Choosing a Local Church

What factors should be considered when choosing an evangelical local church anywhere in the world? The French language article Comment choisir une église explores this question from the perspective of a specific example in the Canadian city of Quebec.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Co 3.17, ESV)

The following is a distinct source of input that also may be useful in choosing a local church, borne in response to a post titled Your church on Christian Forums . com.  To that thread’s opening post’s questions “How did you choose the church you currently attend ?” and “What influences your decision making process?” My first response was published as post # 27 of Your Church, and quoted in Denominational Preferences.

As I visited the thread a few weeks later, I was prompted to provide further input about the view of the Bible held by any given local church one might consider joining. It can be read in its original context as post # 39 of Your Church, or in a slightly adapted form:

Hello everyone, 

I have just been reading through this thread from my own response, posted Dec 19, 2014, up to the post preceding this one, Jan 10, 2015, where examples are provided of what are considered irritants playing against the choice of a local congregation over another.

This leads me to propose some factors to be considered about the Nature of the Bible itself and the importance of taking these factors into account when choosing a Local Church.

Someone close to me tried to help me step out of the obscurantist views I was alleged to have about the Bible being God’s Word and the importance of interpreting it as it intends itself to be understood. Since that person got her information from the theological faculty of a prestigious local university, I chose to study those criticizing my position. 

My response to those criticisms that have to do with the Bible itself are going in two complementary directions: first, the reliability of Scriptures, second, the need to become thoroughly familiar with the text of the Bible, beginning from the New Testament, and seeing how Jesus and the apostles treated the old testament.

I will close this post by highlighting the need for personal commitment when one tries to choose a Christian local Churches to meet one’s needs for spiritual growth.

First Factor: Deciding about the Reliability of the Bible.

One of the things I found is that some authors have a tendency to use name-calling instead of dealing with facts, positions, perspectives, and interacting with those. I documented this in an essay titled «Comment donc comprendre la Bible aujourd’hui?» (How then are we to understand the Bible today?). After writing it (in French), I found some English language material that follow the same path, showing that there are valid reasons to take the Bible seriously, and to understand it as it tells us we should understand it.

You can find this French language essay and short English language video documents from the Knowing section, under What about the Bible?

Second factor: Familiarizing Oneself with the Bible Text.

I would suggest anyone with a bias against the validity of the Old Testament to begin reading the Bible by trying to understand the main message of the Gospel of John, asking, what would I have to change in my life is this were true, and if ever I concluded it were true, would I be willing to trust Christ with my views of life and with the way I conduct my personal and professional affairs? 

The entire New Testament should first be read with that sort of attitude, accompanied by an attitude of prayer that would go along the following lines: «God, Christianity as I understand it now turns me off. I believe it is off base. Please help me turn my eyes away from those who have led me to this unbelief, and help me understand Christianity from the teaching of its only true Chief, Jesus Christ Himself, and from those He mandated to represent Him, called apostles throughout the New Testament. Pray: God, I am willing to change my mind, my attitude, and my entire life, if I turn out to believe what they said». 

The Bible says it requires the Spirit of God to understand the truth of God, so ask God to lead you through His Spirit so you will gain some understanding that is now eluding you. 

Once you have gone through the New Testament at least once, and perhaps several times, with the basic attitudes I just mentioned, then I invite you to go back to the text, and see how Jesus and the apostles considered the statements made in the Old Testament. You will see that they took it as history and not as myth. Looking up the Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament will help you understand better what it talks about.

Third Factor: Being Personally Committed.

Once you have found a Church that takes the Bible seriously and that at the same time shows respect to its members and visitors, then participate in it truly, and get involved in what it has to propose for your growth as a Christian. And don’t shun the commitment part that you will be invited towards as you understand what Christianity is truly about.

Some of the posts I read today seem to take a sight-seeing approach to Church evaluation. You can’t really know what is going on in a Church unless you truly get involved. So first impressions are important and must be taken into account. But one has to move further into his or her investigation before drawing conclusions, either about the Church’s teaching or community life.

God bless all the readers of this thread.

You wish to get involved and discuss about life-related subject matters, feel free to join our trilingual Community of dialog about the Christian Faith (French, English, Spanish). You are also welcome to share below some aspect of your hard-gained life experience.

You may communicate with me through the indications under Questions or Comments.

Author: Daniel Garneau, B Th, B Com, MA.
February 8, 2018.

Primary and Secondary Convictions?

Why is it that, from the pages of the same Bible, Christians come to convictions that diverge from one another? ask some to themselves, on the web, and elsewhere? Why is it that when different people ask the Bible the same question their answers are not identical? Should this be so? Or could we expect the Bible to yield a single answer to any given question one might expect to draw from its pages and from the writing or teaching of those who have studied it with the most astute of competences? The first part of this article will attempt to answer why this is so, the second part, what to do about it.

