Church Assessment—Part 1

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By Seth Bartley

In my first article Introductions, I promised to offer a more thorough explanation of some of my theological stances. Since January of this year I have been visiting several churches in an attempt to 1) find a new church home, and 2) broaden my understanding of Christianity as a whole. In so doing I have come across several congregations who have encouraged my faith not only in my Lord and my Master, but my faith in my Christian brethren. However I have also come across congregations who are more…challenging.

There are challenges from every direction. Some are valuable because they provoke to love and good works (Hebrews 10.24), others not so good because they provoke to wrath; they challenge my faith, tolerance, and understanding. (see parable of the soils: Luke 8.4-15) To cope, I have tried to remember Scriptural arguments regarding proper worship practices. Particularly when sitting in a worship service I find distasteful I have tried to ask: ‘If Paul or Peter were sitting next to me, what comments might they make about this sermon or these activities?’

The following is the lens by which I answer that question and assess each church I visit. Please note that it is not my intent to judge the eternal destinies of any person or group. In my view that role is left to the Messiah alone; I do not know men’s hearts. My focus is solely on which group(s) I would personally consider being a member of and how I go about making that decision.

What is your stance on Faith, in general?
I believe this would be most simply expressed through a quote from America’s own Benjamin Franklin.

“Here is my creed:

  1. I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe.
  2. That he governs it by his providence.
  3. That he ought to be worshipped.
  4. That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children.
  5. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this.

These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion.”
(Smyth, Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 10:84.)

Truth may be found anywhere people are listening to Heaven. However in the question of where I build my house of faith, this is my proverbial ‘line in the sand.’ If a religious group does not meet these minimum requirements, then I do not believe that group is standing on a sound foundation. Please remember that my intent is not to judge the eternal destinies of any of these groups, I hold that as the responsibility Messiah alone. My focus is solely on which group(s) I will personally lend my support to.
(While this may sound like an extremely broad stance, note that the first requirement alone disqualifies every religious group save those originating from the Hebrew prophet Abraham.)

What is Abrahamic Hebrew Faith?
I interpret Hebrew faith through the lens of Covenant Theology. This method is described in greater detail by site administrator, Minister Raymond Harris (see article: Covenant Theology). As stated in my original article, Introductions, my understanding of the Hebrew faith is founded on what the man I hold to be the Hebrew Messiah identifies as the “greatest commandment” (Luke 10.27). Any follower of the Hebrew faith, as outlined by the prophet Moses, is to love your god YHWH with everything you have and everything you are (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19.18,34). When visiting different congregations I try to keep this in the forefront of my mind.

Then, what do you think of the New Covenant Hebrew Faith (Christianity)?
The following is a simple list of the fundamental principles I believe are identified by the New Covenant.

  • Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah promised by YHWH.
  • He fulfilled all the prophecies recorded in Scripture concerning the Messiah.
    • A descendent of King David (Prophesied: 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Fulfilled: Luke 3.23-33).
    • Born from a virgin (Prophesied: Isaiah 7.14, Fulfilled: Matthew 1:21-23).
    • Would enter Jerusalem as a king on a donkey (Prophesied: Zechariah 9:9, Fulfilled: Matthew 21:4-9).
    • Etc.
  • Was the physical manifestation of Torah (John 1.14)
  • He was fully human and capable of rebelling against YHWH, yet did not (Romans 8.3).
  • He died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of his fellow humans.
  • He was resurrected.
  • He Establish the new Covenant of YHWH with his blood.
  • All the children of Noah are welcomed into this Covenant.

What does that mean for your church visits?
I am trying to assess the quality of church I attend. I feel that it is safe to say that 99% of the congregations I have attended are Non-Abrahamic gentile churches. So the question I have to ask is: ‘What is Scripturally required of those churches, beyond the basics? To answer this I look to:

  • Acts 15 where the Jerusalem council was attempting to answer that same question.
  • Statements made by Church leaders regarding the behavior/treatment of your neighbors and gentiles specifically in the New Covenant.
  • The relationship between Oral Law and the New Covenant.
  • The authority of Scripture generally.

