Church, Mailbag

The Mailbag: How can I tell if a church is doctrinally sound?

 

How do I know if a church is doctrinally sound? Do I base it off their statement of faith?

This is such a great question in a day when you can’t really trust that a building with the word “church” on the sign out front actually teaches and practices sound doctrine.

Because it would be impossible to cover every single aspect of doctrine that churches need to handle biblically, and because many of my readers are new to some of the deeper points of theology, what I want to do is give you some “signposts” to look for as you’re checking out a new church that will help indicate whether or not that particular church is likely to be one that handles those harder to understand points of theology in a doctrinally sound way.

First, check out these resources (and others) under my Searching for a new church? tab at the top of this page. These should be helpful if you’re unfamiliar with the biblical issues that a church should be handling correctly:

Looking for a Church Home? by Tim Challies

Church shopping? 35 Key Questions to Ask the Church at Berean Research

4 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Church by Brian Croft

How Can I Find a Good Church? 

Finding a New Church: Starting from Scratch

Six Questions for a Potential Church

If you are a brand new Christian and you aren’t sure what the answers to the questions in these articles should be, ask the person who led you to Christ, a pastor you know to be biblically trustworthy, or a friend who’s a mature Christian to help. You can also use the search bar at the top of this page to see if I’ve addressed your question. And, make liberal use of Got Questions? It’s a wonderful website that gives simple, biblical answers to all kinds of questions about the Bible, church, theology and other issues.

A church’s stance on many of these theological issues can be found in their statement of faith, which most churches post on their websites (often under the heading “What We Believe,” “Doctrinal Distinctives,” or something similar). While you’re on the church website, here are some other things to look for that can give you a fuller picture of whether or not the church is likely to be doctrinally sound.

⛪ Be wary of a church with no statement of faith on their website at all, and be cautious if they have a very simplistic statement of faith with few or no Bible verses cited to support it. Generally speaking, in my experience, the longer and more detailed a statement of faith is, and the more Scripture references it has, the more likely it is to be a doctrinally sound church. (Here and here are some typical, good statements of faith, and this one is particularly detailed.)

⛪ A few things to look for in the statement of faith:

•The Trinity: You’re looking for language along the lines of, “We believe in one God in three persons.” If you see three “modes” or three “manifestations,” that’s the language of modalism, and it is not a doctrinally sound church.

•Some churches have a section of their statement of faith on spiritual gifts or the Holy Spirit and include wording indicating whether they are a continuationist (ex: “we believe all the spiritual gifts are in operation in the church today”) or cessationist (ex: “we believe supernatural gifts such as healing and tongues have ceased”) church. Generally speaking, a church is more likely to be doctrinally sound if it holds the cessationist view. (No, I am not saying every continuationist church is heretical. I’m strictly talking probabilities here.) If there is anything in the statement of faith that indicates that a Believer will or must speak in tongues in order to be saved or as a result of salvation, or that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” occurs separately from salvation, it is not a doctrinally sound church.

•Some churches intentionally indicate that they are complementarian in the “Marriage and Family” or “Church Leadership” section of their statement of faith by stating that the husband leads the family and the wife submits to her husband, or by explaining that the roles of pastor and elder are limited to men. It’s usually a good sign when a church makes a point of saying these things.

⛪ If you find the pastor’s name listed here, it’s not a doctrinally sound church.

⛪ If a church subscribes to a creed/confession/catechism you know to be biblical (ex: 1689 London Baptist, Westminster, Heidelberg, etc.) there’s a better chance they’re a doctrinally sound church. 

⛪ Some churches have a page on their website where they recommend books, blogs, and other resources. If they’re recommending doctrinally sound materials by trustworthy authors and teachers (click here for a few), that can be a good sign.

If they have a women’s ministry page, check out who’s speaking at the next conference they’re going to and who is the author of the Bible study materials they use.

⛪ Check the staff page and make sure they don’t have women serving as pastors/elders. (Be aware that some churches are now using titles like “Coach,” “Director,” “Facilitator,” etc. to disguise the fact that women are serving in unbiblical positions of leadership. Regardless of the way the position title is worded, women are not to serve in pastoral or elder offices or in any position in which they will be teaching or exercising authority over men.)

⛪ Check the sermon archives for a couple of things: 1) to see if they invite women or false teachers as guest preachers, and 2) does the pastor preach mainly expositorily or topically?

