Does God Call Me to Belong to a Local Church where the Word of God is not being Taught?

“Does God call me to belong to a local church where the Word of God is not being taught?” That was one of the questions I have often been asked. I hope to have an occasional series looking at these kind of questions.

To some the answer  to this particular question is so obvious that they think even the question is daft.   But life is not as simple as all that.  Imagine that you live in a small village or town where there is a local church.   It’s not heretical in the sense that its official creed is orthodox and the minister or pastor does not really preach against it.  You want to be a wsearch-2itness.  You want to be able to invite your neighbours, your friends and your family who live in the area to the church.  You want to participate in community life, help with the parent and toddlers, be part of the churches social witness.   If you go to an out-of-town church then all that seems to be negated.  Surely it is better to hang in and try to be salt and light within the church?  As a friend once argued, the local church is a great boat to fish in.

I have enormous sympathy with that point of view and furthermore I don’t want to be a kind of sectarian or denominational Christian who is only going to go to a church where every t is crossed and every i dotted to my taste.  I once preached in a church in the US, where I met a couple who told me that had travelled over 1500 miles to come to it because it was ‘the only church in the US where the gospel was faithfully preached’!  They were wrong.     I am not here talking about denominations, liturgical styles or secondary issues.    Even though I am not a Baptist if there was a local Baptist church where the Word of God was faithfully preached then I would not particularly care if it was Baptist.   However what about the situation where that is not the case?

Let me give some concrete examples.   One woman queried whether she should continue to go to a local church which didn’t preach the gospel, or one further away which did. She was asked, ‘could you take your friends and family to the local church and be confident they would hear the Good News?”. Her answer was ‘absolutely not’. To which the response was then ‘thats a no-brainer’. If you can’t invite your friends and family to the church because you are not sure if they will hear the gospel, then what are you doing in that church?

Another friend in Edinburgh told me that he was going to go to his nearest church, a large Church of Scotland, ‘to be a witness’.  With a membership of 1,000 and an attendance of 200 it was traditionally ‘liberal’.  So he went and was given permission to have an evening service/bible study to which about 20 people came.  After three years he left Edinburgh and moved into a small town in the middle of Scotland.  I asked him which church he was going to and he responded the local small Baptist church.  I was a bit cheeky and asked him why he did not go to the much larger C of S where he could be a witness.  His response said it all – he was exhausted after three years of doing that and needed his own soul to be fed.

I have great admiration for those who stick it out in roles as Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, elders and members in congregations where they struggle with the lack of teaching and the general spiritual climate….however I think the two stories above and many others perhaps illustrate why there is time for a rethink.

Let me put it this way – what is the great need in Scotland?  What is the number one priority for the Church?  Surely it is that there is a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord. People don’t know the Bible.  They don’t know the Word of Life.  They don’t know the Word that brings them Christ.  They don’t primarily need playgroups, art festivals and foodbanks.  Please note I am not decrying these things – they should spring from the preaching and believing of the Word, but they should not replace it.    Here is the search-1crucial thing – just going to church is not a witness in the eyes of the general public.  The Church is to be the witness.   The Church is not the Good News.  The Church is to believe and proclaim the Good News.   Likewise the church is not a boat to fish in but rather a boat to fish from.  If the boat is sinking then why would we bring people on board?

Furthermore it’s not just that we need to bring the good news as a church, we also need to be fed ourselves.  One of the reasons our witness is so weak is that we ourselves have become so spiritually anemic.   If are not fed we will starve.  And how does the Lord feed us.  Yes – we can get internet sermons, podcasts, books and we can read the Word of God for ourselves.     But we normally need more.   And I don’t believe that ‘more’ is provided by a couple of special conferences in the year.  We dont’ get filled up at that event no matter how special it is.  We need the regular manna of the Word of God being proclaimed on the Lords Day as we gather together with his people and collectively listen, confess, pray and respond.    To me one of the greatest tricks of the devil has been to convince the Lords people that we don’t need the Lord’s Day and the preaching, praise and prayers of the Church.  A consumerist individualistic mindset coupled with a shallow theology and to be frank, a lack of passion and love for Christ, means that, whilst we are happy to seek for and claim extraordinary miracles, we despise and neglect the ordinary means of grace.

