Various Teachings of the Local Church
The Bible teaching on the local church establishes God's pattern for churches today. One important consideration when deciding which local church to attend is the various doctrines that are endorsed and taught in the local church. Though by no means complete or perfect, the list provided below is intended to be a beginning point for investigating the Bible's teaching on these subjects. Each of the subjects described below were chosen because of their broad and profound impact upon the local church and within it. However, please note that this not intended to be a checklist, or a creed. Rather, it is a seed, intended to plant a desire to seek the Bible pattern for the church in all points.
Undenominational New Testament Christianity
The most significant feature of a New Testament is that is comprised of individuals who recognize Jesus as their Savior and have submitted to His requirements for salvation. After this, the next most significant feature of Scripturally based assembly is its adherence to the Bible pattern for the mission, work, and organization of the local church. Certainly, all local churches would profess a desire to follow Christ, but how are they seeking to follow Jesus? The perceived works and methods of a local church are greatly affected by the standard it adopts. As we are investigating membership with a local church, we must ask the question, "Does this church recognize the Bible, and the Bible alone as our standard for today?" "Or, does this church require adherence to a specific confession formulated by men?" "Are creeds or rulings of conventions and synods used as the basis for decisions and action?" "Is the church pursuing careful adherence to the New Testament pattern, or is it content to follow man's tradition, while accepting division and denominations based on creeds and human sects?"
Man's Free Will
One of the large divisions that separates many local churches is their belief on this topic. The heart of this question revolves around man's nature. Is man a free moral agent, able to make his own decision? Or, has God predestined each individual person to a specific fate, either heaven or hell, leaving man unable to choose between the two?
Several doctrines arise as necessary conclusions from the basic premise of denying man's free will. Often referred to as "Calvinism" after John Calvin, who taught this doctrine, the idea that man has no free will, results in the idea that once a man is saved, he is always saved. Conversely, the non-elect are born lost, and their fate cannot be changed, regardless of their desire or actions. Many more doctrines arise from Calvin's belief in the absolute and unyielding sovereignty of God. This doctrine and theology has practical, immediate, and direct impact on how a person lives, interprets the Bible, and serves in local church.
Almost all church divisions are rooted in different understandings of Bible authority. These varying views give rise to doctrines of men, which invariably produce division between men and those who would serve God alone. Two important considerations of Bible authority are that the Bible represents God's will for us today, exclusive and above all traditions, desires, and reasoning of men. The second important consideration of Bible authority is how to interpret the Bible to determine God's will for us. Herein, lies the fundamental basis for all other decisions. Should we try to follow the Bible strictly? Or, can we pick and choose what we want to believe? Does God tell us in the Bible what is right and what is wrong? If God did intend the Bible to be so used, then how does the Bible communicate what is right and wrong? It should come as no surprise that the Bible itself contains answers to these questions. A thorough study of this subject is recommended for all who are seriously in search of truth, since it is the heart of determining what is truth.
Many religious groups have different theories, or teachings about the end of the world and this earth. Some teach that Jesus will return to earth and reign in literal Jerusalem for 1000 physical years. Associated with this doctrine is the battle of Armageddon and the rapture. The core of this issue revolves around the interpretation of the last book of the New Testament, Revelation. Specifically, is it to be interpreted figuratively or literally? A literal interpretation produces multiple varieties of the millennial theory. It ultimately affects a Christian's faith, confidence, and interpretation of many more passages.
Creation or Evolution
Another influential consideration is a person's position on the origin of life and the earth. Is matter eternal, and does it spontaneously generate? Or, did God create all things in 6 days? The answers to these questions reflect our attitude toward the trustworthiness and interpretation of the Bible.
The main question to be considered under this heading is, "What are the bounds of fellowship for a Christian individual and the local church?" Or, are there no bounds at all? With whom may a Christian associate, work, socialize, marry, worship?
Certain aspects of these activities express approval of those involved in the relationship. Does the Bible God command Christians to not associate with certain people? If so, then what people are to be disfellowshipped under what circumstances? Answers to these questions shape and define every relationship in which a Christian is involved. It's impact being profound.
Though by no means all inclusive, this list was intended to be a beginning point for continued Bible study. Many more issues and considerations exist and should be studied, we hope that this list will be a starting ground for those who are just beginning to search in God's Word for answers.
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