Keep in mind, however, that there are lots of churches out there who look perfectly doctrinally sound “on paper” but are not practicing what their website preaches. Take a look at these statements of faith for example: Lakewood (Joel Osteen), North Point (Andy Stanley), and Bethel (New Apostolic Reformation). (You can find out more about these churches/pastors here.) On the surface, and especially to those newly saved or not very familiar with the Bible, these statements of faith look fairly decent (although…notice that no Scriptures are listed, and they are short and/or somewhat vague), but the practices of these churches may be surprising in comparison.

Because churches’ practices and teachings often differ – sometimes significantly – from what you see in their statement of faith, you’ll have to dig deeper in order to get a better feel for the church’s doctrine. If the website posts the audio or video of their worship services, listen to several sermons. Make an appointment to go in and talk to the pastor about what the church teaches and ask any questions you might have. And visit the church for a while before joining to see how things actually go. The most a church website can do is help you weed out the churches that are definitely bad. The website cannot tell you that a church is definitely good.

If you’re looking for a new church but you aren’t sure where to start, check the church search engines and churches recommended by my readers at the Searching for a new church? tab at the top of this page.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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The Mailbag: Potpourri (Small groups, Furtick, Slander…)

 

Today’s edition of The Mailbag is a tad different in format. Usually, I answer one reader’s question in a long form article. Today, I’m addressing various questions from several readers in a “short answer” format.

Please note: Due to the recent change in my comments/e-mail/messages policy, I’m not responding individually to most e-mails and messages. Several of these questions could have been answered instantaneously if the search bar had been utilized.


I wanted to ask if you could suggest a study for mums with young children, all of whom need lots of support and encouragement, as well as one who is struggling with her faith at the moment.

While there may be a good, doctrinally sound study out there for moms of small children, I’m not personally familiar with any. Still, I would recommend simply choosing a book of the Bible and studying it from beginning to end. The best and most biblical support and encouragement comes right from Scripture. See my article: You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible.

For someone struggling with her faith, the book of 1 John is excellent. If you don’t feel equipped to teach a book of the Bible, get some training so you can. Untrained, undiscerning teachers are a major way false doctrine creeps into the church. See: McBible Study and the Famine of God’s Word.


What are your thoughts on: Rebecca Manly Pippert, Revelation Wellness, Liz Curtis Higgs, Heaven by Randy Alcorn, Dr. Caroline Leaf, Stephen Ministry, Jan Markell’s Olive Tree Ministries, Johanna Michaelsen, and Angie Smith?

Rebecca Manly Pippert, Revelation Wellness, and Stephen Ministry: I’m afraid I’ve never heard of them.

Dr. Caroline Leaf, Jan Markell, Johanna Michaelsen, and Angie Smith: I’ve heard the names in passing, but I don’t really know anything about any of them.

Liz Curtis Higgs: I’ve never read any of her stuff or heard her speak, but I know that, until it disbanded this year, she was a featured speaker for Women of Faith, alongside false teachers such as Sheila Walsh, Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Jakes Roberts (daughter of T.D. Jakes), and musician Nichole Nordeman (pro-homosexuality). Partnering with false teachers, even if your own doctrine is sound (and I don’t know whether or not Higgs’ is), is prohibited by Scripture, so for that reason alone, I would not recommend her.

Heaven by Randy Alcorn: I read most of this book, but it was probably ten years ago or more. I don’t remember any specifics from the book, nor was there any egregious false doctrine that sticks out in my memory. All I remember is that I quit reading it because it was way too long and because a lot of it was – while based on Scripture – speculation and extrapolation as to what Heaven would be like. Randy Alcorn is not someone I currently keep up with very closely. Although I have recommended him as a fiction author: The Mailbag: Christian Fiction Recommendations, I don’t often read his blog or other non-fiction work. From the little non-fiction of his that I have read, my impression of him is that he is generally doctrinally sound, but may not thoroughly vet the people he quotes and appears with.

For more information on checking out various teachers and ministries, see my article: Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring it Out on Your Own


How can I find a solid church and what are your feelings regarding small groups?

For recommendations on finding a solid church, see The Mailbag: How Can I Find a Good Church?

I’m strongly in favor of small group Bible studies and Sunday School classes as a supplement to sound preaching from the pulpit, if the small group teacher is able to teach (availability and willingness do not equal ability to teach) and has been trained in good hermeneutics, and if he or she is teaching the Bible. For more, read my article McBible Study and the Famine of God’s Word.


Do you have an opinion of Steven Furtick?

