(The articles in this series were originally written for publication in the local newspaper of the town in which I pastor.)
What do you look for in a church? Most people, I’ve found, are looking for are specific kinds of programs: children’s ministries, support groups, outreach plans, and so on. And none of these things are necessarily problematic.
That said, have you ever considered what God looks for in a church? If indeed God does expect certain things from his churches, it seems to me that his priorities should trump ours. And the church is indeed a great priority of God; Paul speaks of the church as “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
For this reason, churches are not just like other clubs or groups. Most social organizations could, if they wished, simply redefine their purposes, goals, and leadership structure. Of course, radical changes can upset the long-time members, who might be angered if a group departs from its original intent. But even so, such re-direction is entirely within the rights of a group; it owes its allegiance, ultimately, only to itself. If the local stamp collecting club decided, on a whim, to become a chess club, they have done nothing wrong.
Churches are not like this; or, at least, they oughtn’t be. Instead, a church’s charter and direction must be determined by the Bible itself. Think of it this way: if there is anything unique about a church, it is that the church claims to proclaim the will of God. If this isn’t true, the church is truly no different than any other social club; it would merely be a gathering of people who like to talk about God. But if the church is the “pillar and buttress of the truth,” it must confidently declare that truth.
If declaring the truth of God is the mission of the truth, the church must be definitively shaped by the Bible. A church that refuses to submit to the Bible will inevitably take mere human opinion and impose it on others in the name of God. God takes such presumption seriously: “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die” (Deuteronomy 18:20).
So what should you look for in a church? The first priority is that you find a church that is committed to being shaped by what the Bible says. We’ll consider in the coming weeks what that might look like specifically, but a commitment to submit to the Word of God, as a matter of principle, is non-negotiable in a sound church.