10 Important Things to Consider When Choosing a Church to Attend
People have six days to be entertained, but the seventh day is a day of rest from worldly amusements and a time to seriously worship the risen Christ. If the church one is attending is theater-driven, tickling people’s ears with what they want to hear while using the world’s methods in an attempt toward relevancy, then the worship of the Lord is compromised with worldliness. Every Sunday churchgoers should shake off the worldly desire to be entertained and enter the holy gathering of the saints with the desire to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth in the beauty of Christ’s holiness.
The following guide is designed to help churchgoers with discernment as to whether they are attending church for the right reasons, and to help with discernment in choosing a faithful church to attend.
1. Sentimentalism should never overrule truth.
When it comes to church life, people are easily given to sentimentalism rather than to the truth. There may be a variety of reasons for this: sentimental attachment to a building, longstanding family representation in a particular church, pride in a certain denomination, etc. Doctrinal integrity often takes a back seat to these kinds of sentimental attractions. In these scenarios, people can easily honor their traditions more than the Lord.
2. The church should not be a product for consumption.
People approach a prospective church like consumers: What kind of programs does the church offer? What is the facility like? Does the pastor make me feel comfortable? How did the people make me feel? What people like and what they actually need are often radically different things. The church is established by Christ as a place to help the needy in their struggle against sin to receive mercy and the forgiveness of sins through the message of the gospel.
3. Your children should not determine the choice of a church.
We live in a day of the cult of the child. The home today is built around children in all ages of development with a neglect of proper discipline. This has devastating effects upon church life. Undiscerning parents are prone to listen to their child’s wants rather than to actively nurture their children by leading them in what they need. As peer pressure grows, a youth may complain that sermons are too long, the service is boring, or the views are too restrictive, and undiscerning parents often honor their young people more than the Lord as they base their church attendance on what the young person likes.
This has resulted in the practice of children’s church and youth centers, along with other practices that remove children/youth from the worship service. The consequences of this are devastating upon church life. We are raising an entire generation of children/young people who are not being trained to listen to sermons or worship the Lord together with God’s people. The long term fruits of this show in increased antipathy to anything formal or organized when it comes to worship, and an unwillingness to attend church. This is a prevalent reason as to why scores of young adults no longer attend Christian worship.
4. Style preference should not be neutral.
Often people base church attendance on stylistic preference, often with regard to music. The Bible never presents worship as a matter of personal taste or style. Self-imposed worship is greatly condemned in the Bible (see Col. 2), Christians, therefore, should give great care that worship conforms to God’s Word. Our music must conform to his truth, our liturgies should be filled with his Word, and the sermons should be delivered in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
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Reflections Concerning a Flower of the SoulBy Henry Anderson — 10 months ago
Christian, do not be down on yourself. Run to new heights in the love of God in Christ, by trusting in Him and adoring His hand toward you in seasons of ease and difficulty.
They say that April showers bring May flowers. Well, that might ring true for many parts of the country, but in central Texas, it’s usually May showers that bring June flowers. There’s quite a bit more rainfall in May. It’s always beautiful seeing the Indian paintbrushes, Indian blankets, and pink evening primroses rise up and cover the fields. The scenery from our God far surpasses even the most alluring Bob Ross paintings, as the landscape is dotted with radiant colors that seem to dance with the wind.
But as you know with flowers, as beautiful as the bright reds, the vibrant yellows, and the glowing pinks are…they do not last for long. That is especially true in the middle of a Texas summer. The rains have usually gone, and the heat scorches the once blooming and thriving floral landscapes. The colorful vista becomes light brown, with a dull green intermingled.
Something similar can occur within us, it’s something we are prone to in our fallenness. When the heat of trials are turned up and the fires are stoked, a certain flower that is designed to remain constant in the Christian life, begins to wither in us all at particular moments in time. The flower that I am speaking of is that of Christian contentment. Yet, it is a flower that does not have to fade or droop over from exasperation.
Christians have such a treasure that the world does not possess. By the grace of God, everyone who has believed in Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for sinners as a propitiatory sacrifice to the Father, who has risen gloriously from the dead, can be content––always. That’s moving news! However, it might not sound all that earth-shattering to your ears at first (or your eyes in this case since you’re reading this), but let me illustrate.
