Before we attend a church, we should know that it is a legitimate church. Now, obviously, if the sign on the front of the church reads “Church of Satan,” we know it isn’t a legitimate body of Christian believers. But what about churches that are not legitimate for less obvious reasons? Some religious bodies claim to be Christian that, in my judgment and in the judgment of many Christians, are not Christian churches or are apostate bodies. Even attending their services may be a sin. We can’t expect a church to be perfect. But does it hold to the essentials of the faith? Does it practice a basic, sound belief in the deity of Christ and aspects of Christ that we find outlined in the New Testament?
Now, we may be worshiping every day with people who profess to be Christians but aren’t. This we can’t avoid because God hasn’t given us the ability to look at another person’s heart and say exactly where he or she is spiritually. But we can inquire into the basic beliefs of a church body, and we want to unite ourselves in worship only with a group of people who are attempting to do what is proper in the sight of God.
Obviously that bare minimum applies before you attend the church. Before you join a church I would think you’d look more closely. You would ask questions such as, 'Is this a church where the gospel is being preached, where there is fidelity to the Scriptures? Is this a fellowship to which I am prepared to commit myself, my time, my money, my devotion, where I’m going to be instructed in spiritual growth, along with my family?' I think those are the kinds of questions you need to look at very carefully before you make the commitment to join. In our country we often join churches in the same spirit that we join any other organization, forgetting that when we join the church, we take a sacred vow before God to do certain things—to be present in worship, to make diligent use of the means of grace, to be an active participant in that church. Before you take a vow to do something like that, you need to know what it is you’re joining and then, having made that vow, be prepared to keep it.
"What do we need to know about a church before we attend, and what do we need to know before we become a member?" and other questions can be found in our Questions Answered section. To learn more about the marks of a healthy church, watch our new teaching series from Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman, Marks of a Healthy Church.