In most cities in the southern United States you will find a plethora of churches. In my neighborhood alone we have two Baptist, a Methodist, Nazarene, Lutheran, Church of Christ, and a Church of God (Cleveland, TN). If you ask almost anyone in our city where they attend church, they will probably give you an answer because while they may not attend on a regular basis they are members of a church. In our local political races, the religious backgrounds of the politicians running is always posted. When George W. Bush ran for President in 2000 and 2004, his Christian faith was one of the main issues for Southerners voting for him. Staying in politics, the Republicans often try to capture the “Christian” vote in the South by appealing to their moral values versus those of the Democrats. Religion is a main issue in the South.
But sadly theology is not. People tend not to choose churches based on theology but their so-called felt needs. In our city we have a church for every person. If you like praise and worship music then we have the church for you. If you enjoy Bible study or expository preaching then we have the church for you. If you are liturgical, charismatic, African-American, Asian, Hispanic, White, etc. then we have the church for you. You name it, we have it! But sadly most people never bother to question the theology of their church.
I remember attending an Assemblies of God church once where the pastor asked the crowd of about 1000 to raise their hands if they were Assemblies of God. Maybe 100 people raised their hands. He asked them to raise their hands if they were Baptist and nearly the entire crowd raised their hand. And while it is possibly true that they deemed themselves Baptist, they were definitely not in a Baptist church. Simply put, no one knew if they were Assembly of God or Baptist.
Theology does make a difference. It is important that we take the Bible and learn it and hide it within our hearts. This is our only weapon to defeat the enemy (Ephesians 6:17). The Scriptures teach us the truth of Jesus and salvation (John 8:31-36; Hebrews 5:11-14). The Bible is not a book that we can pick and choose what we want to believe. The Bible alone contains what we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). We are to watch our life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16). It is possible to fall away from the faith through error (2 Peter 3:17-18). Jesus warned us to not be deceived (Matthew 24:4).
So How Do We Choose A Church?
I believe that the following guidelines will help anyone when choosing a church.1. Choose A Praying Church – One of the first signs that a church is not interested in God’s presence will be their lack of prayer. If a church truly believes in the power and presence of God then you will find that church praying (Acts 6:4; Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).2. Choose A Preaching Church – By this I don’t just mean that there is a man who teaches the Scriptures but I mean a church that practices expository teaching from the Bible. I don’t care if the church doesn’t have preaching on Sunday morning or nights but at some point the church will gather for sound, expository teaching from the Word. This is the duty of the leadership (Ephesians 4:11-16).3. Choose A NT Practicing Church – This would entail that the church seeks to be obedient to the New Testament. Many churches claim to be NT churches but do they truly seek to follow the traditions as laid down by the Apostles (1 Corinthians 11:2)? Are they willing to abandon the traditions of men if they go against the Word of God (Mark 7:1-11)? Are they seeking to make biblical disciples after the patten set forth by Jesus and his Apostles (Matthew 28:19-20)? Are they embracing sound doctrines as laid out by the NT (Acts 2:42)?
What About Arminianism & Calvinism?
While some Calvinist might say that Arminians are not saved and some Arminians might say that Calvinist are not saved, I believe there are both saved and lost on both sides (2 Timothy 2:19). We are saved by the grace of God alone through Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9). We don’t earn our salvation through our good works or our head knowledge but through a relationship with Jesus that begins with faith, repentance, and confession in baptism. We are not people in need of reformation but we are a people in need of complete restoration (John 3:3-7). While both Arminians and Calvinist might disagree, we can at least agree to disagree within the bounds of our faith and not outside. Both Arminians and Calvinist should seek to give biblical answers to cults and false religions (1 Peter 3:15-16) yet when it comes to one another my prayer is that we would disagree in grace, mercy, and love. None of us has perfect knowledge like our Lord (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). We must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
Theology does matter. This is why we must hold firmly to the Word of God and not be moved from its truths (Matthew 7:24-27). The Bible will help us discern truth from error only as we abide in its truth (John 15:1-8). May the Holy Spirit open our minds to the Word of God and allow us to know Jesus more and more each day. May we move from one level of glory to the next by the grace of our God (2 Corinthians 3:18).
[Link to original post and comments on Roy Ingle’s blog Arminian Today]