Well then, the Children's Creed teaches us (as was said) that a Christian holy people is to be and to remain on earth until the end of the world...But how will or how can a poor confused person tell where such Christian holy people are to be found in this world?Luther's centuries-old question is one many Christians find themselves asking today. Maybe more so than in Luther's time.
- Martin Luther
quoted by Daniel R. Hyde
Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims (103)
Today the situation is more confusing, since so many organizations call themselves churches. We have everything from theological cults, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to thousands of garden-variety nondenominational churches, to the so-called "mainline" churches, and everything in between. The Belgic Confession's words are just as true today as they were when originally penned: "all sects which are in the world assume to themselves the name of the Church" (Art. 29). - Hyde (104)So, indeed, how is a Christian - whether newly converted, newly relocated, or newly convinced of a need for change - to find a church? We must begin with what Scripture says about the church, with - as Derek Thomas calls it in his commentary on Acts - the "pattern of how the church ought to be." (55) .
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47, ESV)Does such a church exist in our fallen world? I have wondered that myself. In January 2013 my family left our church home of 18 years. Our search for a new one was at times arduous and frustrating. And, as we were grieving our loss, it was also painful. Despite our all-over-the-place emotions, the Lord was gracious enough to keep our focus on the goal: finding a true church to call home. He taught - and continues to teach - us some invaluable lessons along the way.
Anyone looking for a church home must take the matter seriously, and prayerfully. Whether finding your first church or simply (for whatever reason) another one, the process will require commitment, discernment, and - I know I am repeating myself here - prayer.
Certainly, it helps to know what you're looking for. Careful study of the doctrine of the church - and prayer - are a crucial foundation of any church search. Hyde sets forth three marks of the true church: pure preaching of the Gospel, pure administration of the sacraments, and church discipline. In his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever sets forth even more distinguishing marks of a healthy church: expositional preaching, biblical theology, the Gospel, a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of church membership, biblical church discipline, a concern for discipleship and growth, and biblical church leadership. Both books have a solid foundation of Scripture, and Dever's was tremendously helpful. (I have blogged about how Dever's book aided in our church search)
We had a clear vision because we had experienced it at the church we attend whenever we visit our nation's capital and we had spent time studying Dever's book. With our mental checklist - and prayer - we formulated a plan for our search. Instead of rushing into a commitment of the first church we visited, we determined to spend one month each at three different churches we had heard of before making our final decision. As we were completing the first two months, we realized the third church we'd planned to visit was no longer an option. We were at a loss. Providentially, the Lord directed our steps to another church we'd never heard of but that has become our church home. In many ways it is not what we expected, but it is where, as Luther wrote, Christian holy people are found.