I have many opinions of Steven Furtick (“pastor” of Elevation “Church” in Charlotte, NC), none of them good. He mercilessly twists God’s word, he yokes with false teachers (including T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Christine Caine and others), and he allows women to preach from his pulpit (Including Lysa TerKeurst. Furtick is her pastor, which is one of the reasons I warn against her.) Additionally, Furtick has been immersed in Word of Faith false doctrine for years, and is now venturing into New Apostolic Reformation false doctrine. For more information, see Fighting for the Faith, Berean Research, Berean Examiner, and Apprising. I’ve also seen a number of YouTube videos from various sources explaining the doctrinal problems and scandals with Furtick (use the YouTube search bar).


The Bible says that women should learn in submission and not instruct men, however, The Great Commission is written to believers (which includes women). Therefore, if that is my aim to fulfill the Great Commission, in turn fulfilling God’s will, how am I sinning?

You’re not. Preaching to men, instructing men in the Scriptures, and holding authority over men in the church is not the same thing as evangelism and I have never claimed that it is.

I think a better grasp of the role of women in the church would be helpful for you. I’d recommend reading Rock Your Role: Jill in the Pulpit as well as the remaining articles in my Rock Your Role series. For more on women evangelizing men, read #11 in my article Rock Your Role FAQs.


I am wondering if you have ever done a post or topic on homeschooling? I have been praying for your conference.

I do home school, but I’m afraid I haven’t written anything on it. My friend Rachel over at Danielthree18 sometimes writes about home schooling, as does Gospel Centered Mom. These ladies could probably better point you in the right direction for doctrinally sound home schooling blogs than I can. It’s just not something I read much about or have an interest in writing about.

Thank you so much for your prayers. I am leaving Thursday to speak at a Christian women’s retreat in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, addressing the topic of suffering.

Readers, if your church would be interested in having me come speak at a women’s event, please click on the “Contact…” tab at the top of this page.


What is the criteria for a woman in regards to not teaching a man?…I particularly like The Voice translation for this in 1 Timothy 2:12…I think the ‘women teaching’ Scripture was more of a custom back in the day as is this Scripture about men and long hair.

I would recommend reading all of the articles in my Rock Your Role series, starting with Jill in the Pulpit. My article  A Head of the Times- Head Coverings for Christian Women? will help answer your questions regarding men and long hair (since the two issues are in the same passage), particularly some of the articles in the “Additional Resources” section (I would start with the WWUTT video near the end of that section). Also, we always need to keep in mind that God is the author of these Scriptures, not Paul. These are not Paul’s ideas and preferences, they’re God’s.

I would strongly recommend you find a reliable translation of the Bible rather than using The Voice paraphrase, which had several false teachers and female “pastors” as contributors. More info. at The Mailbag: Which Bible Do You Recommend?


Lysa TerKeurst (or Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, or anybody else I’ve warned against, I get this one a lot) should sue you for slander for the judgmental things you’ve said about her!

So you’ve obviously read my article about Lysa TerKeurst. Did you happen to see and read the big, bold notice at the top of that article (and every other discernment article I’ve written) which says:

If you are considering commenting or sending me an e-mail objecting to the fact that I warn against false teachers, please click here and read this article first. Your objection is most likely answered here. I won’t be publishing comments or answering emails that are answered by this article.

Your objection is answered in detail in #5 of this article. However, I’d like to add a few things:

1. There’s not a single teacher I’ve ever mentioned on this site that could sue me for slander. Not one. Why? Because slander is about false and defamatory speech. What you’re talking about is libel, which deals with false and defamatory writing. Get a dictionary and use your words.

2. In order to sue someone for libel, my understanding (maybe a reader who’s an actual lawyer could help out here) is that you have to prove that a) your reputation has been damaged (Anybody see people “Leaving Lysa” in droves? I don’t. Her “ministry” is, unfortunately, continuing to grow as far as I can tell.) b) that the allegations are untrue (The allegations I’ve made aren’t untrue. I’ve taken Lysa’s own words and actions – from videos of her speaking, and from texts of her writing – and compared them with Scripture. If she’s able to demonstrate – from Scripture – that what I’ve said is untrue, she won’t have to sue me for anything because I’ll gladly repent and print a retraction. But, judging from the way she generally handles Scripture, she’s not going to be able to do that.) and c) that the writer acted with malice. (I’ve made very clear that my desire is for Lysa – and the others – to repent and teach sound doctrine so I can point women to them as solid resources. How could being for Lysa in this way, and wanting to help her ministry, be construed as malicious?)

