Monday, April 7, 2008

Shopping for a Church?

In his KFUO interview, Dr. Kieschnick demonstrates his sincerity for winning souls along the lines of what some refer to as "church marketing." This leads us to a reasonable question: What DO we say to people who are looking for a church to attend?

The text below comes from a brochure I produced some 15 years ago . . . and admittedly, it needs some refining and editing. The point I'd like to make is that our congregations are for sinners. If you're looking for forgiveness, grace, mercy and peace in Christ, then this is the place for you. If you are hoping to find "nice" people in a congregation that is accepting of all the personal beliefs which you hold dear together with wholesome religious activities for the entire family, then let me suggest a church down the way a bit further . . .

Why Not Just Join?

If we like the menu and food at a restaurant, we eat there. If we like the prices and selection at particular grocery store, we buy our food there. If we find a favorite mall, we do much of our shopping there. We are used to choosing where we spend our money and time. Why not do the same with churches?

It is not uncommon to find some people who flitter about from one church to another in their lifetimes. For a while they may prefer the pastor at one congregation, but then they get tired of him and go someplace else. Likewise, they might like the activities and the people at a church, but then a disagreement or falling out occurs, and they leave that church for someplace else. Church membership is only as consistent as a person’s feelings and relationships at the moment.

A Different Kind of Membership

There is, however, another way of looking at church membership, a way which has staying power. It is not ultimately concerned whether the pastor is friendly or inspirational, but whether he is telling the truth about God. It is not concerned whether the members are outgoing or whether the church has enough social activities, but whether the church stands fast upon the Word of God.

If you select a church based on human qualities of the pastor or people you are making a selection which is bound to change as easily as the pastor or people themselves change — like shifting sands in the prevailing winds. That is why we want to direct your attention to the Word of God as it is preached and taught and not on personalities and creature comforts. As 1 Peter 1:24-25 states: “For all men are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. And this is the Word that was preached to you.”

In John 8:31-32, we read that Jesus said to those who believed Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” We are concerned about abiding in Christ’s Word of truth as His disciples. There is nothing wishy-washy or willy-nilly about abiding as Christ’s disciple. Becoming a member of this congregation is something more than joining and quitting in an easy-come-easy-go way.

Many churches today want to emphasize that they are friendly. Many want to emphasize how many programs for fun, fellowship, and convenience they may offer. But how many claim to have the truth? Friendliness, convenience, and social interaction are all nice things, but they are not what will help you stand before the Almighty Lord God.

Our concern is not in arguing over that claim, but in proclaiming Law and Gospel faithfully. The Law exposes our need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It shows that we need forgiveness. The Gospel is not for people who think that they are “basically good.” The Gospel is for the broken-hearted sinners who need life which Jesus gives through His gifts.

Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?

Some years ago, there was a t.v. program where a group of three challengers tried to fool a panel of 4 jurors. Each of the contestants claimed to be the same person. The panel members were able to ask a few questions to decide who was really who he said he was. At the end of the session the moderator would say, “Will the real Aletheia Jefferson please stand up?”

Today, all Christian churches teach people to “believe in Jesus.” But not all preach the same Jesus. Some preach a Jesus who says that the Lord’s Supper is just a symbolic ritual for remembering Him, while other churches proclaim a Jesus who says that the Lord’s Supper is His true body and blood given for the remission of sins. Some preach a Jesus who says that babies should be baptized while others teach that babies should not be baptized because they can’t believe. Some preach a Jesus who says it’s o.k. for women to be pastors while others preach a Jesus who says that the Bible is against the ordination of women. Will the real Jesus please stand up? There are many churches preaching many different “Jesuses.” But what is the truth? Matthew 28 records Jesus as saying, Teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you. Likewise, the Bible warns against those who preach false “Christs” and those who proclaim a different Gospel.

Would you vote for a politician who supports ecological concerns to one group but then turns around and is sympathetic to heavy industrialization of forest lands? Would you trust an elected official who says to wealthy businessmen that he favors tax loopholes for them but to the poor he says we need to tax the rich people more heavily? We don’t appreciate two-faced politicians. But then why do we tolerate it with regard to spiritual matters? Many churches and campus ministries give the appearance of being loving and open to everything and everybody. But when churches try to stand for everything, they end up standing for nothing at all.

There is no such thing as generic Christianity. If you are going to believe in Jesus, you must believe in Him as He proclaims Himself. In other words, you must understand and take a stand on the specifics of Holy Baptism, The Lord’s Supper, and the Word of God in the way He gives it. To do anything less is a foolhardy denial of the Gospel. Join a congregation which is gathered around the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and all that He has taught, a congregation which you will not just flitter away from if you even if the pastor is boring or the people are cold. When you find such a church centered on forgiveness rather than commandments, even wild horses won’t be able to keep you away from the joy and peace which are proclaimed in Christ!

Which Church is Right?

People will argue fiercely about which is the best car, beer, or political party. But when it comes to churches, one is supposed to be as good (or bad!) as another. It may be that cars, beers, and political parties really do matter more than churches — or else they have done a better job of convincing their listeners. But let’s face a few simple facts about churches and their differences.

Fact 1: Differences among the churches are real and important. They consist of something more than the trifles about what the pastor wears, customs, or whether the Lord’s Prayer is said this way or that. They deal with the actual basics of the Bible.

Fact 2: The main differences are not too complicated for the average person to understand. True, there are sections of Scripture that are difficult to understand (see John 6:60-69 and 2 Peter 3:15-18). But the basic teachings about life in Christ are clearly laid out in Scripture.

Fact 3: Christ wants us to recognize the differences in doctrine and to remain faithful to the truth. The following Bible passages illustrate this: (Romans 16:17-18) “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

(1 Tim. 6:3) “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing.” (also see 2 John 1:9)

To become a member at this congregation means to agree that these beliefs and practices are faithful to God’s Word — a person must receive what is being preached and taught before believing and agreeing wholeheartedly. If you'd like to learn about these things before making a commitment, then by all means, we'd love to have you!


dm42 said...

Great text! Would you consider allowing it to be shared, modified, etc. by other churches for their use (or even releasing it under a Creative Commons copyright license?

Rev. Joel A. Brondos said...

Sure. Feel free to adopt/adapt it.

I actually have visited churches where this text was printed up as a brochure without any acknowledgment as to where it came from.

That doesn't bother me, really, but my one fear is that someday I will use something I had written and be accused of copying it from someone who had used my material without acknowledging it. Is that paranoid, or what?

Neuroses notwithstanding, feel free to use anything that appears on this blog for the sake of the Gospel.

Dizziness said...

Saved for future use! Thanks!

Dan said...

Excellent article! These types of churches seem to be becoming harder and harder to find.