Having made the decision that I wanted to leave the UPC and I wanted my family to come with me, I realized that I was facing a problem – where do you go? I appreciate that there is no such thing as the perfect church. People are fallible and fallible people make up churches. Churches have different approaches at reaching people, styles of music (sometimes from service to service), styles of worship, and styles of teaching. Some churches are more casual than others.
Of course, what mattered most to me was the fundamental teaching of the church and does it comport with the scripture. As I looked at churches in and about my community, frankly, it was concerning. The last thing I wanted to do was jumping from the frying pan into the fire, if you will. Of course, nothing can substitute for attending a service and meeting the pastor and having a conversation about their teaching. But even before you get to that point, doing some research online is helpful as well. Many churches have webpages and will at least have some statement of faith or ‘what we teach’ page out there for review. Better yet, many churches have video or audio of their messages online as well. Reviewing this information and doing some additional research online can help if you are looking for a church in your community to attend.
Doing this research online was helpful as I didn’t waste too much time visiting churches that I knew would not be a good fit for me. Of course, in the denominational world, you know exactly what you are getting. There was the local Reformed Baptist church – I simply know what they teach. While I found myself leaning heavily towards Calvinism, I was concerned about the fit of such a “traditional” church for my family and, frankly, what if a certain number of years down the road, I don’t share all the same views that their confessionals espouse. I wanted to be a part of a church and to be a part of a church family for a long time to come. Church hopping has never been who I was or will be.
There was what appeared to be a local, unaffiliated Pentecostal church nearby. It didn’t take long to identify the spirit of ‘we are the church’ within this assembly as well as what I perceived to be an emphasis on social/political activities. While I may share their views on some of those subjects, such as abortion, my view on political action with respect to such issues – we are just not on the same page. Another local Pentecostal church just turned out to be a charismatic group of which I could not join.
There was another non-denominational church in the area that upon doing some research I discovered to be associated with the word of faith movement. Again, not an environment in which I would find myself in general agreement.
This led again to some frustration at not only the difficulties in finding a church home but, in my opinion, some of the dangers that exist in the name of the Christian church.
I began attending a local non-denominational church. It was a bit different and took some getting used to. I hate to say it but even being in a church with people that looked like “normal” people rather than being dressed in a certain way or with certain extreme hair-dos was different but nice. The church auditorium was somewhat dimly lit and, again, while different, I will say that it was nice as it presented no distractions. People were not on cellphones scrolling through Facebook feeds during church. The songs were contemporary and the worship a bit more subdued, which relatively speaking was fine with me. My preference would be the singing of more hymns and more congregational singing. I also needed to appreciate that this was a newer church with many people who are newer and were coming out of various denominations. This was probably all new to them.
As I listened to several messages over the course of several months online I grew very comfortable with understanding what they taught and what they were looking to accomplish in reaching the local community. The lead pastor teaching a message on majoring on the majors when reading and studying the word was also a comfort. This was a church that was dedicated to the core of the gospel, seemed to lean towards Calvinism and away from Arminianism and dispensationalism, yet was not dogmatic on all points outside those important fundamental teachings. This gave me a sense of relief that I would hear the gospel taught in this church and that the gospel would be presented with a view towards Calvinism but also having some freedom to grow and learn in other areas without pressure. It felt safe after being in a dogmatic assembly that taught and professed that they alone possessed the full gospel.
It is daunting at first to consider moving to a new church. I’ve certainly known people over the years that jumped from UPC church to UPC church. That was never my view. It is my view that one must place a great deal of importance and value in the local church that one is a part of – I believe this is what scripture teaches. I want to be a part of a local church and I want my family to be safe and taught the word of God. I want to invest of myself in the local church. It is daunting because after 25 years in one organization to move to something new is just that – a bit scary.
If you respect and have a proper view of scripture, you should find it difficult to endure unsound teaching. In the end, you must be comfortable that the church you are attending is teaching the fundamental truths with respect to the gospel of Christ and if your church is in error on some of those fundamental points, that error will spread throughout the rest of teaching of your church. The warning from Paul to the Galatians was, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” This is why it is important that your church majors on the majors, gets the essentials as close to right as possible, and has a firm understanding on the fundamentals of the gospel. There are churches out there that do. Just take your time and listen to what is being taught and you will discern the Shepherd’s voice. I appreciate that some view issues around the worship, the style of music, how brightly or dimly lit the church is, how casually dressed people are when they come to church are important factors in our understanding and appreciation of the church and our gathering together. I don’t necessarily disagree with that sort of high-view of the church as the body of Christ. At the same time, I try to appreciate that some of these differences are merely preferences that you may like or not. While I may dress somewhat casual when I attend church, my approach and my view of the church is not casual in any way. Fundamentally though, it is what is taught that matters most.