MARKS OF THINGS WE LOOK FOR IN CHURCHES
Revised July 9, 2012 (first published April 28, 1998) (David Cloud, Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, firstname.lastname@example.org; for instructions about subscribing and unsubscribing or changing addresses, see the information paragraph at the end of the article) -
This article is written in connection with the Way of Life church directory at www.wayoflife.org/directory/
Way of Life’s church directory was created for one purpose only, and that is to help people find churches that are likeminded with our own position. For years before we created the directory, people had written to inquire if we knew of any churches in their areas that stood where we stood on the various issues.
Thus, we have never had the objective of listing all independent Baptist churches or even most of them. The goal is also not to list all independent Baptist churches that stand for the King James Bible. There are many churches that stand for the KJV that we cannot recommend, either because they have a Ruckmanite stance or because of other issues.
I realize that churches are made up of imperfect people and are led by imperfect pastors and that each sound New Testament church, like each individual Christian, will have its strengths AND weaknesses, its own set of problems. I have in the ministry for 40 years, so I KNOW there is no perfect church! As the old saying goes, if you ever find the perfect church please do not join it or you would mess it up!
That being said, it is equally true that a church should be Bible-based and Spirit-controlled and should be striving to obey every part of the faith once delivered to the saints (1 Timothy 6:13-14; Jude 3).
Following is a list of some of the things we personally look for in churches that we recommend.
I also realize that a church can be “right down the line” in doctrine and practice and still be lacking before the Lord (i.e., the church of Ephesus’s loss of its first love, Revelation 2:2-5). Howbeit, our readers will certainly understand that we are not in a position to judge the heart and innermost motives of churches on our directory, the vast majority of which we have never even visited. Even when I do visit churches I am only there for three or four days, typically. The best we can do is measure some key issues.
BIBLE VERSIONS. We look for churches that are convinced that the text underlying the KJV is the preserved Word of God and that the KJV, as an accurate translation of the preserved text, is the preserved Word of God in English, and that the modern versions are founded upon a corrupt Greek text. If non-English speaking, we look for a church that uses a sound Received Text-based translation if one is available, and if one is not available in that particular language, it is doing all it can to have such a translation produced. At the same time, we do not support Peter Ruckman and we do not recommend churches that support Ruckman or follow his peculiar doctrines, such as the King James Bible itself being given by divine inspiration and being advanced revelation beyond the Hebrew and Greek, that salvation is by works during the Tribulation, etc. (See the free ebook “What about Peter Ruckman?” and “King James Only”)
DOCTRINE: We look for churches that are Baptist and non-Reformed (not following TULIP theology and the allegorical approach to prophecy). While we have Calvinist friends and we praise the Lord for their faith in God, we cannot in good conscience recommend their churches because we do not want to see people trained in a theology that we believe is unscriptural. In truth, we don’t care two cents either for Calvinism or Arminianism. We want to hold to Biblicism! See our free eBook "The Calvinism Debate" Our doctrinal position is described in Way of Life Literature Statement of Faith at our web site -- www.wayoflife.org/wayoflife/statement.html. For more information about particular doctrines that we hold see the Way of Life Encyclopedia of the Bible & Christianity, which is available from the online bookstore www.wayoflife.org/publications/
POLITY: We look for churches that are unaffiliated with a denominational structure. There is no pattern in the New Testament for the establishment of intra-church unions or associations, and we do not believe that men have the biblical authority to form such associations. We look for churches that do not accept pedobaptist and other unscriptural baptisms and that practice close or closed communion with unleavened bread and nonalcoholic wine. We do not accept the Baptist bride position on the church. (See the article "Are You a Baptist Brider" at the Way of Life web site)
LEADERSHIP: We look for churches that are ruled by pastors as opposed to being ruled by deacons or trustees, and whose pastors are qualified according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (good family, no divorce, personal godliness, financially responsible, good testimony in the community, apt to teach the Bible, etc.)
EVANGELISM: We look for churches with a zealous soul-winning vision and ongoing efforts to reach every part of the community with the gospel, but we reject “quick-prayerism,” which is characterized by pushing for large numbers of professions and counting mere professions as salvations regardless of whether or not there is any evidence thereof and the failure to preach and require biblical repentance for salvation. (See “Fundamental Baptists and Quick Prayerism,” which is available as a free eBook from Way of Life -- www.wayoflife.org/free_ebooks/ )
MISSIONS: We look for churches that have a worldwide vision of church planting and the preaching of the Word of God, where missions is not merely another "program" the church can boast about, but missions is truly the heart and soul of the church. This will be evident in many ways, including the pastor’s vision and emphasis and the lifestyle and burden of the faithful families. A church’s missionary zeal will also be evident in the lives of the young people in that some of them will catch the vision and heart of missions and will dedicate their lives for this purpose. Churches which are truly missionary-minded tend to produce missionaries.
