A series of articles exploring teachings from the Good News as reavealed by God in His Word to us.
Where one goes to hear the Gospel is a critical decision. You want to go somewhere where you will hear the Truth, the whole Truth (the good news and the bad news), be fed (spiritually), and serve. You want to be able to be confident that your offerings to God are going to be used wisely and for the furtherment of His Kingdom.
Are all churches created equal?
Obviously not. Some hold to the Bible as the highest authority, others hold to the Bible and tradition, others seem to hold to tradition only, and still others seem to hold to humanism. I am certainly not an authority on denominations or specific churches. I am hesitant to not recommend a church in a certain denomination because the churches vary so widely within a denomination in their faithfulness to the teachings of the Bible. However, I have spent considerable time learning about many of them during my search for a home church. Some denominations are generally more faithful to what God teaches in His Word than others. In the paragraphs below, I share what I have learned from my experience, have some cautious recommendations, and suggest things to look for when considering a church.
Some rough guidelines on denominations that I avoided.
When I decided to leave the Catholic Church, I really didn't know where to go as I was led to the Truth of God's Word through a radio ministry which is a world wide ministry that is not affiliated with any church. So, I needed to do some research because I did not have the time nor the desire to visit every church in my area and then pick the one that I thought was most faithful to the Bible. Here is a summary of what I found:
- Presbyterian USA Churches (mainline Presbyterian churches in the USA). They are too liberal for me. By liberal, I mean that their teachings and focus don't seem to Bible focused. They start out with the Bible, but the things of man quickly choke out what the Bible has said. They focus more on man and how to solve social issues than on God and what He has revealed to us through His Word. They may have started out as a faithful denomination, but many in our country no longer seem as faithful as they once were. The focus drifts from God centered to man centered which is humanism. I have a theory on this and you can click here to jump to it lower on this page.
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (mainline Lutheran churches in America. They are in the same boat as the mainline Presbyterian.
- Anglican Churches. They are basically in the same boat as the Presbyterian also.
- United Church of Christ Churches. They also are too liberal for me.
- United Methodist Churches (mainline Methodist churches in America). They also are too liberal nowadays for me.
- Catholic Churches. It is obvious from many articles on this site that I don't believe they are as faithful to the Bible as other churches out there are.
- Orthodox Churches. They are very close to Catholic Churches in their worship and beliefs.
- Jehovah Witness. They teach a different Jesus than the Jesus found in the Bible and have many other problematic teachings that conflict with the Bible, so I would not attend these churches.
- Mormon Churches. These churches also teach a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Bible. They are very moral people, but their theology is significantly different from what is plainly read in the Bible.
- Apostolic Churches. These are churches where people speak in tongues. I do not believe that the Holy Spirit works in this way nowadays. The teaching in these churches are based on some chapters in the book of Acts and 1Corinthians where some in the early church were given the super natural ability to speak in different languages so that the gospel could be spread to the people who spoke these languages. It was a gift used to begin spreading the gospel and that gift ended after the apostolic age (that is, after the apostles died). Its purpose was to spread the gospel, not to babble in an unknown tongue to prove that the Holy Spirit was indwelling the speaker. This is a major stumbling block for me. These churches may be faithful in many areas to the Bible, but the focus on this area and the emphasis that it receives as "proof" that you have the Holy Spirit would make me very uncomfortable being a member of this church.
- Assemblies of God Church. These are tongue speaking churches too.
I would would likely avoid becoming a member of the churches listed above as many have core published beliefs and/or practices that are in open contradiction of what is found in the Bible. At least for now, there are many other churches out there that are more faithful to the Bible than these. The reader may see his/her church listed above and take offence. Your church may be very faithful to the Bible as many of these churches have a wide variety of churches within the denomination. Some are probably very faithful to the Bible and some are probably not. Each individual church would have to be evaluated for their faithfulness. Some hints on how to evaluate a church can be found in the last paragraph below. What I have presented above is a relatively broad guideline that I used to try and narrow my search for a new church.