3. If Lysa (or any of the others) did try to sue me for libel, she would only be further proving my point about her disobedience to Scripture, because Scripture instructs Christians not to sue each other. That’s not going to do a lot for her credibility in court.

Thanks for playing.


Why haven’t you answered my e-mail/social media message or posted my blog comment?

See: New E-Mail, Messages, and Blog Comments Policy

From the “Welcome” tab: As of March 2017, I will not be responding to (and often, not publishing) blog comments which require more than five minutes of my time to answer. While I love hearing from readers, it is simply taking too much time away from my family to engage in long, in depth, or teaching conversations in the comments section of my articles.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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The Mailbag: How Can I Find a Good Church?

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I had to leave my old church (due to unbiblical teaching, because I moved, etc.). How can I find a new, doctrinally sound church?

I get this question a lot, and it’s one of my favorites, because it means the person is thinking about what constitutes a healthy, doctrinally sound church and seeking one out instead of going somewhere she can get her ears tickled. There are a lot of churches out there that have gone off the rails, but there are still a lot of good churches out there as well.

First, you need to know what makes a church doctrinally sound or unsound, which means you have to know what the Bible says about salvation, the Trinity, creation, sin, etc., all the major doctrines, well enough to know whether the church you’re considering believes and practices what the Bible says. I’m a little partial, but I think my denomination’s statement of faith does a decent job of succinctly outlining and giving an overview of the biblical position on the major doctrines, in case you need to study up a little (of course there are some finer points of doctrine you’ll want to take a look at, too).

In addition to what we would think of as the church’s main doctrines, there are some other vital things you’ll want to take into consideration when considering whether a church is healthy, such as whether the church is complementarian or egalitarian, what, if any, connection the church has with false teachers or their materials, whether the church is cessationist or continuationist, how the church handles the music portion of the worship service, and so on. Here are some things my husband and I wanted to know the last time we were looking for a new church.

Ready to start hunting for a new church home? Here are a few guidelines:

1. Pray. Ask God to give you wisdom as you search and to guide you to the right church for your family.

2. Ask around. Do you have friends or family in the area who could point you to a good church? If your current church is doctrinally sound (i.e. you’re only leaving it because you’re moving), ask your pastor for recommendations.

3. Find a good “church search” web site. The best one I have found is the one on Paul Washer’s site. It has several church search engines: 9 Marks, Sermon Audio, Founders-Friendly Churches, and The Master’s Seminary. You can also check the ARBCA web site’s church locator.

4. Put social media to work for you. Ask for church recommendations on your own Facebook and Twitter pages, and ask friends to share your posts with their friends. If you’re in any Christian Facebook groups, ask the group for recommendations. Post on the timeline of any doctrinally sound pastors, ministries, or churches you follow to ask for recommendations. Perhaps the admin of the page or a reader in the area will see your post and answer it.

5. Put me to work for you! I’ll be happy to ask my social media followers for recommendations for you (keeping you anonymous, of course). I’ve heard back from a few people who have found good churches that way. Drop me an e-mail (MichelleLesley1@yahoo.com) or a private message on social media and let me know the city and state/country where you’re looking for a church.

6. Found a church you think might be a good one? Examine its web site well. Does it have a solid statement of faith? Any female “pastors” on staff? Is the small group Bible study using a book by a false teacher? Are there pictures of members attending the latest gay pride rally? Are there sermons on the site you could listen to? Look for what the church is doing right and any areas that are red flags you should ask about (Be careful not to jump to conclusions, you could be mistaken about something. Ask.)

7. Did the church pass the web site test? Try it on for size. Visit a few times and see if it seems like a good fit.

8. If you’ve been visiting and think this church might be “the one,” schedule an appointment with the pastor (preferably during his office hours, if possible). Ask any questions you still have and ask how you and your family can get plugged in and serve.

Don’t forget- you’re not going to find the perfect church. Any church you join is going to have some problems. Our goal is not to find a place where we’ll be completely comfortable with never a ruffled feather and all of our preferences catered to. Our goal is to find the most doctrinally sound church we can, roll up our sleeves, and get to work serving, loving, and worshiping.

Additional Resources

Finding a New Church- Starting from Scratch

Six Questions for a Potential Church

Looking for a Church Home? by Tim Challies

Church Shopping? 35 Key Questions to Ask the Church at Berean Research


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.