March 26, 1998
Don Goertzen, Senior Associate Pastor
Indian Hills Community Church
The purpose of this article is to provide some practical suggestions for finding a Bible
Teaching church, whether you are new to an area or trying to help a friend or relative
find a church. The following are some suggestions.
In this discussion we expect that the churches being considered are:
- Evangelical (believe the Gospel of grace for salvation).
- Bible believing (believe that the Scriptures are inerrant and sufficient for believers).
Interpretation & Teaching
The most important issue is to find a church which interprets and teaches the Word with
consistency. Though most churches will say that they interpret and teach the Word
consistently, you will need to narrow the investigation and consider only churches that
interpret the Bible in a consistently literal manner. This restriction excludes all
"Covenant (theology) Churches," even through many covenant churches believe the
true Gospel of grace. What are Covenant theology distinctions? This may need a bit of
explaining. The test to discover if a church is "Covenant" is quite simple
(although the issues are great!).
Two Revealing Questions
You simply ask:
- "Do you believe in the Rapture of the Church?" If they say yes (so far so
good), the second question is,
- "When do you believe the Rapture will occur?"
The likely answers are:
- in the middle of; or
- at the end of the seven year tribulation.
If they say "before the tribulation" you know that church is not built on
Covenant theology. It is as simple as that! The belief in and timing of the Rapture
may seem to be a trivial matter, but the underlying basis is made evident with these
System of Interpretation
These questions reveal the system of Bible interpretation used. Interpretation is
the very bedrock for understanding God's Word. The Bible is truth! If parts of the Bible
were allegory (Covenant theologians claim prophetic prophecies are allegorical) then that
part of Scripture would be useless in the understanding of truth. While arguments over
this question of interpretation have filled hundreds of volumes of books, the fundamental
difference between these views is that the Covenant theologians make no distinction
between Israel and the Church. They believe Israel is the Old Testament Church and that
the Church is the New Israel. The assumption necessary for rescinding the clear statements
of promise to Abraham (see Genesis12, 15, 17) in the Old Testament is the failure of
national Israel to fulfill their duty in obedience to God. This, Covenant theologians
hold, "gives God the right" to change the terms of the unconditional promise
made to Abraham and replace ethnic Israel with a "spiritual Israel" making the
kingdom a "spiritual kingdom" of the heart. However, the testimony of the Lord
"Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day, And the fixed order of the
moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The
LORD of hosts is His name: 'If this fixed order departs from before Me,' declares the
LORD, 'Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever'
" (Jeremiah 31:35,36). Read the entire context of this passage. Notice that the
survival of Israel as a nation is as sure as the phenomenon of day and night.
In a striking inconsistency, the Covenantalists believe that the promises made to Israel
were literal in the provision of a Savior but they punish Israel and deny
them any further blessing in the future. It must be noted that with Israel in the land
these days, the view that the land is a mere figure for heaven and a spiritual kingdom in
the hearts of men, is eroding in the minds of some theologians.
Calvinism vs. Arminianism
This issue relates to how we see God and how we see ourselves. First, we must examine the
role of God (a Trinitarian God is assumed). Is God sovereign or is He subject to any
condition outside Himself? The "short hand" description of these two major views
can be summarized as Calvinism or Arminianism. Calvinists (the name is taken from John
Calvin, circa 1550 A. D.) believe in God's sovereignty in all things, even the salvation
of the lost. Arminians (the name is taken from Jacob Arminius, 1560-1609 A. D.) believe
God adjusts His plan based on what man does. A point of clarification: A very popular form
of Arminianism holds that God looks ahead and sees what a man will do and then elects him
(or passes over him) for salvation on the basis of man's choice. While the battle rages
over this point, the popular trend is toward a man-centered theology-thus
Arminian. This is evident in the self-help agenda that has become so popular in the last
ten years. The (Arminian) result is that man has ceased to be dependent on God's truth and
has been taken captive by the thoughts, plans, ideas and solutions proposed by men which
are to solve his problems. There is no simple test for this view but the following
question may cover the issue. "Do you believe in God's electing work for
salvation?" Of course the answer should be yes.
A third issue which has been revisited and popularized in the last 25years has become
known as the "Lordship" debate. "Dispensationalism" (the name for the
first point in this article) is often linked to the "Anti-Lordship" or
"Lordless Gospel" camp. This is unfortunate and has no theological connection
except that some dispensational teachers hold to a lordless view of the Gospel. The
"grace" (lordless view) proponents see salvation only as a legal transaction and
expect no change of heart or actions. There is no evident commitment on the part of the
would-be Christian. According to this view you may not be able to tell a Christian from a
non-Christian--certainly not by examining the life! Although there are varying degrees of
differences in this matter held by various teachers, a simple question to ask is,
"Do you see the work of God in salvation as one step or two (or more)." The
two step view is as follows: step one: saved (justification is a legal term); and step
two: sanctified (set apart) for service to God. In other words, one may accept Jesus as
Savior now and then submit to Him as Lord later. The correct view of salvation is that it
is a one step package. We have been granted everything pertaining to life and godliness at
salvation(see Ephesians 1). Growth and maturity is the normal process as we grow in
relationship with Christ.
The last consideration is the view on spiritual gifts. Two representative views are that
1) the early church gifts are all duplicated today. This includes the gifts of
apostleship, healings, tongues speaking, etc. The view we hold 2) is that the miraculous
gifts ceased to be given after the apostles left the scene. So the question is "Do
you believe the miraculous gifts are given today, like the gifts of healing and
tongues?" As with the Rapture question, the real defining issue is not whether
one speaks in tongues or not, but does God continue to reveal himself to individuals as He
did in the time of the Scriptures.
Scripture clearly shows that the temporary gifts were used to validate the ministry of the
apostles (see 1 Corinthians 14:22 and 2Corinthains 12:12). Other "revelations of
God" that are experienced by believers are subjective and personal and
they are not open for study or review as are the Scriptures.
One final word about these doctrinal points. It is one thing to loosely hold to an
incorrect view. It is quite another to have a church oppose the correct view. The
clarity of a view on a given doctrinal subject is a valid consideration in selecting a
church. Not all churches will be strongly Dispensational, Calvinistic, Lordship and
Non-Charismatic to the same degree. There must be a basic commitment to the correct view
which should be evident before selecting the church for your family.
Other Important Factors
Although we have only dealt with doctrinal issues, there are many other matters that
factor into a church choice.
- Location (this has to do with involvement potential).
- Philosophy of the church ministry (what does the church see as important and how they
carry out that work).
- How does the church see its role in society? What is the government of the church? What
is the involvement level of the body in ministry?
- What is the quality and focus of the worship services?
- Are the people who are leading and attending the church people you could use as role
- What is the testimony of the church in the community? Is it known for Bible teaching and
- Does the leadership seem aggressive about their tasks? Do they motivate the people to
serve with their hearts?
- Is there a good group of new believers in the church?
- Do the surroundings make one feel welcome?
- Are there opportunities for me (and family) to participate and serve during the week?
- Is the preaching and teaching quality of the church sufficient for me (and family) to
Choosing "Friends" Rather than a Good Church
We have not said anything about friends or style of ministry. Friends will come as we
serve together. The preaching style should be judged on the question, "Can I grow
under the teaching of this ministry?" In your search for a good church you may add
more things to your list that are important for you that we have missed. Doctrines should
not be negotiable in your choice of a church home. If the doctrines and leadership seem
biblical as we have discussed them, it is likely that you have discovered a good church.