For the people of the world who remain at enmity with God, their contentment is only superficial. The burden of their sins remains fastly strapped to their backs. It cannot be shaken off permanently even with a seared conscience (cf. Matt 27:5 ; 1 Tim 4:2 ). There is a settled recognition that something is wrong and that judgment will come because of it. The contentment of the world, when it does appear, it never lasts because the object of their contentment is never sure (cf. Matt 7:24–29 ).
For some, it might be difficult to remember the discontentment that you had in your life before coming to love Jesus Christ. It might be tough to remember the fear of your guilty standing before a holy God. What liberty and freedom you have now. That knowledge of a perfect Judge which once made the skies sullen now makes them bright in the light of the gospel of Christ.
Having said that, even in salvation…as precious as that reality is, discontentment isn’t entirely absolved around us, or in us. For some of you, you do love the Lord Jesus, and you know all about discontentment in your life, even as you are reading this article.
There are at least two reasons for this. First, the world around us thrives on discontentment. Second, what became natural in us because of the fall, in our flesh, is discontentment.
It should come as no surprise that most people in this world are not content. Satan both knows this and loves this reality. He does everything he can to fan the flame toward more unsettledness in the world (always wanting but never having). It’s why in the United States last year according to Forbes, 300 billion dollars were being spent on advertising. For some perspective, it would take 9,500 years to count to that number without sleeping. Don’t let your head spin too much on that.
The number $300 billion is not consumers buying products. It’s only companies paying for their products to be displayed on TV, on the internet, and in print. Just for some additional perspective, that amount of money is more than the GDP of the 41st most wealthy country in the world, which is Chile, which is in front of Finland, Egypt, Portugal, Greece, and most other countries. That’s a lot of money. And that’s just for the US. When you add in the rest of the world by the same article approximately one trillion dollars were spent on advertising in 2021. The advertising business is predicated upon causing you to believe that you need something that you don’t presently have when you have probably been living just fine without having whatever they’re selling and didn’t realize you “needed” their trinket until you saw their message…just some food for thought.
Discontentment is not just bred through looking at advertisements alone. That’s something we all know. It can come through the relationships you have, even with brothers and sisters in the church. It can happen when you go over to someone’s house and see that they have the new this, that, or the other name it appliance. It can be when a family talks about the vacation they just went on to the mountains or through wanting to keep up with the Jones’. Or maybe it’s through social media in seeing someone wear a certain brand of clothing or living in a certain house or doing something in particular that causes you to think…“if only I had that…if only I were there too.”
Dissatisfaction can happen almost anywhere, at any time. There is a battle for your contentment, and it’s a battle that began long before you or I were born. You can trace the battle for contentment all the way back to the garden. Think about what the god of this age says to Eve, “For God knows that in the day you eat from it (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
We can postulate what went on between Eve’s ears. “You mean, serpent, there’s more to life than what I currently know? There’s more that I can have in this world? I have been misled and duped?” This leads us to the underlying accusation, the place where Satan wanted Eve. It’s where he wants you, and me, “Why would a good God withhold that from me?” That right there is an affront to and a charge against a perfect God. It’s nothing new, and it’s what we battle against today.
The goal of this brief post is to show you that God has given you, Christian, a Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. I have seen no better definition of contentment than that of the puritan pastor, Jeremiah Burroughs in the aforementioned work. He wrote in 1648,
Contentment is the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition.Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment
With those words, Burroughs, based on Scriptural texts (of which we will consider), opens the doors of your heart for greater joy in contentment in Christ.
There is only one word used in the New Testament for contentment. That sounds simple enough. But here’s the kicker, the word is found in three different forms (as a verb, adjective, and noun). The forms have slightly different nuances.
The verb form is “ἀρκέω.” It is used eight times and speaks of sufficiency or satisfaction (depending on the context). The idea is that there is nothing that is lacking. For example, Paul says in 2 Cor 12:10 , “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions and hardships, for the sake of Christ, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Paul was saying that amid all the hardships he went through: the beatings, imprisonments, sleepless nights, etc, he was sustained and content.
