Which Church Shall I Join?

The writer suggests an excellent way to settle an Important question.

Many young Christians are perplexed by the question, “Which church shall I join?” Often the deciding factor is a practical one, but it may be useful to review some of the considerations which might well,influence anyone who believes that sufficient counsel in this matter is to be gleaned from the New Testament.

A first approach to the subject challenges the individual to seek reasons for preferring one denomination to another. The purpose of this article is to gain a sympathetic hearing for the view that the very idea of “denominations” is foreign to the letter and the spirit of Scripture. An immediate reaction may be that whilst the divisions among Christians are to be deplored, the fact that they exist must be accepted, and a choice must be made. An alternative response is reluctance to associate with any community of Christians as a recognized member, resulting in free-lance occasional fellowship.

(1) Let us first consider these alternatives, viz.: (a) Selection of a particular denomination, (b) Abstention from any church membership.

  1. We have grown so used to the barriers among Christians and the various party shibboleths that we are in danger of underestimating the serious damage they do to the Christian cause. How unutterably sad it is that among those who know not the distinctions of Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, bond and free, there are countless barriers between Christian and Christian. “Is Christ divided?” asks the Apostle Paul, and Christendom answers “Yes”; Christ prays for His followers “that they all may be one,” and they split themselves time and again.
  2. It is clear that if belonging to a denomination perpetuates the divisions, abstaining from Church membership altogether is no solution. At best it is refusal to accept responsibility; at worst it is indifference to the well-being of the Body of Christ.

(2) Following the criticisms of these alternatives comes the question, “Is it possible in practice to be a member of a church fellowship without belonging to a denomination?” Before attempting to answer this, it is important to try to understand what constitutes a denomination and to see in what respects such a conception is alien to the New Testament. In a short article no more than a brief introduction can be suggested, but it should be helpful to consider six topics upon which there is clear teaching in Scripture and which correspond to actual characteristics of every local church.

  1. Authority. The starting point of all inquiries must be “What is my authority in this matter?” For the present purpose all evangelical Christians would agree that the one authority is “God’s Word written,” yet denominationalism recognizes some further, if secondary, authority in the form of a creed or code, system or service book.
  2. Priesthood. All true believers are priests and are not in need of any human mediators in their approaches to God. This is not to say that human instruments in the service of God are not of inestimable value to Christians - both individually and corporately. Denominationalism enjoins the ordination of “clergy” to perform functions and hold offices and constitute a class distinct from the “laity,”
  3. Unity. Scripture envisages the reception for fellowship of all Christians who are sound in faith and consistent in life. Denominationalism either imposes a narrower test or permits a wider welcome.
  4. Gifts. Divinely-given talents are distributed among the members of a fellowship. Denominationalism assumes that they are concentrated in one Pastor or Minister.
  5. Centre. Churches should meet in the name of Christ and in His name alone. The term “denomination” implies the recognition of some other name as a distinctive centre of gathering; not necessarily the name of a person, often that of a principle, or a practice, or a nation.
  6. Guidance. Of the Scriptures as the written charter of the churches there is but One appointed Interpreter - the Holy Spirit. He indwells Christian believers individually. Denominationalism subjects churches to the rule of a convocation, synod, conference, or union.

It must be emphasized that if the conception of “denominationalism” is treated here in a hard and fast manner it is for the sake of clarity and brevity. The purpose is to show in somewhat bold relief the results or tendencies of any departure from the ideal of a local community of Christians as depicted and exemplified in the New Testament.

Since the purpose of this’ introduction is to direct attention to the general guidance of Scripture on the important subject of the constitution of a local church, specific references to texts have been omitted. The matter is of such great importance that it is not too much to ask anyone faced with the problem of finding a “spiritual home” to read through the whole of the New Testament, bearing the suggested topics in mind and seeking the enlightenment of the Divine Interpreter.

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