Some rough guidelines on denominations that may be marginal.
Churches that I know less about and may be more inclined to be faithful to the Bible are found below.
- Amish churches. I have a great deal of respect for the Amish. I highly admire almost everything about them. I would have a difficult time becoming a member of this church as it appears (at least to an outsider like me) that there is a strong emphasis on works. By that, I mean that they have rules about many things and it almost seems like they are on the teetering edge of relying on their abiding by the rules to get them into Heaven rather than relying totally on Jesus and what He has done. The extreme opposite of this is that people "say" they are relying on what Jesus has done to get into Heaven, but don't follow any of His teachings. Neither is a healthy relationship with Christ.
- 7th Day Adventist churches. What I do know about this church is that it seems to take issue with Sunday being the day of worship. To me, this is more of a minor issue. I am not saying that the fourth commandment is a minor issue, but rather, I am saying that a weekly day of worship is important, but it seems that attending either Saturday or Sunday would fulfill the intent of the fourth commandment. I believe that many of these churches are faithful to the Bible, but to fuss about which day of the week is proper to worship seems to distract from the main message of the Gospel.
- Church of Christ churches. I visited a church in this denomination. They seem to be quite Bible centered in their doctrine. These fine folks have an issue with using instruments during worship. Like the 7th Day Adventist churches, Churches of Christ seemed to have picked a relatively minor issue and have separated or came out of other churches because of this issue. Some things are worth picking a battle about (the main things which are the plain things in Scripture), but it almost seems like the founder of the denomination has picked a relatively minor issue and has made it their distinction. Is this issue worth splitting a church or was it born out of a matter of pride? These churches also teach that eternal security is not eternal and that is probably a much bigger issue than using instruments in worship.
- Friend's Churches (Quakers). I know very little about these churches. I know Christian friends who attend these churches and they seem to be well fed in the Scriptures.
Some rough guidelines on denominations that may be recommended.
Just as I was hesitant to not recommend a denominational church, I am hesitant to recommend denominational churches because the churches within denominations vary so widely in their faithfulness to the teachings of the Bible. With that cautionary note said, my research did show that there are a few denominations that seem generally more faithful than others... at least at the time I did my research (almost 20 years ago).
- Reformed churches. These are churches that tend to hold to the principles of the Reformers of the 16th century. Primarily, they hold to many of Luther's and Calvin's doctrines (both of whom had Bible derived doctrines that were very close to each other on the main issues concerning the authority of the Scriptures, salvation, and justification). The denomination seems to be drifting in the liberal direction, so caution is advised.
- Presbyterian PCA churches. I attended one of these churches for many years. This particular church was very grounded in Biblical principles. At the time I was attending, I know the leadership of this church was concerned about the direction the denomination was heading - toward a more liberal direction.
- Baptist churches. Many of these churches are independent and vary widely in their faithfulness to the Bible. Most congregations seem to tend to adhere to Biblical principles more so than most of the main line protestant churches.
- Non-denominational churches. These churches are difficult to categorize because they are all independent churches. Some are truly faithful to the Scriptures and some are wildly out there with their beliefs (i.e. Jim Jones and his People's Temple, Heaven's Gate (the Hale Bopp comet cult), etc.). I attend a non-denominational church at this time. They hold the Bible to be the ultimate Authority in spiritual matters and believe in Biblical salvation and justification. Non-denomination churches can be among the most faithful and the worst churches out there.
An argument for non-denominational churches (a theory on how churches go apostate): It has been my observation that many (if not most) churches (and denominations) start out faithful to the Bible and what it teaches. Over time, liberalism and other distractions creep in. They lose their first love (like the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7). They lose sight of the Word of God. They question "Did God really say...?" - like the serpent questioned Eve in Gen3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” They chip away at the Authority of the Bible and lose their way. I have seen this repeated again and again with denominations. I believe that this has happened to the Catholic Church and almost all Protestant based denomination. The denomination (or church) starts out faithful, liberalism creeps in, the conservative people in the denomination who want to hold onto their first love grow increasingly uncomfortable with the direction that church/denomination is going. They reach the point where they can no longer support the mother church/denomination due to their newly altered beliefs/practices and split off from it. It seems like the mother church/denomination can never be turned from liberalism once they start down that path - the conservative group almost always has to end up splitting off. I believe that this is true for many independent churches as well as denominations. Many stay faithful for many years, but in most cases, liberalism creeps in over time with new leadership or by increasing numbers of liberals within the congregation. It is quite tragic actually. So, most of the most faithful churches end up being relatively young churches/denominations.
