I wrote the letter below back in 2004 toward the end of our long and tiring "church search" in the Cleveland, TN area. Although my intentions were to mass produce the letter for every church in the area, I actually only presented it to a couple of them. Just putting down in writing what our passions and concerns were about the church today ended up being the bulk of the reward for this effort. In any case, hopefully the letter strikes a chord with some who care to read it.
For those that may want to just "get right to the questions", here they are (but please refer to the full letter below which includes my personal commentary along with supporting Scriptures):
- IS YOUR PREACHING PRIMARILY EXPOSITORY PREACHING?
- WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC DOES YOUR CHURCH USE IN CORPORATE WORSHIP? HOW DO YOU VIEW THE HYMNS AND DO YOU SING THEM OFTEN? AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, HAS YOUR CHURCH MADE ANY RECENT SHIFT IN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE ROLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN WORSHIP?
- WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THE DOCTRINES OF ELECTION, PREDESTINATION, AND THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD? HOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND MAN'S WILL IN RELATION TO THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION AND GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY?
- TO WHOM DOES YOUR CHURCH ADMINISTER BAPTISM AND WHAT IS (ARE) THE RESULT(S) OF IT?
- DO YOU REGULARLY HAVE PROGRAMS THAT FOCUS ON ACHIEVING SPECIFIC NUMBERS (DOLLARS, ATTENDANCE, ETC.)? WHAT MINISTRIES DOES YOUR CHURCH HAVE IN PLACE FOR MATURING THE DISCIPLES OF GOD? WHAT ROLE DOES EVANGELISM AND MISSIONS PLAY IN YOUR CHURCH?
- WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOUR CHURCH HAD TO EXERCISE CHURCH DISCIPLINE?
- DOES YOUR CHURCH HAVE A BODY OR COUNCIL OF ELDERS? DO YOU HAVE MORE THAN ONE DECISION-MAKER IN MATTERS OF THE CHURCH? AND WHAT IS YOUR VIEW OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH?
- HAS THE ISSUE OF IMMODESTY OR INDECENCY EVER BEEN ADDRESSED FROM THE PULPIT OR ELSEWHERE IN YOUR CHURCH? IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU ACTIVELY GUARD AGAINST IMMODESTY WITHIN YOUR CHURCH? AT YOUR CHURCH, WILL I AND MY SONS BE IN A "GUARDED" ENVIRONMENT IN REGARDS TO THIS ISSUE?
- WHAT IS THE MOST RECENT POINT THAT YOU TAUGHT FROM SCRIPTURE THAT, BASED ON FURTHER CONSIDERATION, YOU HAD TO CORRECT OR QUALIFY?
- HOW DOES YOUR CHURCH COMBAT THE NATURAL TENDENCIES TOWARD LEGALISM?
We are currently members of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN [written in 2004]. But we've recently sensed the Lord's direction to start attending church locally here where we live in Cleveland.
Seeking out a church body with a kindred spirit is very important to us. After attending a few churches over the past several weeks, we've quickly realized that our search for a church home may not be easy. That's why we are writing this letter.
If it's not too much trouble, I would appreciate it if someone from your church could address the following questions to help us in our search for a new church home. This may also help you sense where we are coming from. In case it is helpful, our beliefs lie somewhere between traditional Baptist and Presbyterian doctrines. Thank you in advance for taking the time to respond as God leads.
1. Could you please provide us with your church's statement(s) of doctrinal belief.
2. Also, any other church literature you may want to send may be helpful.
3. Who are some of your favorite Christian authors and preachers?
4. What other local churches do you regularly fellowship with?
1. We value the preaching and teaching of God's Word. And it is our conviction that expository preaching (verse-by-verse) is the best method of preaching (Jeremiah 15:16; Acts 20:27). This style necessarily lets Scripture (and the Holy Spirit in our hearts) speak for itself (Matthew 4:4; 1 Corinthians 2:10). Although topical sermons are useful and even needful at times, we feel strongly that exposing the text of Scripture (not the opinions of the day) is extremely important to the well being of any church (Psalm 119:9; 1 Timothy 4:13). IS YOUR PREACHING PRIMARILY EXPOSITORY PREACHING?