When I was a child I remembering travelling 45 minutes each way (twice!) to go to church. What I loved was getting fish and chips on the way home, but one thing that taught me was that my parents really thought that church was important.  Not just church in general but the kind of church we went to.  Of course that can be because of tradition, or a narrow-minded legalism , or just because we can’t get on with anyone in any of the local churches – and I am not defending or advocating that.

This is not about denigrating other churches or some kind of inter-church competition – God forbid! Its far more serious than that. It’s not about denominations or styles. It’s about the Gospel. Its about Jesus Christ. Its about hearing the Word of God.  If the local Church of Scotland preached the Word of God and were free to do so without the interference of Presbytery or Assembly I would go to them as well.  And if the local Free Church was though on paper orthodox, but in reality asleep/dead, I would not go to that. We need  to be very careful before we claim that a situation is dead, or indeed that we don’t ignore the reality if it is!

Let me put it another way.  We can travel many miles to get to our favourite football team, to hear our favourite band, or eat at our favourite restaurant.  Why then do we insist that the only church we can go to is the one within five minutes of our house?     Yes I would go to the local restaurant if it served good food – but if it served poison or rubbish I wouldn’t support it out of some misplaced loyalty, I would go where I could get decent food.  Do I love my stomach more than my soul?    If a restaurant announced that it search-3believed in serving the best food and then when I went in found that the advert was not met by the reality, I wouldn’t go there either.   Far too often I find that churches use the term ‘evangelical’ and yet they feed their people a minimalist diet which does not spiritually connect or satisfy.  It’s not the label, its what’s inside that counts.

It is necessary to offer one more caveat.   I am not talking here about people who church hop according to personal taste or who are so spiritually immature that they are looking for the perfect church (Spurgeon’s rejoinder to one woman who was living the Met to look for the perfect church, still stands “when you find it, madam, don’t join it you will only spoil it!).  I’m not talking about those who want to go to the latest ‘in’ church or the one that is aimed for their particular demographic/age/style.  That is the curse of the modern church – we have created an apartheid church culture where churches aim for particular demographic/social/ethnic groups rather than seeking to be the Church of Christ proclaiming the Word of Christ to all.   I am just simply answering the question whether we should stay in a church where the Word of God is not proclaimed.   To me it is clear that we should not.

I don’t say this because I want people to come to St Peters from other churches or from all around Dundee and beyond.  It gives me great sorrow that people have to come to us on an occasional Sunday because their local church does not feed them the Word of God. I have no desire to see St Peters being built up at the expense of other biblical churches. We want to see the whole Church of Christ grow. But where the Word of God is not being proclaimed can it really be said that there is a church of Christ?  My aim is to plant biblical churches all over the place…in every community.

Maybe its time for believers to just leave the liberal, traditional, legalistic or eccentric churches and get on with being the Church of Jesus Christ, the pillar and foundation of the truth, wherever we are.  If a local Church does not proclaim the Gospel in all its fullness then not only will it die, it deserves to die.  Let the dead bury their dead.  Let us get on with proclaiming the Word of Life to all without fear nor favour.Lets forget the traditional models that we are clinging on to, or the modernist unbiblical concepts of church.  Lets not give in and become ‘churchless Christians’ (an oxymoron if ever there was one!).    Lets avoid spiritual prostitution, even if we call it ‘witness’.  Lets be bold, follow Christ and be his beautiful bride!

Isaiah 8:20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.

Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

 


15 thoughts on “Does God Call Me to Belong to a Local Church where the Word of God is not being Taught?

  1. Interesting article, but what about those who bypass a local evangelical church, perhaps even of their own denomination, to go to a “big church”, usually a city centre church? There is a great danger of a “retreat to the centre”, leaving small local evangelical churches who struggle and would be delighted to have local Christians with them. Perhaps the answer is a both/and rather than an either/or solution, but realistically it works both ways. There are those who bypass the local evangelical church in the community to attend the big churches, but we also know that many in smaller local churches may be reluctant to travel to the central church. I find it interresting that the Tron in Glasgow has developed a muti-site practice and has in effect adopted a small local church under its wings, so instead of a retreat to the centre we see a going out from the centre. I still fear, however, that instead of planting new churches, often in the poorer schemes, it is easier in the age of convenient transport to just centralise urban ministry.

