the weblog of Alan Knox

Which Church?

Posted by on Apr 7, 2010 in discipleship, gathering | 24 comments

I had a very interesting discussion yesterday with a new friend. We were discussing the church, unity among believers, sectarianism, etc.

At one point, we started talking about reasons that people choose to meet with one church over another church. There are many, many different reasons. Sometimes those reasons are gospel related, but I think most of the reasons are not related to the gospel.

Instead, people choose to meet with a certain church based on music styles, preaching/teaching styles, leadership personalities, ministry programs available, etc. Similarly, people choose to meet with a certain church instead of another because of denomination or specific doctrines: baptism, Lord’s Supper, end times, etc.

As we were talking, I started wondering, are these valid reasons for choosing to meet with one church instead of another? If a group of believers meet near me, is it valid to meet with another group farther away because of these issues? Is that choice perpetuating the divisions among believers?

Now, please don’t misunderstand me… I’m seriously asking these questions. In fact, I asked my friend, if my family moved to another city, how should we choose which church to meet with?

Do I start by assuming that I must meet with a group that’s part of the same denomination as my background? Is this a valid filter?

Do I choose based on certain doctrines, such as baptism, end times, communion, etc? Are these valid reasons to reject a certain group of believers?

What about music styles, preaching/teaching styles, ministry programs? What about buildings and other aesthetics? Are these valid reasons to choose or not choose a certain church over another?

I realized as we were talking that we tend to choose churches based on ourselves, our beliefs, our needs, our comforts… based on us.

Should we instead choose to meet with the believers who are closest to us or with whom we can spend the most time? Are these valid reasons?

To be honest… I don’t know the answer.

So, I ask you, if you were going to move to another city, far away from where you currently live, what criteria would you use to choose which church to meet with? Why that criteria?


24 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-7-2010

    We drive 40 minutes away to a Church after being 5 minutes away from our last church. We were getting preached the Word, but the worship was dead. I believe for us, it’s the worship. Not coming in contact with God through worship week in and week out was moving my wife and I further and further away from Him. I can pick up the Bible and get his Word myself, but that worship experience with a body of believers can’t be duplicated although you can worship alone also. Worship in itself is not our only deciding factor, but it will be a litmus test for us from now on before we look at the other factors.

  2. 4-7-2010

    This is a hard question. I drive past 3-4 churches that we can see and who knows how many that are closer to us and I don’t know how many that we don’t see from the road. I kind of struggle with it because I justify it by saying that where we meet is the more Biblical model of meeting.

    So what about gatherings of the church that are not Biblical? Would you be justified in driving past “churches” where the Body is not permitted to speak, where the Supper is a ritual? I would have a hard time sitting through a church gathering that was highly liturgical and ritualistic anymore. I wouldn’t even be sure it was a legitimate meeting of the church. So is it OK to drive past those kinds of churches to go to one with a more Biblical model?

  3. 4-7-2010

    I think the answer to your questions is simple, actually. Jesus. Where he is found, there is the Church. Look outside of your own desires and subjective appeals and find the One who is the source of all things. If you do that, then the other questions will be answered.

  4. 4-7-2010

    These are great questions, Alan. I hope it sparks a good discussion.

  5. 4-7-2010

    Arthur, rituals are part of human nature. They bring comfort and familiarity as well as order to our lives. I assure you the New Testament Church had rituals and was in some way “liturgical.” The scriptures do not really give a complete picture of how the first Christians worshipped other than to say that they went to temple in the beginning, and then returned to their homes for breaking bread (a term specific for the Lord’s Supper (see the Emmaus Account)) until they were kicked out of the temple. However, the way in which they worshipped is not clearly outlined in a “worship manual” or “sacramentary” and the New Testament says in broad terms that they continued steadfast in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers, Now to my ears/eyes that seems like the worship of the temple has simply been transferred to their homes and combined with the Lord’s Supper, and that makes the most sense.

  6. 4-7-2010

    First of all, I think it is important to have the mindset that we are members one of another in the Body of Christ within the city or locality in which we live, independently of which particular congregation we regularly attend.

