaving or uniting with that Church’s CONSTITUTION AND PRACTICE. In other words, we cannot go to a Church that teaches something we believe is Unbiblical. We also can’t just leave a Church because we are looking for something new and different. You leave and cleave to a Church because of her faithful Constitution and Practice.

“It seems like too much "church hopping" goes on…” And I would like to note that I do not think that those for which this post is written are "church hoppers." It was just a general statement.

I agree, and yet sometimes Church hopping is a result of the “Problem”, and other times it is due to faithfulness. (It depends on how you define Church hopping as well – I know that since I have been a Christian, I have attended on a regular basis at least 8 Churches)

The Problem is that there is not a faithful Church of the United States; one where all would be walking according to the same rule, minding the same things. So now each local Church cares more about how they reach people through attracting them with programs, and compromising much Truth for the sake of comfort. But our Character and therefore our appeal should be found in our Biblical Doctrine and Practice.

As to those who depart due to faithfulness, think of one who comes to a Biblical understanding of Salvation, and is in a Church that is teaching “Free Willism” or “Works Righteousness”. Would it be better for this one to stay where they are, or to leave and go to a Church that teaches Biblical Salvation? Or what if you come to a more Biblical view of worship? Uninspired Hymns and Organs (or any other instrument) is visible idolatry. Should you not seek a new Church that does not have all these innovations but rather practices Biblical Worship? What if you come to know faithful promises your ancestors made to God, in response to the Covenant of Grace, that you are obligated to uphold and the ministry withheld this information from you! Should you then not leave these Baptist Churches and go to one that teaches and practices Infant Baptism? (ha, gotcha – you thought I was talking about the Solemn League). Or what if there is some scandal done by an elder, or even a member of the Church, and the ministry will not discipline this person. Can we remain in a Church that will not practice Biblical Discipline?

And so there are many things to consider, and I would dare say that none of us are equipped to have this knowledge without an historical help. The Westminster Assembly sought to give “blueprints” as to what the Church should look like, at least in their day. They actually never attained to it, and so much of it has not yet been put into practice. However, I would say they give us a great leap towards advancement into the Kingdom of Christ!

So, anyways, do we just reverse the 5 points,or as Mr Baggins has stated--Word, Sacrament, and Discipline? If that is lacking, then those are OBVIOUS reasons. I would like to know the less obvious, yet bibilical reasons.

There are not less obvious reasons. The PRINCIPLES are plain, and obvious (I think), but it is the PRACTICING of them that is the hard part. Besides, we cannot treat these areas of Doctrine, Worship, Discipline and Government like the Pharisees viewed the 10 commandments. They as titles represent a whole body of content.

As I have put out there, I think that the same principles we have for JOINING a Church, we ought to have for DEPARTING from one too.

-Shawn

shawn said...

The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland also believes in the establishment principle, yet are not "Steelites" or "Cameronians".
I am sure that they would seek to be established as well, yet remain stuck in a denomination due to current circumstances.


Right, which is why I also give option B

b) A body wanted to be independent or separate the Body of Christ into schismatic factions.

Many can still want to be of the National Church and yet be schismatic. Look at the historic Church of Scotland. They were Schismatic to the Previous and more faithful Covenanting Church of Scotland, and so the Protestors viewed them as a denomination, and not the legit National Church General Assembly.

Nate said...

Shawn

I think that the comment about leaving a church over free will when you become a Calvinist is helpful. It takes the argument down to a level where most of us were at one time.

As we advance in our Christianity we must also advance in our understanding of ecclesiology. That is difficult for a lot of people because there are faces and names that are attached to the arguments and not just philosophies.

It is easier to offend a philosophy than a brother.

The difficult part is being sure that you have a right (or obligation) to leave a church..this takes MUCH MORE than prayer. It takes a careful combing of the Word of God.

I hope that this discussion has been helpful to those for whom this post was written.