1. Why the varying interpretations of the bible?

From my perspective there are many factors involved in the fact that not all readers or students of the Bible come with the same answer to the same questions.

1.1. Having to Bear with Imperfect Skills and Background Knowledge

First, we have not a perfect knowledge of the culture and languages of Bible times. Second, even when the actual knowledge does exist, not everyone knows of it, or knows of it entirely, or understands it with an absolute degree of perfection.

I will take my stand at my watchpost, and look out to see what he will say to me (Habakkuk 2.1)

1.2. Giving Priority to Culture, Christian Heritages, or the Bible

There is also a set of reasons why we do not all come out of the Bible with the same answers to the same questions: not every one approaches the Bible in the exact very same way. There are those who believe that only some parts of the Bible are valid for us today, but they give higher credence to Christian heritage and culture in interpreting what the Bible means for their current situation and context. Others take their own cultural setting and Christian heritage into account, but consider that everything the Bible has ever said is true and should be given a higher degree of authority than the rest.

If one prioritizes the cultural premises of his day and of the place where he lives on earth, he or she will come-up with a certain set of conclusions. If someone, on the other hand, considers that the Christian tradition inherited from her or his family’s adherence to a Church as being at the top of what deserves to be trusted, above current cultural trends, or even above what the Bible itself says on a given issue, this would justify in their eyes yet a very different set of convictions than for the previous person.

There are also those, on the other hand, who considers that the Bible has priority in the value of its truth-statements. Yet at the same time, they also consider that the Christian heritages to which we still have access today can shed a fair amount of light on how certain Bible difficulties could be understood. These would weight what is brought to bear by such heritages onto their understanding of what they understand from the Bible. In addition, they may also want to look at what the culture brings to the table that is helpful to understand what the Bible and what the Christian heritages tell us. And then, having weighted all these, such a person would be able to answer both culture and tradition from what the Bible says, sometimes agreeing with them, sometimes not. Conclusions here would not be identical with those who allow culture to prime on their interpretation of the Bible, nor with those who concede priority to Christian heritages.

My articles under Theological Analysis develop this latter reason as to why we do not all come up with the same answer from the same Bible. Evaluating Theological Statements and Practices thoroughly explains how to apply and work with these concepts, while Understanding Culture and Responding from the Word provides an example of how Tim Keller applies this to what, from memory, I believe he calls the literature of suffering.

1.3. Not Wanting to Yield Oneself to What can Easily be Understood

But there is yet another completely different set of reasons why we do not come up with the same convictions when looking at the Bible with the same set of questions: some of us find the Bible so disturbing that we barely look into it. Many people today criticize the Bible as if it were a book of old tales without anything important to tell us, because they don’t want to yield to what is otherwise easy to understand, when one actually reads it.

2. What to do about the varying interpretations of the Bible?

Integrating all of the above reasons why the Bible does not always yield the same answer to the same questions into a comprehensive view of biblical hermeneutics, a distinction must be made between primary and secondary convictions in matter of biblical interpretation among Christians. In a nutshell, it is essential to bear in mind that some of our beliefs our extremely important because of their consequences in people’s lives.

For example distinguishing whether Jesus is or is not God determines at least in part whether one is or is not truly a Christian, so it is essential to know where one stands with regards to this. On the other hand, whether one adheres to the charismatic or pentecostal perspective is clearly of chief importance, but it does not distinguish in and of itself between whether one is or is not a Christian, so while important it is not as vital. Third example , the way a given group of churches makes its decisions is important, but not to the same degree as the previous two. Finally, there are many practices in church groups, local churches, and person’s lives that are related to preferences. It should be borne in mind that these are far from being as important as the previous three examples.

Showing the relationship between varying levels of convictions and providing examples from different denominational contexts is what the French language version of this article Convictions essentielles et secondaires adds to the preceding one. Also, the Spanish version of it, Convicciones esenciales y secundarias, deals with the same set  of preoccupation, but from a slightly different angle.

So, if you are able to read all three of these languages, you might draw something complementary from the French, the Spanish and the English version. This was not intended, but is due to the way in which this site developed. However it does illustrate the point I am making within this article. We can learn from what others have said from their perspective instead of being obfuscated by the different light they bring on things.

You wish to get involved and discuss about life-related subject matters, feel free to join our trilingual Community of dialog about the Christian Faith (French, English, Spanish). You are also welcome to share a response to this post in the comment box below .

You may also communicate with me through indications from Questions or Comments.

Author: Daniel Garneau, B Th, B Com, MA,
June 18, 2018

Research Key words: primary convictions; secondary convictions; essential convictions; primary Christian convictions; secondary Christian convictions.

