Do You Know of a Sound Congregation…?

how many sins does it take in a congregation not to worship (or work) with them?

I see this notice on Facebook often. Someone is traveling. They ask, “Do you know of a sound congregation in ___________? We are going to be there this weekend.” Or from a fellow preacher, “I have been contacted by this congregation. Do you know if they have any problems? Would I want to move there?”

It’s A.D. 54. I’ll be traveling through Corinth this weekend. Do you know of a sound congregation where my family could worship?

Check with the apostle Paul. He wrote them a letter recently. He addressed them as, “The church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2, NKJV).

I decide to stop by on my way to Athens. But I’m shocked! They’re divided. Some of the most arrogant, prideful people I’ve ever met worship there. I heard, and I got it from a good source, a man is shacking up with his father’s wife and the church is doing nothing—they’re proud of it! They have all kind of marriage problems in this congregation. People are confused about eating meat offered to idols.

I’ve been to a lot of churches, but it’s the first one where they had a potluck, and the lady with the best banana pudding wouldn’t share with everyone—just her little group. She didn’t know me. I didn’t get any of her banana pudding. And there was one or two drunk during worship. You should’ve seen their worship. People were talking and singing at the same time. Some were speaking in a language I couldn’t understand, and nobody was there to tell me and others what they were saying.

During Bible class, there was a discussion about the resurrection. There were several who argued resurrection was impossible. They said once you’re dead, that’s it. I can’t believe they permitted someone to express that in what I understood Paul to say was a sound congregation.

In Bible class, several argued a resurrection of a dead body was impossible. Click To Tweet

Would it be better to worship in our motel than go to church in Corinth? If I were moving there, should I raise money to start a sound congregation in Corinth? I thought Paul said the church belonged to God, and they were saints. If I started a Sound Church of Christ in Corinth, would Paul hold a gospel meeting for us? If Paul held a gospel meeting for the old church in Corinth after I started the Sound Church of Christ in Corinth, should I mark Paul for preaching for an unsound church because of all the sin and error in that church? Should I post on Facebook, Twitter, and in every brotherhood paper that Paul was unsound because he preached for that group?

If you moved to Ephesus in A.D. 96, would you worship with the church there? They’re active. They are “sound”: cannot bear those who are evil, tried false apostles and found them liars, and they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus also hates. No-one would write you up for worshipping with this sound congregation. However, Jesus says they’ve left their first love. Unless they repent, He’ll remove their lampstand. It’s interesting the “soundest” church in Asia is the one of seven Jesus is warning about removing their lampstand. Is it possible Jesus’ evaluations and our evaluations are different?

Suppose you lived in Sardis around the turn of the first century, and the congregation asked you to serve as an elder, what would be your response? Would you want to serve as a shepherd in a dead church? Is it possible you and the few who had not defiled their garments could have a good influence on the majority who were dead? Would it be worth it to shepherd the few and encourage them to continue to stay alive in a dead church and continue to walk with Jesus?

If you were a preacher when John was sending Jesus’ messages to the churches in Asia Minor and you saw an ad in the Gospel Advocate the church in Laodicea was looking for a preacher, would you send your resumé? Or would you and I require a better church?

Questions

  • Who needs to be labeling churches?
  • If I label a church unsound where Jesus hasn’t removed its lampstand, am I adding to the words written in the book (Revelation 22:17, 18)?
  • Who has the knowledge and authority to declare a church no longer a church Jesus recognizes?
  • Does Jesus need me to advise Him when to do that?
  • Should my concern be to find the purest group or to be a Physician’s assistant Who said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17)?
  • When the church where I’m worshipping does a thing or two that makes me uncomfortable, should I and a couple of hundred others turn it over to the ones who are wandering in the wrong direction, or stay and be salt and leaven to remain faithful to what the Bible teaches and live as Jesus taught?
  • If I leave so I can feel comfortable again, how is that different from those who want to do other things so they can feel better?
  • Is Jesus’ call to discipleship to do whatever you can to feel comfortable or to serve in Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Nashville, San Francisco, or Frog Jump—even if everyone and everything is not as it should be now?
Who needs to be labeling churches? Click To Tweet

How did Jesus and the Holy Spirit decide when to mark off a church in the New Testament as unworthy of attendance and service? How do you decide today?

