Dr. Henry Waiters: What church should I join?
This question refers to the visible representation of the invisible spiritual body, the true Church. A person is born into, and spiritually baptized into, the true church the very moment he is convicted, repents, converts, and confesses his sin. The true church is made up of every true believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, regardless of race, color or culture. Members of the church are found throughout the world, though the entire church has never yet been assembled in one place.
It is possible for true believers in any locality to gather together as members of the true church, and perform the functions which are set forth in the Scripture. In the early days, they met in their own homes (Rom. 16:5; Philemon 2); we read that “they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and prayers” (Acts 2:42). It is clear that the Lord’s will is that believers should meet together regularly as members of the church. We are warned against forsaking “the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb. 10:25). Great portions of the New Testament are devoted to teaching believers their privileges and responsibilities as members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12).
Regrettably, it is somewhat of a problem for a new convert today to know where he should unite in fellowship. There are so many different groups of believers, and such a wide difference in some of their teachings. The following Scriptural truths will help the new believer find the right path.
First and foremost, it should be made clear that the entire question should be made the matter of earnest prayer that God’s will might be clearly known. Our understanding of what the true church is must come from God’s Word alone. Traditions and customs of men which have transformed the Lord’s church into people’s church must be tested by its teachings on this subject (Isa. 8:20).
Be sure that the group with whom you identify yourself acknowledges the Holy Bible as the inspired and infallible Word of God and bows to the Scriptures as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. It is not enough to say that the Bible contains the Word of God. It is the Word of God. Therefore, it is absolutely true and we must believe it and obey it (2 Tim. 3:16,17).
Be sure that those with whom you meet are unmistakably clear as to the Person of Christ. Many are willing to admit that Christ was a great leader, the greatest man who ever lived. But the great truth concerning our blessed Savior is that He is God, and nothing less than this will do (Col. 2:9).
Another important thing to watch for is sound teaching concerning the work of Christ. Scripture teaches that He lived a sinless life, that He voluntarily died for our sins on the Cross of Calvary, the He was buried, the He rose again and ascended into heaven, where He is now seated at the right hand of God (1Cor. 15:1-4). Salvation is obtained solely by faith in Him and quite apart from any works or human merit (Gal. 1:6-9). Be sure to find out what is taught concerning His precious blood. Apart from that blood there can be no remission of sins (Heb. 9:22).
The three primary tests are very important. One must also be sure that the local church does not contradict, by word or practice, the following important truths concerning the body of Christ:
— Christ is the Head of His church (Col. 1:18,19; Eph. 1:22,23). No man can claim this position. Where Christ is acknowledged as Head, the church will always look to Him, and to Him alone for dictation and guidance.
— All true believers are members of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12,13). All true children of God should therefore be welcomed into the fellowship of the church. (There are, however, two exceptions to this rule. Those who are unsound in doctrine, (2 John 10), or who are living in sin, (1 Cor. 5:13), should be excluded until they have been restored to the Lord). No unbeliever should knowingly be received into church fellowship.
— All true believers are priests (1 Pet. 2:5-9). In the New Testament, there is no distinction as to priest and people. All believers may now enter into the presence of God, bringing sacrifices of praise, and worship and service. In the early church all members were students of the Word, all were soul winners, all were busy for God. That should characterize the church today.
— The authority of the Holy Spirit should always be recognized. Whether in worship, service, ministry, or discipline, the Holy Spirit should be free to direct. His guidance and authority ought not to be limited by man-made ceremonies or human organization (2 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 4:3)
The final decision of a new believer should be to fellowship with those who acknowledge the Bible as their only guide, who are sound as to the Person and work of Christ, and who seek to carry out the teachings of the New Testament with regard to the church and its functions, which includes admission and administration, and never perceive the church to be an entertainment body, or a social, political, fraternal, benevolent group with religious connotations.
Understand that Christ is the heart of the church, and its Lord. The church exists to bear witness to Christ. Christ himself, not the church, is the transforming power in men’s lives. The mission of the church is to exalt Christ, so that He Himself may do his own blessed work on the hearts of men. True believers are all about Him, and not themselves.
Dr. Waiters can be reached at 704-636-3369.