As God is more and more exposing the rot and corruption at the heart of what passes for Christianity these days; as one famous church after another is embroiled with scandal; as the weak are driven away and the wicked are exalted, there is a question that is on the lips of many, many faithful Christians who no longer have a home:
How can I find a safe church? How can I find a congregation that is faithful to the gospel and a safe place for the sheep?
I understand the question. How can you “not forsake the gathering together” when false churches and dangerous cults abound. Weird authoritarian doctrine, abusive patriarchy, heretical teaching on Christ and the Trinity, are so pervasive that it is no longer sufficient to simply look at the creeds that they say they hold or the denomination of which they are a part.
The Reformers 500 years ago were at a similar place. Being in the local church was one of the most dangerous places to be. If you professed that Christ was not physically present in the Lord’s Supper you could be burned alive.
But they did not abandon the idea of gathering themselves together. Whether it was in homes, or in fields, or in the woods, God’s people gathered together.
So the question – how do you find a safe church – needs an answer.
Our fathers answered it with the now famous formula: If the word of God is faithfully preached; if the sacraments are administered according to the word of God; and if church discipline is administered according to the word of God.
Since this is a blog and not a book, I would like to focus on the last one – discipline.
This means something different than simply practicing excommunication. Rome in the Middle Ages practiced excommunication. In fact, the Reformers that put together this formula were all excommunicated from Rome.
Rather, it means this: The sheep are led to green pastures, and the wolves are driven away.
And you think to yourself: But how can I tell if the church is serious about driving away wolves and protecting sheep?
And here is where social media is actually helpful. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if wolves wore signs announcing that they were wolves? Often times they do.
If they call the rape of a toddler “sexual satisfaction”…
If they defend those who call the rape of a toddler “sexual satisfaction”
If they blame the rape of the toddler on the refusal of the wife to have intercourse…
If they defend those who blame the rape of the toddler on the refusal of the wife to have intercourse…
If they call the abuse and silencing of women “Biblical manhood and womanhood”…
If they call sexual assault “inappropriate conduct”…
If they deny that marital rape is a sin and extreme wickedness…
If they believe that calling the police is “getting the unbeliever involved” and will not report crimes against women and children.
If “Battling feminism” is far, far more important than loving your neighbor and sitting with the wounded.
If battling feminism is more important than the dignity and welfare of their wives and children.
If they absolutely refuse to change their views on these things, and reject all compassion at every opportunity in order to uphold their system.
If their system is more important than the lives of the sheep.
To me, these are, at a minimum, a failure on the part of the church to hold the third mark. Sheep are abused, and wolves are set free on the congregation to prey to their heart’s content.
Jay Adams opened the door and the churches that followed his method became the most dangerous place for the sheep.
There are other signs that a church should be avoided as potentially unsafe:
If Doug Wilson is on the book table.
If they view crying as weakness and manipulation.
If they don’t have a Child Safety Policy in place and enforced.
If the pastor makes “The old ball and chain” jokes, or “You know how women are” jokes.
If the kids all look scared to be in church.
If they continually preach about the “sin” of divorce and never speak of the wickedness of the covenant breaking the leads to divorce.
If it is more important to enforce their view of divorce than to protect the sheep.
These are all red flags. Maybe we should put together a list….
So by all means, check the doctrinal statements. Look at what creeds and confessions they hold to. But don’t neglect the third mark of the true church.
This is where many fail. Check the social media feeds of the elders and pastors and other leaders. Who do they follow? What groups do they belong to?
Can they tell the difference between wolves and sheep? Do they cast away the beaten women and embrace the man who did the beating?
Do they raise funds for the defense of the man who destroyed his family?
Take your time. Look not only at the congregation and the doctrinal correctness of the preaching, but check some of these things as well.
These things are far, far more important than whether you like the music or enjoy the coffee fellowship. A handful of people singing Psalms together in safety is far better than singing with a praise band of wolves.
It is better to meet outside or in your home with the sheep than gather together at the table of the wolves.