Finding the Right Church
By Dr. Charles Stanley
It is important for all believers to be joined to a local church body. But how should you select a church? Let’s examine the essential qualities of a Bible-believing fellowship. If you do not currently belong to a congregation, use these guidelines as a resource while you search for one. If you are already an active church member, this list can help you evaluate where you attend.
Since all Christians do not agree on the same interpretation of Scripture, the first thing we must investigate is the church’s doctrine or fundamental beliefs.
- Does the church believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God? Do the leaders trust that Scripture is without error, and all of it is useful and necessary in our daily lives (2 Tim. 3:16)? Many professing Christians try to excuse certain miraculous or supernatural passages of the Bible, such as the creation account in Genesis or the final judgment in Revelation. If a church tries to make Scripture more comfortable or understandable by sacrificing a doctrinal truth, then it fails to maintain the integrity of the Word. The Bible is the perfect revelation of God to His people.
- Does the church believe Jesus is not simply the Son of God but actually God Himself (John 1:1-2, 14)? The deity of Christ is absolutely a fundamental belief of any biblical church. Had Jesus been an ordinary man, He would have been a sinner like the rest of humanity. The penalty for our wrongdoing needed to be paid by someone who’d never sinned. If Christ disobeyed God, then you and I are left to face the full wrath of the Father (Heb. 9:27).
- Does the church believe Jesus was born of a virgin? If we have faith in God’s Word, then we must trust that it speaks the truth regarding Jesus’ miraculous birth, as recorded in the Gospels (Matt. 1:23-25).
- Does the church believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ? When Jesus left the tomb, He left it physically. He was not simply a spirit floating around; He was a person—alive and in the flesh (John 20:24-29).
- Does the church believe Jesus is going to return? Scripture is clear that Christ will come back to the earth. He will call His followers home and bring judgment on the ungodly (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
- Does the church believe there will be a future judgment? When Christ returns, He will return as a righteous Judge. At that time, He will separate His people from those who do not know Him. Some churches are not comfortable with this portrayal of the Lord, but it is thoroughly biblical (Matt. 25:31-46).
- Does the church believe there is a literal heaven and hell? This goes along with the truth of the coming judgment. After all, if the “sheep” and “goats” are separated (Matt. 25:31-46), then each group must have a place to go.
- Does the church believe Jesus went to the cross and died a sacrificial atoning death? This is the most important point of all. The cornerstone of our faith is that Jesus Christ bore the punishment we deserved—we gained the freedom of God’s forgiveness through the Savior’s death and resurrection. This was the price that was necessary to forgive, redeem, reconcile, justify, and conform us to the image of God’s Son. It was also proof that God truly loves us unconditionally, perfectly, and not on the basis of anything we have done (John 3:16; Rom. 5:5-7).
If the church you attend does not accept these things as true, I suggest you leave that fellowship. Why? Because what you believe determines where you will spend eternity and how you will live here on earth. If you think there is no hell, heaven, or judgment, you will most likely live a morally offensive lifestyle. It is impossible to live a godly life unless core doctrines are firmly set in your walk of faith.
Once you get past the doctrine test, you need to ask two more questions of the church. First, is it building your faith? In other words, are you being strengthened in your relationship with God and enabled to understand Scripture? If your answer is “no,” it may be an indication you are not in the right place.
Second, does the church have a ministry to the world? A true Christ-centered fellowship will not be satisfied trying to keep the power of the gospel locked within its four walls, available only to its own members. Rather, a solid biblical church expresses a deep desire to reach the world for Christ, taking the truth to those who have never heard it.
When you follow these three tests—doctrine, faith-building, and missions—they will guide you to a biblical church. If you are already part of a body of believers, then these guidelines will help solidify your understanding of what the church believes. It is a delight to be part of a local group of people who are doctrinally grounded in the Word of God, who love to be edified through Scripture, and who are concerned about a world that does not know their God.
My friend, the Lord is intimately concerned about your church affiliation, and He desires to meet with you in new and exciting ways every time you come to Him in worship. Therefore, don’t settle for simply becoming a church member; instead, recognize your proper place within the growing, vibrant, active body of Jesus Christ.
Many professing Christians say that they can have a strong relationship with God without being involved in a local congregation. In this message, Dr. Stanley shares with us the vital importance of taking an active role within the church. (Watch Together in the Christian Church.)
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