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54 thoughts on “Do You Know of a Sound Congregation…?

  1. Good point, Jerrie. Paul addressed the church in Corinth as “the church of God” even though they were quite immature and full of flaws.

  2. It is so very difficult when a “new wave of thinking” (that is not in line with Scripture) crashes into a congregation and is supported by the eldership of that congregation. I personally know how heart-wrenching it is to be told to, “Get on the train, or get off the tracks.”. How long should a Christian stay with a congregation that has “gone off the rails”? For us, it was a tear fought battle for the Truth, but the Truth was rejected. For the sake of our family, we tearfully chose to leave that congregation. I know that most members of that congregation we’re glad to see us go, since we were a “speed-bump” to their agenda. We felt very ineffective and very hindered in our worship. I agree that labels can be bad, but knowledge about the mindset of a congregation is helpful to new-comers. May each individual Christian strive to serve the Lord and others as HE directs.

    • Christy,

      Thank you for your perspective. It is true that some have an agenda and push it to the hurt of the congregation. It is interesting that after pushing their way to grow, many still don’t grow.

      I appreciate the pain you chose before leaving. It is an individual choice. What pains me is when people leave without trying to reconcile. Most people don’t treat family like that. There comes a time to cut off family. That is the last resort.

  3. Most folks have either cut firewood, or know where firewood comes from. Let’s look at the “soundness” of an oak tree, as a metaphor. The question is not so much “how many wood-boring insects can be present, and the tree still be sound?” Instead, consider the question: “is the tree so diseased that it’s interior is all hollowed out?” A gust of strong wind can sometimes reveal an unsound oak tree (1 Corinthians 3:13).

    • Eric,

      Good illustration. Many times you can’t tell until you get to the center. God is able to look on the heart and He decides accurately. My problem is when I try to make exact judgments without God’s perspective and before He reveals it. 1 Corinthians 3:13 tells us when it will be revealed: “each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

      It hurts to see brethren separated when one or both start speaking for God without His insight and permission. If I’ve read the scriptures correctly about Corinth, and other churches in the New Testament, God is more patient than many brethren.

  4. “Do you know of a sound congregation…” could be interpreted to mean, “I will be in a new city and I know there are various congregations and I would prefer to worship in a congregation that has accapella singing and that I can have a reasonable expecation that the truth of God’s word will be taught. For those of you who know me and what I stand for and know the area, can you recommend a congregation to me?” While I appreciate the caution in your well-written article, we have choices of where to worship in a new city we are visiting, or when we move to a new city we may have a choice to make about where we “place membership.” Labels? Of course they can be misleading and misunderstood, and we need to be careful about using labels (labels only have meaning when the people using the labels agree on the meaning), yet, that does not change the fact that I may have a choice as to where to worship on Sunday in the new city and I solicit advice so that I can make the best choice. As to where I might go preach? You in your work recognize that every preacher is not the best match for every church. Choices are made, by the preacher and church. Labels aside, the question asked on FB or Email List seeking information is a fair question. Years ago I went on the vacation and took my wife and children to a church that had a woman lead in public prayer (I had not checked on what to expect). Today, I could unknowingly go to a new church in a new city and the sermon is on “Why We Believe Instrumental Music in Worship is Not Wrong,” etc. Having a choice, such churches would not have been my choice if I were to know. Thank you for cautioning about labels…but I would not chastise the fellow for asking advice on where to worship (he just wanted some information — would it be better for him to be ignorant?), when there are choices.

    • Steve, I see your point. All of us investigate churches in an area to see if we can worship there. But I do not think Jerrie was/is making a point about investigation. The point is: Do we draw lines of “soundness” where Scripture does not draw them? Do we leave a church or mark a church simply because doing so makes us feel better (even though doing things because they feel good is a criticism we give liberal churches)? Do we give ourselves apostolic authority the Bible never gives us? His questions at the end of the article get to the heart of this issue.

  5. I think that the questions of “How did Jesus and the Holy Spirit decide when to mark off a church in the New Testament as unworthy of attendance and service? How do you decide today?” are pretty straightforward, as are the answers.

