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god in church

CHOOSING A CHURCH

Choosing a church that is suited to us
and our personal faith journey
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1.    INTRODUCTION

Before reading this particular article, please note that a lot of it is based on my knowledge, experience and evaluations. As real as the events experienced in fellowships/ communities of faith over the years were to me, they can only be hearsay at best to you. My primary aim, in this website, is to guide you in your own search for faith and belief. So ... please read on with an open mind. (The who's, how's and why's of this website are presented on the home page.)

The choice of a fellowship of faith, i.e. a church, is an issue for God and each of us. There are many Christian denominations/ church groupings, each with different approaches and points of view. It is best to pray for guidance on this matter of choice.

And the church that suits us now may not suit us at a later time. I, for example, have been ledthrough different areas of the greater Christian Church as the years have passed. They all proved to be beneficial to me in their own ways. No matter what area of the greater Church we choose, our lives should still be changed for the better, especially in that area of building belief and faith that is the underlying theme of this website.

But, that all said, our chosen church can and will have an impact on our faith journey.

Christian denominations and the way they relate to each other do vary from country to country to some extent, so it is not possible to provide a complete and definitive listing to guide all readers in choosing a church. Be aware that many if not most denominations, to varying degrees, consider themselves superior to others. We cannot completely take human nature out the Church! And of course each denomination has its own reasons for believing why it is superior.

I do consider though, that most Christian denominations have elements that make them more suitable than others for each of us, when taking our individual personalities, positions of faith journey (e.g. beginner Christian) and environmental backgrounds into account.

What follows is a brief overview of available church options, based on my experience of fellowship within them, and how they may be grouped for selection. Note that not all churches openly refer to themselves within these categories and their names may not totally reflect their true background or agenda. Many churches have websites and these can be accessed to gain some understanding of their approach. Their placement within the greater Christian Church (as in my categories below) should become obvious after one or two attendances of their services.

I have one major prerequisite to offer you, the reader, in search of an appropriate church: I would hope that any church selected should hold to the Essential Christian Beliefs as presented in the websites final sections first article, Christianity explained. It is only a small sub-section (Heading 2) to read in that article, so I recommend it to you before going in search of the church that is ideal for you.

2.    TRADITIONAL PROTESTANT AND CATHOLIC CHURCHES

Traditional or mainline (as they are known in the USA) Protestant, together with Catholic, churches are included in this grouping. These churches, by and large, present moderate Christian views to their congregations. Catholics have a little extra doctrine (i.e. the way beliefs are presented and conceptualised) than do Protestants, but that does not create any conflict between these two major areas of the Church.

Bear in mind that a small minority of traditional/ mainline Protestant churches hold very liberal views on the Christian New Testament (Jesus bits of the Bible), and I advise against joining those particular churches for that reason. I do not see much point at all with strong Christian liberalism, e.g. having Christian beliefs diluted to a point where even spirituality itself may not have a place. A rational thinker can largely accept New Testament (NT) events, as written, based on available secular (non Christian) historical information and personal experiences still accessible within the Church. More details on that later.

Although there is no need to water downthe NT, there is a need to hold individual verses in the context of the bigger NT picture, i.e. balanced theology. And the vast majority of traditional Protestant churches offer this view. This also applies to Catholic churches. Membership in these churches, by and large, provides an exposure to: balanced Christian theology; an understanding of faith and its outcomes within Christian life; some evidence of Gods presence in that setting; a good proportion of caring supportive Christians in their congregations.

I believe people who like to make their decisions on faith, after analysing facts presented to them from their church, should feel comfortable within traditional Protestant and Catholic churches. For example they do not generally hold fundamentalist views on the pre-Jesus, Old Testament (OT), e.g. they are more accepting of modern scientific theories such as the Big Bang’ and evolution, not considering such theories conflict with their theology, or faith for that matter.

But their theologians undeniably accept that solid links of wisdom exist between the two sections of the Bible. God did ensure that the NT was built on the foundations of the OT.

Services in traditional churches (incl Catholic) are usually formalised and follow established rituals, i.e. spontaneity is limited throughout services. Therefore, services are often limited in their passion and excitement. But to my mind they can be a good starting point for beginner Christians.

Note however, that some of these traditional Protestant and Catholic churches do offer services relative to the Charismatic movement and these are discussed later in this article. Those particular churches generally deliver a bit more energy and emotion in their related services. Gods presence is certainly more obvious in these types of services as well. The next article in this section of the website, Experiencing the Holy Spirit expands on that aspect.  Remember though it can take a few enquiries to locate traditional/ mainline churches that offer these so-called “Charismatic services in your area, i.e. locally.

