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Seeking a Church

In seeking a church to attend, we have often stated that it isn't a matter of denominationalism, but it is of utmost importance to find a church that teaches sound doctrine. One thing we need to clarify from the beginning is the difference between a faith or a religion and a denomination. A faith or a religion is a distinct set of beliefs that differs in major ways from others. Examples of faiths or religions are Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. A denomination is a subcategory of a faith or a religion, usually Christianity. As an example, it is like the entire country of the United States would be the religion of Christianity and the state of Indiana would be like a denomination. Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Missionary Church, etc., are all examples of denominations within the religion of Christianity.

When I speak of denominationalism, this includes non-denominational and/or interdenominational churches. A non-denominational church simply means a church that holds no particular denominational doctrinal stance. Some churches advertise that they are an interdenominational church that is basically the same thing as a church that is advertised as a non-denominational church. An interdenominational church classifies themselves in this manner as a way of saying that people of all denominations are welcomed. Many times you will see a church that will include both titles of non-denominational and interdenominational.

Another distinction that is common with non-denominational or interdenominational churches is that more than likely they include the term "independent". Again, this is just another way of saying they hold no particular denominational doctrinal stances but are "independent" and determine their own sovereignty in matters of leadership as well as in matters of doctrine. As a person can readily see, this stance could be either good or bad. The bottom line is; the teaching of sound doctrine is still the most import thing to factor in when looking for a church to attend.

For those who may be wondering what "sound doctrine" means, it means the gospel that was taught to the saints. "Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints." (Jude 1:3) Those who adhere to sound doctrine are those who contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. Sound doctrine is the doctrine (teachings) of Christ.

The bible warns us in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." Anything that is contrary to sound doctrine is to turn from the truth and is to believe in a myth. Anything that is not of the faith entrusted to the saints is a myth and is contrary to the salvation shared by the saints.

Jesus Christ presented the entire gospel (good news) in John 3:16-18. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." How a person obtains salvation is summed up in Ephesians 2:8-9. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast."

I really wish it were as easy to say to attend a Baptist Church (for example) and you will have found a good church. However, it isn't that simple and trying to find a good doctrinal sound bible preaching church can be very frustrating. I am using the Baptist church as an example because of all the denominations; there is no other denomination that is as versatile as the Baptist churches. What makes a Baptist church a Baptist church is the policy of self-government without outside interference. In other words, the leadership of a Baptist church is who determines the direction of the church and this falls over into matters of doctrine as well. Because of this self-governing of individual Baptist churches, it had left the door wide open for a wide range of differing views and beliefs. This self-governing began as a protection against those outside of the church who may have sought to impose their own beliefs upon the Baptist churches but splits began within the Baptist denominations themselves. These diverse beliefs (Some of which leaned towards extreme legalism to extreme liberalism and sometimes even cultic.) are what lead to the formulation of the Southern Baptist Convention, GARB and other governing bodies. It was soon apparent that a central governing body was required to keep the Baptist churches in check with some form of accountability and doctrinal stability. This is a daunting task to try and retain the rule of self-governing and to seek to impose a governing body for the Baptist Churches to adhere to in matters of doctrine and practice. So what we have now are many various governing bodies of various Baptist churches that all retain the title Baptist that are as far from the left as to the right in matters of doctrine and practices. So for this reason, if a person believes that if they seek a Baptist church they will be receiving the same teachings, they will be sorely surprised and disappointed. As an example, I'll list some of the various Baptist Churches and you will see that there are no doctrinal diversions that have been left out under the banner of Baptist.

American Baptist, Free Will Baptist, Reformed Baptist, Seventh Day Baptist, Southern Baptist, Conservative Baptist, Holiness Baptist, Pentecostal Baptist, Fundamental Independent KJV-Only Baptist, Primitive Baptist, Union Baptist and Independent Baptist. I am certain a few more can be added to the list but as you can see, about every belief has been represented and incorporated under the title of Baptist. In seeking a Baptist church, the same rules will apply as with seeking any church of any title. While there are many good Baptist churches, it still requires being very careful and to thoroughly check out their beliefs on an individual basis. In the list above, avoid the Seventh Day, Holiness, Pentecostal, KJV-only and the Primitive right from the start.

All I can do is to try and set a few guides and list a few things to be aware of when seeking a church. There is absolutely nothing wrong with "church shopping" as some call it. In fact, finding a good church is vitally important for your own welfare as well as the welfare of family and friends. Finding a church should be with the intentions of it to be a long-term commitment and becoming actively involved and this is why it is very important to find the right church for you.