    Once a congregation decides that they don’t want anyone helping them find the truth in Scriptures, you move on from them. If I go worship with a congregation and see error (not difference of opinion), my job is to attempt to lovingly restore my brothers and sisters. If they see my attempt to help and refuse to acknowledge that there is any error, my next job is to re-examine my position on the topic and make certain of what the Scriptures teach. If I am certain of what the Scriptures teach, and the congregation is unwilling to change, my job is to move on elsewhere.

    This is what Jesus taught, and it is what Paul taught, and it is what the early church practiced. This is why Paul was writing the letters – to correct the congregations. Even with that, if individuals within the congregation refused to accept correction, they were expelled (and to the point in Revelation, an entire congregation was in danger of being “expelled” by Christ)

  6. I imagine MOST people just don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised during their visit; i. e. instrumental music when they stick to a capella. Visiting other congregations, while traveling can be so enjoyable, even if you don’t speak their language.

  7. This is one of your best posts. I love them all but this one has a lot of great logic and thought provoking questions. Thank you

  8. Wonderful perspective and fitting with the actual picture of the ancient church (the “way”). If I understand Apostle John (1 John 1:8,9) all of my brethren as well as myself are “erring” and have some unsound behaviors and thoughts. This would make it impossible to find a “sound” church this side of heaven if sound means that no repentance and correction is necessary. Why would such a group even need a savior if they were that accomplished? Have a great day.

  9. Jerrie, Thank you so much for this article and for your willingness to consider the heart before condemning members of a congregation who are not perfect. I am so thankful that we will be judged by a saviour who loves us and died for us.

  10. The thoughts presented are very real and valid. One must be careful not to let himself as well as family members and other brothers and sisters be caught up in and overcome by false doctrine. These circumstances would not be advisable for Christians who were not strong, sound, knowledgeable and experienced in the word of God. Never the less we all know that these situations do exist and good strong Christian families are needed badly.!!!

    • The Christian life is a war. If not, why the armor?

      The first response should not be retreat.

      I agree that each person and each family need to determine how much they are prepared to suffer before they need relief.

  11. I would like to “second ” Steve Housley’s comment. Brother Jerrie, you ask a very fair question and make valid, sobering points. However, we find more and more churches that have ‘church of Christ ‘ on the outside and are nearly unrecognizable on the inside doctrinely speaking… i.e. Dismissing baptism as essential to salvation, condoning active homosexuality, embracing the denominational concept (all religious roads lead to heaven), etc.
    That said, I believe I understand your point and firmly agree.

    • Jim,

      Thank you for understanding the point and commenting. I also am concerned about unscriptural practices.

      There is a danger that I can major on other’s mistakes to the failure to evaluate my own weaknesses. I find myself wanting to be more comfortable than bearing a cross. Sometimes a soldier needs to stay and work in a dangerous, difficult situation. That’s what Jesus did.

  12. I like Sardis … “you are dead… Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me…” That’s a hard place to worship, but if any more are going to heed the “Wake up!” call the few are going to have to persist. Stop by while you are vacationing, don’t try to ‘fix ’em’ but carefully encourage the few.

  13. I have been saying this for several years now. I must say, that whenever I see that a church is looking for a “sound preacher”, I have my understanding of what they mean, and assume it is not me. Usually, the word is used to mean “someone who thinks as I do. It kind of goes back to the old definition of “liberal” and “conservative”. A liberal is anyone to the left of me and a conservative is anyone to the right of me.

  14. This is a great article and I appreciate you writing it.

    I think we can draw at least one line in choosing where to worship God. You have written under the title, “how many sins does it take in a congregation not to worship (or work) with them?” In order to not worship with a congregation, it only takes one sin. If a congregation is participating in sin in the way that they worship, then you would also participate in that sin if you worshiped in the same way with them.

    For example, we have the commandment to lay something aside each first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2). We also know that the brethren participate in what the church funds (Phil. 4:14-17 – the brethren received fruit by supporting the work of Paul). So, if you were worshiping each Sunday at a church that supported something that Christ has not authorized the church to support, then either 1) you do not give and do not fulfill the commandment in 1 Cor. 16 and so you are in sin or 2) you give and participate in their sins and so you are in sin. Either way in that situation, you cannot keep your garments unsoiled and therefore you cannot worship with that congregation.

