Saturday, June 9, 2007

What should our churches be like?

I read a fascinating entry on Sharper Iron (see blog link in right column) several days ago about a young couple who, for a time, attended what we might call a "more contemporary" church. They eventually left it and settled in a "more traditional" church. I will summarize and augment the discussion here.

There were essentially two points of view about two kinds of churches. Let us first look at the "more contemporary" church. The couple had some issues with the type of music used, the less formal atmosphere, and the relatively consistent "milky"—as opposed to "meaty"—preaching [There were also some doctrinal problems, too, but more on that later]. But this couple was thoroughly impressed with the friendliness of the crowd (especially to new folks like themselves), their apparent desire to do what God wanted them to do, their hunger for teaching, their kindness to others outside the church as well to church members, and their desire to "reach out" to those in the community.

Many of our "more traditional" churches are different. The sermons are more doctrinal or expositional in nature, the music is conservative (and generally not "modern" in its sound), and there is both a more formal atmosphere as well as a generally formal standard of dress expected of those assembled. Unfortunately, however, many of these same churches are not perceived as friendly to outsiders or to those less fortunate in the community; nor are many of the members perceived as being "hungry" for the Word of God. Someone will often claim that such churches are legalistic [whatever that means in their own mind—legalism must surely be the most-abused word in all of Christianity], expecting all those in attendance to maintain a certain lifestyle in order to remain in good graces with the rest.

So what should one look for when choosing a church? What should a church be like?

When we moved to Michigan three years ago, we visited a number of churches in this area. We visited churches of both types described above. There was one overriding test, however, when we chose a church:

  • Was the church fundamental in its doctrine? Did it follow and teach the Bible literally?
If a church could not pass this test, we weren't going to be a part of it. The couple whose story I read eventually found that the doctrinal problems in the preaching were a sufficient reason for them to leave the church. I agree with them. But what about the other things?

The conclusion I reached was this: Both types of churches have weaknesses, and both have strengths. A properly-functioning New Testament church will have the strengths of both. It will have reverent and proper music (a topic on which the Bible speaks at great length; I can recommend a few books on the topic to the curious), those in attendance will be encouraged to live lifestyles which are in keeping with the Word of God (yes, we are to be accountable to one another in how we live), and a proper, reverent decorum conducive to worship will be maintained.

But there is more: The church should be friendly and welcoming to all (regardless of who they are or how they look), it should help its own and reach out to the community both in the traditional evangelistic sense and also by helping to meet the real and physical needs of the unsaved, and those in attendance should "hunger" for the teaching of the Word.

Those of us who attend "more traditional" churches—and I make no apology for preferring them—must be careful not to glibly look down upon the "more contemporary" ones and make blanket judgments about them. The Bible speaks to that, too. But in addition to doctrinal purity, we each must strive to make our own church all of the following:
  • A friendly, welcome place
  • A place where reverent, God-honoring worship takes place
  • A place where there is "hunger" for the Word, and where that hunger is satisfied in both the young and the mature Christian
  • A group of believers who edify one another, encouraging each other to godliness
  • A group of believers who reach out to those in the community with the gospel of grace and the hand of help
For those of you reading this who attend "more contemporary" churches, please be kind to us, too. We may not always react well to your suggestions for us to change, because when you really believe that God prefers something to be done a certain way, you tend to be stubborn about it. And when you know He desires or demands something to be done a certain way, then you tend to be dogmatic...and that's OK, if you know that it is God's desire or demand.

I am happy to report that Faith Baptist Church in Mattawan, MI, where I and my family attend every week, is such a church. Of course it has its faults—it is made up of human beings, and any organization populated by humans tends to have problems. But on the whole, the list above is a fair representation of what we are trying to be. Our pastor and leadership believe this. If you are ever in the area on a Sunday or a Wednesday evening, come and visit us. I hope you find us friendly, helpful, doctrinally straight, and worshipful.

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