Choosing a Church

by Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.

The New Testament teaches that there is but one church and also that there are many churches. Paul said he persecuted "the church (singular) of God" (I Corinthians 15:9). The record shows that he persecuted Christians in various places. In the same epistle he spoke of "the churches (plural) of God." (I Corinthians 11:16).

In I Corinthians 15:9, he is speaking of Christians everywhere. This "church" is a group term for all saved people. This is the one group or number to which one is added when he is saved. "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47 NKJV). "And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47 NASB).

In I Corinthians 11:16, he is speaking of groups of Christians organized to worship and work together in various locations like "the churches of Galatia" (Galatians 1:2). The New Testament is clear that one who has been added to "the church" (the body or number of the saved) is expected to join himself to one of these "churches of God" to work and worship together as a unit. (Cf. Acts 9:26-28).

This means that a Christian must choose one of these groups to "place his membership." He is already a member of the universal "church of God" which includes all who have been added to it in the world. Choosing a local church is usually not a complicated process. In many cases there is already a group (church) in his area with whom he can scripturally jointly work and worship as a unit. If there is not, then he can work toward starting one.

In many cases there are several prospective groups, one of which he can join himself, in order to worship and do the work that God has authorized local churches to do. This is the situation in many areas in this country today, including our area. So one just saved or has just moved into the area is faced with the task of choosing one of these churches. The task is now a bit more complicated. One cannot join himself to them all, so he may need to "shop around" to find one with whom he can identify. What should he look for? A perfect church? If that is the litmus test, then none of them will pass muster, because all are made up of human beings who are far from perfect. If he were to find such a group, then its perfection would be compromised the moment he joined the group because he is not perfect.

One often makes a mistake in his choice because of the way he prioritizes what he is looking for in a church. He often looks at the characteristics that individual Christians are to have, placing these near the top of his list friendliness, hospitable, caring, compassionate, and helpful. He visits a church and is favorably impressed when these things seem to stand out. On this basis, he decides that this is the congregation for him. But what about what they do as a church their corporate worship and work, the kind of teaching and preaching they offer week after week, the nature of their organization, etc.? These become kind of peripheral to the other matters. He salves his consciences by pointing out that while the congregation he has chosen may not be fully scriptural in these areas, they are so much more caring, hospitable, compassionate and personally helpful than the people in other congregation(s) he has considered.

It is great when one finds a congregation that has all the desirable corporate characteristics mentioned above, along with the friendliness, hospitality, compassion, etc. of its members standing out. However, often such is not the case. One needs to understand he can still be friendly, hospitable, and compassionate even if fellow members are not. Being in the same congregation does make him a party to their personal shortcomings.

But, by joining a congregation, one necessarily becomes a part of its corporate structure and is committed to being a participant in its collective worship and work. But if these are not right, he cannot fulfill his commitment to share in its corporate activities. He cannot afford to be a part of the corporate worship if it is not scriptural. He cannot be a part of the corporate work if it is unscriptural. He cannot be a tied to its corporate structure if it is unscriptural.

A final thought. Christians do not have a lock on friendliness, hospitality, etc. If one is primarily looking for friendliness, hospitality, caring, compassion, and helpfulness, then he can find that among members of religious organizations that do not even profess to follow the New Testament order. It would not be hard to find a group with these qualities, equal to, if not surpassing, many of those professing New Testament Christianity.

So, while we should all strive to constantly improve in all these personal qualities, we must recognize that a group's excelling in such does not necessarily make them a group of which a Christian should be a part.