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How to Choose a Church

January 01, 1999
How to Choose a Church

by Doug Batchelor and Karen Lifshey

An Amazing Fact: In 1967 the city of Long Beach, Calif., bought the Queen Mary from Cunard Lines. Since then $63 million has been spent on its conversion into a tourist spot with a museum, shops, restaurants, and a hotel. Now many in the city of Long Beach look upon the giant ship, docked on the ocean front, as a floating white elephant, and voices are calling for the doughty old liner to be scrapped. With no possibility of sailing the seas, they claim the Queen Mary serves as false advertising; a ship filled with activity that never leaves port.

How to Choose a Church?
"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Hebrews 10:24, 25).

You can be a Christian without joining a church: if you can be a bee without a hive, if you can be a soldier without an army, if you can be a salesman without customers, if you can be a politician who is a hermit, if you can be a football player without a team.

A man who was raised in Russia came to the United States in hopes of becoming a citizen. In his desire to blend in and be a good American, he tried to conform to as many customs as possible.

"What do Americans eat for breakfast?" he asked a friend one day.

"Well, most people eat cereal," the friend responded.

So, the Russian immigrant headed for the nearest supermarket and asked the clerk where he could find the cereal. The clerk directed him to an aisle longer than an airport terminal and said, "Take your pick!"

Endless stacks of cereal of all descriptions and colors lined both sides of the aisle. Hot cereal, cold cereal, big boxes, little boxes, children's cereal with cartoon characters on the front or athletes advertising prizes inside. Some cereal was almost pure sugar, some had no sugar. There was instant cereal, multigrain, and fiber flakes.

For over an hour the man wandered aimlessly up and down the aisle not knowing how to choose a box of cereal or where to begin. He was completely dazed by the vast selection of just cereal!

You see, companies like Kellogg's and Post make dozens of different kinds of breakfast cereals that appeal to as broad a spectrum of society as possible. In that way they hope to capture a larger share of the consumer market.

Likewise, the devil has created many different religions and many different churches to capture a larger part of the world worship market. Some people think the devil is against religion. Wrong! He is all for it, as long as it is counterfeit. He has tried to trap man by introducing false systems of worship telling him it doesn't matter how a person worships, just as long as he is religious. By having a kaleidoscope of confusing counterfeit churches, Satan is hoping to camouflage the true church. It's like hiding a diamond in a pile of broken glass.

More Than a Good Name
"I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Revelation 3:1).

A visitor in a strange city was returning from supper when a sign in a store front window caught his eye. It read "Chinese Laundry." He made a mental note of the location because he had been gone long enough to have need of a good laundry. The next morning he arrived at the store with a bag full of soiled clothes. He piled the clothes on the counter before a shocked attendant.

"What's this?" the attendant asked.

"My laundry," came the reply. "I've always heard that Chinese laundries do excellent work." The baffled clerk quickly informed the visitor that the establishment was not a Chinese laundry.

"But what about the sign in the window?" asked the bewildered visitor.

"Oh, this is not a laundry, it is a sign shop" the attendant replied.

Some people struggle with disillusionment because they chose a church based on a good name on the building. But that is like picking a good breakfast cereal by virtue of a pretty picture on the box. Lets face it, some churches have great names: "Church of God," "Latter Day Saints," "Church of Christ," "Assembly of God," etc., but once inside you might find bingo, bazaars, and potluck social gatherings instead of a soul-cleansing program. The church sometimes sends out false signals about its purpose. Needy people bring in their dirty laundry only to discover that the cross of forgiveness is nothing more than a sign in the window and that the attendants are not equipped to handle soiled lives.

The Truth Is What Matters
From the time of the Garden of Eden, Satan has known that mankind was created with the inherent desire to worship, and many have accepted his counterfit forms. Cain fell for Satan's trap. He made an offering according to his own creation and then killed his brother, Abel. The men who crucified Jesus were extremely religious. The Bible tells us that even those who receive the mark of the beast in the last days will be worshipping.

Satan is not against religion. That's why he even invited Jesus to worship him, but he is furiously opposed to the truth of Christ's religion which exposes his devices and the people who do God's will.

The devil heard Jesus say, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). That is why he is working frantically to cloak the truth and confuse people as to how they should search for the true church.

I took an unofficial personal survey as to the most popular reasons why and how people join a church, and here are some of the common answers I received:

It's the church of my parents.

It's close to our home.

The people are friendly and loving.

The music is beautiful.

The preacher is handsome or dynamic.

They have a good children's program.

The building architecture is impressive.

The important or influential people attend this church.

The services are exciting.

The church needs me.

Now catch this. Though each of these elements might be good in and of itself, none-not one of them-is the right reason to join a church. That means that the majority of people in the this country join churches for the wrong reason.

There is only one right reason to join a church, and that is because the foundation teachings of the church or denomination are the teachings of the Bible and of Jesus, and you are committed to following truth.

In light of this, you would be amazed how few people can tell you about the specific teachings of their church. Even regarding basic doctrines about God, the law, baptism, salvation, death, the second coming, heaven, and hell, most Christians have only a superficial knowledge of their church's positions on these foundational truths.

