Church, Mailbag

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

Originally published March 11, 2019

 

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 in the blue menu bar 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. *(Update: Since I originally wrote this article about a year ago, Lakewood has actually beefed up their statement of faith with a few Scripture references.)

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 in the blue menu bar 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.

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.

Christmas, Church

The 25 Churches of Christmas – Final Report

Friends, thank you so much for your recommendations!

Unfortunately, we did not reach the goal of 25 churches (meeting the parameters outlined in the article below) by Christmas, but with your help, we did get 14, and I was able to remove 8 states – Oklahoma, Maryland, Iowa, New York, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Delaware, and Connecticut – from the “endangered species list” (states with 2 or fewer recommendations). The 14 Churches of Christmas were: 

1. Village Church, Dingley, Australia
2. Christ Reformed Church, Tulsa, OK
2. Fellowship Baptist Church, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
4. Harvest Reformed Church, Minot, ND
5. Hope Bible Church, Columbia, MD
6. Baltimore Bible Church, Baltimore, MD
7. Walsh Baptist Church, Walsh, Ontario, Canada
8. Missio Church, Ridge NY
9. Rock of Hope Church, Wisconsin Dells, WI
10. Grace Life Church of Greater Des Moines, Ankeny, IA
11. Calvary Bible Church, Westport, MA
12. Faith Fellowship Baptist Church, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada
13. Berean Community Church, Milford, DE
14. Presbyterian Church of Coventry, Coventry, CT

I’m looking forward to adding many more recommendations of doctrinally sound churches in 2019, so keep those recommendations coming!

This Christmas season, I’d like to offer you an opportunity to help me give our brothers and sisters in Christ a gift – a gift that won’t cost you a dime.

If you’ve followed me for a minute, you know I’m passionate about helping people find doctrinally sound churches to join. And if you’ve ever perused my list of Reader Recommended Churches, you’ve probably noticed that we have tons of listings for churches in some states, only one or two for others, and hardly any for countries outside the U.S.

What I’m hoping to do is add 25 doctrinally sound churches to the list in the states and countries that are lacking. Of course anyone is welcome to recommend a church anywhere, but in order for it to “count” toward The 25 Churches of Christmas, it needs to be a recommendation for a church:

⛪️ in one of our U.S. states that has two or fewer recommendations (currently: Alaska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia)

OR

⛪️ a church in any country besides the U.S.

I’ve made the list, you check it twice. If recommendations are naught, be nice and make one! :0) If you have a personal connection to a solid church that’s not on the list, comment below with:

🎄The full, correctly spelled name of the church
🎄The city and state, or city and country it’s located in
🎄The church’s website (please, please, please include this – it saves me a lot of time).

Think we can add 25 churches by Christmas Day? Let’s give it a shot and make it a merry Christmas for our brothers and sisters who are searching for a new church! Thanks for your help! :0)

Christmas, Church

The 25 Churches of Christmas

Friends, thank you so much for your recommendations thus far! We’ve gotten 14 of our 25 Churches of Christmas and I’ve been able to remove 8 states from the “endangered species list” (states with 2 or fewer recommendations). With only 2 days left, can we hope for a Christmas miracle of 14 more recommendations fitting the parameters I’ve outlined below?
Keep those recommendations coming!

This Christmas season, I’d like to offer you an opportunity to help me give our brothers and sisters in Christ a gift – a gift that won’t cost you a dime.

If you’ve followed me for a minute, you know I’m passionate about helping people find doctrinally sound churches to join. And if you’ve ever perused my list of Reader Recommended Churches, you’ve probably noticed that we have tons of listings for churches in some states, only one or two for others, and hardly any for countries outside the U.S.

What I’m hoping to do is add 25 doctrinally sound churches to the list in the states and countries that are lacking. Of course anyone is welcome to recommend a church anywhere, but in order for it to “count” toward The 25 Churches of Christmas, it needs to be a recommendation for a church:

⛪️ in one of our U.S. states that has two or fewer recommendations (currently: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia)

OR

⛪️ a church in any country besides the U.S.

I’ve made the list, you check it twice. If recommendations are naught, be nice and make one! :0) If you have a personal connection to a solid church that’s not on the list, comment below with:

🎄The full, correctly spelled name of the church
🎄The city and state, or city and country it’s located in
🎄The church’s website (please, please, please include this – it saves me a lot of time).

Think we can add 25 churches by Christmas Day? Let’s give it a shot and make it a merry Christmas for our brothers and sisters who are searching for a new church! Thanks for your help! :0)

Christmas, Church

The 25 Churches of Christmas

Friends, thank you so much for your recommendations thus far! We’ve gotten 10 of our 25 Churches of Christmas and I’ve been able to remove 5 states from the “endangered species list” (states with 2 or fewer recommendations). I hope we can add 15 more by Christmas. Keep those recommendations coming!

This Christmas season, I’d like to offer you an opportunity to help me give our brothers and sisters in Christ a gift – a gift that won’t cost you a dime.

If you’ve followed me for a minute, you know I’m passionate about helping people find doctrinally sound churches to join. And if you’ve ever perused my list of Reader Recommended Churches, you’ve probably noticed that we have tons of listings for churches in some states, only one or two for others, and hardly any for countries outside the U.S.

What I’m hoping to do is add 25 doctrinally sound churches to the list in the states and countries that are lacking. Of course anyone is welcome to recommend a church anywhere, but in order for it to “count” toward The 25 Churches of Christmas, it needs to be a recommendation for a church:

⛪️ in one of our U.S. states that has two or fewer recommendations (currently: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, West Virginia)

OR

⛪️ a church in any country besides the U.S.

I’ve made the list, you check it twice. If recommendations are naught, be nice and make one! :0) If you have a personal connection to a solid church that’s not on the list, comment below with:

🎄The full, correctly spelled name of the church
🎄The city and state, or city and country it’s located in
🎄The church’s website (please, please, please include this – it saves me a lot of time).

Think we can add 25 churches by Christmas Day? Let’s give it a shot and make it a merry Christmas for our brothers and sisters who are searching for a new church! Thanks for your help! :0)