“Casual, Comfortable, and Practical?”

On my way home from taking Reed to school this morning I passed a church with the following sign out front, “Casual, Comfortable, Practical.” There was no denominational symbol, and the name of the church (which I will not disclose here) was nondescript so no one could possibly know the doctrinal beliefs of that church. I must say that I have no problem with the idea of a church being “casual, comfortable, or practical,” but should one choose a church on that basis? A Roman Catholic church could be “casual, comfortable, and practical,” a Mormon stake could be “casual, comfortable, and practical,” a Baptist church could be “casual, comfortable, and practical,” a Presbyterian church could be “casual, comfortable, and practical,” a Church of Christ could be “casual, comfortable, and practical,” a Harold Camping living room gathering would especially be “casual, comfortable, and practical” (okay, the comfortable tag may not work there), and the list could go on and on. My point is that some of those “churches or gatherings” that I have mentioned in the previous sentence are full of error and some are, to borrow a Southeast Texas phrase, “down-right heretical.”

What should one look for in a church? First of all, “casual, comfortable, and practical” should be way down the list. That being said, the most important quality that a church should have would be solid Biblical doctrine. It should be a church that preaches clearly God’s Law and Gospel. It is God’s Law that shows us right from wrong, and God’s Gospel which is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”  As the Westminster Confession of Faith says, “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” (Chapter 1. Paragraph 10)

Secondly, a church should have the proper administration of the Sacraments, or if you prefer, ordinances. One should be wary of any church in which baptism or the Lord’s Supper is neglected. These sacraments are to be a part of the life of the church as “sensible signs” (sensible in terms of our five senses, not in terms of being rational) and as “signs and seals” of the righteousness that is ours by faith in Christ alone. Remember, Christ told the church that one of its tasks in the making of disciples is to baptize them “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (Mt. 28:20)

Another mark of a true church would be solid church discipline. One should find the normative discipline of the teaching and preaching of God’s Word which God uses to sanctify His people, and the loving, corrective (not coercive) discipline of shepherds who care enough about the sheep to discipline them when they stray from that truth. As the writer of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)  

Last of all, I believe that a church should be one that offers “to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28-29) Jesus is not “my homeboy.” He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and should be worshipped only in a manner in which He has designated to us in the Holy Scriptures. A good list of proper elements of worship is found in paragraphs 3-5 of chapter 21 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:

Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men: and, that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue.

Prayer is to be made for things lawful; and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter: but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death.

The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.

Then, after all that, if it “casual, comfortable, and practical,” it is okay with me.     :^)

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6 Comments

  1. Gail Chandler said,

    January 13, 2011 at 2:09 PM

    I understand what you are saying and I agree with most of what you said, but I do think there is a “flip side” to this. Your question at the very beginning of this blog is, “but should one choose a church on that basis?” You are basically speaking to a certain group of people; either people who are Christians and have at least some church experience or non-Christians with at least some church experience. What about the thousands and thousands of people who are not Christians, the people who have no church experience and those who have absolutely no idea what anything you’ve said in this blog means? So, with that being said….I guess my point is this: what about all of the people who are not “choosing a church on any basis?” What about the people who drive by the church sign you saw this morning and see that this is a church and they read the sign that says, “Casual, Comfortable, Practical.” It’s been my experience that people who are not Christians and have absolutely no church experience at all could possibly be attracted to that sign. It’s also been my experience that non-Christians with no church experience see a sign that tells the denomination of a church or very much more than what the sign says you saw this morning, think Judgemental, Boring, Giving up everything I like, Stuffy, Clickish, etc. Those are the things that come to their minds. So, if those are the things that come to their minds, more than likely they will never step inside that particular church building…which is very unfortunate, but true just the same.

    Again, I do understand what you are saying and I do agree with you that we all should take choosing a church very seriously. I agree that there are many churches that are full of error. We should all ask pertinent questions of a particular church before joining it. I love a church that is “Casual, Comfortable, Practical” but fortunately I was raised in a Christian church and have been a member of several Christian churches and know pertinent questions to ask; unfortunately many adults in this day and time were not and have no idea of what questions to ask.

    I believe that in our society (a society that is so full of distractions) we should be willing to do what it takes to get non-Christians and unchurched people inside the church to teach them God’s Word, to love them, have fellowship with them and teach them those pertinent questions.

    I believe many Christian churches have different purposes. One church is able to reach a certain group of people that another church just can’t. It reminds me of the church you and I and our families were members of together years ago. For many, many years that church was a “stepping stone” kind of church for young pastors going through seminary. It also attracted people that larger churches couldn’t.