Sadly, most people shop for a church the way children choose breakfast cereal. They like the picture on the box or they want the prize inside while missing the most important criteria-reading the ingredients.

The first and most important test question to ask of any church is, "What are their beliefs?"

Are the teachings of this church consistent with the teachings of Jesus? If the doctrines of that denomination are the teachings of Christ and the Bible, then that is God's church, and you should become a member and hang in there even if: the people are cantankerous and crabby, the singing sounds like feeding time at the zoo, the church building is a renovated hamburger stand, the pastor's sermons are so boring that the bats leave the belfry at 11 o'clock every Sabbath morning, the members are so divided that there is a fluorescent line painted down the middle of the sanctuary, the people come to church driving army tanks.

The Object of Satan's Rage
"And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:17, NKJV).

Have you ever wondered if God's true church really exists? Suppose that God does have a special church somewhere that holds the truth in it's foundational teachings. Would it look like the "perfect" church? Would all the members wear halos and pious smiles? Would the building have a Christmas star hovering overhead each night and angelic music emanating from each window?

On the contrary, it would be the supreme object of Satan's rage and attract his concentrated attention. The devil would try to introduce as many problems and conflicts into the church as possible to discourage the members and newcomers. He would probably inspire the world to accuse them of being a cult in the same way people living in Jesus' day said He had a devil (John 7:20). He would try to entice them to jump ship, to throw in the towel or to stop fighting the fight of faith.

Remember that when Jesus was on earth His disciples represented the true church, yet they were fighting for the highest position, stealing funds, and denying Him under pressure. Yet they were the true church at that time because they had Jesus, the truth in their midst! You have heard it said, "A church is not a hotel for saints, it's a hospital for sinners." And sometimes even the hospital staff gets sick. (I guess that's what you call a staff infection.)

"During ages of spiritual darkness the church of God has been as a city set on a hill. From age to age, through successive generations, the pure doctrines of heaven have been unfolding within its borders. Enfeebled and defective as it may appear, the church is the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard" (Acts of the Apostles, 12).

When because of their lack of faith, murmuring, complaining, and lusting after Egypt, the children of Israel had to leave the borders of the Promised Land and were forced to return and wander in the wilderness, they did not go alone! Faithful ones like Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb did not break off by themselves, but stayed with their weaker, faithless brethren. Not only did Moses stay with them, God stayed with them, too! In spite of their frequent failures, the children of Israel were Gods' church. Why? "Because that unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2).

They were the true church because they were His people of prophecy and had the truth of His word. "This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sinai, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us" (Acts 7:38).

Should I Ever Leave a Church?
Two teenage brothers, Bo and Joe, decided to take advantage of the warm weather one Sunday afternoon and drove down to the ocean pier to go swimming.

"I can't wait to dive in," said Bo.

"Me either," answered Joe as they parked the car.

They changed into their swim trunks and headed toward the pier. It stood high above a rocky shoreline and led out into the water where the waves crashed on the pilings below.

"Last one in is a rotten egg," yelled Bo, as he ran down the pier and dove off the end.

"Hey, wait for me," Joe answered, running to the end of the pier and stopping.

Being a little more cautious than his brother, Joe paused to look over the end of the pier before diving off. There, to his horror, was the body of his brother, floating in the shallow surf, his neck broken by the rocks that hid just below the surface of the water. A young teenager lost his life by diving at low tide when the waves were out. He didn't know when to jump.

You may think Bo was less than brilliant for not stopping to look before he dove, but, like Bo, many today are diving out of the church like lemmings running blindly off a cliff into the sea. They never stop to look before they leap; to think about whether or not there are rocks below. They just see a problem in the church and follow those who say, "last one out is a rotten egg."

It is easy to get discouraged when you consider all the potential problems one may encounter in a church. There are so many voices out there constantly reminding us of all the hypocrisy and failures. Some independent ministries are ever providing tabloid information, regurgitating present and past scandals, the squandering of money, lack of the Holy Spirit, the famine of real Bible preaching, etc., as reasons to leave the church.

Some ask, "Can't I be part of God's church without being part of a denomination or the organization? Must I endure pathetic preaching and spiritless fellowship from one week to the next? Is there a time to leave the church?"

Yes, there is a time to leave the church! And the criteria and principles for leaving a church are the same as those for joining.

When the official church doctrines are no longer the teachings of Christ, when you are no longer allowed to teach and practice the truth within its fellowship, then obviously you have no choice but to go somewhere else.

Now, I realize that church membership is not an elevator to heaven, and that many-maybe even most-of those whose names are on a church membership roll here on earth may not be citizens of God's kingdom in heaven. At the same time, Satan knows that "united we stand, but divided we fall," so he is working with a frenzy to divide God's people and scatter the army until our power evaporates. If you really love Jesus and are committed to truth, you will want to be a part of His body, and He wants you to join His family, faulty though it may be.

Focusing on some of the challenges that threaten our churches can leave a person with the idea that church membership must be a negative experience. But in reality God has designed His church as a very positive and loving environment. But this article is to remind us that even if it is not, we will remain committed to God's movement.

This is why it is so important that we glue our hands to the plow, squeeze until our knuckles are white, and never look back or let go (Luke 9:62)!

"Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me" (Ruth 1:16, 17, NKJV).

 

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