At which point, the world would say, “that’s simply not possible.” But the reason for this state was due to the Lord Himself. In 2 Cor 12:7–9 , we see the key turn in the lock of the truth revealed in verse 10.
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.2 Cor 12:7–9
Internet Sin vs. Biblical SanctificationBy Ron DiGiacomo — 1 month ago
We are to reckon ourselves as dead to the penalty and power of sin because we are dead to the penalty and power of sin. We are not to obey the lusts of sin because sin is no longer our master. For we have not just died with Christ but by the Holy Spirt been raised with him, even seated with him in heavenly places, so that we might walk in newness of life. God would have us delight in the realities of our adoption as sons, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and our definitive break with sin. Taking pleasure in all the entailments of our hope of glory is what it is to walk in newness of life.
We live in a day in which personal testimony is considered more powerful than the ordinary means of grace. Many young men who are believed by profession to have entered through the narrow gate that leads to life have become indistinguishable from those that remain on the broad road to destruction. Because succumbing to internet temptation is now considered normative, the church has adopted a false view of the means and fruit of sanctification. Belief in a transformative gospel has given way to salvation by confession of guilt alone. Ungrounded accountability groups coupled with unbiblical candor about one’s darkest sins has replaced the biblical measure for salvation, which is non-delinquency in doctrine and lifestyle.
Perhaps more than ever since the time of the Protestant Reformation, the church needs to recapture a biblical understanding of salvation, and quit letting willful transgressors shape our soteriology. More than ever, the reality of our standing in Christ, along with God’s covenant promises and warnings, must be understood, believed and relied upon, but first they must be articulated.
The ordinary means of grace:
Growing in the knowledge of our union with Christ’s vicarious work on our behalf is no mere theological exercise for the mind. Indeed, when true theology penetrates the mind and is touched by the Holy Spirit, it is the very fountain of spiritual transformation. In the context of Word, sacrament and prayer, we are transformed only through the renewing of our minds after Christ, without which we do not, nor cannot, offer our bodies a living sacrifice in any way that is holy and acceptable to God. Apart from the transformative power of the ordinary means of grace released by faith alone, we forever remain conformed to this world and a stranger to biblical sanctification. The Bible is clear, “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:8
Realities, promises and warnings:
Any attempt at personal holiness that is not according to faith in the realities, promises and warnings contained in Scripture is not transformative. For what is not of faith is sin. (Romans 12:1-2; 14:23) Conversely, our growth in holiness will be proportional to (a) believing on the authority of Scripture who we are in Christ, (b) trusting in the covenant promises of Christ and (c) heeding Christ’s warnings. These objects of faith are made real to us as we prayerfully receive the whole Christ in Word and sacrament by faith alone. It’s only through even a minimally conscious realization of our union with Christ that we begin to lay hold of God’s covenant promises and heed its warnings. That is what it is to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.We must believe who we are in Christ as we make conscious of God’s covenant blessings and cursings.
First and foremost, the realities (or indicatives):
What is often absent in a “preach yourself the gospel” approach to sanctification is the full orbed ordo salutis. Believers aren’t merely to remind themselves that they are constituted and declared righteous for the sake of Christ. Although that is a precious reality, there is more sanctifying truth to embrace. We are to apprehend that our judicial pardon comes with spiritual adoption and definitive sanctification in Christ. Even allowing for an understanding of our having been buried, baptized or hidden in Christ, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and our pardon in him is not without our having been definitively sanctified and declared sons in the Son. Victory over sin entails a heartfelt conviction of the forgiveness of sins, but there are still other gospel realties to receive by faith. These realities are not an addendum to faith but at the very heart of true Christian piety. When we see ourselves as God sees us, we begin to behave more as we truly are in Christ. This is why the apostle can say, “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Romans 6:1)
The incongruity of not living according to a contextual biblical reality:
Effectual calling does not merely result in gifts of repentance and faith that lead to justification but is accompanied by all other saving graces. Through faith in Christ we have not just died to the penalty of sins in Christ, but to sin itself. Contrary to common evangelical thought, the old man is crucified with Christ once and for all, definitively releasing him from the power of sin in his life. Because we are justified and definitively sanctified, there is an incongruity of yielding our members to ungodliness. Christians are recreated with a position of dignity that makes sin not just incongruous but unsuitable because of our royal standing in Christ.
