One potato, two potato, which church?
By Steve Simmons
Picking a church is a good deal more complicated and more important than the selections children make with such tools as the little potato chant sometimes heard on playgrounds. In this important task we have help and there are some basic rules that give us a place to start.
I teach a Bible Study at the Powledge Unit, a state prison not too far from Tyler. The group of men that meet for this study are a mixed group, mixed in every conceivable way. They are from different parts of the country, different backgrounds, different crimes…they are so very different and clearly we see there that sin is an equal opportunity master. Another difference is their church backgrounds, even though many of them were never closely connected to a church many of them have an emotional tie to a church they attended as a child or the church their mom is attending. And like too many church shoppers on this side of the fences they are also prone to look for that church where they feel comfortable with too little regard for what is important. Against this backdrop I am always looking for an opportunity to slip in my little mini-sermon on how to find a church. It is important for these men that they connect with a good church where they can be nourished, encouraged, and discipled…just like it is important for you and I.
So, what do you look for when looking for a church? Our church fathers boiled down some essentials and referred to them as “the marks of a true church”, these marks I refer to as a check list of necessary qualities to look for when looking for a church home. There are three of them, and here they are:
First, is the church serious about the preaching and teaching the Bible and does the church view the Bible as God’s inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word?
Second, does the church have a God centered approach to worship and do they include in their worship Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I am very upfront with the men, telling them that I am Presbyterian and have a preference for less water and the inclusion of believers and their children, but as important as I might see those issues what is vital is the Trinitarian Baptism and the faithful administration of the Lord’s Table along with a worship service that has a focus on God and not man—worship’s design should be bring glory to God not a feel good moment to the worshipers.
Third, is the leadership and the congregation serous about living godly and faithful lives? Is the church so committed to God’s Word and holy living that it is unwilling to allow the membership or the leadership to continue in sin? In short, when necessary, would there be an addressing of sin in the fashion that Christ speaks of in Matthew 18? Does the church practice church discipline?
This is what I tell them is a place to start. There are always other concerns and issues that may become part of the means one makes use of in finding a church home but this is where you must start.
Having found a church that is concerned about the Bible, Biblical worship, and Holy living you can begin to ask other questions such as questions about music, the programs, the people, or whatever you have on your own checklist can begin to play a part in the selection process once you have affirmed that what the Bible considers a church is the church you are considering. The place these men will call their church homes will have an important role in their spiritual lives. And while we would love to solve their problem of ‘which church’ by having them become part of Fifth Street Presbyterian Church, most of them will parole out to other parts of the State.
However, since Texas state prisoners do not have internet access clearly this little blog is not for the men in our bible study…but rather for those who are looking for us. We realize that not everyone agrees with our summary of the nature of a true church but we also realize that some do and if you are looking for a church that is serious about teaching and preaching the Bible, seeks to be faithful in doing worship God’s way with a focus on bringing glory to God, and is committed to holiness in life and faithfulness to what the Bible calls righteousness and what the Bible calls sin…if you are looking for such a church we would encourage you to check us out at www.fifthstreetpca.org and then 1616 East Fifth Street, Tyler TX.