    Now, I would also make a distinction between working with a congregation and worshiping with a congregation. I am an evangelist in a foreign country. I teach in a lot of different congregations even though I primarily worship in one congregation. The congregation that I worship with each Sunday worships correctly so I can worship God in the correct way with them. Meanwhile, I am able to teach at several congregations without participating in their erroneous way of worshiping God.

    I will continue with the previous example. I worship at a congregation where I can give correctly each first day of the week. I fulfill that commandment. However, I am also able to teach at a congregation where they don’t follow Christ’s authority in the way they use funds of the church. While I am there teaching, I do not have to give to that congregation, but I am still fulfilling the command to give by giving to the other congregation. In this situation, I am able to keep my garments unsoiled while still working with the other church even though I could not worship with them in giving to the Lord.

    Of course, you are dealing with other lines that we cannot draw (not worshiping at a congregation because of non-congregational sins or heart problems like pride). I just thought I’d answer the question below the title and mention a line that we can draw when choosing a congregation. Again, thank you for such a thought provoking and well written article. God bless you and your work in His service.

    • Alejandro,

      Thank you for your thoughtful response.

      I’m glad you preach and teach those who aren’t doing everything right. That’s what Jesus did. And that’s the only choice for ministry.

      Question: were all people who worshipped in Corinth sinning because some in Corinth were sinning in their worship? They were not coming together to take the Lord’s Supper, but they should’ve been. “For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk” (1 Corinthians 11:21, NKJV). It seems their worship was disorderly—people speaking and singing at the same time, speaking in another language without an interpreter, women talking when they should be silent. Could some worship there and not participate in the wrong practices?

      Could it be that Paul was speaking to the faithful and those who were trying to be more faithful when he wrote “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

      I’m wondering if I need to let God sort out these real, complex situations without labeling everyone a sinner who worships with sinners.

    • Lancelot, Stephanie says “nailed it”.
      My reply is that you missed the head of the nail, and hit your own thumb. To say there are no sound congregations begs the question, “Can the bride of Christ be adorned in white, pure, chaste, and fit for submission to His Headship?” (Ephesians 5:27) Or, are we just to say we are committed to the ideology of a concept of a bride of Christ, without looking upon “her” countenance?

  15. Dear Jerry,
    It is not wrong for a Christian to ask for help to find a congregation of like precious faith when new to an area or travelling. Your article has turned a simple enquiry into a harsh criticism of a perfectly reasonable and wise practice. You also harshly judge the motives of those who ask this question and conclude they are self-righteous and wouldn’t try to help and teach those in error. It’s very unfair to compare a travelling Christian family or one moving to a new area to the context of an apostle in the 1st century church. It’s also a form of antism because you are condemning decision making that is clearly in the realm of personal choice. For example, are you making it a commandment that Christians sin by enquiring about sound congregations? Are you affirming that all must just turn up at any congregation without making any enquiries? Surely not! What if a Christian family decides they want to help and teach those in error by writing a letter or meeting with the elders rather than just turn up. Would that be okay? I’ve answered your questions with some of my own. Best, Brian
    Questions
    • Who needs to be labelling churches?
    o Should Christians warn other Christians about a congregation in that city that stubbornly despite teaching continue to use mechanical instruments in worship?
    o Should Christians warn other Christians about a congregation in that city that stubbornly, despite teaching, continue to allow homosexual marriage and fornication to be practised?
    o Are the above two congregations sound congregations?
    o Did Paul warn night and day concerning false teachers and command marking and avoiding?