The only assistance that I can provide in finding a good non-denominational church is that many of the faithful ones put the word "Bible" in their name. There is a reason that they put it there. Many, many that don't have the word "Bible" in their name are also faithful. Most of the resources that I list in the resources page on this site are affiliated with churches that do not have the word "Bible" in their name. But, having the word "Bible" tells me that, at least at one time, that church had its focus on the Bible.
What to look for.
The following are things that I suggest to look at when examining a church to determine if it is reasonably faithful to what the Bible teaches.
- Is the Church Bible based? Do they promote the Bible as the Word of God, and if so, do they appeal to it as the final authority in spiritual matters? If it is the Bible plus something else, I would keep looking. Many faithful church pastors should encourage you to check out what they have to say or what the church teaches against what you read in the Bible. They recognize that they are mere men subject to flaws and the churches they lead are made of of mere men. They should always point to the Word of God as the final authority.
- Does the church follow Biblical principles for Salvation? Do they teach the Biblical concept of salvation through Jesus Christ, and Him alone? If not, then they are teaching a gospel other than the gospel revealed in the Bible.
- Does the church follow Biblical principles for Justification? Do they teach the Biblical concept of by faith alone and that we cannot justify ourselves in any way, in part, or in whole, and that justification before God is found only through faith in the works that Christ did on behalf of His people? If not, then they are teaching a gospel other than the gospel revealed in the Bible.
- Does the church follow Biblical principles for church leadership? Do women have authority over men? This may seem like a trivial matter in today's society, but God clearly specifies that men are to lead the church (1Cor14, 1Tim2, 1Tim3, Titus1).
- Is it all about God or all about man? Is the church more interested in glorifying God or solving the problems of men? Surely God's word has a lot to say about man's needs and man's responsibility to fellow men, but man should not be the focus. Churches that want to make you feel good are not typically churches that preach the Gospel. The Gospel tells man about his real need - the need to get right with God and that is achieved only through His Son, Jesus.
- Does the church talk about sin and/or Hell? Many churches avoid mentioning these like the plague. Jesus spoke often of these. A faithful church balances the teaching of the whole Bible - the good and the bad. The congregation should be reminded that they are sinners that need to repent and warned that Hell is real and awaits for those who are not found in Christ Jesus. A very good practice for a church is to preach/teach through books of the Bible verse by verse and don't skip verses because they don't make people feel good or talk about damnation. If the church practice is to preach verse by verse, the congregation receives all of what God has to say - good and bad. Many churches pick verses here and there and tend to preach only on verses that are good, or deal with healing, or deal with Heaven while never ever touching on sin, evil, and Hell. They do their congregations a great disservice.
- Does the church stress the miraculous? Do they focus on miracles such as healings and tongues? I would steer clear of anything like this because God has already given His Word. The time for these types of miracles has passed. Miracles were used in old times to authenticate God's messenger. Now that we have all of the message: There is no need for these miracles any longer. Rather, the need is to believe what He has revealed in His Word. I believe that miracles do happen, but they don't happen like the miracles that some claim they do. Many modern day miracle workers seem to want to glorify themselves rather than God. God still performs miracles in that He heals people daily and other miracles of this type. He does it quietly in silent answer to prayer. He does not work through a placing hands on a tv while a healing preacher is on.
I don't take recommendations (and, at the same time, making non-recommendations) lightly. It is not my intention to offend any church, but rather to share what I have learned and help guide the reader toward a Bible based church if they do not know where to even start as I did not.