MUSIC: We look for churches with NO Contemporary Christian Music; no sensual syncopated background tapes; no adapting of ecumenical-charismatic "praise" songs, such as those by Stuart Townend, Don Moen, Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, Darlene Zschech, Jack Hayford, Graham Kendrick, Casting Crowns, MercyMe. (In The Directory of Contemporary Worship Musicians we document the heresies and one-world-church tendencies that permeate this music. This is available as a free eBook from Way of Life -- is available as a free eBook from Way of Life -- www.wayoflife.org/free_ebooks/ ) We believe spiritual music is much more, though, than merely avoiding Christian rock music and the grosser forms of CCM. Many churches that avoid CCM are caught up with other types of music that are shallow, emotion-oriented, with an over-emphasis on rhythm--such as the contemporary Southern gospel music of the Gaither variety. I realize that many men disagree with me on this, but I am convinced that much of the Southern gospel music is little more than fleshly entertainment. I started my preaching ministry in Florida, Tennessee, and other parts of the South, and it was very common to see worldly professing Christians flock to Southern gospel concerts who otherwise did not live faithfully for the Lord. They loved the entertainment provided by that style of music, but they cared nothing for holiness. That spoke volumes to me about the nature of such music. (See the article "Southern Gospel Music" at the Way of Life web site -- www.wayoflife.org/database/sogospelmusic.html.) We look for churches in which the music program is led by godly people (we do not believe it is proper for a woman to lead music in a mixed congregation) who are Spirit-led, who have genuine personal convictions about the nature of spiritual music and who understand the danger of worldly "Christian" music, and who are spiritually consistent. I am finding that in many churches a semblance of spiritual music is still retained in the services, but the music leaders and/or musicians and pastors use carnal music in their personal lives. That is a form of hypocrisy and compromise that will rob the church’s music program of God’s blessing and power and such a schizophrenic practice will soon break down and give way to the incorporation of carnal music in the services themselves. There is an intense war being waged today for the heart and soul of Bible-believing churches, and one of the Devil’s most effective Trojan horses is music.
HIGH STANDARDS FOR ALL CHURCH WORKERS: We look for churches that have high Bible standards for church workers (1 Tim. 3:8-13; 1 Cor. 4:2; 2 Cor. 8:18-21; Eph. 6:21; Col. 1:7; 4:7,9; 2 Tim. 2:2). Anyone should be welcome to attend the church (except heretics which have been rejected -- Titus 3:10-11), but those who assume positions within the church are representatives not only of the Lord Jesus Christ but also of the church itself; and the church’s testimony is judged by the lives of its workers. We have given a sample set of written standards for church workers at our web site. See the article “Standards for Church Workers” at the Way of Life web site.
YOUTH PROGRAM: We look for churches that, if they have a "youth program" as such, it is not characterized by constant entertainment and does not encourage young people to be worldly "cool," but rather is characterized by training the young people to be godly and to dedicate their lives wholly to the service of Jesus Christ. The church has no biblical mandate to entertain young people; the mandate is to teach them to obey all things which Jesus Christ has commanded in His Word (Matt. 28:18-20). The mandate is to make disciples of Christ. The Lord Jesus defined a disciple as one who has rejected the world and given up his own life for the will and work of Christ (Mark 8:34-35). A disciple of Christ is one who has lost his life for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s sake, meaning his life is characterized by zeal for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. The leaders of biblical youth programs do not relate to young people on the level of a worldly "cool" and "hip" approach, but are mature, godly, spiritually-discerning people who can lead the young people in God’s perfect will and can make disciples of them. The youth leaders should know more about the Bible than about sports, more about doctrine than talk radio, more about prayer than television, more about a burden for souls at home and abroad than fashion! This comes back to having high standards for church workers. If youth workers are worldly, spiritually lackadaisical, and lacking in moral discernment, the youth will be the same. Many churches, even those that retain a fundamentalist profession and that do not promote Christian rock and some of the more obvious aspects of the ecumenical program, are caving into the ungodly philosophy of youth ministry that says youth must be reached with their "own music," their "own fashions," their "own fun," etc. This is utterly unscriptural. It is also unreasonable. Whatever youth are won WITH they are won TO. It is far better that a church have no "youth program" than to have a worldly one. We believe the entire concept of segregating young people continually into their own groups and isolating them from adults is unscriptural and counterproductive to the will of God. Churches have adopted this pattern from the world, and it is something that needs to be reconsidered in light of the Word of God. In former times young people were not so segregated but intermingled continually with adults in every facet of life, and they were better off for it. When young people are segregated into groups of their own peers and allowed, even encouraged, to form their own culture and are largely isolated from adults (such as in modern educational systems), they are literally the blind leading the blind (Prov. 22:15)! This does not mean that we are opposed to churches having ministries target to youth; it is a warning about how things are typically conducted today.
WE NEED YOUR HELP
Please take a few minutes to look at the directory at the Way of Life web site, and if you know of good fundamental Baptist churches that are likeminded with us but that are not already listed, ask a church officer to fill out our Questionnaire so that we can add it to the list.
The Questionnaire is available at www.wayoflife.org/directory/questionnaire.php