I believe a solid home church is foundational to spiritual growth in the Christian life. In regularly communing with God, we gain the wisdom and experience of those further ahead, are better able to regain the proper focus in our lives, and offer intercessions for those closest to our souls. Was it not Christ who said in Matthew 18:20 (HCSB), “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them”?
But nevertheless, though I’ve been raised in the church for the entirety of my life, I have never written deeply on what constitutes the truly Christ-focused church or what differentiates them from, say, “liberal” congregations. I had considered, but I had not clarified in my heart. Now as I search for a new fellowship to join, God has pressed the issue to the very forefront of my mind..
[In this post I will discuss the music of worship and how it fits in with choosing a church home. If you’d like, you can visit “Why Do We Sing on Sunday?” by Katherine Forster and “Why I Didn’t Sing When I Visited Your Church” by Tim Challies for further research on the topic. If, however, you want some thoughts on worship as a whole, please visit a previous Defy Augury post entitled “Worship in Spirit and Truth.” Thanks!]
I believe the art of song has every right—and, yes, even a duty—to fill the sanctuary of the church, so long as the music in question 1) brings the worshippers to a place of reverence and 2) is sound in Scriptural doctrine. If the music slacks in any of those areas, it tends to draw the focus toward the performer and not the grand Orchestrator of all things—which straying movement defeats the music’s intent of praise. As such, these requirements comprise the morality behind musical worship, which is also the part that the congregation typically cannot control.
What the congregation can control in their musical worship is comprised of preference, of the manner that best suits their soul’s unique manner of praising. Underneath the umbrella of the aforementioned requirements lies a spectrum of worship styles, which, although different, are all equally beautiful.
I personally favor songs like All Sons and Daughters’ “No Longer Slaves” or Elevation Worship’s “Give Me Faith”—songs that lie between the early modern English hymns and modern CCM in stylistic terms. Nevertheless, I know others may prefer singing those hymns or CCM, and I don’t offer any objection to their opinions. Their music may be just as effective for them as my music is effective for me.
What the churchgoer should truly focus on in church worship is 1) testing the content of each song with Scripture and 2) seeing which style draws him closer to the Maker of all music. If his conscience or his preferences do not match the church, then the church may not be for him; and though his tongue may sing, his heart may not join in.
Just as there is both a moral and a subjective side to church music, there is both a moral and subjective side to church teaching.
The moral side of church teaching deals with the relationship between the intellect and the Scriptures. If in a congregation the intellect is placed higher than the Bible, the intellect is usually called upon to interpret the Bible. This results in using the Bible as evidence for a human viewpoint, which often results in shaky conclusions and is thus a counteraction to the idea that God is above man. If, however, a congregation places the Bible above the intellect, their pastor’s teaching will more likely agree with the idea that God’s ways are higher than those of man’s (Isaiah 55:8-9). In this kind of church, the Bible is used as an explanation for the state of man, God, and the world, which means that the Bible is treated as what it claims to be.
On the other hand, subjectivity in church teaching lies in style. The two broad styles of sermon delivery in the modern church are the expositional and the topical. The expositional message endeavors to focus on one chapter after another in a verse-by-verse method, while that of the topical first chooses a topic, then supports or challenges it with Scripture. Both styles can be equally valid; I favor expositional as it feels like a more natural, predictable method of studying the Scriptures.
How you read and discuss a passage (expositional or topical) does not matter nearly as much as what the message is. When pastors place too much of an emphasis on the delivery, they mistake the subjectivity involved in the teaching for the moral objectivity, and vice versa. If permitted to continue, this kind of disillusion can transform into the hazard we call legalism, which turns people away from the church and, perhaps, potential believers from God altogether—the very antithesis of Scripture’s purpose.
The body of Christ cannot be whole unless each member is committed to strengthening and encouraging the other organs and flesh around him. Because of that, I believe fellowship must lie at the heart of church gatherings.
The coming together of the saints is not—and should not—be limited to brief greetings every Sunday upon dismissal. In fact, I would argue that such activity is not true fellowship at all. As Christians, we are called to co-laboring, and how can we do so without knowing whom we’re to collaborate with?
“Therefore, when we could no longer stand it, we thought it was better to be left alone in Athens. And we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you concerning your faith, so that no one will be shaken by these persecutions. For you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.” ~First Thessalonians 3:1-3, HCSB
A church of true fellowship is a congregation of sacrifice, of prayer, and of brotherly love. It is a united body comprised of people who know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and who are dedicated to the idea that the Gospel is for all people. It is a family bonded inseparably by the Lord of heaven, a “royal priesthood” (First Peter 2:9) who strive to share sorrows and spread the security and peace found in our Savior. They are a people joined with a single vision, eternally fixed on that “marvelous light” (First Peter 2:9) of the Lamb.
What I’m Looking For in My New Church Home
In my new church home, I’m looking for God-focused musical worship, where the congregation is invited to sing and sing heartily before the Lord, regardless of how skilled they are. I’m looking for a church of good teaching, preferably verse-by-verse, and of the right mind toward God and His holiness. I’m looking for a church where there’s others nearer my own age, others whom I can better co-labor and make godly friends with. But above all, I am looking for a church that loves God, no one more, and no one less—a church who is so focused on His glory that it is wholly oblivious to this “weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable” (see Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii) world’s follies.
If you have found a church body that meets, as best as this flesh can, these things, then good! Such a family is simply too precious to dismiss.
But if you find yourself hungering when the pastor closes his Bible (that is, of course, if he uses one in the first place), wondering if the worship comes from the heart in your sanctuary, take it to God in prayer—and if He wills a change to take place, I promise He will lead you to where you’re meant to be.
That’s what church is all about, Charlie Brown.
February 10, 2018