G.K. Chesterton said it best, When men stop believing in God, the danger is not that they will believe nothing. The danger is that they will believe anything. We have a nation that believes in God, but what they believe is rather frightening. They have lost their theological anchor and proper perspective of God. As a result, they are choosing churches or remaining in churches that bear little resemblance the church that the founder established (Calvin, Wesley, etc.) let alone the church spelled out in the New Testament.
Since there is a considerable difference between various churches, all cannot be right. The only way one can determine definitely whether or not a particular church is right is to test it by the Bible, the Word of God, and the principles it sets forth. Here are some questions based on the teachings of the Bible by which any sincere person might examine the church in which he is interested. If he wants to be true to God, he will have nothing to do with a church which does not pass the test (1 Thes. 5:21).
Is the preaching based upon the Bible and entirely centered in it? (Isaiah 8:20, 2 John 10-11). Is the Bible recognized and relied upon as the authoritative and inerrant Word of God? (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Are questions answered by a searching of the Scriptures? (Acts 17:11). Is the Lord Jesus Christ the central theme of all the preaching? (as opposed to Mary, practical lessons, pop-psychology, etc.) (Acts 4:12). Is He set forth as the One who suffered, shed His blood, and died for our sins? (Romans 3:25, 1 Cor. 15:1-3, 2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24). Is His bodily resurrection clearly set forth? (Luke 24, Acts 2:31-32, Romans 4:25, 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Is He presented as the ever-living Saviour who is able to save to the uttermost? (Heb. 7:25). Is His visible, imminent return declared? (Acts 1:11, Phil. 3:20, 1 Thes. 1:10, 1 Thes. 4:16, 2 Tim. 4:8, Heb. 9:28).
Is warning given concerning the wrath of God, impending judgment and the pains of hell? Do they believe in a literal hell? (John 3:36, Eph. 5:6, Heb. 9:27, Luke 16:19-31, Rev. 20:11-15).
Salvation and Christian Living
Is the way of salvation made clear? Is salvation given the same emphasis that it is in the New Testament? (Lu. 19:10, 1 Tim 1:15, Mt. 9:36-38, John 3:17, Acts 4:12, Romans 1:16, Romans 10:1, Heb. 2:3). Is salvation by faith alone, without the necessity of works, baptism or holy living? (Eph. 2:8-9) Are people being saved through the ministry of your church? Were you saved through its ministry? Is emphasis placed upon the importance of personally trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour? (John 1:12). Is a clear distinction made between the saved and the lost? (Mt. 7:13, 1 Cor. 1:18, 2 Cor. 4:3-4, Lu. 19:10). Is assurance of salvation taught, and do those who profess to be Christians have this assurance? (Ro. 8:16, 2 Cor. 13:5, 1 John 5:13, 2 Cor. 5:8).
Is the necessity for repentance and turning from sin repeatedly set forth? (Acts 17:30, Rev. 3:19). Is there continuing emphasis on the importance of holy living for God's people? (2 Cor. 7:1, 1 Pe. 1:15-16, 2 Pe. 3:11). Is the secret of freedom from the power of sin set forth? (Ro. 6:1-13, Gal. 5:1)
Bible Study and Prayer
Does the ministry of your church feed you with the Word of God? (Mt. 4:4, 1 Pe. 2:2). Are you inspired to search the Scriptures? Is adequate opportunity given for a systematic study of the Bible? Are you taught how to study the Bible for yourself? (Joshua 1:8, Jeremiah 15:16, 2 Tim. 3:15, 1 Pe. 2:2) Are there regular gatherings for united prayer with free participation by all? (Acts 4:24, Acts 12:12, Acts 21:5, 1 Thes. 5:17). Do the assemblings of the church afford opportunities for spiritual worship and for fellowship in the things of the Lord? Are people encouraged to personally study the Bible and not just to rely upon the preaching for their spiritual nourishment and insight? (Acts 17:11, John 5:39) Are people being personally discipled one-on-one in ways that cause them to become mature contributing (ministry and monetarily) members of the local body of believers? Are they being mentored in the way of God as much as the word of God? (Acts 18:26; 2 Tim. 2:2)
Do the pastor, church officers, and Sunday school teachers live godly lives which are free from questionable habits and practices? (Acts 6:3, 1 Tim. 3:1-13). Can the pastor be depended upon to give real help to those in spiritual difficulty, leading them to grace, deliverance, and blessing in the Lord Jesus Christ? Under his ministry do people either turn from sinful ways or else reject his preaching? (Jer. 23:21-22). In continuing the association with your church, is it necessary for you to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (the unconverted), thus disobeying God's clear command to the contrary? (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). Are those who make up the church for the most part living for the Lord? Can you discuss spiritual things with them? Do they have a clear testimony by word of mouth for the Lord Jesus Christ? (Ro. 10:9-10, Mt. 10:32-33). Do they have a burden and concern that other people come to know the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved? (Jo. 6:29, Mt. 28:19-20, Mk. 16:15-16, Acts 1:7-8). Can you rely on them to be praying for you when you are in need? (Gal. 6:2, Eph. 6:18). Are the laypeople equipped and expected to lead the ministries of the church? (Eph. 4:11-16)
Local Church Autonomy
Is your local church congregation recognized as the highest level of authority for all church matters, decisions and policy? (Col. 1:18, Eph. 1:22-23, Mt. 18:15-17). Is there a hierarchy above your church which can set church conduct and doctrine, which is forbidden by Scripture? Does your local church body select their own church pastor and leadership or it is appointed for you by some higher governing authority? (Rev. 2:6, Mark 7:6-9)
Does your church pass the test? Be honest with yourself and be honest with God. "We ought to obey God rather than men."(Acts 5:29). If your church does not pass the test and you intend to remain in it, how do you plan to give account to God for your disobedience to His Word? (Roman 14:12, 2 Cor. 6:17).
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