I will attempt to outline these in a very brief manner, below.

Gentiles grafted into New Covenant
This Jerusalem Council developed a very short list of requirements for the Gentile converts.
Do Not:

  • Engage in Sexual immorality,
  • Eat blood,
  • Eat food sacrificed to idols,
  • Eat food that was strangled,

Do learn form the Torah (Acts 15.20-21, 28-29).

These may seem simple enough, but Paul stated that even the Jews had trouble with them and they had been members of ‘the Church’ for millennia. Unfortunately time and space do not allow me to explore these requirements more thoroughly. Perhaps I shall in some future article.

Along with that I try to keep in mind a series of verses to help me keep my objectivity when feeling…challenged.

  • Love YHWH your god with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Luke 10.27).
  • Remove the log from your own eye before removing the splinter from your
    brother (Luke 6.41-42).
  • “For the way you judge others is how you will be judged — the measure with
    which you measure out will be used to measure to you.” (Matthew 7.2 CJB).
  • Forgive just as you have been forgiven. (Ephesians 4.32).
  • Some proclaim the Messiah out of jealousy and rivalry, but others in goodwill. Some through love, while others out of selfish ambition. All that matters is that in every way, whether honestly or in pretense, the Messiah is being proclaimed; and
    in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1.15-18a CJB)
  • “That is, everything you do or say, do in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3.17 CJB).

On this issue, I give special consideration to the thoughts Paul presents in Romans Chapter 14.

  • “Now as for a person whose trust is weak, welcome him — but not to get into
    arguments over opinions.” (Romans 14.1 CJB).
  • “who are you to pass judgment on someone else’s servant? It is before his own
    master that he will stand or fall;” (Rom 14.4a CJB).
  • “He who observes a day as special does so to honor the Lord. Also he who eats anything, eats to honor the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; likewise the abstainer
    abstains to honor the Lord, and he too gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14.6 CJB).
  • “Therefore, let’s stop passing judgment on each other! Instead, make this one judgment — not to put a stumbling block or a snare in a brother’s way.” (Romans 14.13 CJB).

In short, whatever a person is doing, they should do it for the glory of YHWH.

Doctrine/Tradition
I can only objectively argue what is Scriptural from Scripture. There are many Church authorities and Theologians I like, but theirs is not the Word of YHWH. It does not matter what any human philosophy states of what any Council declares. In terms of founding Doctrine, the only council I am concerned with is the Council of Jerusalem which is described by Luke in Acts 15. This gets into the issue of Oral Law and the question on how to differentiate it from the Written Law. The Pharisees of old did not differentiate, I do.

To illustrate by extreme example: If a Muslim comes to me and says “I would be a Christian except for this concept of a ‘Trinity’ which I believe to be Idolatry.” I must respond that this is a Doctrine established by the Council of Nicea; a human council. My own personal beliefs regarding the conclusions reached by the Council of Nicea and the concept of the Trinity are irrelevant. Whether correct or incorrect this is a Scriptural inference, not Scripture itself. Scripturally, I cannot hold it as Doctrine over you; I can only state my opinion.

My stance on this brings up a new and important question: “What exactly is and is not Scripture?” Beyond the scope of Oral Law there is a debate among Christendom concerning exactly what books are to belong in the cannon of Scripture (see debates concerning the Deutero-canon). Unfortunately, I cannot devote sufficient space to examine that debate here, but it will no doubt be the subject of some future article.

However, regardless of canonical status, I would recommend to my Protestant brothers and sisters to read 1 and 2 Maccabees at least once in your studies. It is very helpful in regards to the so-called ‘Inter-testimonial Timeperiod’.

What have you discovered about church assessment?
In Part 1 of this article I have offered an outline of my general beliefs and some of the considerations I have regarding proper church behavior; the lens and principles by which I assess a church. In Part 2, I will briefly outline the two most common assessment methods and my difficulties in using them. Finally, in Part 3 of this article I will conclude with an attempt to outline what I believe is an objective standard by which to assess the immaterial quality of a church and provide a list of my findings.

May the LORD bless you and have a good day.

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