Denominational Preferences

Should denominational preferences, denominations, or church groups be considered good or bad? Should denominational ties and affiliations be discouraged or encouraged? Some argue that it is better to remain clear from any denominational ties, others, that such and such a denomination is superior to any other. Personally, I was drawn to the Lord through the testimony of individual Christians from various denominational backgrounds. When I chose to follow Christ, God used a specific denominational church in my life. The circumstances of my life later led me to become part of non denominational churches, and, more recently, of an entirely different denominational affiliation than the one where I had started out my Christian life. Because of this particular background, I am able to respect Christians from a broad range of contexts.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Mt 6:33)

Some aspects of this story is available in Spanish, under Preferencias confesionales, and a variant version in a thread titled Your church on Christian Forums . com, in response to the following questions : “How did you choose the church you currently attend ?” and “What influences your decision making process?” (post # 27 of Your Church) :

[…] This is a huge topic. I’ll just share on some personal aspects of it for now. Circumstances and the people I happened to know have always been very important in leading me to a local Church rather than another. When I chose to turn my life over to Christ, my father had a friend who introduced us to a Baptist Church start-up of 50 who grew up to 500 or so.

Having grown in that Church, and done a Bachelor in Theology (B Th) in seminary, I was eventually mandated by that local Church to start a daughter Church. We grew from 20 or so to somewhere around 50 or 60, including children. But then, situations came up that made me believe I should leave full time Christian ministry. This was a huge decision with important impacts of all sorts, like the need to get secular training…

I wanted to stay in the same Church, but when members came to me because they did not like the orientation taken by the new pastor on practical issues involving how we relate to other denominational groups, I decided to leave that Church for the sake of not interfering with what the leadership wanted, and not dividing that Church.

I was not ready at the time to go back to the mother Church, so my family and I joined a mid size Church that focused part of their meetings on members sharing between themselves about what God did in their lives. The leadership and many members there were from a Christian Brethren background. There were also several from a Baptist background, as well as Christian alliance and non denominational groups. We knew many people, and stayed for several years.

Then I got home-sick, and wanted to go back to my Baptist roots. A new lead pastor seemed to be doing a good job at preaching relevant expository Bible messages. This appeared to be helping the Church move away from some of its most hindering characteristics, and towards maturity and growth in character. It was great to be back with so many old friends, and especially to renew with the visiting pastors or evangelists from the denomination whom I knew from previous years. 

We had not been there a year yet when we became aware of this church struggling over leadership issues. At the same time, we realized that our oldest daughter – of college age at the time – did not at all understand some of the features of that Church, which to her seemed “artificial”. 

This is when I was approached by the leaders of a non-denominational start-up, former Baptists themselves, to join their group. When they explained their project, I immediately knew it was the right move to do at that time in the context of our family history. So that was 1998. And we have been with that group ever since.

Still on Christian Forums . com, I provided other aspects of this story of mine through insight into what was my nondenominational and local church situation at that time, by responding to a thread titled My First House Church Experience (post # 27):

[…] I just joined this forum, and happen to be a member of a small local Church with 60 or less people in total. 

We all meet once a month in rented facilities from an Anglican Church. This is an evangelical gathering with worship, songs, organ, preaching, Sunday School for the youngest, a bit on the formal side, in a nicely historical Anglican architecture setting from past centuries. 

But our Church has basically been structured around smaller home Bible study groups. When the groups grow up to a size that makes it unpractical because of our homes, we start a new group or merge some members with an existing group that is getting tiny. About 12 to 15 or so would be a good number for our groups. More than 20 or less than 8 is not ideal. But it all depends upon what is going on in the group, as well as in other groups.

Each home group decides what they do, and when they do it. Our group has two to three discussions a month, and one week a month or so is reserved for informal get-together activity, like a brunch in someone’s home.

When someone goes through something really aweful in his or her life, we sometimes just pray about that situation and do nothing else. Which reminds me that we try to have some of our home gathering focused on just sharing and praying.

Our groups are for the long term. If one of our member has unbelieving friends, we will integrate them to our own group unless we feel they would be better off in one of the othre groups, because of age, or background, for example. 

Once a year we have your conventional business meeting where you normally would vote the budget and that sort of things. That’s also a time where we share reports about what is going on within each group, and what other ministries we are involved in as a local Church on a larger scale (i.e. all groups and all people). […]

You wish pursue this conversation by joining Christian Forums . com , where it was originated, or yet in our trilingual Community of dialog about the Christian Faith. Additionally, you may share your response to this post in the comment box below.

Daniel Garneau, B Th, B Com, MA
Updated June 7, 2018.

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Keywords: denominational preferences; church groups; denominational identity; denominational ties; denominational differences.