2. We believe that corporate worship is to be God-centered, not man-centered (John 4:23,24). Too often we feel that a worship "experience" is allowed to dominate the tone of a church service and that is a concern for us (2 Timothy 4:3,4). Sending a congregation home with Truth -- be it joy or conviction -- this far outweighs the value of sending a congregation home impressed. Related to this concern is our concern that so many churches seem to be "shelving" their hymnbooks these days. We enjoy contemporary choruses, but it is important to us that our children also come to know and value the richness of the hymns and the great doctrines that they convey (Colossians 3:16). We are not saying that new is bad; but it's not necessarily better either. And the "trendiness" of many worship services these days comes at the expense of a true, long-term growth of God's kingdom. Said differently, a church that focuses on the one worshipping instead of the One Who is worshipped has strayed from the true meaning of worship itself (Romans 1:25). WHAT TYPE OF MUSIC DOES YOUR CHURCH USE IN CORPORATE WORSHIP? HOW DO YOU VIEW THE HYMNS AND DO YOU SING THEM OFTEN? AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, HAS YOUR CHURCH MADE ANY RECENT SHIFT IN YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE ROLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN WORSHIP?
3. We value the Scriptural teaching of God's Sovereignty including His election of every believer (2 Thessalonians 2:13; Ephesians 1:4) and indeed His predestination and foreknowledge of all things that come to pass (Isaiah 45:7; Proverbs 16:4; Acts 4:28). We also affirm that the Scriptures clearly teach that man, being totally depraved (Romans 1:28, John 3:19,20), is unable to affirm the message of the gospel without the Holy Spirit first enabling him to do so (Romans 4:17; John 12:39,40; Colossians 2:13). Although we are not Presbyterians on every point of doctrine, we do see ourselves as very closely aligned to the Reformed doctrine as it speaks on salvation. We do not see that holding this belief negates personal responsibility (for evangelism, etc.) nor does it lessen the truth that every one has been given a personal will (Proverbs 16:1,9; Isaiah 53:6; John 3:16). We simply affirm that Scripture teaches that God is as Sovereign in predestination as He is in His endowing each of us with a personal will. WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ABOUT THE DOCTRINES OF ELECTION, PREDESTINATION, AND THE FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD? HOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND MAN'S WILL IN RELATION TO THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION AND GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY?
4. Although we accept at face value the teachings of Scripture with regard to election, and are therefore more Reformed (than not) in our view of salvation, we do not believe that Scripture instructs nor advocates infant baptism to be a substitute for an individual professing believer's baptism (Matthew 28:19; Romans 6:3,4). TO WHOM DOES YOUR CHURCH ADMINISTER BAPTISM AND WHAT IS (ARE) THE RESULT(S) OF IT?
5. We believe that most churches today put an unhealthy emphasis on quantitative growth over qualitative growth. This is one of our greatest concerns in our search for a church home. We are concerned with how many ministries these days over-emphasize growth-by-numbers. We believe that Scripture teaches that true, "kingdom" growth is not realized in how high one can count (Romans 11:4,5; Matthew 7:14) although many churches today attempt to legitimize their status by doing so (Matthew 7:22). We don't "write-off" churches simply because they are large (Woodland Park is fairly large in number). But we do like to scrutinize what it is that drives the numbers (2 Corinthians 2:17; 1 John 4:1). Given the choice, we would prefer a smaller, healthier church over one that is large and immature (1 Corinthians 3:2). Regardless, it is our heart's desire to become involved in a church that is serious about maintaining its "home base" by truly carrying out Christ's Great Commission -- to make disciples (not merely to amass more converts or turn out more bodies in the pews) (Matthew 28:18-20). This Biblical, "greenhouse" approach to Church growth is not only beneficial to each Christian individually, but also it's helpful to the body as a whole as each growing member exercises their set of gifts for the betterment of the body (Ephesians 4:15,16; 1 Corinthians 12:7). Furthermore, it is a healthy church that best ministers to the lost and needy souls within its reach (1 Thessalonians 1:6-8). DO YOU REGULARLY HAVE PROGRAMS THAT FOCUS ON ACHIEVING SPECIFIC NUMBERS (DOLLARS, ATTENDANCE, ETC.)? WHAT MINISTRIES DOES YOUR CHURCH HAVE IN PLACE FOR MATURING THE DISCIPLES OF GOD? WHAT ROLE DOES EVANGELISM AND MISSIONS PLAY IN YOUR CHURCH?
6. It is important to us that a church body maintains a confessional approach to worship (James 5:16; 1 John 1:9). That is, an appreciation of God's grace upon us in that while we are "yet sinners", we can come before God clothed in His Son's righteousness (Ephesians 4:24). It's too common these days for a church to get so wrapped up in it's image or "testimony" that it isn't serious about sin -- its sin (1 Corinthians 5:2). This primarily shows up in a church's unwillingness to practice church discipline when unrepentant sin has become evident (Matt. 18:15ff). A transparent, confessional, God-seeking congregation is very important to us. I still battle with the flesh and therefore need a local congregation where I can be held accountable and even be disciplined/restored if -- God forbid -- it become necessary (Romans 7:19; Galatians 6:1). WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOUR CHURCH HAD TO EXERCISE CHURCH DISCIPLINE?