    Beyond this, though, I think the key in determining in which congregation we should put down roots, so to speak, is 1 Peter 4:10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

    In other words, where I choose to “go to church” should not be based on what I get out of it, or where I am most ministered to, or spiritually fed, but rather, where I can most effectively serve, and offer the gifts God has given me for the edification of the Body of Christ in my city or locality, and around the world.

    A pragmatic corollary to this is that, in many, if not most, situations, I will be better able to use my gifts in the context of a congregation that makes room for my particular understanding of doctrine, and ways of going about ministry. If I am continually disagreeing with others about how is the best way to do this or that, I will probably be of better use to the Kingdom of God in a context where my way of doing things is more accepted and appreciated.

    A notable exception might be if I have a prophetic gift of rocking the cart and stirring things up. In such a case, that gift might be better put to use where not everybody thinks just like me.

  7. 4-7-2010

    Another corollary may be which particular congregation best helps me to successfully fulfill my role and ministry of being a spiritual covering and priest for my earthly family.

  8. 4-7-2010

    Everyone, thanks for the comments. I was serious in the post when I said that I was asking these questions. I don’t know the answers.

    But, here’s a follow up question: Given your response, why do you think your reasons are valid?

    -Alan

  9. 4-7-2010

    Because it’s all about Jesus! :-)

  10. 4-7-2010

    Alan,

    Your question, as I understand it, presupposes the existence of a variety of different congregations within a given locality, each with their own emphasis, and way of doing things. It also presupposes the freedom to choose which one of these congregations we may attend.

    While it is possible that these same circumstances may have existed in the context of the NT Church, I think that is very difficult to demonstrate with any degree of certainty that they did.

    But these circumstances do exist for us today. And, we don’t have the option of going back to a situation exactly like it was in the times of the NT Church.

    Thus, we must ask ourselves, how, given the circumstances in which we live, can we be most faithful to the principles of ecclesiology taught in the NT, which may well have been carried out in a different context.

    As I understand the NT, among these principles are the essential unity of the Body of Christ, as well as the personal responsibility of each believer to practice the gifts God gives them in such a way as to best build up the Body of Christ in their particular locality and around the world.

    How do we determine what this way is? I think it is difficult to avoid certain pragmatic criteria. We will make our choice on the basis of one set of criteria or another. The ones that make the most sense to me, and seem to line up with the general tenor of NT teaching on the church, are the ones I have given.

  11. 4-7-2010

    Brian,

    I don’t see what we would call a liturgical service anywhere in the New Testament. I understand that rituals are comfortable for humans but so is idolatry. My problem with the liturgy and ritual is that it serves as a replacement for fellowship. I go, I do this ritual and I have fulfilled my obligation. The early church as we see it in the NT was a family, a fellowship, a community not an organization with rules and rituals.

  12. 4-7-2010

    This is the question I’ve been pondering lately. If I feel my current ‘church’ is not structured in a way that encourages the body to live and breath as Christ, should I leave and do church elsewhere?

    However I’m thinking church isn’t something I go and find, it is something I’m part of. I don’t think it’s biblical to ‘leave’ a ‘church’. I’m wondering if I can continue to be church within the relationships God has given me – some who attend the same structured ‘church’ and with others who are outside it. If church isn’t something I go to, it’s not something I can leave and join somewhere else.

    That’s where I’m resting for now.

  13. 4-7-2010

    Arthur, I think it is quite a leap to jump from rituals to idolatry. :-)

    I absolutely see liturgical action in the New Testament, and I gave you an example: the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus explains the law and the prophets to the disciples and then he reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. That is in its most basic form the two parts of the divine liturgy found in Orthodox and Catholic Churches. Of course over time the liturgies have evolved, and some would see that as a bad thing. I don’t. Jesus never promised that the Church would be a static entity (see the parable of the mustard seed).

    Liturgy and ritual do not have to be a replacement for fellowship. As a matter of fact, in my Church there is both. On an even grander scale, take a look at the cosmos around you. God has set up a ritual in the cosmos. The sun rises every day in the east and sets in the West. Spring turns to summer turns to fall turns to winter and then starts all over again.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you that fellowship and community are important aspects of the Church, but they are not the ONLY things that are important in the Church. Adoration of God is important, God who infuses the community through the Holy Spirit yet transcends it as well. Just as you have been to liturgical services which leave you empty, I have been to church services where I feel like Jesus is standing alone in the corner being ignored in all of the “fellowship” that is going on as the congregation pats itself on the back. There must be a balance.

