Ask Your Preacher
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
How do I know if I am attending the "right" church?
Dear Purposefully Picky,
Look for a church that is trying to follow the New Testament pattern as closely as possible. A congregation doesn’t need to be full of perfect people, but they need to be trying to faithfully follow God’s Word and not their own ideologies. The following are a few markers of what you should find in every church that is faithful to Christ’s Word:
- Their name should be Biblical. Church of Christ (Rom 16:16), the church (Acts 14:27), church of God (1 Cor 1:2), the Way (Acts 24:14) – all of these are Biblical names given to a local congregation. Having the right name on the front of the building doesn’t mean they are the right church, but if they can’t even get their name from the Bible, they probably aren’t worth wasting your time on.
- Their doctrine should be a copy of the New Testament (Acts 2:42). Any creeds, ‘statements of faith’, articles of belief, manuals, or handbooks are from man and not from God. You want a congregation that uses the Bible to decide their practices.
- They are autonomous. Every congregation of the New Testament had independence. Only local elders were over them (1 Pet 5:1-2, Acts 14:23). They were bound to follow Christ as their only head (Eph 5:23). No boards or committees, no headquarters in some other state, no popes or potentates – what you are looking for is a local body of believers which is accountable to Christ and His Word.
- The church’s work should be simple. The church of the first century wasn’t involved in every community and political arena. Their work was focused on three things – caring for needy christians (Acts 4:34), preaching to the lost, and teaching the saved (Acts 15:35). Find a congregation who is committed to being about Christ’s work.
- They should be open to examination. Any congregation that is serving Christ should be willing to explain why they do what they do. They should be willing to be examined because they are constantly examining themselves (2 Cor 13:5). There is nothing wrong with asking a congregation where their practices can be found in the New Testament. Ask questions and expect Bible answers for them.
These five things are by no means all of the characteristics of Christ’s church, but this should help narrow down your options significantly. Most people accept mediocrity from their church; don’t do that. It is unfair to expect the people of a congregation to be perfect… you will never find perfect humans. However, you should demand intellectual honesty and Biblical faithfulness from any congregation you want to be a member of. If you would like additional help as you look for a faithful congregation in your area, please email us at email@example.com and we would be happy to help you look.
Is it mandatory to attend church to be saved?
The Bible teaches that we shouldn’t forsake the assembly (Heb 10:24-25). God designed the church so that each individual would be strengthened by the power of the whole (Eph 4:16). God never wanted christians to try and serve Him without the support of a local church; that is why He commanded the church to assemble. It is impossible to do God’s work without being a part of a local church. If you would like help finding a faithful congregation in your area, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have been reading your posts about deacons, and a recent situation that has come up at our church makes me think you might be able to help. I am not an official deacon at our church. However, I have been serving our elders by using my unique talents and abilities to perform several chores… some of which were done by previous deacons no longer alive.
At a recent elder/deacon meeting, I was told one deacon expressed concern that I was acting as a deacon. He felt that I should discontinue the chores (website help, audio/visual support, etc.) until I am recognized as an official deacon. They all agreed there wasn't anyone better qualified at handling those jobs, but there was apparently still much disagreement on what I could scripturally do, and nothing has come of it. Can I serve the elders even though I'm not an official deacon, and really what is the difference, so I can explain it? Thanks.
Not A Deacon
Dear Not A Deacon,
The key to understanding this issue is to remember that all Christians are deacons, but not all Christians are elders’ deacons. Let us explain. Jesus was called a deacon to the Jews (Rom 15:8), the apostles were told to be deacons (Mk 9:35), and godly Phoebe was called a deacon to the church (Rom 16:27). ‘Deacon’ just means ‘servant’. Every Christian is to be a servant to the church… but only certain qualified men are allowed to be the type of servants that help the elders do their job.
The office of deacon (1 Tim 3:13) is a unique position designed to remove the burden of service from the elders, just like the benevolence situation in Acts 6 placed an added burden on the apostles (Acts 6:2-3). A deacon, under the oversight of the eldership, has the authority to undertake tasks that normally would require an elder. Deacons can deal with sensitive issues like benevolence, worship organization, counseling, and church finances that wouldn’t ever be shuffled off on a “normal” church member due to the task’s importance and delicate nature. These are all areas that an elder would normally have to be very hands-on with, but thanks to deacons, the elders can breathe easier.
There is no hard and fast rule as to what jobs require a deacon and what jobs don’t, but the general principle is: if it requires an elder’s touch, then it can only be delegated to an “elder’s deacon”.
I see things; I think God is contacting me; He wants me to do something, but I don't know what. Please, please answer this and tell me what to do!
What you need to do is go to church. The days of dreams and visions have passed. In the past, God spoke to various people through dreams, visions, and prophecy, but today, He speaks to us through His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-2). Now that we have the complete and perfect Bible there is no need for God to give people individual dreams or visions (1 Cor 13:9-10). It is through the Word of God that we learn how to live faithfully (Rom 10:17).
We are sure that the things you are seeing mean something, but they don’t mean anything supernatural or prophetic. Our guess is that you have a great deal of internal struggle in your life, and this is affecting your vision, your mind, and everything else. The fact that you are writing into this site tells us that you are trying to put the pieces together and get help. One of the things that we do here at AskYourPreacher is try to connect people with a desire for answers (such as yourself) with congregations near them that can help them find long-term relief. If you would like us to do that, just e-mail us back at email@example.com, and we will happily help in whatever way we can.
(This question is a follow up to “Whose Servant?”)
Help me understand how Philippians 1:1 deals with elders having scriptural oversight over deacons? How does this passage say that "deacons serve elders"?
Dear Context Please,
In hindsight, Php 1:1 does seem like a rather obscure reference without a little clarification. Our point was that the only time that deacons are ever mentioned is with elders. There are multiple references of elders without deacons, but zero Bible examples of deacons without elders. Paul told Titus of the urgency to appoint elders in every church (Tit 1:5). Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the congregations that they had started (Acts 14:23). As Paul said, the elders have the responsibility to feed the church (Acts 20:28), and that is the pattern we see over and over again. Congregations need elders because elders lead those congregations. On the other hand, we are never told that congregations have that same need for deacons, nor do we see any congregations that had deacons without elders. Php 1:1 was a reference (albeit all too vaguely) to that fact.
The word ‘deacon’ just means ‘servant’ and is used throughout the Scriptures. Matt 22:13 uses the same Greek word to describe a king’s servants. Rom 15:8 refers to Jesus as a deacon of God to the Jews. Deacons are always mentioned alongside those that they serve. Since the deacons we are talking about are never mentioned without elders, the implication is that the deacons serve the elders, and if you don’t have elders, you wouldn’t have deacons… the exact pattern we see throughout the New Testament churches.
The Bible gives no example of a congregation having deacons without elders. Where the Bible is silent, we must be to (1 Cor 4:6). Hope that provides the clarification we should have given in our first answer.