Growing up in a pastor’s home and going to school on both coasts I’ve seen my share of churches and church shoppers. I’ve belonged to churches ranging from 8,000 members to 26. I’ve been in churches that will change your oil while you worship and churches that are as blustery and cold as, well, the blizzard of 2010. I’ve known churches that don’t allow their speakers to wear ties and others that hand out head coverings to visiting women. Bottom line, if you have a spiritual sweet tooth America is your candy store.
Now, I don’t know about you but I could care less about smells, bells, jazzy choirs and slap-happy door greeters. I want the truth. I want what’s real. Someday you’re going to be lying on a hospital bed with beeping monitors and whispering doctors. You won’t care about the wall-paper at that point. You’ll want a doctor who will level with you. You’ll want honesty. If we want that for our body how much more important is the soul?
When the cold fog of death chills your bones esthetics, funny preachers and programs won’t mean much then. What will mean EVERYTHING is knowing what God really thinks about you. And that only comes from God’s Word.
When I look in Scripture I see several defining qualities of a true church. Here are three of the more neglected qualities. Without these qualities a church is like a barking parrot—only imitating what it can never be.
1.A true church engages in biblical edification. Edify means you’re built up by the Word of God. Some people think that simply by feeling good as they worship they are being edified. But the crowd jumping and shouting “Hosanna!” when Jesus entered Jerusalem felt pretty good too. Four day later they were shouting “crucify him!” Feeling good is not necessarily edification.
Edification means “to build up.” Spiritually that means the church comes alongside you in such a way that they help you overcome sin (which means they have to be willing to confront sin), they show you how to study God’s Word for personal growth, etc (Eph. 4:15-16; I Tim. 4:11; Gal. 6:1). Biblical edification requires discipleship, teaching, accountability, conviction, etc. This is what the early church was all about. A church that wants to build God’s truth into your daily life is a church worth attending!
2.A true church upholds and defends sound doctrine. I could bail out the recession if I made a dollar every time someone told me doctrine doesn’t matter. I just assume they’re a “follower” who never really explored the Bible for themselves. Even a semi-honest review of Scripture reveals that sound doctrine was essential (Gal. 1:8. 9; I Tim. 6:3-5, Titus 1:9). Sound doctrine is the difference between knowing the true God and imagining a fairytale god. Heaven and Hell totter on the blade of sound doctrine. Jesus and the apostles were constantly preoccupied with systematically teaching dogmatic truth—God’s view of sin, man, heaven, hell, etc.
The true church joyfully delights in the goodness and grace of God yet cannot help but defend the Scriptures from attack. John Calvin, that great Swiss Reformer proclaimed, “A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” Many churches view any dogmatic belief as unbiblical. How backwards we’ve become. A church that won’t stand against anything stands for nothing.
3.A true church proclaims the true Gospel. This is the heartbeat of Christian existence. Jesus Himself said that God is the creator of Hell and is the one who puts people there (Matt. 10:28; 25:4). If one doesn’t believe the clear, biblical teaching that God eternally blesses as well as eternally judges then one shouldn’t call themselves a Christian. A Christian is a “little Christ” and Christ spoke of Hell more than anyone in the Bible. As a child of God my heart breaks for those who refuse to accept the payment Christ provided on the cross. Jesus was crushed under God’s wrath so that we might be saved from the just penalty of sin (Is. 52:10). That is the Gospel—the good news that we can be saved from judgment!
If hell is real what kind of charlatan preacher is he who cannot bear to mention the word behind the pulpit? He must not believe God’s Word or he would plead with men to be saved. Certainly one cannot consider a congregation who tolerates such harmful avoidance of truth to be a true church.
If I played chess but incorporated my own rules at random it would not be chess. If a gathering of people play church but smother the truth with political correctness, entertainment and relative morality they are not a church.
So when you go church shopping how about asking the question, “How does this church measure up to these four, biblical qualities?” They’re not my ideas. They’re straight from God’s Book. When you can satisfactorily answer that question you’ve probably found your way to a church that actually has the guts to practice what God preaches. For more info on this worthy topic check out the ministry of www.9marks.org