I recently had to wright a short paper for a class I’m taking. Since I don’t have much time to blog right now I thought I would share this. Hope you enjoy
What theological church beliefs should one consider before choosing a church home? While there are some churches that still list their denominational affiliation in the name of their church, many are moving away from that tradition. There are also a growing number of non-denominational churches which choose a loose affiliation for the purpose of sharing their foundational beliefs with potential members. Still other churches choose to operate fully autonomously from any organization. It is therefore crucial the believer perform some research prior to committing time, energy and resources to an organization of which it’s foundational beliefs one might strongly disagree with.
A popular phrase, attributed to different authors, provides an outline that is helpful in this process. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” (Perisho 7). The word “charity” in this phrase is synonymous with love, not modern generosity. We are instructed to love one another regardless of doctrine. From this writer’s observations the most common modern expression of charity would be that which pertains to stylistic forms of worship. One of the main differences is how much the church abides by older traditions. Mainline denominational churches are more likely to follow such traditions. Many non-denominational and affiliate churches split from traditional churches in part or in whole to break away from traditions they felt had been elevated to a status undeserved the level of importance placed upon it by church leaders. Does the church use contemporary or traditional music? Dress is another consideration. Some churches are casual in attire both for leaders and members. Others expect members to wear more professional looking attire and the leaders might wear special attire including robes and head coverings. Preaching style varies as well. Most churches regardless of affiliation offer ancillary ministries or programs as size and funding permit. Some of these might include youth and children’s ministries. Sunday school and small group classes are typically offered by most churches. Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and professional counseling are common as well.
Non-essential beliefs or doctrine have become more important in recent years. Since many churches no longer emphasize doctrine parishioners should ask. While non-essential doctrine may not be of utmost importance in the grand scheme it will affect the total experience of the member. It can also have a lasting impression on children that parents might not consider to be in line with their family’s values. One of these non-essential doctrines is baptism. Does the church being considered practice infant baptism as an extension of the Abrahamic covenant, or baptism as a public expression of an inward faith later in life? If infant baptism does not line up with the potential which is member’s belief system they might choose to be affiliated with a church that practices infant dedication which is a charge for the parents and the church body to raise the child to follow Godly precepts Another consideration would be that of free will or predestination. Does the church being considered believe that God has chosen some as an “elect”, or does everyone have the ability to make a choice to follow Christ? These two paradigms will permeate the teaching of the church regardless if they are made known publicly.
A third example of non-essential doctrine is the second coming of Christ. Many interpretations exist within the church of both the method and timing of Christ’s triumphant return. The three most discussed are Pre-Tribulation, Mid-Tribulation and Post tribulation. Even though apologists can vigorously debate the three points of view most will agree that no matter what view one holds Christ will return to claim His bride.
For the Christian there are essential doctrines which must not be altered in any way for the church to be considered part of the body of Christ. These beliefs apply to all Christendom.
The non-negotiable most overlooked by prospective church goers is the accountability of church leadership. For a denomination church this is almost always in place. While not immune to leadership failings a denomination typically has district or divisional leadership that can help with local churches with direction in times of need. The family should still ask what that structure looks like. An affiliate church and non-denominational church might be lax in this area. For these churches it is imperative that a strong leadership team exist.
When one searches for a church they can shy away from essential doctrine due to their dogmatic stance. Many desire to avoid controversy. They can be drawn to churches that teach forms of mysticism instead of doctrine. This offers escape from dogma since it is open to interpretation by the listener. “A new form of mysticism has arisen that exalts the absurd as a hallmark of religious truth” (Sproul). What are these important essential doctrines? According to Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes there are three types of doctrine that are essential. “Salvation essentials, a revelation essential (the inspiration of the Bible), and an interpretation essential (the historical-grammatical method of interpreting Scripture)” (Rhodes 9).
Foundational principles of essential doctrine can also be found in the creeds (Geisler). The creeds are accepted by almost all churches, and some read at least one aloud each service. While the individual church may not teach these doctrines from the pulpit it should permeate the pastor’s teaching and should offer the teaching of these doctrines in a Sunday school class or small group.
When one finds a new church home what really matters are three non-negotiables. First, the church must hold fast to the essential doctrines. Secondly, the church must have a healthy environment. Last the church should be a good fit for the entire family. If the preaching is wonderful, but the youth ministry does not provide a healthy environment for the children the family should strongly consider either attending somewhere else, or become involved in the youth ministry to help foster an environment where kids feel welcome. If these criteria can be met other issues can be overlooked to an extent. While no church will be perfect families can find great churches in every city they can enjoy attending.
Geisler, Norman. “The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith.” Christian Research Journal 28.5 (2005).
Perisho, Steve. A common quotation from “Augustine”? Web. 7 March 2013. 2010. Rhodes, Norman Geisler and Ron. Conviction Without Compromise. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.