What characteristics should you look for in a biblically solid church?
If you are at a church that does not preach from the Word of God, then you are at nothing more than a social gathering like a country club, because if they are not preaching the Word, they are not feeding the flock, and they are being disobedient to Christ’s commands to feed His sheep (John 21:17). The Apostle Paul tells Timothy to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2nd Tim 4:2). The Apostle Peter writes “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but willingly according to God; and not for base gain but eagerly” (1st Pet 5:2), but “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1st Pet 5:3). It is in the best interests of all concerned to consistently preach the gospel because “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16), and “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1st Cor 1:18). Faith doesn’t come by feeling or seeing seeker-friendly methods, but rather, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).
I remember a very old church scholar and theologian once saying that there are three essential elements that must be present in every biblical church or you need to find another church. These three are the sacraments or the Lord’s Supper or Communion, the preaching of the Word, and church discipline, as laid out by Jesus Christ (Matt 18:15-20). Paul tells Timothy, “for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1st Tim 5:20), and “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:13-14), so “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you” (Titus 2:15). How does Jesus tell us to respond to someone who is sinning? He says, to go to them at first, privately (Matt 18:15), and if that doesn’t work, then go to the next step, and take someone else with you (Matt 18:16), but if that doesn’t work, Jesus says “he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17), essentially meaning they are to be dis-fellowshipped because, as Jesus told them, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:18).
I think one of the best chapters in the Bible regarding what we are to be doing as the church is found in Matthew 25 (but also James 1:27). In this chapter, Jesus speaks to those who have been received into the kingdom and says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matt 25:35-36). What does this mean? Jesus says, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matt 25:40). This is why our church began a nursing home ministry, a prison ministry, and a ministry for the poor (among other things). We wanted to “do for Christ” by doing for others. The Bible says that pure and undefiled religion that is acceptable to God is “visiting the orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27a), and that’s what churches are supposed to do. Without having missions, a church is dead, because they are called to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations by teaching them the same things Jesus taught His own disciples (Matt 28:18-20). That’s not an option…it is an imperative command, but part of our outreach is evangelism-oriented. Matthew 25:34-40 gives us a great picture of what the Body of Christ should be doing, and if it’s not doing these things for “the least of these,” then the professing believers might hear the Lord say, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:45-46).
When it’s Time to Leave
I believe it’s time to leave when a church stops preaching the Bible and becomes nothing more than a glorified entertainment center. If it is people they seek to please, then it is people they will please, and they will likely have huge numbers and offer all kinds of activities for the whole family, however, if it is truth they seek through expository preaching, then the sheep in that church will starve to death. They’ll die from malnutrition from the absence of the Bread of Life. If there are no sacraments, no church discipline, and no biblical preaching, you don’t really have a church. The primitive church got it right, and as a result, God grew the church (Acts 2:47). They focused first and foremost on the apostle’s teachings (today, it is in the New Testament), they fellowshipped and broke bread together, and were dedicated prayer warriors (Acts 2:42). The primate church never focused on this being “your best life now.” If this were their best life now, then that meant they were headed to hell, but for believers, their best days are not now; they are coming in the kingdom, and even though we still have joy, the way is hard, the road is narrow, and few find it (Matt 7:13-14).
Tragically, on the day of Jesus visitation or after their death, Jesus says that “many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord” (Matt 7:22a), so what does Jesus tell them? Is it, “I didn’t really know you that well,” or “I didn’t know you like I wanted to know you?” No, instead we hear His terrifying words; “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23). If you don’t know the Bible, and hear it preached, how can you really know the Father and the Son, Jesus Christ because faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17)? Jesus tells us exactly what eternal life is and says, “this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.