    1. The question is more complex than you suggest. Yes there may be those who travel into a city centre church (or indeed out to a popular suburban church) for wrong reasons. However there also may be good reasons why the local church is bypassed and it is worthwhile each church asking the hard questions…

      1. Good enough point. When first married we travelled from Airdrie to Glasgow each Lord’s Day to attend our “family” church – we also managed to have two main meals, one at each set of parents, which for poor students was useful. Others might travel to find a husband or wife, and I have advised this in some cases as if you looking to fish you do need to go to where the fish are. I have even heard that some travel because a particular church was better for those from Lewis or those from Sky, but that surely must be apocryphal… Often people move from travelling a distance to church to attending a local church when the children start school and they becme more locally rooted. As long as individuals prayerfully consider the options I have no complaint.

    2. I am a good example of someone who bypaased the local evangelical church and went elsewhere 12 miles away I’d just recently moved back home in 2008. I tried to attend our local baptist church, which is quite a fancy affair, but I couldn’t settle. The Word of God was being preached but there was so much messing around during the services and sermons – by way of humour. I’m not against humour being used in church but this was too much and tantamount to mockery. Also as a pianist, I was asked to play in the worship group, but found it really hard to play songs I disliked. Despite being fairly young at the time and very well versed in most genres of Christian music, the music at this church felt like it was from another planet. Also another key issue I experienced which I think is prevalent now across the country is that many ministers and lay speakers are not reading the Word in church or actually preaching from it. Yes they have their topic in mind and refer to key verses during their address but there is often no exposition of a particular passage. Therefore the message merely consists of bite sized chunks fleshed out with humour and antidotal stories from everyday life. None of this is wrong in itself but when it becomes the norm, then we are in deep trouble. Yes the church looks great, it has an abundance of social activities going on and is well known for all its good work in the community but the people are being fed baby food. My point is that this scenario can be just as demoralising as going to the local liberal Parish church where the minister is using the pulpit to talk about climate change or tolerance etc and the people are spiritually dead. I don’t know the answer but whilst I think it is a tremendous shame that people have to travel to an area miles away, thereby potentially limiting their Christian witness, I do have a lot of sympathy for them. Where I live now is better as I’m only 5 miles away from our small country church – we always have the Word read and preached and the music is ok – most of the time!

      1. Thanks – that is really helpful and precisely my point! Just because a church says its evangelical does not mean it is preaching the Word in the power of the Spirit!

  2. What an excellent post.

    There seems to be an assumption, however, that there is an ability to travel, with private transport, an ability to drive, as public transport on Sundays may not be able to get you there. So demographics and geography may play a practical part.

    To follow Spurgeon’s comment to the ultimate would counsel me against joining any church, but to invert it, would you be welcomed and be seen as an asset? Unlikely, if your theology was at odds with the church’s. You may be tolerated but not embraced.

    The example of your friend at a large liberal church in Edinburg who then moved to a smaller church in mid Scotland where he was fed, illustrates the need to be fed before you can give out. At the large liberal church he’d be going against the follow of the dominant, theological church culture, who would likely be preaching the opposite to his teaching, so there’d be little true koinonia, and a sense of isolation. and frustration, of going against the flow.

    While the internet can be a source of wonderful teaching and preaching, you rightly say it is not a substitute for teaching preaching and a oneness of true fellowship. So it can foster frustration and a pool without an outlet can become stagnant. Unhealthy and may place an unfair comparator for the local pastor

    It leads on to a separate but related point, to situations where the word of God may be either non liberal Arminianism, or Calvinism, or a mixture, so there’s little or no constancy or continuity, in fact. may be contradictory, where the pulpit is shared from one week to the next. As a Presbyterian, I doubt that you may see that occurring frequently. if at all.