3.    EVANGELICAL PROTESTANT CHURCHES

Evangelical Protestant churches, particularly those founded in later times, are more upbeat than most traditional churches. They are very positive advocates for Christianity. The founding evangelical churches in the USA actually broke away from traditional Protestant churches in the late nineteenth century.

Their services normally offer more intimate connections with God. Prayers within their services almost seem to converse with God as a loving friend. Their songs of praise have a similar nature.

Some evangelical churches have a Charismatic theme (again, more on this element will follow in this article).

Although many evangelical churches hold to similar balanced theological views as found in most traditional Protestant and Catholic churches, others are very ‘fundamentalist by nature. I understand that that this is more likely in the USA. Fundamentalist churches, as their name suggests, are very dogmatic with their doctrine and at odds with some modern scientific theory for example. I definitely accept that fundamentalists have a right to their opinions!

These fundamentalist churches do sit well with people who prefer everything to be laid out in so-called black and white, with no need for analysis or soul searching.

Evangelical churches, whether fundamentalist or moderate, appeal to people who want to feel good about their Christian faith and be uplifted by their experiences there. This works well for a lot of people after all. I know it does for me.

These churches also place importance on their Biblically based theology, so are also a good starting point for beginner Christians.

4.    PENTECOSTAL/ CHARISMATIC CHURCHES

Almost all Pentecostal churches are linked to the Pentecostal/ Charismatic movement. They have become particularly prevalent since the 1960s. Most Pentecostal churches present balanced theology once again to their congregations.

But there are some Pentecostal churches where theology is not a focal point at all, i.e. they do go a bit too far in this direction, overly concentrating on experiences of the Spirit at the expense of limiting lessons on life itself and related Bible teachings. And this can impact on the growth of faith and belief elsewhere, particularly in our everyday lives.

On the other hand I recognise that many people are wired in a way that attracts them to that type of church. Firstly, they enjoy the rush of being touched by the Spirit, and experiencing him in action there in the service. Secondly, not everybody does want to study the Bible in great depth. This often applies to people who have a hands on approach to life in general. They may only want to know the essentials. And I guess God knows that, and works around it accordingly.

In any case, Pentecostal churches are certainly more likely to centre their services around the Christian spiritual experience, i.e. the direct observation of God’s ‘presence’. As an ex-atheist I understand how non believers might react to such a statement. But when you do open yourself to actually experience this stuff, you will find yourself asking what else can it be there other than the Holy Spirit interacting with the congregation? I add more on this in following articles within this section of the website.

Their services are again emotional, energetic and uplifting. They are often led by the church leader in a manner that encourages an openness, within the congregation, to the presence of God, in the person of the Holy Spirit. And I mean in a definite manner that other church groupings do not (including Charismatic fellowships in Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical churches). I still really enjoy the company of Pentecostal worshipers when I attend their services.

Their Pentecostal/ Charismatic outlook, which focuses directly on the Holy Spirit in action, does encourage very strong belief and faith among followers. The emotional and overtly spiritual nature of services may be attractive for some folk, but not for others.

As mentioned previously, some traditional/ mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches provide so-called Charismatic services, i.e. they too are members of the Pentecostal/ Charismatic movement. These churches offer events relevant to the movement but generally operate within the confines of a definite balanced Christian theology. I spent a number of years in Protestant churches, which were in the movement, and witnessed/ experienced the same sort of events that I had in Pentecostal churches. My own belief building in particular went completely gangbusters there.

As I have also mentioned elsewhere in this website, from my experiences, a period of fellowship spent within any Pentecostal or so-called Charismatic congregation can be very useful to ramp up the growth of our belief which in turn supports our faith. The Pentecostal, and other churches that belong to the Pentecostal/ Charismatic movement, provide the opportunity to witness events as they would have occurred in the early Christian Church 2,000 years ago. These events often result from the so-called, gifts of the Spiritthat manifest themselves within their services.

5.    CONCLUSION

Please do not rule out the possibility of those events detailed above actually happening. I know I did, and I was wrong! I admit it. The following article, in this section of the website, describes the use of these gifts’ and their outcomes.

Before moving on though, I really want to make it clear again that I do not intend to downplay the relevance of  traditional/ mainline or evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches, which have no involvement with the Charismatic movement, in these current times. Without doubt, even in this moderate Christian setting, some serious although more subtle faith and belief building stuff can be experienced. And it is further explained later in this section of the website.

Continue to the next article, Experiencing the Holy Spirit.