Bill Brown’s predicament—expressed in the question page of the Jan-Feb 1974 issue of “Focus”—as he looked for a new spiritual home, has raised the question, faced by many, not necessarily in identical circumstances, “Which church should I join?” While it is not strictly scriptural to speak in terms of “joining a church,” we retain the expression because it is commonly used and well understood. Faced with a bewildering variety of “churches,” how is a Christian to decide which one to choose as a spiritual home? Among the many factors that influence this choice are: the nearness of the church, the social standing of the congregation, the warmth and friendliness of the welcome, the rhetoric of the preacher, and even the fact of having been saved there. However important each of these may seem, they should certainly not be of prime importance in determining my church affiliation as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, He is my Lord and I am responsible to obey Him, rather than act according to my personal whims and fancies. As Builder and Head of the Church, He has given directions to His people—these directions are contained in His Word. Here, surely, is my sure guide, and I should place scriptural instruction above all considerations of personal convenience or enjoyment.
What then does the Bible teach? Here are a few important principles to which priority should be given in selecting “the right church”:
1. Every member of a New Testament church is a born again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. This evidently characterized the churches described in the Acts; and such passages as 1 Corinthians 1:2; 14:33 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 indicate the early churches were composed of “saints,” who acknowledged Jesus Christ as Lord, and excluded unbelievers.
2. A scriptural church upholds “the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15) and rejects evil (cf. 2 John 9,10). It will hold, teach and practise all the teaching of the Word of God, and, conversely will reject unscriptural teaching and practices. A believer will not seek communion where the Bible is not recognized as the inspired Word of God and where the deity and humanity, virgin birth and sinless life, substitutionary death and bodily resurrection, and the personal return of his Lord are called in question.
3. A scriptural church will not recognize any human “head,” but the Lord Jesus Christ will be acknowledged as Lord (1 Corinthians 1:9; 12:3, 5) and Head (Ephesians 1:22; 3:15, etc.). No man, however godly, gifted or influential, can usurp His place. Each church is responsible to the One who walks in the midst of the churches (see Revelation 2:1)—not to other persons or churches.
4. Since the Scriptures teach (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10) that every member has a “gift” distributed by the Spirit of God in His sovereign wisdom, a New Testament church will provide opportunities for the development and functioning of all the gifts for the mutual profit of all the members—not one person doing everything, but everyone doing his divinely given service.
5. The priesthood of every believer, as taught in 1 Peter 2:5,9, should be recognized in practice as well as in theory—by providing opportunity for holy priestly service of offering up to God “spiritual sacrifices”—of praise (Hebrews 13:15), possessions (Hebrews 13:16; Philippians 4:18) and persons (Romans 12:1); and for royal priestly service of showing forth to men, by life and lip, the excellencies and virtues of our glorious Lord.
6. Administration in the church is by elders and deacons—both of them always in the plural in the New Testament. Elders—also called bishops and overseers—are appointed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28) and recognized by the church (1 Thessalonians 5:12) to oversee and to shepherd the flock. Deacons are appointed by the church for specific service and, like elders, should be of high spiritual calibre (1 Timothy 3).
7. The ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s supper, both for believers only, have been commanded by the Lord and should be carried out in accordance with His instructions given in the Bible.
If I want to be in the spiritual home where the Lord would have me, I will look for these characteristics and seek fellowship with those who are endeavouring to obey the Lord. I shall not expect to discover a perfect church since each church is composed of imperfect human beings. If I did find one that was perfect, I would hesitate to join it for I would immediately mar its perfection, since I am far from perfect! One last point: since “it is more blessed to give than to receive,” I should be more concerned with what I give to the church than with what I get from it, and, by fulfilling my responsibilities to the Lord and His people, I shall be “more blessed.”