Finding a Good Church

By Alistair Begg   •   February 25, 2005   •   Topics:

“Where should I go to church?” New believers seeking a church home, longtime Christians relocating to an unfamiliar place—and even those well entrenched in a particular church—must face this question head-on. The decision is perplexing because so much of what passes for “church” today isn’t really church, at least not as the New Testament presents it to us. If you are seeking a church home, the only place to discover what really matters is in the Bible. Acts 2:42-47 offers us a blueprint for church life:

“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” (NIV).

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching”

The first thing we discover about this early church is a commitment to the teaching of the apostles. Today we have this very same teaching in the Bible. Nothing is as important as this–not a large congregation, a witty pastor or tangible experiences of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is God’s supreme instrument for renewing His people in the image of Jesus. The entire Book of Acts is full of the centrality of preaching.

Unfortunately, preachers who distort God’s Word are all too common today. Sometimes this springs from a sincere desire to soften hard hearts. But hearts aren’t changed by compromise. A preacher may be tempted to water down the truth about sin and the need for repentance, or the difficult parts about the Incarnation and Atonement, and replace them with misguided promises of personal prosperity or a focus on political issues. Or a preacher may adopt an anecdotal technique, departing from Scripture in favor of amusing stories.

A good church is a Bible-centered church that has a commitment to sound doctrine.

“They devoted themselves … to the breaking of bread and to prayer”

The Bible introduces us to two sacraments, or ordinances, given to us by the Lord Jesus Himself (see Luke 22:17-19; Matthew 28:18-19). These sacraments–the Lord’s Supper and baptism–will be found in every good church. They are not optional, even though participation in these sacraments does not save anyone. Salvation is found only in Christ Himself.

Eating the bread and drinking the cup do not make us safe in Christ–but, rather, they signify that we already are safe. Likewise, going into the baptism pool does not bring forth salvation, but it does signify the cleansing that Jesus brings.

A good church will provide a clear explanation of the sacraments and how to participate. Prayer, too, is a vital element of a healthy church. A good church will include prayer in the worship service and will emphasize both corporate and personal prayer.

“Everyone was filled with awe”

Joy, reverence and a sense of awe characterized the worship of the believers in the New Testament Church. They had a grasp of how high and holy God is as well as the fact that He indwells His people. A good church, therefore, is one that is concerned about reverent worship.

However, reverence does not mean that we are restricted to a particular style of music or liturgical structure. Every worship service should be a joyful celebration of God’s mighty acts through the Lord Jesus Christ. Although worship services ought to be dignified, they ought not to be dull. It’s possible for dignity to be dull and for expressions of joy to be irreverent, but the pattern in the Early Church does not set dignity and joy in opposition to one another–an-all-too common practice in contemporary evangelical circles.

In the Early Church there was reverence and rejoicing, formality and informality, structure and absence of structure. Trumpets sounded and cymbals clanged and other instruments joined in this great cacophony of sound. Christians raised their voices in praise to the Lord. These believers weren’t on an emotional trip, but they were instead declaring biblical truth. In a good church, the worship will engage minds and focus on truth. Worship may be emotional inasmuch as such emotion is a reflection of hearts caught up in wonder and praise.

“They devoted themselves … to the fellowship. … they gave to anyone as he had need”

When we think of “fellowship,” we tend to think in terms of fun times with like-minded people, but biblical fellowship is much more than socializing. Believers share a common life because we share faith in one Savior and have been reconciled to God the Father through Him. Fellowship within the church operates much like a family, which also means that times of confrontation are necessary. A good church will practice church discipline for the good of the whole congregation and most especially for the spiritual welfare of the erring believer.

Inherent in true fellowship is a call to generosity. In Acts we see that money was collected and given to those in genuine need. A good church, therefore, is one that seeks to distribute with sacrificial generosity its resources to those in need.

“And the lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved”

While these early believers were learning, worshiping and sharing, they were not doing so at the expense of evangelism. The Early Church grew in number daily. Yet who did the adding? Christ did. As the head of the Church, Christ is the One who adds to the Church, typically through the preaching of the Word, worship and the voice of believers spreading the Gospel.

Although I do not wish to diminish the right use of well-intentioned programs, today we find many man-centered endeavors to win converts, such as slick programs, packets and methods, rather than a presentation of sound doctrine.

If you are seeking a church, seek one where the Word is proclaimed, where the sacraments and prayer are honored, and where worship is reverent. Seek a church where the fellowship is characterized by joy and generosity, and where the Gospel is boldly proclaimed. It’s that simple.

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