Theology is a serious quest for the true knowledge of God, undertaken in response to His self-revelation, illumined by Christian tradition, manifesting a rational inner coherence, issuing in ethical conduct, resonating with the contemporary world and concerned for the greater glory of God.
In my last post, How to Choose a Church, I began to introduce some reasons people choose a church and hopefully some more basic criteria that folks should use to make that decision. Some of the reasons people give when they’re looking for a place to worship are pretty common. I’ve listed five of them in the last article and relisted them below.
- Good preaching
- Music is good
- Friendly people
- Too big/too small
- Children’s/youth ministry
I think that these are pretty common things that people look for, but I’m not sure that the reasons are determined as purely as it may seem. For example, each of us would probably agree that good preaching is important. What we may not agree on is what determines good preaching. That being said, what is it that may be different between one Christian and another that may cause each of them to come to different conclusions on whether preaching is “good”?
In my opinion, it comes down to the three things that I mentioned last time. How people make decisions on what is “good” preaching (or worship music, teaching, true fellowship, etc.) is determined by their theological bent, doctrinal adherence, and value placed on the gospel.
Unfortunately, although most Christians do have views on theology, some knowledge of doctrine, and would at least give lip service to the importance of the gospel, the amount of thought placed into those things is scarce. I would say that for most of the laity, their theology and doctrine is based upon their own personal tradition rather than any personal study. If folks would be honest, most of them would say that they have a particular theological belief or doctrinal stance because of their parents, or something similar. “Well, I’ve always been a Baptist” one might say. Or, “that’s just what I’ve always heard preached”, is a pretty common excuse.
Now, it’s not as if being a Baptist is bad or believing what you hear preached is wrong. It’s not. You should believe your preacher for the most part and your particular denomination does deserve some loyalty. What your preacher or your denomination does not deserve is your mindless allegiance. So, one of the first and best things that a person can do is realize that those things are factors.
Superstition is belief without evidence.
That being said, if a person realizes that their beliefs are not only influenced but mostly determined by tradition, then that knowledge should be taken advantage of by taking the opportunity to challenge those beliefs. Please don’t read into this something that is not being said. I am not trying to get you to entertain unorthodox or non-Christian beliefs. I am saying that the beliefs that you’ve “always held” may not be correct and just because you’ve always held them is no proof of their validity. To illustrate this, ask yourself these questions…
You’ve always believed in immersion (or pouring), why do you still believe that way?
You’ve always been a charismatic? Why do you remain a charismatic?
You’ve been reformed in your theology? Tell me, why are you?
What is your view of the Lord’s Supper? Luther’s, Calvin’s, or Zwingli’s? Do you think that may be important? Do you know the differences?
So you’re an Arminian? Have you ever talked to a Calvinist about why he believes salvation is monergistic? Have you ever studied that theology for yourself or do you simply dismiss it a priori?
These things are so important, why would you merely rely upon your past experience to determine whether they are right?
If you are reformed, your theology will determine much about how you view preaching. If you believe in immersion rather than sprinkling, your doctrine will be held to that standard. If you are charismatic, there are denominational churches that you will probably never set foot in. Your theology will determine whether you see Eucharist as sacrament or mere ordinance. Your view of the gospel will be a direct result of whether you are a Calvinist or Arminian.
Theology determines a great deal of how we choose a church. Ignoring theology would be to choose at our own peril. In fact, it has been said that we are all theologians. We should strive to be good ones. Why?
The gospel is doctrine, period. Doctrine is determined by theology. Therefore, your theology determines your view of the gospel, it’s means, it’s methods, and it’s value. That, my friend will go a long way in determining what church you attend.
Your view of the gospel will determine whether you prefer topical or expository preaching.
Your view of the gospel will determine how you view worship music, as placing a higher value on ascribing worth to God or emoting and seeking an experience with God.
Your view of the gospel will even determine how you view fellowship in a local church. Is the Spirit of God present in the unity of the church? How will the spiritual gifts be used? Will women preach or teach men? What government is best? How or will discipline be administered? It will even determine in part, your view of Communion. Fellowship is much more than the hospitality of the people, but it may not be less than that. Your view of the gospel will weigh heavily upon your view of corporate worship.
The ultimate goal of theology isn’t knowledge, but worship. If our learning and knowledge of God do not lead to the joyful praise of God, we have failed. We learn only that we might laud, which is to say that theology without doxology is idolatry. The only theology worth studying is a theology that can be sung!
Everything else, in my opinion, should build from these three things, theology, doctrine, and the gospel. Get those things in order. Prioritize them the best you can in categories like essential, non-essential, etc. Hold local assemblies accountable to your standards. Do your homework on church websites. Most of all, pray, pray, pray.
One other thing, if you’ll notice, I didn’t give you what I consider right theology or doctrine here. I didn’t mean to. You can get that in other places, even on this blog. What I did mean to do is to get you to think, to think about one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make and how to make it, the decision of how to choose a church.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:12–14, ESV)
There are some great online resources out there for people willing to do the extremely fun work of learning how to do theology. Some of these come as apps for smart phones and other mobile devices. Many seminaries and universities are also offering free apps as well as certificates for lay people. Here are a couple of my favorite:
 Ritzema, E. (Ed.). (2012). 300 Quotations for Preachers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.