What Do I Look For in a Church?
That tends to be the question that we ask, isn’t it? This question drives the person who is “church shopping,” but it also drives the person who has chosen to remain in a church despite disagreements with the pastor or with the church’s leadership. Many surveys and polls that I have seen suggest that the main reason people stay in a church is because of friendships there. If such is the case, then that indicates what a person is looking for in a church — a place where friendships hold a person fast. The same could be said about family in the church or about having attended the church since childhood (or for generations) and the same could be said about influence — often people look for a church where their voice will be heard…and listened to.
Now, mind you, none of these things are necessarily bad to have in a church that you attend. It is a wonderful thing when children go to church with their parents and grandparents, when people have friendships in a church, or when they feel as if they have a voice in the life of the church. Indeed, these are all good things that makes being part of the church more pleasurable and meaningful. Yet, these are secondary reasons.
What is the primary thing that one ought to look for in a church? It is Biblical fidelity. Here’s the thing folks, if the life and practice of the church is not first and foremost aligned with the Word of God, of what will it avail you? If the life of the church is geared toward pleasing anyone other than God, then it will avail you nothing…in fact, it will lead you into a form of man-centered idolatry. Yes, you may have friends there. But being part of a church of friends will avail you nothing before the judgment seat of Christ. Yes, you may have family there, but family will avail you nothing before Christ’s judgment seat. And indeed, you may have the ear of the church leadership, but that will only mean you will be doubly accountable before Christ on judgment day.
Biblical fidelity is everything in the life of a church. It must do what is commanded by the Scriptures, it must believe what the Scriptures teach, it must love what God shows us he loves in the Scriptures, and it must hate that which God hates as is related in the Scriptures. And where there is disagreement and uncertainty as to how to apply a passage of Scripture to a new situation or setting, it must look back to the Creeds and Confessions of the church to understand how Biblically faithful people have understood and practiced the principles through the ages.
Seeking a Biblically faithful church may force you to leave behind friends. But you can still remain friendly outside of church. Seeking a Biblically faithful church may cause you to leave behind family, but family will remain family outside of church. Seeking a Biblically faithful church may mean that the leadership does not give you the ear that you are used to, but if they are being Biblically faithful, that suggests that the ideas you are trying to bring to the table ought not be brought. And so it places us in the position that we need to conform to the faithful practice of the Scriptures, not try and draw a Biblically faithful church away from their Scriptural moorings. In reality, leaving behind a church of family and friends for a Biblically faithful church costs you nothing — maybe it will cost a little bit of pride — but it will cost you nothing in the eternal sense and gain you everything.
Does that mean you can’t go to heaven unless you attend a Biblically faithful church? Not really. I expect that many will be in glory in spite of the errors and man-centered ways that their churches have embraced. In fact, I relish the notion that such will be the case as none of us get things completely right. But the question shouldn’t be, “will I go to heaven if I stay in this church?” The question should be, “will my spiritual life thrive in this church?” And, if you are not in a Biblically faithful church, your spiritual life will not thrive as it could. And isn’t a thriving spiritual life what we all should most desire as we live out our faith in this world? Something to think about…