TEXT: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
The young man wanted to really push me. “Would you go to church if you were not a minister?” “Yes – I love going to church…. its my life blood…its the greatest thing I do every week”. “If you were given the choice of going to watch your football team in the cup final or going to church, what would you do?” “I would go to church”. “You’re a fanatic!”. This young man regularly travelled over 300 miles every second weekend and spent every spare penny he had on following his team – a group of men who kicked a ball around a pitch for ninety minutes – and he called me a fanatic! I guess we pay for what we value and we spend time on what we value. I have been in church services which have been a lot less enjoyable than a football match – and I have been in football games which make the most miserable church service seem entertaining (you have to remember I am a Dundee and Scotland fan!).
Let me ask the question another way – would it be bad if you enjoyed football games more than your family or your girlfriend/boyfriend? It is possible to enjoy both…but one is surely far more important than the other. Likewise with football and church – you can enjoy both, but only one will be of lasting benefit. God ‘richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17) but we need to remember to worship the giver and not the gifts. Beware of turning sport (or any of God’s good gifts) into an idol. Our God is a jealous God.
Let’s come on to the second part of the question. What is the best church to go to? It’s not a competition and I don’t think we should be tied to a particular denomination but given that there are often a confusing number of churches, each claiming to be the church of Christ (if not the best) how do we know? In some areas you will be spoilt for choice in finding a good church, in others they will be as rare as hen’s teeth! What should you look for in a church? Too often we look at relatively superficial things – do we like the style of the music? Or the people? Is the building comfortable and convenient? What is the coffee like? This is consumer Christianity and it is an abomination – to use a good old fashioned biblical word!
The Church is the bride of Christ and we should expect certain things of any biblical church. Firstly there should be the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. To have a church without that is like having a restaurant with no food. To have a church which mixes the truth with false doctrine is like having a restaurant that serves poison. To have a church with only superficial teaching full of clichés and only a notional connection with the Bible is like getting your daily diet from a fast food restaurant when you could have steak!
Make sure your church is a church that seeks to proclaim, sing, pray and live the Word of God. In this latter respect you are looking for a church that practices what it preaches. Having the right doctrine without the right practice is hypocrisy. For that reason I would look for a church where I could serve – even in the humblest capacity. Then I would always look for a church that I would be happy inviting my nonChristian friends to. And one that seeks to be a witness to and in the local community as well as supporting the wider church. A church is not a church without baptism and the Lord’s Supper – the sacraments. Different Christians have different beliefs about these but you do not have a church if you do not have them.
And then there is church discipline. That doesn’t sound nice. What does it mean? A young man called Robert Murray McCheyne became a very famous minister because although he was only a minister of his church, St Peter’s in Dundee, for seven years before he died aged twenty-nine in 1843, he saw great blessing – including hundreds of young people coming to know the Lord. He wrote this:
“from that hour a new light broke in upon my mind, and I saw that if preaching be an ordinance of Christ, so is church discipline. I now feel deeply persuaded that both are of God–that two keys are committed to us by Christ, the one the key of doctrine, by means of which we unlock the treasures of the Bible, the other the key of discipline, by which we open or shut the way to the sealing ordinances of the faith. Both are Christ’s gift, and neither is to be resigned without sin.”
You and I both need a church with discipline – because we both need discipline. Can you imagine a football team without discipline? Where each player did what they wanted and ignored the manager, captain, referee, their teammates and the rules! It would destroy the team and end their career. We need discipline but it needs to be biblical discipline – not authoritarianism or cult like leadership. We need to be in churches where people will love us enough to pastor us, care for us and discipline us.
CONSIDER: What do you look for in a church? Is it ever right to leave a church? When would it be wrong to leave a church? Should church be enjoyable?
RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: Awakening – David Robertson
PRAYER: Lord, I confess that sometimes I find church dead boring and I don’t want to go. Lord is it me? If it is please work in me and change me. If it is not then I ask you to change, restore and revive your church. Please lead me to a church that will honour you, teach me your Word and enable me to serve and praise you, in Jesus name, Amen.
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