  14. 4-7-2010

    Brian, I always assumed that the Apostles went to the temple for evangelistic reasons rather than participating in temple worship. It sounds like they were preaching when they were there and new believers were continuing to come there to hear more from the Apostles, not the temple leaders. This created a threat to the power of the temple leaders which led to the arrests of Peter and John. It was a public place to gather to evangelize rather than to have a church meeting. It does say that Peter and John went to the temple at a time of prayer, but this does not mean that they went there to pray. It may have been just when there were more people there.

    I also was wondering how continuing steadfast in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers has anything to do with a continuation of temple worship in the homes. I am sure the Apostles’ doctrine was not being taught in the temple. There may have been fellowship, prayer or breaking of bread (eating) there. But you would expect prayer (communication with God) to continue as well as fellowship and eating because these are basic human activities when people gather. I was wondering how this could be liturgical in the sense that we use it in the modern church or a transfer of temple worship to homes.

  15. 4-7-2010

    I’m enjoying this discussion, so I don’t plan to jump in with too much.

    Brian,

    “Breaking bread” does not indicate the Lord’s Supper (Eucharist). It’s simply an idiom that originally marked the beginning of a meal, but by the first century it simply indicates a meal. (See Acts 27:33-38)

    By the way, I like your answer “It’s all about Jesus.”

    David,

    I agree with much of what you’ve written. But, I have a question (for myself as much as for you). Certain criteria seem right and valid and biblical to us. Other criteria seem right and valid and biblical to others. How can we be certain that we’re making choices based on valid reasons and not selfish reasons (of course, even our exegesis can lead to selfish reasons).

    Arthur,

    What if liturgy and ritual do not replace fellowship? (I think this is what Brian was saying in a later comment, but I won’t put words in his mouth.)

    Jon,

    I like your way of thinking on this… however, even our “being” the church could include our choosing to meet with certain believers (either formally or informally) and choosing not to meet with others.

    -Alan

  16. 4-8-2010

    If I were moving to a new place. I’d begin by getting to know the people at my work and in my new social groups, and my neighbors. Those relationships would naturally develop, some would be Christians, some not.

    Either way, I’d probably be praying together with some of them before long and either begin meeting together with the Christians God put into my life in their churches, or enlist another family to help begin a church within a currently nonbeliving family.

  17. 4-8-2010

    I would begin just like Stephen, however I would continue the relationship naturally with those people God put in my life and BE the church with them. For me, increasingly, I see that what is needed in my life and in this world is the formation of spiritual families that are as natural as families. I am not looking for a “church”…in fact I see this as a distraction to what I am supposed to be about. I don’t want to invest my families life GOING to church. I want to invest my families life in being family with others, doing what Jesus told us to do. I am done with thinking about church in the terms Alan described in this article. It is not about meetings. I am looking for PEOPLE who I can love and follow Jesus together with. I am done going to church listening to a sermon and going home. I want LIFE with others. I want to be influenced by others lives, and have my life bless them. I want to build God’s family like family, and see it grow as families grow.

  18. 4-8-2010

    Brian, I don’t think the leap from ritual to idolatry is all that great. I DO think that making a connection from Jesus having a meal with the disciples on the road to Emmaus to a liturgical service is an enormous leap. It is dangerous indeed to assume that our traditions and rituals are correct and then look back into Scripture to try to find a justification for them.

    I am not against rituals or liturgy per se but I do hold that by and large the ritualistic emphasis in the church not only doesn’t enhance worship and fellowship, it actually impedes it. By reducing the fellowship of Christians to a ritualized meeting, we both suffocate Christian community and simultaneously insulate the lost who assume they are pleasing God by external observances.

  19. 4-8-2010

    We drive past at least 20 churches to go to the church we’re currently attending. We’ve been involved in 4 churches since I became a follower of Jesus. All of them have been at least 30 minutes from our home. All of them have had their own personality and role in the kingdom. I’ve learned things about the kingdom in each one that I probably would not have learned staying in one place.

    The first church was extremely evangelistic. This is where I came to faith in Christ and learned how to share my faith with people boldly a relationally.