    • If I label a church unsound where Jesus hasn’t removed its lampstand, am I adding to the words written in the book (Revelation 22:17, 18)?
    o Are we commanded to prove the spirits to see whether they are of God?
    o Can we prove the spirits to see whether they are of God?
    • Who has the knowledge and authority to declare a church no longer a church Jesus recognizes?
    o Has Jesus provided us with all things that pertain to life and godliness and thoroughly equipped us for every good work?
    o Has Jesus provided us with the knowledge and authority to inspect fruit and judge with righteous judgement?
    o Is the Catholic church no longer a church Jesus recognises?
    o How did you reach that conclusion?
    • Does Jesus need me to advise Him when to do that?
    o Has Jesus provided the word to advise us how we should conduct ourselves and carry out the will of the Father?
    o Does Jesus in His word teach us that the Catholic church is a church that He no longer recognises?
    o When you reached that conclusion were you advising Jesus?
    • Should my concern be to find the purest group or to be a Physician’s assistant Who said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17)?
    o Can I worship with the Catholic church and still be pleasing to God?
    o Does your argument apply to any church/religious group?
    • When the church where I’m worshipping does a thing or two that makes me uncomfortable, should I and a couple of hundred others turn it over to the ones who are wandering in the wrong direction, or stay and be salt and leaven to remain faithful to what the Bible teaches and live as Jesus taught?
    o What should you do if the ones wandering in the wrong direction are in the majority and stubbornly refuse to worship God in spirit and in truth?
    o What would you advise a travelling Christian if they asked your advice on where it would be best to worship in that location?
    • If I leave so I can feel comfortable again, how is that different from those who want to do other things so they can feel better?
    o Is there a difference between right and wrong?
    o Does comfortable equate to being faithful to God and feel better equate to being unfaithful to God?
    o Does this question contain ambiguous undefined words?
    o Can a person know how to be faithful and pleasing to God?
    o Is it right for a person to withdraw from a congregation because they stubbornly refuse to worship God in spirit and truth?
    o Is it right for a person to withdraw from a congregation because they don’t have flowers in the reception lobby?
    o What does it mean to bifurcate?

    • Is Jesus’ call to discipleship to do whatever you can to feel comfortable or to serve in Corinth, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Nashville, San Francisco, or Frog Jump—even if everyone and everything is not as it should be now?
    o Would Paul still worship and recommend the said congregations to travelling Christians if they stubbornly refused to repent and continued to worship God in vain according to the commandments of men?
    o Does Jesus’ call to discipleship mean continue steadfastly in the faith and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness?

    How did Jesus and the Holy Spirit decide when to mark off a church in the New Testament as unworthy of attendance and service? How do you decide today?
    Q1 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God (2 John:9).
    Q2 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God (2 John:9).

  16. Very thought provoking post and so relevant to our current religious culture.
    Interesting that Jesus in Rev. chap. 2,3 was positive first, bragging on the churches before noting the things he had against them and then told them to repent. We are living in a non-truth culture; community involvement and fellowship in a culture that resists real commitment to religion while at the same time celebrates their capacity to find or worship God on their own terms. Apostle Paul had the same problem as noted in Rom. 10:1-3 “…zeal for God but not according to knowledge, they in establishing their own righteousness have not submitted themselves to righteousness of God.”
    If you find your church is testing the waters of drifting or moving in the direction of going down a slippery slope that leads to going beyond that which is written, my recommendation is to remain as long as possible. Stay and be salt and leaven being faithful to Biblical sound doctrine and being a true Christian example to others. The call to discipleship is not always easy or enjoyable and may involve suffering but being a voice of the truth is always needed.
    Perhaps Nadab and Abihu thought their strange or unauthorized fire might make for a more innovative or meaningful sacrifice, but was contrary to the Lord’s command(Lev. 10:1-3). We must not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed…1 Peter 1:10-12.
    The old, old story was told from a first-century perspective for a specific reason. It not only fit the initial recipients first, but it was a message that would have to remain relevant through the centuries(“once delivered for all”)Jude 3]. We must have a determined commitment to Biblical authority and stay the course being faithful to the end(Mat. 28:18-20).
    To answer your question: It seems that one must eventually draw a line in the sand when a church openly, continually and blatantly avoids walking in obedience to God’s commands causing one to lose what they have eternal hope of being rewarded (2 John 6-11).

    J. Larry Graham 8-30-2017

  17. J. Larry Graham, this is perhaps the best comment I have read on the questioning of whether one should seek a sound congregation. (Though thre have been many). As I think back on all those comments, a close second would be the one from a woman name Christy.

  18. Excellent article. Our tradition is to run when there is something we don’t like or we are not comfortable with. In fact, the “Comfort Zone” has become our measurement of what is “sound.” We talk about restoring New Testament Christianity yet most of the congregations in the New Testament weren’t following our standard. No, problem, we assume that they did everything we are doing. If Corinth and Laodicea only had one assembly in each, we would probably buy some unleavened bread and fruit of the vine and have a sound service in our motel room!