    So what is the “word of God”? Is it to be assessed by whether you are being fed or not.? Is it where there’s a sense of the presence of God, where the preaching feeds worship, is part of that worship, rather than singing being seen as the only part of the service to be worship? All this may be foreign to you

    Keller takes the view that the gospel should be preached every week, not just on visitor Sunday, which you seem to be advocating.

    Too many questions.

  3. Let me guess, somehow you’re going to conclude that David Robertson’s church is the perfect church to spend their money; that your church just so happens to meet all the requirements you articulate.
    Christian, Muslim, New Age Cultists… all the same. Conning old women and the mentally weak out of their money, just to hear “Oh, yes, of course you, your family and dog are going to Heaven”… or whatever you think they want to hear.
    Do something of value for humanity, David. Stop the fraud.

    1. Maybe you need to come and see for yourself – instead of guesswork based on ignorance and prejudice! We never tell people that they and their family and dog go to heaven…and we don’t ask for money….but then you are not really interested in facts or reality are you?! Why bother posting?

  4. I live in a village with 3 churches, none of which preaches the gospel. Their liberalism is in varying degrees, but the people of my village do not hear the gospel from a pulpit. Should my wife and I attend one of these churches and pray that we can be the salt and light that might change things? We have never felt called by God to do that, but we do observe that there are several evangelical Christians in the village who all travel, like we do, at least 15 km to church each Sunday to a neighbouring town, where there are 4 churches which do preach the gospel. Sadly, we do not coordinate, and none seems to feel led to try to establish a “work” within our village. But if our village is to have a gospel church fellowship presence within its boundaries, then perhaps this needs to happen.

    There are reasons other than lack of gospel ministry why people by-pass churches. From past experience, in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, there are many Anglican churches which really do preach the gospel (and many of other denominations too), and which make a reasonable job of “feeding” the adults. But in most there are very few children, and at best small groups of teenagers and young adults. So many people choose to by-pass these churches to go to one or other of the 3 or 4 Anglican churches in the eastern suburbs which have a children’s ministry of reasonable size – staffed, well-resourced, with strategic intent of helping young children grow to the point of commitment to Jesus, and then in discipleship. These large, faithful churches, continue to grow, and have a major emphasis on childrens’ ministry. The smaller faithful churches struggle.

    Closer to my current home in a rural community 100 km from Melbourne, there is an excellent church of the Church of Christ denomination, which has no children or young people at all. It has a membership of around 70, mostly over 60 years of age. The gospel is preached and the church has a great outreach into the local community, but, because it has no young people, and no children, it does not attract such – there is a lively, faithful baptist church within 4 km, and that’s where the families go, including the new families.

    I used to believe that the churches which really preached the gospel and which really believed in the work of the Holy Spirit could not help but grow. I have a lot of evidence now that this is not always the case.

    Within denominations, and especially in larger cities, there can be good, resourced strategies to address some of the issues I have mentioned above. But it is harder in the country, where partnership between churches can be harder to manage (in respect of supporting childrens’ and youth ministry), and the issue of critical mass is a hard one to deal with. Of course we can give the issue to the Lord, and the Church of Christ church I mentioned above has very much done that, in faith that God will provide in his perfect timing. But I think there are certainly challenging messages for us here.

  5. An excellent and thought-provoking blog. As you say, the answer should be fairly self-evident but the truth is that we have adopted something of our consumer culture when it comes to Churches, even those ‘where the word of God is taught’. So even the responses on this blog reveal that people choose churches on the basis of their musical tastes, the youth work, the eloquence of the preacher, narrow doctrinal beliefs or whether they ‘feel at home’ in the congregation. The result is that in many places, individuals and families are criss-crossing counties and conurbations, travelling miles to the churches of their choice, instead of supporting a local church working in the community where they can have a real impact. Of course we should seek to be involved with a sound, Bible-believing church that faithfully proclaims the Gospel but the principle should surely be to find a sound local Church wherever possible, even if it means accepting some things that are not to our taste.