After the work of the cross, sin no longer had dominion over Christ. The penalty of sin, even the pangs of hell, awaited Christ until his earthly mission was finished. Having entered into Christ’s rest through the great exchange, sin no longer has dominion over the believer. In Christ we’re not merely free from sin’s penalty but from its power in our lives. Because sin no longer has dominion over us, it’s incongruous to live in it any longer.
It makes no sense to tell an imprisoned man to live as a free man. Yet it is most sensible to tell a free man to live as a free man. Similarly, the reason we are commanded not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies is because we are dead to sin’s penalty and power. Having been made alive in Christ, we can willfully yield ourselves to God and our members as instruments of righteousness. Such works of righteousness begin with believing the reality of what Christ has accomplished, and reckoning ourselves as we truly are in him.
We are to reckon ourselves as dead to the penalty and power of sin because we are dead to the penalty and power of sin. We are not to obey the lusts of sin because sin is no longer our master. For we have not just died with Christ but by the Holy Spirt been raised with him, even seated with him in heavenly places, so that we might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6; Ephesians 1) God would have us delight in the realities of our adoption as sons, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and our definitive break with sin. Taking pleasure in all the entailments of our hope of glory is what it is to walk in newness of life.
Our tendency toward legalism in sanctification:
The Scriptures do not teach we are justified through faith alone so that we might be perfected by works. There is far more good news for the poor in spirit, which crushes our self-righteousness even more than when we first believed. We are not just justified through faith alone but also progressively sanctified by the grace of faith. Our salvation is faith unto faith, for the righteous shall live by faith. (Romans 1:16-17)
Our sin of forgetting that we are pure in Christ will lead to immorality. If we live immorally, our election will justifiably become suspect. Without justifiable confidence in our union with Christ, we will become increasingly immoral. We can safely say, God has built into his system of sanctification a symbiotic relationship between assurance, faith and the practice of personal holiness. Similarly, if we confess our sins we will know God’s forgiveness and be cleansed anew. When we receive God’s cleansing, we walk as children of light and our sin will be increasingly abhorred. In that orbit we are more sensitive to our sin, quicker to confess, and more desirous to be cleansed. In the light we see more light, and we loathe the darkness. (2 Peter 1: 1 John 1)
The faith by which we live is not just a matter of believing God’s covenant promises and availing ourselves to the third use of the law, though those spiritual disciplines are essential to Christian living. Indeed, we are to be normed by the commandments of God as we embrace the promises in Christ. Surely, a proper use of the law when wrought by the Spirit can save us from the slavery of antinomianism and the bondage of legalism! Faith in the promises of God and love for the law of God will guide and shape the believer in the beauty of holiness, even as the Christian grows responsibly in liberty of conscience. Notwithstanding, the gospel of the cross must have preeminence in the life of the believer as he endeavors by grace to assimilate the whole counsel of God as he grows in Godliness, perfecting holiness.
Faith, a manner of life:
The conduit for our justification is the same for our sanctification. Again, the righteous shall live by faith. Accordingly, saving faith extends beyond justifying faith unto sanctifying faith. Faith envelops the entirety of the Christian life. We aren’t to receive Christ by faith alone only so that we might live our lives by sight. The Christ whom we have not yet seen is our sanctification. If we have received Christ by faith, it oughtn’t surprise that we are to walk in him by this very faith! “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6) Simply stated, we were saved, are being saved, and will be saved by faith.
The Christian life is to be offensively marshalled according to deep meditation that gives way to conviction over the already implications of the reality of the Christ event. It is through embracing the indicatives, (in particular our having died, been raised and seated with the ascended Christ), that the holy commandments of God become a lamp of light rather than a source of discouragement and condemnation. In the hands of the Holy Spirt, the law is good, for it brought us death, but God does not leave his adopted children there. God is not our accuser but our liberator. By reckoning ourselves as having been united to Christ in his sin-bearing life-giving work, as justified sinners we can participate in Christ’s resurrected life in our union with him.
