Choosing a church

  • Question 174, from Anna, via Facebook

    Does it matter what church or group you belong to in Christianity? I have spoken to a lot of different Christian denominations and don’t know how to find a church. I want to be baptized. They all seem to be sincere to me. As long as Jesus is your Lord and saviour and you love God with all your heart and love your fellow man, does it matter which church you go to?

    Although there are many differences between Christian denominations, in terms of theology, structure, emphasis, and activity, many of those differences seem to be trivial to people viewing churches from ‘outside’.

    There are some important principles to apply, however, based on recommendations made by the earliest Christian leaders, as recorded in the New Testament.  In Titus chapter 3, verse 9, which is often regarded as being written from the apostle Paul to a younger protégé, Titus is warned to “avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.

    This is useful advice for anyone seeking to find a church. Other verses in the chapter are equally helpful, with warnings about avoiding “divisive people” (verse 10) and for church members to recognise that they are saved through the “rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (verse 5) and justified by the grace of Jesus (verse 6-7), and therefore “devote themselves to doing what is good” (verse 8).

    When assessing whether a church is a good one to join, these points are all worth bearing in mind. To summarise them:

    1)      Does the church emphasise rebirth and renewal, that is, salvation through Christ? If yes, then it seems the focus is a good one.

    2)      Does the church devote itself to “doing good”? If yes, then that is a positive sign. Of course, the definition of what is ‘good’ could be hard to pin down. In James chapter 1, verse 27, the author, who is probably from a different branch of the Christian church to Paul, says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” When is sets out to ‘do good’, does the church seek to care for those in need and alleviate suffering?

    3)      Does the church over-emphasise obscure points of doctrine, its own traditions (genealogies), or stringent rules? If yes, then it might not be a great one to join.

    4)      Are the people who go there divisive? For example, so they claim to be the sole ‘true’ church and all other churches are in error? Again, if the answer is yes, then that may be a warning sign not to join, bearing in mind Jesus’ injunction to his disciples in John chapter 15, verse 17: “This is my command: Love each other.

    There are other aspects to Christian practice and daily life that are worth bearing in mind. In John chapter 14, verse 27, Jesus tells his disciples that “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.” In the letters attributed to Paul, there are consistent references to Christ being the head of the church. This is probably the greatest test of whether to join a church – does it put Jesus Christ first, and does it seek to obey Jesus’ teaching. That works out in myriad ways, but particularly in reference to the four points listed above.

    Finding a church to attend and serve in is not easy. But hopefully these principles that the earliest Christians felt important enough to write down in the New Testament, will help.

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