7. Regarding church leadership, it is our belief that Scripture clearly teaches that whenever possible, a plurality of leadership should exist in the local church (Acts 20:17; Titus 1:5). We believe that churches that regularly decide important matters by popular vote are not demonstrating a proper understanding and application of the New Testament model of church leadership. Although we prefer a body governed by a group of Elders that are distinct from a group of Deacons, we do not hold up these "job titles" higher than their functions (1 Timothy 3:1,8). We understand that many churches today do not officially have "Elders" but they do have a group of godly, approved men whose function is the same. And we are happy and eager to submit ourselves to such a group (Hebrews 13:17). Secondarily, we believe the role of women in the church is clearly stated in the whole counsel of Scripture which is that mature women should customarily teach and lead less mature women and that a woman should not regularly teach men nor exercise authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:12; Titus 2:3,4; 1 Corinthians 14:35). DOES YOUR CHURCH HAVE A BODY OR COUNCIL OF ELDERS? DO YOU HAVE MORE THAN ONE DECISION-MAKER IN MATTERS OF THE CHURCH? AND WHAT IS YOUR VIEW OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH?
8. Modesty is something especially important to me as a man and a father of three (two boys). I have grown increasingly disappointed in the recent fashion choices of many women (young and otherwise) in the church (1 Timothy 2:9,10; 1 Peter 3:1-4). If I may be blunt, I don't want to see cleavage or upper thighs when I'm worshiping at church. As a man, lust is something I battle daily and I feel the church (of all places) should be a place where I and my sons are free from such temptation (Matthew 5:28). I realize that people's choice of clothing is not something that can easily be controlled or dictated, but I also know that for leadership to ignore the sin of immodesty is not Scriptural (Ephesians 5:3; 1 Timothy 5:6,7). In fact, the silence of leadership in this important matter may very well be cause for greater concern than the sin of immodesty itself (1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Timothy 4:2-4). HAS THE ISSUE OF IMMODESTY OR INDECENCY EVER BEEN ADDRESSED FROM THE PULPIT OR ELSEWHERE IN YOUR CHURCH? IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU ACTIVELY GUARD AGAINST IMMODESTY WITHIN YOUR CHURCH? AT YOUR CHURCH, WILL I AND MY SONS BE IN A "GUARDED" ENVIRONMENT IN REGARDS TO THIS ISSUE?
9. One of the marks of a great Bible teacher is his willingness to correct anything he's taught in error (1 Corinthians 10:12). I do a fair amount of teaching myself at our current church in Chattanooga. And it's more often than I'd like that I have to correct my teachings or at least qualify what I've said. But not doing so would be even a bigger mistake (James 3:1). Showing a willingness to be corrected from Scripture properly models a teacher's submission to the absolute authority of God's Word in all things (Ezra 7:10; 2 Timothy 3:16,17). And this willingness to be teachable further extends a preacher's reach into the lives of his congregation. WHAT IS THE MOST RECENT POINT THAT YOU TAUGHT FROM SCRIPTURE THAT, BASED ON FURTHER CONSIDERATION, YOU HAD TO CORRECT OR QUALIFY?
10. Lastly, we are seeking out a church body that steers clear of legalism yet maintains a godly perspective toward Christian living. It concerns us when churches emphasize how clean the "outside of the cup" is over how clean the "inside of the cup" is (Matt. 23:26) and where the "letter" of the law is held up over the "spirit" of the law of God (Romans 7:6,7). We believe that godly living is a willful and cheerful response to God and His graciousness (Matthew 5:16). God created us for good works and as a part of His grace, He prepares the way Himself for us to fulfill them (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, we believe that godly living is not realized in performing obligatory acts in order to appease God or gain His acceptance, or (even worse) to fabricate our own righteousness (Matthew 11:29,30). We should act like God's children because we ARE His children, not because we want to be (Ephesians 5:1,2). HOW DOES YOUR CHURCH COMBAT THE NATURAL TENDENCIES TOWARD LEGALISM?
Thank you for considering these points and responding as you are able. I realize that this (lengthy) commentary and questionnaire may likely come across as extraordinarily self-righteous and "preachy". But this is not at all my intent. I can assure you that we are far from perfect ourselves. I just think it's in everyone's best interest for me to be up-front and forthright in presenting "who we are" as we prayerfully consider where God is leading us here in Cleveland as we consider "who you are" and "who we may become" together. As a husband and father of three, it is no small weight that I carry in making this important decision. Our heart's desire is to worship and serve alongside others who are of a like mind in doctrine and (therefore) of kindred spirit in worship and ministry.
May God bless you and your church as you serve God, proclaim His Word, and grow His people.
... Craig & Stephanie White