Over the years growing up as an Evangelical, I have heard the same line being given essentially every time someone accepts Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour: Now that you have received Jesus, you can continue to grow in your faith by reading the Bible, praying, and attending a Bible-Believing Church. Sound advice; there’s only one problem. With so many different churches out there, each one saying that they keep Christ at the center of who they are, how can you actually determine which church you should go to? Should you just go to the first church that you see when you are walking down the road, or is there a deeper process than that? At the same time, how do you know when a church really suits you and you should stay rather than simply continuing to church shop (which can get out of hand)?
Well, I am no church expert, but as a budding theologian and ministry practitioner and as someone who has spent considerable time in various denominations (both as a worshipper and as a staff member), I can offer some suggestions for how you can know if a Church is truly Bible-Believing or not.
- A Bible-Believing Church Should Discourage Proof-Texting
Bible-Believing Churches can come in both the liberal and the conservative varieties. It is very important to remember that the title “Bible-Believing” does not simply refer to fundamentalism, but rather to a desire to uphold Christian values. At the center of a Bible believing church should be Jesus Christ’s personhood and example as well as His injunction to live in ways that promote service, peace, and hope. Therefore, such a church has no place for proof-texting or the erroneous usage of passages for one’s personal gain. The church is not a place to argue on faulty pretexts or to make a theological case based on an isolated verse (or two) in Scripture. Rather, a Bible-Believing Church carefully explores the historical and social culture of the Biblical day, making every effort to remain true to what Christ said based on the resources He had available to Him at that time.
- A Bible-Believing Church Should Never Go Contrary to Scripture
Pastors who preach from the Word of God, must stay in line with what Scripture actually says. While it can be helpful to use outside books and resources for story illustrations or even to enhance a sermon, the main thrust should be on what the Bible actually says and how that can be lived out in our daily lives. When someone makes false claims about the Bible or says something that another part of the Bible rejects it is time to take note. Of course, sometimes the New Testament contradicts the Old, in which case it is important to understand Jesus’s rationale rather than to be burdened by the Law, but I am going further than this. A great example of such a contradiction would be the “get-rich-quick” schemes of many of our Mega Churches today. While the core of historical prosperity Gospel is quite different than what people propose today (keeping in mind that we are asking God for our daily bread), churches that promise a pain-free life or suggest that any form of suffering is not in line with God’s Will can be cultish. Here’s why: Jesus never promised an easy life to His followers. He actually promised the opposite. He said those who truly rely and depend on God would face trials and persecution, they would need to be willing to give up everything (including wealth and worldly possessions) and they would need to take up their Cross daily. Therefore, churches which promise immediate healing in all circumstances, popularity, or shame the marginalized are churches to be avoided.
- Biblical Churches Should Be Open to Testing
The Apostle Paul told his flock that they should not blindly accept all that he said, but rather should test it out for themselves to see if it was truly in line with the Scriptures (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+5%3A21&version=NASB). A good pastor is one who studies, regularly spends time in prayer and Scripture reading, and also relies on older mentors in the faith to guide him or her. A pastor should not be caught off guard by a congregant who wants to ask him a question nor should she become defensive when a congregant disagrees with her. If something in the message makes your ears perk up and just doesn’t sound quite right, it is time to stop and re-evaluate what went wrong and why.
- Does the Church Live the Gospel Out?
It is easy for churches to say that they are passionately on fire for Christ, it is quite another to actually see this take place. The Apostle James writes that, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=NASB). James later went on to say that faith without works is dead and useless (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+2%3A14-26&version=NASB). Even Jesus Himself said that whatever we do to the least of these, we have done unto Him (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+25:31-46).
Take a look at your church. Are they living into these words or ignoring them? What programs and policies do you have in place to help those who are in desperate need? How do you treat people who come into your doors who identify as having a mental illness or a disability? Are they an openly welcoming environment to all people regardless of race, culture, or socio-economic background or only of a privileged few? Does the church have both a local and global reach or are they segregated to only themselves?
I would even extend this further to ask how they are treating their staff. Pastors and lay leadership alike should be treated fairly and in a way that honours their unique gifts and abilities. Church interns should be mentored and included in decision making processes. If this is not happening, I would have serious reservations.
- As Much As You Can Tell: Does The Pastor Have Integrity?
While we can never fully answer this question, we can still do our part to answer it to the best of our knowledge. Does the pastor preach one thing and then live another? Do they suggest a life of peace-making, while having a violent temperament? Have they ever been involved with a scandal, and if so, have they received proper healing for it? Are there any sins you are openly aware of that they refuse to surrender to Christ? Are there any reasons they should not continue in the ministry?
While you will never be able to find the “perfect church,” by being aware of how Biblically solid they are, you will be able to make a good choice of whether to continue going there or not. Being Bible-Believing goes further than simply denominational or fundamental levels, rather it goes to the very heart of what the Gospel is truly about: following Christ’s commands to love those who are poor and marginalized and by doing so, building up the Kingdom of God one brick at a time.