Does Church Choice Matter?

First Timothy 3:14-15 read this way: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” What is the Church? It is the household of God, the church of the living God, and it is a pillar and buttress of the truth. Yet, today, there is a great deal of confusion about the nature and character of God’s truth and about the Church–and that among professing Christians.

Why Do We Attend Church?

For some, attending church is about making social contacts and seeing friends. For others, it is about getting needs met–real or perceived. For still others, it is about entertainment, music, and/or programs. Thankfully, for many attending church is about worshiping the true and living God. They attend for no other reason than to worship the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Many conservative theologians and pastors have written extensively about the maladies in the contemporary church, among them David Wells, whose analyses of the church are spot on and well worth your time and attention. Carl Trueman has many insightful, provocative, and humorous things to say about modern culture and the contemporary church. I highly recommend what those two men write for your spiritual edification. The late R.C. Sproul labored all his days to get people to understand, comprehend, and appropriate what Scripture teaches on a wide variety of subjects, and about the church of the Lord Jesus. For our purposes in this blog, however, I want to cite a comment by Gene Veith in this book Postmodern Times. He writes, “Listen to the way people today discuss religion. ‘I really like that church’ they will say. Agreeing with that church or believing in its teaching scarcely enters into it.” (Veith, Postmodern Times, 193. Emphasis added.) How did we get to the point where people act so flippantly towards church and church membership?

In far too many cases, modern day church choice has devolved into little more than personal preference. Sometimes in our modern church culture, a local church is chosen because the children like it and all their friends go there, or because the wife decides where the family will worship, rather than the male head of the household, who makes that decision (in concert with his wife) after a lot of investigation and prayer. Obviously, if there is no male head of the household, the women must make the decision. Barring that situation, the male is the ordained spiritual leader in the Christian home. Unfortunately, far too many male leaders have not trained themselves spiritually to do what God has called them to do. If you are one of those men, take heart, because there are steps you can take and things you can do to prepare yourself well for the task that lies before you.

Striving for Spiritual Excellence at Home and in the Church

If you had to go into physical combat, who would you want to lead you? Would you want someone from Delta Force, the Navy SEALs, or Marine Force Recon, or would you settle for a recruit who has not yet finished basic training? The answer is clear, easy, and obvious. Going into physical combat requires good, experienced leaders. In fact, you want to go with the best of the best. Why, then, do we settle from less than the best of the best when it comes to spiritual leadership in the home and in the church? Why do husbands and fathers not take this spiritual task more seriously? Remember the words of Thomas Manton: The home is the seminary for both church and state. That being the case, we should not be willing to settle for mediocrity, but rather should strive for spiritual excellence for ourselves, for our families, and for the church of our Savior. Sadly, heads of households are frequently more interested in sports, fantasy whatever, man caves, and a thousand and one other distractions. Any or all of those things taken by themselves are not necessarily bad, but when they occupy the lion’s share of a spiritual leaders thoughts and time, they are radically detrimental to him and to those God has entrusted into his care.

In 1567, Guido de Bres prepared a document that has come down to us with the name Belgic Confession. If you have never read the articles 27-29, I highly recommend that you download them from the Internet and that you read, study, and meditate upon what this Reformer has handed down to us. Those articles pertain to the Church of our Lord Jesus, for whom he shed his precious blood. As he walks us through what Scripture says about the Church, he makes the point that every person (of whatsoever state or condition) is duty bound to join and unite themselves to the most biblical congregation they can find where they live. Without question, this exercise will require a great deal of Christian maturity, discernment, thoughtfulness, and prayer. To aid us in our quest, de Bres, along with all the other Reformers, provides us with certain “marks” or “notes” whereby we can begin our search.

He explains, “The marks for which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church.” (Emphases added.) It is safe to say, that these are typically not where people begin their search for a biblical congregation where they live. Yet, de Bres has given three pertinent and indispensable marks or notes whereby we can begin our search for the best local congregation for us and our families.

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3 thoughts on “Does Church Choice Matter?

  1. Hi, you said “find the most biblical church where you live”. We live 45 minutes from a very biblical church that we want to be a part of. The commute is stressful for me and therefore, we’d likely only attend 1-2 of the 3 weekly services. I can’t imagine making the drive back and forth twice on Sundays with small kids. There is a congregation about 15 min away, but the interim pastor (who says he will likely become the pastor) is a little worldly and immature (tweets about alcohol he’s enjoying, for example). The service pales in comparison, but the nearby church does try to be reverential. Both choices are tiny PCA churches. Do we commute and miss services, or stay in town and try to help the only local reformed congregation that sings the psalms? Thanks!

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    1. Dear Shana,
      First, thank you very much for the email. I appreciate you taking the time to explain your situation to me. I have spoken to many about something similar situations and the solutions are not easy. It seems to me that these are your options: 1) attend a very biblical church that you desire to be a part of, or 2) attend a congregation where the pastor is “a little worldly” and immature. Of those two choices, I know which one I would make. But there is more for you. When you say that the commute is “stressful” does that mean bad roads, distance, or both? Is the traffic jammed on Sunday? I do appreciate your inability to attend all of the services at the church that is 45 minutes away. That is a hard fact. If the pastor is mature, ask him if there are any “electronic” ways you might participate or if he would be willing to help with catechetical instruction in some way. If you are catechizing at home, I would recommend that you get my “Westminster Shorter Catechism [Workbook Study].” You can get it from Amazon or from the PCA bookstore online. As we move toward a time when church choice is increasingly important, my option would always be for the more orthodox, mature congregation. Immature pastors tend to produce immature congregations. There is simply too much at stake. I would ask the local pastor over for a family visit and clearly, but kindly, explain what your objections are to his style. He might take them to heart or he might tell you that he is not going to change. While I do not have objections to pastors having a drink, I do not believe they need to broadcast it. It seems too much like flaunting your Christian freedom. Please know that I will keep you in prayer and please let me know what you decided. Again, many thanks for writing! Grace and peace, Ron

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