Our position in Christ is a reality whether we’ve begun to understand it or not! But it is only by understanding it more fully that we walk in true holiness, more powerfully and victoriously. Gethsemane and the cross no longer yawn before Christ and, therefore, neither does condemnation await the believer in Christ. Because of that reality, sin is contrary to who we are, for we are not under the judgement of guilt and shame in our union with Christ. Because we are holy and without blemish in Christ, it’s incongruous to live as we too often would.
Boots on the ground, the battle ahead:
The gospel reality that we are to behold and receive by faith alone is the very foundation for the incongruity of walking in the paths of sin and death. It is in the context of all the entailments of our position in Christ that we seek to obey our Lord and Savior. We are to become who we are in Christ. It is only by faith in the contextual biblical reality that we can delight in the law of the Lord, even meditate on it day and night. With that, we turn to God’s instructions.
The Sacramental Theology of Herman BavinckBy Anthony Charles — 12 months ago
In the end, the sacraments are “designed to help us understand more clearly and certify to us that on account of Christ’s one sacrifice finished on the cross, God grants to us, by grace alone, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.” In this sense, “Believers are assured by [the sacraments] of their salvation.” For Bavinck, “the sacraments do not work faith but reinforce it, as a wedding ring reinforces love. They do not infuse a physical grace but confer the whole Christ, whom believers already possess by the Word.”
In this blog post, it’s my objective to synthesize Herman Bavinck’s theology of the sacraments. All of the thoughts and quotes are taken directly from Chapter 9 of Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 4, Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation.
Bavinck begins by saying that “in addition to the Word, the sacraments are a second means of grace.” The word Trinity is not in the Bible, and the same is true of the word “sacrament.” But the concept is there. The word sacrament is derived from the original Greek word mystērion. It describes the “mighty and marvelous acts of God that were formerly hidden but have now been revealed.” In Latin, this word was translated as sacramentum and also carried the meaning of a soldier’s oath of loyalty.
Signs and Seals
“Reformed theology describes the sacraments as signs and seals that are instituted and distributed by God so that believers might understand more clearly and be reassured of God’s promises and benefits in the covenant of grace.”
So first, sacraments are a sign of something greater. What’s a sign? In the natural world, a sign can be something like, for example, smoke or a footprint. When we see smoke, we know there’s a fire. When we see a footprint, we know a person is nearby. In the institutional world, slogans and flags serve as signs. They represent countries and corporations. Bavinck develops on this and says the “Sacraments are extraordinary signs taken, according to a preformed analogy, from visible things to designate invisible and eternal goods.” As signs, sacraments are analogies or visible pictures of something great.
Secondly, sacraments are seals. “They confirm God’s trustworthiness and strengthen for us the “element” of the covenant of grace that is summed up in Christ the Mediator, with all his benefits and blessings.” Seals authenticate that something is true. When we cash a check from someone how do we know it’s not a counterfeit? We know because it has an official bank seal and a signature that confirms its authenticity. It’s a trademark of the genuineness of something. As seals, sacraments signify something. They not only bring “the invisible matter to mind, but also validate and confirm it.”
Sacraments consist of two parts that can be distinguished as “word” and “element”—the spiritual truth signified and its physical sign. There’s an internal and an external reality. The sign and the seal refer to something else. They are not the thing but the sign and the seal of something greater.
Comparing and Contrasting with Roman Catholicism
Since many people in our society have a Roman Catholic background, they tend to look at the sacraments with some suspicion—especially when we say they’re a means of grace. They think perhaps Reformed Christians believe there’s some type of magical substance infused into them. Or that we believe in baptismal regeneration. Many discount the Reformed faith because of this misconception. Bavinck reassures us that this is not the case.
In Reformed theology, “The sacrament does not impart one benefit that is not also received from the Word of God by faith alone; the content of both is identical.”
Why? Because we’re not justified by the sacraments. It’s by faith alone that we have eternal life (John 3:36), are justified (Romans 3:28; 5:1), sanctified (John 15:3; Acts 15:9), and glorified (Romans 8:30).
While in Roman Catholic theology there is baptismal grace infused into the water, and in the Lord’s Supper the bread and wine physically change into the corporal flesh and blood of Christ, this is not the case in Reformed theology. “There is neither a separate baptismal grace nor a separate communion grace. The content of Word and sacrament is completely identical.”