Monday, 17 May 2010

Looking for a Church? Some Things to Consider

It is surprising that when some people move house that they do not look for the right church before moving in to a particular area. They often just assume that there will be the right church at the end of their new road all ready to service their every spiritual need. Maybe this is a little sarcastic but many a family have ended up in a spiritually barren place through failing to adequately research this question before buying a house. So, what do we look for in a new church?

If I were to ask people to make a list of what they desire of their new church it would be interesting to think what would be on the list. What would be on your list? Maybe a friendly environment, lively worship, a good youth programme, a church in your community so that you can reach out to people or perhaps a pastor who is a good communicator. While these may have their place, they are not primary. Overall in England today we face real confusion over a single question: What is a church? A church is not a social club that meets my needs, but it is firstly a place to worship the one, true and living God. The reformers in the 16th Century in battling with the false worship of the Roman Catholic Church had to contend that there are three things that mark out a true church and these are:

1. The preaching of pure doctrine which is heard, loved and acted upon by the congregation
2. The right administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper
3. Church order and discipline (moral and doctrinal)

Maybe some think that this is a little heavy but if we are concerned for the spiritual condition of our nation we should also be concerned for the spiritual condition of ourselves and the church we worship at. Listen to Acts 2:42:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Notice the divine order; they devoted themselves first to the apostles’ teaching (this is pure doctrine) which is the first mark of the church and this precedes a friendly atmosphere. We need apostolic doctrine; and this may mean that we cannot find a church at the end of our road and we have to travel. Additionally we need to pray for the Lord to raise up many new churches in the UK which will faithfully pursue and display these marks of the church. For this to happen we will need to see a host of new godly pastors to emerge which is exactly what the Lord Jesus told us to pray for:

Matthew 9:36–8 Seeing the people, He [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He *said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest."

Let us pray for and support churches that display these three marks of a true church because this is where the sheep should be best cared for, under the hand of godly under-shepherds. Maybe next time you are looking for a new church, think through again the kinds of questions you need to ask of a future church that you would consider joining.


Daniel said...

Hey Kev,

Good work here and our prayers are with you for the work in Sheffield.

I dare say that finding a good church can be a tough job, let alone finding a house near one. :)

I think mark 3 would be hardest to discern before moving house.

3 Marks is from Westminster, right? Have you read ?

Kevin Bidwell said...

the first two marks of the church were agreed by Calvin, Luther and all the Reformers. Calvin contends for a third mark, that of Church discipline which particularly comes out in his letter to Cardinal Sadolet (see Calvin's Tracts). The churches that flowed from Geneva saw this third mark as essential to upholding the other two. So, it is not entirely accurate to state that this was an idea of the Westminster divines.

Mark Dever's 9 Marks deals more with what makes a church healthy, rather than what makes a church true.

Is mark 3 thee hardest to discern before moving house? Could somebody ask an elder of a supposed church that Reformed churches have always upheld these three marks, where does this church stand on the matter? This would at least get discussion moving in the right direction.
Any further thoughts? Does that help?