    The next church is where I learned about spiritual warfare, freedom in worship, that the Holy Spirit is alive and active today and that God wants me to do His work full time….not necessarily vocationally. :)

    Then we were involved on a “staff level” with a church start. I learned a great deal about leadership structure, legalism, waiting upon God, giving, serving and much more…

    Our current church is teaching about the big story, the meta-narrative of the Bible. I’m also learning so much about the Kingdom of God.

    Someone mentioned earlier something to the effect of it being “unbiblical” to leave one church for another. If our only choices had been staying at the church start or not attending anywhere, I would have chosen the latter.

    If I were to move to an area far from here, how would I choose where to attend? Honestly? Probably by visiting and seeing which one I felt led to get involved with. But I’m sure my personal preferences in music, worship and teaching would greatly influence my decision.

    This is a great topic Alan! Thanks!

    I did this on a PDA with no spell checker so have mercy. :)

  20. 7-8-2011

    This question is so huge. In the USA, we church hop far too often. I do believe it is legit to leave if you hear something unBiblical; I would probably politely confront such a violation first. Leaving because of carpet, programs, music, and various things like that is something I generally don’t support. There are some times where a church is either too involved in programs or too lacking in leadership, and in those cases I would be looking to have a pastoral chat. For the most part, if there is a void that you have identified, step up to help solve the problem.

    If you don’t like what you see, ask yourself whether you or the church is the problem. If you believe you aren’t the problem, identify someone in leadership and have a conversation with them. If you realize you are the problem, seek out a leader there or in your circle of believing friends and have a conversation.

    I am someone that has a home church, but I fairly often attend additional services elsewhere, so that additional perspectives can be gained.

    In a nutshell, when you see a problem, have a conversation. We are told to assemble, not take our toys and go home.

  21. 7-8-2011

    I see now I didn’t answer the real question:(

    I am someone that cares about doctrine, missions, the Gospel, and change of a believer’s heart. I would look for churches reasonably close to my home, so that time wouldn’t become a problem. I would ask about key doctrines, and probably have a pastoral chat regarding those things and just trying to get to know the pastoral team better. The church doesn’t need to be huge, but should be big enough to have critical mass. I would look for a church with active small groups so I could get to know some people there. Additionally, church leaders would be more easily able to identify spiritual gifts I have that they could use in ministry for Him.

  22. 7-8-2011

    The primary motive of the church is to glorify God. (Eph chapter 3) What is the congregants’ mission that flows out of that motive? The mission is to win men and women to the Savior. It is to His highest glory when His redemptive purposes are accomplished by the Spirit-filled believers He has raised up. God loves the world and thus seeks the world to Himself and to accomplish that, He sacrificed Himself. The person who desires to glorify God, who wants to honor God’s will and God’s purpose and God’s desire, must then love the lost world the way God loves the lost world and give his life for the sake of winning that lost world.

    Therefore, choose the church that best trains you to accomplish it. The mission that supports the motive is human redemption for the glory of God. Choose the church that understands this mission and provides enough meat to train you, motivate you, and launch you in whatever mission field, whether it is next door, next state or next country.

    More on the original, biblical reason for attending churches here: http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/2404

  23. 7-8-2011

    I go where the Holy Spirit leads me. I want to be where the word is preached if I have to go and sit in a church. I know my Bible inside and out so anyone I sit under needs to be serving meat not milk.

    I am enjoying contemporary services with rocking music. Linkin Brewster is the performing worship leadership at a church in my city. On the other hand I can still enjoy old school hymns and pipe organs.

    I have gone to churches I never knew existed or that were just starting out. I joined a church I did not want to attend because I knew it was where God wanted me for a time.

    My name/id should link back to my blog post (second half) about the more than half a dozen places I have experienced in the last few years. Since God sent me church hopping I ration my commitment is to be to the Body not a particular one for the long haul. I go where I am sent to get what I need or be a blessing to someone.

    It has been educational for sure!

  24. 9-27-2011

    “too much choice”… that’s the plague of modern-day America

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Which Church? -comment | Looking For Church - [...] Church? -comment Posted on August 23, 2010 by Sol Michaels Comment by Darrell on the post Which …