    Over the years I have occasionally found myself in Churches (usually abroad) that have been far from ideal, so much so that I’ve had to take refuge in the hymns and liturgy (written in better days) to get anything good out of the services. In these cases we had no choice but strangely, those periods have often been times of blessing as the true believers became active in leading Sunday School, running Bible studies, evangelistic courses and so on, within the framework of even a poorly led/taught Church. I’m glad there are faithful Christians who opt to serve in local, often rural, parish Churches where they become bright witnesses in their community and can often have a transforming effect in a local Church. After all, many liberal clergy are quite content to let the laity get on with running Bible studies, home groups, evangelism courses and so on because they have little personal interest. Perhaps finding a local, Church should be given greater priority when moving house.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly with ‘dogrose’ that it’s quite tragic when people are travelling crazy distances to church but for my scenario which I described above, it was the consumerist and worldly nature of the church itself that drove me away. I suppose that in essence by going somewhere which ticks most of your boxes, you are displaying a consumerism, however it’s the culture driven churches which get me.
      Also as a music graduate and pianist I am naturally biased but many ‘new’ songs now are full of such poor doctrine, or even if the words are good, they are fleshed out by endless repetition and blasting drums and guitars. I’m afraid me and my tinnitus have to go elsewhere!

      1. Oh David! What some local churches would give to have a man of your training and musical ability to lead the praise in the congregation. Meanwhile, most of us will plonk our way through a ‘hymn sandwich’ of very ancient, largely incomprehensible and not very modern hymns with dreadful yawn stimulating tunes led by someone trying their best to keep things going… Thankfully, there are some extremely talented musicians writing and leading ‘new’ songs, many of which have excellent words, often drawn more directly from Scripture than older, more sentimental, hymns. As for repetition, there’s plenty of that in the Psalms of David, “O that men to the Lord would give praise for his goodness then, And for the works of wonder done unto the sons of men” (Ps 107) over and over… I’m hard pushed to think of many modern songs that have ‘endless repetition’ or the ‘vain repetition’ forbidden in Scripture and I know loads of them. As for drums and guitars (which need not ‘blast’), perhaps you are thinking of all that noise in Psalm 150, “praise him with trumpet’s sound; his praise with psaltery advance; with timbrel, harp, stringed instruments, and organs in the dance. Praise him with cymbals loud; him praise on cymbals sounding high. Let each thing breathing praise the Lord. Praise to the Lord give ye.” Not sure how your tinnitus would cope!

  6. This article is unbelievably apt for me. I am committed, orthodox Christian who happens to be an Anglican, living in England. For the last seven years I have attended, supported and “worked” in the very local Anglican churches, as a Lay Minister, because I wanted to witness to my fellow villagers, and to try to point them towards the gospel. But these local churches have had many years, several decades, of nothing but liberal teaching, and it shows in the vague fuzzy faith of the congregations. They avoid answering the blunt, penetrating questions, of where your loyalty lies, as contained in the gospel. They want it all ways, to be in step with God and our wayward culture.
    So after all this time I have decided that I am spiritually exhausted, through trying to point them towards the full Gospel. I myself need feeding God’s truth in the company of other committed Christian truth seekers. So I’m off to join a far more conservative, Biblically led Anglican church, even though it is ten miles away from me. There is only so much we can do, as it is God’s work that we try to do, and some will sadly, never commit to Him.

  7. The most important factor in choosing a church, in my view, is not that we are made welcome (although that is nice), but whether God is made welcome. After satisfying that basic, which may be reflected in either the pulpit or the pew, factors like children’s ministry/youth ministry and the like will come quite legitimately into play. For some the availability of toilet facilities is significant.
    Since getting married my wife and I have been in at least 10 different churches (I have moved a lot for work and have lost count). In 30+ house moves covering four different countries we have tried always to give the local church a fair trial. Only once have I been able to do the ideal and select the church and then find accommodation. One time it was simple – if English is your language this is your church. In all our choices denomination has been irrelevant as has been the form of worship. We have never left a congregation ‘lightly’ or without much prayer.
    So in answer to the headline question, maybes aye maybes no, but if aye find some other ways of being fed. Annual conferences, internet or in pre-internet days sermon cassettes, are not ideal but are better than nothing.

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