Shopping for a Churchfrom a brochure at the University Lutheran Chapel, Minneapolis, MN
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 a 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 thing with churches?
It is not uncommon to find some people who flitter about from one church to another in their lifetime. 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 the 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.
We realize that some churches claim to have the truth – and in our society, it seems almost rude or egotistical to make such a claim. Because of that, the number of churches which will make such a claim is constantly decreasing. Many more churches seem to "humble" in not claiming to have the truth. They also reject any possibility of anyone else knowing the truth. But when you really think about it, do you want anything less than the truth about God when you are considering what your standing before God for eternity will be like?
Our concern is not in arguing over that claim, but in proclaiming Law and Gospel faithfully. To become a member at this congregation means to agree that it is faithful to God’s Word. That means that a person must receive what is being preached and taught before he or she can believe and agree wholeheartedly.
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 customs, vestments, or whether the Lord’s Prayer is said this way or that. They deal with the actual basics of the Bible. For example.
What is the supreme authority in the Church? The Bible? The Pope or some other religious leader? Human Reason? Science? Personal feelings or personal experience?
Are we saved only by the merits of Christ or do we have to add our own good works to be saved? Do the works of other people (like the saints or the Virgin Mary) get us in the good graces of God?
Do the Sacraments really convey gifts of grace or are they just symbolic pictures which people can use or not use as they please according to their private beliefs?
Is the Bible the Word of God or is it just the clever writing of some religious men?
To say that such differences don’t matter is to say that Christ and His Words don’t matter.
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 salvation, faith, Holy Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the work of the Holy Spirit are clearly laid out in Scripture. The problem comes when people twist the clear meaning of simple passages and call it "interpretation." That kind of manipulation of the Bible ought to be evident to those who take the time to review it.
Fact 3: It is simply not true that "every church claims that its teaching is the right one." Very few have such backbone today. The main conflict today is not between churches of this or that doctrine, but between those who still have doctrine and those who do not. Even the Roman Catholic church is getting confused about it teachings. Many other churches no longer believe that the Bible is really God’s Word – and therefore they don’t really know where they stand. Everything is left up to one’s own interpretation. They teach that no one can be critical on any contrary beliefs because nobody can really be certain what is right.
Fact 4: 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 Timothy 6:3-4) "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." (2 John 1:9) "Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son."
Will the Real Jesus 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 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 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. (Mark 13:21-23) (1 John 4:1-2) (Matthew 24:10-12)
It isn’t easy trying to sort through all the churches claiming to have a right interpretation of the Bible. So, many people find it easy to blow off the whole question. There are plenty of other things to attract their attention – and plenty of Sunday mornings one would like to sleep in. But the real Jesus is going to stand up someday. Will you be standing with Him?
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 they 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!