The Lord Jesus Christ shed His blood for the Church. As such, the Church is God’s means of transforming the world. But how do you know when you are ready to join a local church and unite yourself as a member? Provided below are some (and not all) the reasons why you might want to join a church.
You should join a church when your hunger and thirst for righteousness is being satisfied by orthodox biblical teaching. What does that mean? The word “orthodox” comes from the Greek word for “straight” or “a right opinion.” To pursue orthodox biblical teaching means you are desiring to have the Bible faithfully taught to you and/or your family. You are pursuing nothing other than the teachings of Scripture as the prophets, the Apostles and the Lord Jesus Christ proclaimed it. This is of critical importance because we will not be held accountable to the words of men, but the very Word of God.
Though this seems so obvious as to not necessitate a comment, there are churches today that do not value the words of the Scriptures. This is sadly nothing new. We find many places throughout the Prophets where God’s priests have exchanged God’s words for their own, and were inevitably the recipients of God’s wrath (cf. Ezekiel 22:26-31). A church must be built on the teaching of the Scriptures. If a pastor does not know how to handle the text, he will certainly be unable to care for the souls of his congregation. A Word-less church is a soul-less church. We can never equate religious activity with God-approved activity, lest we forget the Golden Calf (Exod. 32). No other text so quickly reminds us that you can have priests and religious services with public approval, yet have the Spirit of the Lord absent altogether. Religious ceremony is no sure guide to the presence of God. A church accountable to God must faithfully handle the Word of God, so that the people of God might be fed and nourished by God Himself.
You should join a church when the leadership loves you enough to disciple you (and your family) positively and negatively. Pastors are called to instruct, or disciple, the people of their congregation. This may include positive aspects such as private instruction (or “catechesis” to use a more traditional word), and it certainly involves public instruction (Public Worship, Sunday School, etc.) These forms of training are necessary, since no one is born knowing the Bible. We all stand as those in need of a teacher. This is also why pastors are sometimes referred to as Teaching Elders. But what does it mean to disciple someone negatively?
The word “discipline” comes from the Latin disciplina meaning “instruction.” One of the ways God shows His love to His people is by disciplining them. Hebrews tells us, “God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons . . . He [that is God] disciplines us for our good.” (Hebrews 12:7-8, 10 ESV) God’s discipline enacted through pastors is meant for the good of His people. We think, for example, of the man in 1 Corinthians 5 who is caught in regular adultery with his father’s wife. The church was commanded to excommunicate the man, which inevitably led to his repentance and restoration. Some churches have abandoned this biblical standard. But this is God’s means of preserving the peace and purity of the Church of Christ. A pastor who does not care about the future of your soul is a pastor in name alone.
You should join a church when you are quick to invite friends to join you for worship. What do we exhibit by these actions? One of the natural markers that you trust a church and are supportive of its mission and vision is your comfort in inviting others to join you in worship. None of us enjoy going somewhere that makes us feel unwelcome and uncomfortable. A church should be somewhere where we feel most welcome, because it is the assembly of the family of God. Families, of course, disagree and have meaningful differences from time to time. But our family is always our family. The church needs to be where we feel like we most belong.
There are other examples that could be noted. You may be ready to join a church when your unique gifts are welcomed, appreciated, and utilized. You may be ready to join a church when it is easy to contribute financially, because you believe the money is well spent on advancing the gospel and changing lives for the better. You may be ready to join a church when you see its impact extending well beyond the four walls where the congregation assembles. In short, there are no limit of subtle reasons that help confirm that you are ready to join a particular church. But it is most important that you unite yourself where you believe the Bible is most faithfully taught and applied. Everything is secondary to that.
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