Choosing a Church: Part 1

With a church on nearly every street corner in America, choosing the one that’s right for you can be a daunting task. In the past, people would often remain in the same church their entire lives, but in our mobile society that is less common today. People pick a church for reasons ranging from the quality of the coffee and donuts to the ratio of men to women in the singles’ class. In my part of the country, a major consideration seems to be whether the preacher finishes in time for you to get home before kickoff of the early NFL games.

But finding an authentic New Testament church is not difficult if you know what one is supposed to look like. The Bible gives us the model in Acts 2:42-47:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The first thing mentioned here, and the subject this of this post, is “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” The apostles’ teaching would have consisted of the Gospel message they learned from Jesus during his ministry on earth (including the 40 days following his resurrection) as well the Old Testament, especially the many verses that point to Jesus as the Messiah. Peter exhibited this teaching when he spoke to the crowd on the day of Pentecost earlier in chapter 2 of Acts. Today this is often referred to as “Biblical preaching.”

It is important to recognize Biblical preaching because there is so little of it in our churches today. Too many pastors preach a feel-good or self-help message; even worse is the now-popular prosperity “gospel” that promises rich earthly rewards to those with sufficient “faith.” Many of these messages will quote one Bible verse (or none at all) and then build the message around quotes from experts in business, philosophers, and even celebrities, with the remainder of the message being simply the opinion of the preacher; often Jesus is never mentioned at all. This is often done under the guise of making the Bible “relevant” today. Make no mistake, the Bible is relevant on its own; man’s “wisdom” is what’s irrelevant.

While sermon illustrations can often help with the application of what people hear from the Bible, a real message from the Word of God should contain a great deal of scripture and very little of the opinion of the one giving the sermon. Looking again at Peter’s sermon on Pentecost, interwoven with the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection were at least 5 Old Testament references (Joel 2:28-32, Isaiah 32:15, Ezekiel 26:27, Psalm 16:8-11, Psalm 110:1). If the apostle who had walked the closest with Jesus saw the necessity of quoting extensively from the scriptures in his first sermon, how arrogant are we to think we don’t need to do the same?

Hand-in-hand with sound preaching is both group and personal study of the Bible, and a good church will emphasize Bible study. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.” The Bible is a guide for how to love God and each other, and consistent study of it will change our lives. We don’t need Oprah or Dr. Phil to tell us how to live better lives; God’s Word does it far better than any human ever could.

So look for a church where the Bible is preached, where the death and resurrection of Christ is the central message, and where study of the Bible is emphasized. That is the first sign of a true New Testament church.

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