    Obviously, I have no idea if the church you saw this morning is full of errors or not…..but I do have to at least give them a little credit for trying to reach out to those unchurched, non-Chrisitian people that just might be attracted to that style.

    I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to write a book.
    I really enjoy your blogs…keep ’em coming!!
    And….I miss you.

    • cliftonr said,

      January 13, 2011 at 4:59 PM

      Gail,

      Thanks for the book (Just kidding).

      You do make some interesting points but there is one thing that you said that I don’t believe you really mean: “I believe that in our society (a society that is so full of distractions) we should be willing to do what it takes to get non-Christians and unchurched people inside the church to teach them God’s Word, to love them, have fellowship with them and teach them those pertinent questions.” Although that statement sounds good (and I am sure the motives are good) I don’t believe that you would really “do what it takes” to get people inside the church (although that last part of that sentence about teaching, loving, and caring for them, I would gladly concur).

      I don’t think you would use a “Deacon wives mud-wrestling” event on Sunday evening to draw a crowd (although I am sure it would), or do as J. Frank Norris did, take out an ad in the Star-Telegram promising to expose which Ft. Worth businessman was buying someone who was not his wife nylons in the Sunday morning sermon (he had a packed house), or promise to give away a car as a door prize just to attract unchurched people. I know that you would say that all that would cheapen the Gospel. The Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation” and I believe that the packaging does matter. Gimmicks, promises of entertainment, bait-and-switch tactics, and door prizes tend to put the Gospel in the same category as the card in the mail that tells us “You have either won a trip to Monaco, a new car, or a bass-boat.”

      When all I see on a sign is “Casual, Comfortable, Practical” I am reminded of the acquaintance (and all of us have probably experienced this) who asks us over to eat at his home. When we arrive we find out to our dismay that he is an Amway representative and has strategically chosen to leave out the information that supper includes an Amway sales-pitch. I believe that full disclosure is always the best policy.

      Thanks for commenting. This may be one of those areas where we have to agree to disagree.

      ;^)

      Soli Deo Gloria,

      Clifton

  2. Gail Chandler said,

    January 13, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    Again, I understand what you are saying….but I’d like to think that you know me well enough to know that I would never condone the “gimmicks” you mentioned above. When I say “do what it takes”, I mean go out of our way; work a little harder; try something new; get out of our comfort zone a bit.

    Maybe it’s because I spent over 16 years in Youth Ministry and several years teaching bible studies in adult singles groups. I had to get way out of my comfort zone in order to get people who do not know the first thing about church or even God to even try it! However, I never did that without a ton of prayer and thought. Before leaving MM, I had really never been around that many people who knew NOTHING about church. I really had to change my way of doing things and start looking at everything thru their eyes. Many times, I didn’t much like what I saw. And yes, sometimes I had to get really creative. I believe that God is the most creative ever!! I think God wants us to be creative….after all, He is the Master of it. We can be creative without losing the focus.

    I guess I just don’t see putting a sign up like the one that you saw this morning as such a bad thing. I find it hard to compare that sign to an event of “mud wresting”, but I agree with you….would probably draw quite a crowd….lol…..Hopefully that church will not leave that sign there all the time and hopefully they will put up other words that will cause someone to stop and think…and maybe give church and God a chance.

    So, I’m not sure exactly what we are agreeing to disagree on…..but I just really felt led to write a response. Thanks for your response.

    Also, I may never go to someone’s house for dinner again without asking some “pertinent” questions…..

    And by the way, I’m really jealous about the gumbo…..

    Love,
    G

    • cliftonr said,

      January 13, 2011 at 9:35 PM

      Always ask questions before going to dinner. ;^)

      The mud-wrestling was really a different subject than the sign…I knew you wouldn’t go for that (Bernice might reach out and slap you…;^)) but my biggest problem with the sign was that “Casual, Comfortable, Practical” was “the face” of that church. Christ may be at the heart of what they do, but one would never know by what was put forward on that sign. Maybe there was something else there that I missed. I will look closer on Tuesday when I take him back, but the world desperately needs to know that Christ’s church is about Christ, and grace, and not something that one can get at Little League, dance class, or the neighborhood honky-tonk (not that there is necessarily anything inherently evil about any of those things).

      I appreciate all you do for the kingdom,

      Clifton

  3. Gail Chandler said,

    January 13, 2011 at 9:53 PM

    oh dear…MeMa Bernice might reach out and slap you for that honkytonk remark!!

    • cliftonr said,

      January 14, 2011 at 7:57 AM

      I am ducking down as we speak…(I sure miss walking down to Bernice’s)
      ;^)


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