An earnest young Christian moves to a small town with two churches.
Church A is staunchly committed to New Testament principles of eldership, the Lord's supper, the priesthood of all believers, and related truths. But sadly, a few visits reveal a lack of spiritual fervor in the assembly. Evangelistic zeal seems non-existent. The prayer meeting lacks power and unction. Dryness and complacency hang like a pall over the meetings on the Lord's day.
Church B, by contrast, is a hotbed of spiritual activity, filled with warm-hearted, growing Christians. Souls are being saved, sound doctrine is taught, the atmosphere is encouraging, and the fellowship sweet. These brethren, however, either do not see or do not attach much importance to certain aspects of the New Testament pattern for the church.
For most modern-day church shoppers, the choice would be obvious. But before this young brother too readily bypasses Church A for Church B, there are several questions he should consider soberly and prayerfully.
Question 1: Is my initial impression of the two churches perhaps a bit simplistic?
The Church A's out there are rarely as dismal as they appear at first glance, and the Church B's rarely as splendid. Church A may indeed have vexing problems, but a closer look will likely reveal a small core, at least, of fervent, exercised believers. Church B, while doing a fine work for God, no doubt has its share of problems as well. It is a fact (though not necessarily true of Church B) that a smoothly orchestrated church program can create the illusion of more spiritual actually exists when the bells and whistles are stripped away.
Question 2: Does my own life exhibit the same weaknesses I find so distressing in Church A?
In other words, could it be that Church A's main problem is that it is made up of Christians a lot like me? Are these brothers and sisters in need of the reviving, refreshing influences of the Holy Spirit? So am 1. Do they often struggle in their prayer lives, lose battles to sin in the flesh, lack fervency in their love for Christ? So do 1. Are they capable of being petty and selfish? So am I.
Why then should I reject a group of Christians for faults I need look no further than my own life to see?
Question 3: Will my fellowship at either of these churches cause me to participate in anything that dishonors Christ?
In choosing a place to fellowship, all other factors, children's ministry, youth group, music ministry, quality of Bible teaching, number of young families, etc., must take a back seat to this supreme criterion: the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now if my initial description of Church A and Church B is anywhere close to accurate, certain aspects of both churches bring dishonor to Christ. Church A may chide Church B for its lack of conformity to New Testament principles, but our Lord is dishonored also, and perhaps more so, by the spiritual apathy and coldness of Church A.
But the question is, will my fellowship at either place require my participation in that which dishonors Christ?
If indeed Church A is marked by spiritual lethargy and lack of evangelistic fervor, this assuredly dishonors Christ. But does my fellowship there force me to participate in this lethargy and coldness? Might I not instead set a winsome example of hot-heartedness in the midst of it?
On the other hand, supposing Church B holds to an unscriptural distinction between clergy and laity, it is hard to see how I can fellowship regularly there without either supporting this system or causing division in the church. Or if Church B neglects the Lord's supper, reducing it to an infrequent, perfunctory ritual, how am I to fellowship there without personally sharing in this neglect? This is worth some serious thought.
Question 4: At which church is my presence likely to have the most influence for good?
If Church B is a typical pastor-led church, my influence as a layman is going to be sharply limited. The state of affairs in the church, for good or bad, is going to be largely a function of the personality, spirituality, and giftedness of the pastor. (Thank God for many godly, gifted pastors.)
But if Church A, for all its weaknesses, is serious about following the New Testament pattern of church leadership and ministry, then each individual member of the body can have a marked impact on its spiritual condition.
Is the prayer meeting cold and lifeless? Nothing stops any brother from lighting a fire under the gathering with his own bold petitions. Is the remembrance meeting dull? Nothing stops him from piercing the dullness with radiant, Christ-filled worship. Nothing stops him from energizing the Bible studies with thoughtful, enthusiastic comments or igniting the assembly's evangelistic outreach with his own courageous testimony.
Sisters, too, through believing intercession, fragrant silent worship, humble service to the saints, and faithful witness, may be similarly used by God to raise the spiritual temperature of the assembly.
Question 5: Is it possible that the deep need in Church A is the very reason God has brought me to this place?
In all likelihood at least some of the brethren in Church A are sorrowfully aware of their condition.
Perhaps many earnest entreaties have ascended from this struggling assembly that God might send those who would be a blessing and encouragement to the work.
I cannot discount the possibility that I am part of God's answer to those prayers. What a blessing I, and they, might miss if I shun these brethren in a futile, self-centered search for the perfect church.
Yes, our young friend has some important questions to ponder.
But now let me add a final question: Why should the Lord's people ever have to make such a choice? Why should they be forced to weigh their allegiance to New Testament assembly principles against their desire for a warm, vibrant, evangelistic church? Why should they not find both in one place?
Thank God, in some places they can. And indeed it is the task of each local assembly to see that no one in its community ever has to choose between Church A and Church B.