Being actively involved can be anywhere from teaching or preaching to being an usher or cleaning the sanctuary or simply greeting people with a smile. To often many believe being active in a church means to become a missionary or part of the leadership or some other sort of full time service, however, this is not true for the greatest majority of people who do attend church on a regular basis. The bible tells us that the foot is just as important as the hand and God rewards us according to our heart and not according to our position in the body of Christ. (1Cor. 12:4-27) The person who washes the communion cups will receive the same rewards as the Pastor and both are as equally important for the body of Christ to function properly. The leadership and the church would not last very long if it were not for those who work at regular jobs and pay tithes to the church. If it were not for those who maintain the buildings and the grounds, those who baby sit, cook, clean and perform the functions that are required for the church to operate smoothly, the leadership could not function properly either.

The previous statement leads me to the first pitfall to avoid in searching for a biblical church. That pitfall is a church that exalts the leadership over the body of Christ. If there is more said about the leadership than there is about Jesus, this is a church to avoid. More often than not, this would be a controlling church steeped in legalism that demands absolute submission to the leadership. More often than not, a church that operates in this manner will not allow their teachings to be questioned and will use their self-imposed authority as a club to silence anybody who may disagree with what is being taught.

Churches that fall into the previous category most often are of the Pentecostal/Charismatic churches better known as Word/Faith churches. Another common denominator within the Word/Faith churches is that most are very heavy into "Deliverance Ministries". (To read more about Deliverance Ministries, click here) Within these churches, if you are not wealthy, healthy and happy, it is because of sin or lack of faith that is caused by demons that need to be cast out of the believer.

At this moment, I am placing the emphasis on Word/Faith churches because this false teaching is growing by leaps and bounds and is even infiltrating many mainline Protestant churches as well as some Catholic Churches. If a new church with a cute little name like "The Father's Children Church" or "The Holy Ghost Tabernacle Church", chances are it is a Word/Faith church. Exercise much caution in this area. (To read more about Word/Faith Churches, click here.)

The emphasis on demons is not all exclusive to Word/Faith churches; this fascination with demons can be found in some very anti-Pentecostal/charismatic churches and should be avoided as well. Great caution should be taken with any church that sees demons behind and underneath every fuzz-ball under the pew.

A good rule to keep in mind is that if demons appear to run amok in the congregation, then there can't be much focus on Christ. "And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:15)

Now that I made some general suggestions on what kind of churches to avoid, I'll begin to get a little more specific with mainstream denominational churches. The main breakdown in churches begins with Protestant and Catholic. Because of the fact that we are Protestants, we do not recommend attending any Catholic Church. Although there may be some Catholics who have been born again and are saved, it could be said that it may have occurred in spite of what Catholicism teaches and not because of what Catholicism teaches. I have heard that some Catholic Churches are evangelical and teach and preach more along the lines of Protestantism. I find that claim to be rather strange for the fact that if this were true, then they would not be Catholic since the term Protestant means protest and the Protestant churches began with protesting what Catholicism taught. (To read more about the teachings of Catholicism, click here.)

The most common mainline Protestant Churches are Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Baptist. These denominations as a whole are pretty much in agreement with the basic beliefs of the fundamental beliefs of orthodox Christianity as far as salvation as a free gift by the grace of God and the bible as the sole authority in matters of doctrine and beliefs. What began as a protest against Catholicism escalated into Protestant churches being divided over various doctrinal issues that more often than not was of secondary issues such as water baptism and communion.

Throughout the centuries since the protestant reformation, some of the divisions, eventual splits and formulation of new churches were of a more serious nature. Not all of the divisions and splits were a bad thing. Some were of necessity when a church began to teach contrary to the historical orthodox beliefs of Christianity. At the same time, some splits were over rather petty issues that were turned into major doctrinal issues such as grape juice vs. wine for communion. Some splinter groups disagreed with the fundamental beliefs of Christianity and formed churches that teach another gospel, another Jesus and another Spirit. (2 Cor.11: 4) For anyone who may like to know more about this subject of denominations and how they came about through the centuries can visit this website for a greater understanding.

If a person were to pick up a phone book in any major city and look under "Churches", it is enough to make a persons head swim. It is any small wonder why it is so difficult to find a good bible preaching and believing church? It would literally take an entire book to go through each and every church and explain their particular beliefs. The answer isn't to explain every belief, the answer is to focus on the truth and find the church that lines up with that. Various churches come and go and on almost a daily basis, the buzz goes around about a new church that is different and people flock to them in the droves.

Don't get caught up in a church that advertises, "Come and enjoy great hand clapping music and experience the sounds of the new acoustics in our huge 10,000 seat sanctuary" or, "Come and listen to the spine tingling preaching of Brother Sam". Don't be swayed by the offer of a multitude of various ministries like hand puppet ministries, juggling ministries and dog sitting ministries for the elderly. The first consideration should be; do they teach the truth of the gospel that was entrusted to the saints once and for all? That is what has eternal value; the rest is no more than fluff.

