Vol. 1 - No. 2
What Constitutes A Sound Church?
by R. L. (Bob) Craig
A few years back a young man came to my house to explain why he was not attending the church where I was preaching and, instead, casting his lot with what might be called a "liberal" church. In the course of the conversation he came up with the idea which had been rather extensively circulated by another that, after all, soundness is relative. Perhaps one church is "nearer" the truth than another, but none are perfect. This concept seems to be based on the individual: that there is no individual that is perfect and since this is true of an individual, it must be true of a collectivity of individuals - a church. In recent months, I have heard more and more of that same sort of reasoning.
This concept sounds rather reasonable and is more readily accepted by what one referred to as "second generation" preachers or members. They did not go through the main battle concerning liberalism that some of us older ones did therefore they do not know what the "issues" are and what constitutes departure and, evidently, do not realize that departures from the faith can cause a person to lose his soul just like any other sin. So, I thought I would rehash what some of us "first generation" preachers may be taking for granted that others ought to know.
Surely a church could become apostate by ALL of its members becoming unrighteousness in their conduct. If all are guilty of adultery or are having fellowship with adulterous members, then that church is in the condition of the church in Corinth and was very pointedly rebuked by the apostle. If that condition were to continue, I am sure the Lord would do with that church what he threatened to do to the church in Ephesus: "remove thy candlestick from out his place." But there are few churches
that are made up of ALL evil people. You probably have a hypocrite or two but not a house full.
So, is a church apostate when it has a few ungodly members? No. L's that church relatively sound or unsound because of the character of it members? Not necessarily. Even though a church is not basically an organization, it has certain organic characteristics. These characteristics should be examined to see about this "soundness." If everything about that organic structure is of such nature that one can worship without violating his conscience, then surely that church should be deemed as a "sound" church. If that church (the collectivity, not an individual or so) is doing something that violates scriptural principles, then evidently that church is in an "unsound" condition. When I talk about conscience, I am talking about an educated conscience. One who knows what the Bible teaches about work, worship, and organization. If something is taking place that violates Bible teaching within that organic structure, then it would violate that person's conscience who is faithful to the word of the Lord. Here is what I mean:
Let's take worship. We go into a congregation and they begin to use the instrument in their praise service. Those who are instructed know that this is in violation of the Bible therefore they cannot conscientiously worship with such a group. And if that church has perverted the worship of God in any way, whether in the praise service or somewhere else, that church would be unsound to the person who knows what the Bible teaches. A sound church does not violate God's word in worship.
Then look at the work of that church. They have a baseball team for the young folk, a bowling team for the adults. They have, as part of the work of the church social get-togethers: parties, suppers, picnics, etc. They have as more work of the church, a kindergarten that teaches secular subjects and even charges tuition fees. Anyone who knows anything about the Bible, knows that these things are a violation of God's assignments for the work of a church and therefore cannot have a part in such. If he does, it would violate his conscience, and he would thus be guilty of sin. The church engaging in such activities (not all mentioned, just one or some) is violating God's word and certainly is an unsound church. The church which does not do these things but engages itself only in that which is authorized by the God of heaven would be a sound church in this work area.
Then the organizational structure. Here is a church that is overseeing the work of many churches. Or here is a church which is joining in with that church that is overseeing this work that is larger than itself. Or sending its money out to some human institution of some sort. The church which refuses to engage itself in such activities is a sound church in this particular area.
I don't know of any other areas which affect the organic structure of a local congregation except those mentioned. Perhaps I have missed one. But when a church is walking in harmony with the scriptures in worship, work and organization, it would certainly be a "sound" church. And, conversely, when a church is NOT walking in harmony with the scriptures either in worship, work or organization, then it is an "unsound" church and a faithful child of God cannot have fellowship with such with impunity.
The peculiar thing about all this is that many Christians are going along with churches that have departed in work and/or organization and say that it doesn't bother their conscience, would not, under any circumstances have fellowship with a church which brought in an instrument thus violating the area of worship. Why the difference? Is worship more important than work or organization? Did the Apostle not say that "whatsoever you do ..... do ALL in the name of the Lord."?
That there are circumstances in which the Lord will no longer recognize a church as belonging to him is not debatable. He promised that he "would remove a candlestick." (Revelation 2:5) Remember, he was walking in "the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." (Rev. 1:13) And these candlesticks were churches. (v. 20) If he removes that candlestick from its place, then he will no longer be walking in the midst thereof.
A sad thing is that we do not know exactly when the Lord removes a candlestick, but we do know that he will not put up with everything for all time: he will eventually remove a candlestick. Even though we do not know when that candlestick is removed, we know when that church is headed for that eventuality when that church begins to corrupt the worship, pervert the work, or to violate the standard of organization. When we see these things in one of the Lord's golden candlesticks, we also see the handwriting on the wall (a removal of a candlestick) and we (individuals) can have no fellowship with such.
Wolves are abroad in the land and the shepherds have fallen asleep. Some few watchmen have sounded the trumpet and warned the people. They have delivered their souls. Some have heard the trumpet, heeded the warning and will save their souls. Others have heard that same trumpet but fallen into a stupor with the shepherds and will be destroyed. In what category are you?