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"Do you have any advice regarding which church I should attend/join?" It's a question we sometimes get here at TWW — mostly through e-mail — and it is an excellent one!
In recent years, there have been major shifts in Christendom, which we often discuss in this forum. It seems that quite a few congregations are jumping onto the Neo-Calvinist bandwagon and when they do the pastor and/or elders tend to consolidate power while marginalizing the parishioners. That's our observation after nearly five years of blogging, and we're sticking to it!
A good number of Christians want to belong to congregations that hold to the five solas, and we have absolutely no problem with that. The problem comes when a church's theological bent is not made crystal clear. How can one investigate a church to see whether it might be a good fit? In this post we will attempt to provide some suggestions for analyzing a church via the internet so that you can make an informed decision about whether to get involved.
Allow me to share a true story. Not long ago a friend of mine was attending a non-denominational church. This well-established congregation had members whose beliefs ranged from Arminian to Calvinistic. Theological preferences had never been a problem. Then a new pastor was called. It became apparent shortly after his arrival that he intended to move the church in a Calvinistic direction.
Perhaps it was divine providence that I happened to notice the name of this church on the The Gospel Coalition website under the heading 'New Churches '. I called my friend and shared the news which came as quite a shock. My friend informed some long-time members, and they had no idea that their church had recently aligned itself with The Gospel Coalition. The pastor was challenged by some parishioners, and not long after that, the church's name disappeared from The Gospel Coalition website. However, it was short-lived. Not long after my friend left the congregation, the church was added back to The Gospel Coalition's directory of churches without a good number of members being made aware of it.
I believe we are fortunate to be living in the internet age, where so much information is right at our fingertips. A whole new world has opened up for those willing to conduct research. I'm old enough to remember the jingle "Let your fingers do the walking (through the yellow pages)". Dee and I want to encourage you to use your fingers to click on those computer keys and investigate the church(es) you are considering attending and/or joining.
If I were contemplating a certain church, I would first check the following links to see whether it is listed.
Acts 29 Network Churches
The Gospel Coalition Church Directory
No doubt there are some good churches aligned with these 'reformed' groups. However, if you tend toward Arminianism, you may have serious issues with the theological bent of the church.
Next, I would look specifically at the church. Because so many have their own websites, you can discern fairly quickly a church's theological trajectory.
Since we have been discussing Mark Driscoll quite a bit, let's take a look at the Mars Hill website. In case you didn't know, Mars Hill is counting down the days to when it will plant and replant FIVE churches. Should you consider attending one of those church plants? Given what happened to two MH elders, Bent Meyer and Paul Petry as well as a member named 'Andrew', you might want to search some terms like 'discipline' to learn more about the church culture. Here are some recommended articles on the Mars Hill website:
Is there an unhealthy focus on discipline at Mars Hill in order to keep the parishioners in line? You be the judge…
We recommend that you spend some time reading the church's membership covenant if it is available. Mars Hill has theirs posted online. We urge you to read all of it and pay close attention to the lingo being used. We believe submission to authority is overly emphasized. For further reading, you might want to take a look at these TWW posts:
Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill and Acts 29 aren't the only ones hyper-focused on the behavior of members. We have also written on numerous posts on 9Marks, such as: Mark Dever / 9 Marks – You Cannot Resign W/O Permission. Furthermore, you might want to check out the following 9Marks article – Pastors, Don't Let Your People Resign into Thin Air. We have previously shared the testimony of Todd Wilhelm who had an unbelievable experience trying to leave his 9Marks affiliated congregation.
If your church is considering joining one of the networks listed above (A29, TGC, and/or 9Marks), It would behoove the congregation to figure out what sort of help they will receive – primarily books and conferences (which are money-makers for Acts 29, 9Marks, and TGC). When things go bad, these organizations may not be there to appeal to.
Finally, do not believe everything they say on their website is true.
We will have more on this topic in the New Year because it's important that you not be caught off guard by churches who either misrepresent themselves or fail to provide adequate information to prospective members.
Lydia's Corner: Isaiah 30:12-33:9 Galatians 5:1-12 Psalm 63:1-11 Proverbs 23:22