There are two extremes to avoid when seeking a church. The one extreme is liberalism and the other is legalism and we find both of these elements within the mainline protestant churches. It is because of this fact that it makes it very difficult to seek out a biblical preaching and practicing church. Each church, despite the denomination (Or non-denomination as previously explained.) has to be judged on an individual basis. It is a simple matter of listing pseudo-Christian churches that are to be avoided but it is a completely different matter to list churches that on the surface appear to be of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity.

For example, we see liberalism taking root within mainline denominations that have began to embrace practicing homosexual clergy along with the recognition and blessings of homosexual marriages. On the other side of the coin, legalism has taken root within many mainline denominations and non-denominational churches that deny salvation by grace and replace it with a salvation by works. When it is all said and done, the splits between churches have always been based on these two extremes in one form or another. In trying to balance one extreme, another extreme comes along to serve as a balance and the pure and simple gospel of Christ becomes lost with each side claiming to be speaking the truth.

Liberalism changes the grace of God into a license for immorality. "For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." (Jude 1:4)

Legalism has exchanged the grace of God into a works based salvation and has frustrated the grace of God and makes the sacrifice of Christ pointless. "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Gal.2: 21) Those who teach a works based salvation are described as foolish Galatians (Gal.3: 1) who are preaching another gospel, which is not a gospel at all. "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ." (Galatians 1:6-7)

Those are some pretty harsh words yet a great proportion of churches still teach a works based salvation. The Apostle Paul clearly is saying that this is to pervert the gospel of Christ. His condemnation of preaching a works based salvation becomes harsher as he continues to say; "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!" (Galatians 1:8-9)

If you have been reading this closely, both of these extremes deny the purpose and the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ and are preaching another gospel other than the gospel of Christ.

All pseudo-Christian churches (Such as Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses for example.) deny the basic fundamental beliefs of historical Christianity. What all cults have in common is the denial of salvation by grace and preach a works based salvation. With this being a true statement, I personally have a very difficult time with seeing the difference between a works based salvation being taught within mainline churches and that of pseudo-Christian churches. If a church does not teach the message of eternal security, in actuality they are teaching a works based salvation if loss of salvation is taught. I say this because the very implication is that a persons eternal fate does depend upon their good works which brings us back full circle to a salvation by works gospel that Paul says is not a gospel at all.

Many reading this article will be angered and say it is a misrepresentation but for those who are seeking a truly biblical church, it is my hope that this will guide and aid you in seeking a church that does preach the simplicity of the gospel of Christ.

Churches to avoid:

1.Any church that denies the divinity of Christ and teaches anything contrary to whom he is. Jesus is the Eternal Son of God, the Creator, the second person of the trinity who became flesh and died for your and my sins. (This applies to both Liberalism and Legalism)

2.Any church that denies salvation as a free gift by the grace of God and preaches a works based salvation. (Legalism)

3. Any church that teaches a loss of salvation. (Legalism)

4. Any church that promotes and encourages sinful behavior. (Liberalism)

5. Any church that the leadership is held in higher esteem than the body of Christ and have an authoritarian attitude. (This can appear in liberal churches but is much more common in legalistic churches)

6. Any church that claims to be the only true church. (This can appear in liberal churches but is much more common in legalistic churches.)

7. Any church that places the emphasis on minor issues and places little emphasis upon the major issues. (For example, a militant attitude about the KJV-Only, frequency of communion or place emphasis's upon foot washing, methods of water baptism and places little or no emphasis upon the gospel of Christ and the finished works of Christ upon the cross.)

Another rule to keep in mind is that there is no such thing as a perfect church because churches are made up of imperfect people. Disagreements will arise in even the best of biblical teaching churches and a person should try their best to work through such disagreements if they are of relative minor differences. For example, I attended a church that believed it was biblical to receive communion each and every time there was a gathering in the church. Technically, perhaps they were right but I found that at times for it to be disrupting but I kept my opinions to myself because this was a minor issue. Now, if it were taught that not to partake you will lose your salvation, this would then become a major issue and I would have quietly slipped away and sought another church.

In conclusion, minor issues are of no importance and such issues are not a good reason to be divisive or to leave a church. However, it is quite a different matter when it falls into major issues and it is imperative for your spiritual well being to seek a biblical church. Remember, focus on the truth of the simplicity of the gospel and find the church that keeps the focus there. May God bless and guide you as you seek a body of believers who worship the Father in spirit and in truth.



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