In John’s second and third epistles we are given sound criteria for discerning whether or not the church we are visiting can become our church home. These two epistles give the doctrinal and behavioral characteristics of a sound body, and the aberrations that attend a church that isn’t serving the Lord Jesus Christ. I would like to consider each epistle one at a time and then sum up what is revealed about faithful and unfaithful churches at the end of this post.
1The Elder, To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, 2because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. 4I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. 5And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. 6This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it. 7For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an anti-Christ. 8Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. 9Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11for he who greets him share in his evil deeds. 12Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. 13The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.
Churches eligible to become our church home are characterized by truth and love. The two must go together hand in hand. The church must be built upon the truth that is found only in God’s inspired, infallible, inerrant Word, the Bible. God’s truth endures to all generations, as He has promised in His Word, and so churches throughout time that are His have always been built upon the Bible. The truth of God gives us the gospel of Jesus Christ which establishes us in the grace, mercy and peace of God that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We are established in truth and love through faith in Jesus Christ, and so any church walking with Christ through faith in Him will hold fast to the truth and bear the fruit of love. Love for one another is a natural result of walking in the commandments of God. Again, this brings us back to the elders of the church being devoted preachers and teachers of God’s Word so that His commandments, and especially the commandment to repent of our sin and place our faith in Jesus Christ, are taught during every opportunity. This means the Bible is opened and taught from rather than books written under human inspiration. This also means the New Testament epistles are given special consideration since they clarify the doctrine of our faith and the behavior God commands from those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Teaching exclusively from the Scriptures will not only edify believers but will also protect the flock of God from deceivers that are rampant throughout the visible church. Churches that are safe havens for believers will teach and warn God’s children about the false teachers who are ready to pounce on them and bring them into bondage. They will warn their beloved brethren to beware of those who make a show of declaring that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh while at the same time opposing what He has clearly revealed in the Scriptures. Such evil workers are anti-Christ. The elders of a faithful church will embrace the whole of the doctrine of Christ taught throughout the Scriptures, and warn against those who attack and contradict what the Bible teaches about God’s beloved Son, and will not refrain from naming names. These loyal shepherds will be respecters of God, fearing Him, and will not be those who respect men, being ensnared in the trap of fearing man. Elders of a God-fearing church will reject the profane person, no matter his/her reputation within the visible church and will warn against supporting that person in their sin against God and His Son Jesus Christ. They will preach and teach the Word of God with a fervent desire to glorify God and edify His people because they love Jesus Christ, love His Word the Bible, and love His body, His called out ones. The conduct of the eldership and the church is also as important as what they teach.
1The elder, To the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth: 2Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. 3For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. 4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. 5Beloved, you do faithfully whatever you do for the brethren and for strangers, 6who have born witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well, 7because they went forth for His name’s sake, taking nothing from the Gentiles. 8We therefore ought to receive such, that we may become fellow workers for the truth. 9I wrote the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. 10Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. 11Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. 12Demetrius has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself. And we also bear witness, and you know that our testimony is true. 13I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; 14but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face. Peace to you. Our friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.
Those who love the Lord Jesus Christ and love His people, always desire the best for them. Genuine godly leaders rejoice over the well-being of their flock and are especially joyous when Christ’s disciples are walking in the truth of the Word of God. They have heart-felt gratitude and delight when the people of their pasture are serving one another in love and faithfully ministering to other believers, even those whom they do not know. The church that is serving the Lord will be busy promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ and supporting those who are doing the work of sharing His gospel anywhere in the world. The leadership of such a church will have a good reputation for serving the Lord Jesus Christ and being under His authority through obedience to His Word handed down through His servants the apostles and prophets, preserved for us in the Bible by God’s special providential care. They will believe and teach that the Bible we have today, handed down through the Majority Text, is the extant inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. The elders will not join in with those who love to promote their own opinions and intellectual attainments, claiming they are authorities, they will instead humbly and faithfully follow the Scriptures as they are led by the Holy Spirit. These men of God will not promote division by preaching and teaching the doctrines of fallen man, but will rightly divide the Word of truth, relying upon the Holy Spirit to teach them and lead them in their study of the Word of God. Therefore, they won’t open the Bible to promote some man-made doctrine but will instead expound upon what God has said in His Word, clarifying and elucidating the great treasures of truth, wisdom, the godly doctrine all centered upon our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A church that can become home to us will encourage us in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ, pointing us to Him and will support our desire to love one another. The leaders of such a church will be a wonderful example of those with faith in Jesus Christ who are walking in truth and love. They will encourage believers in their love for Jesus Christ, trust in the Bible and love for one another.
7Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Hebrews 13:7-8
There will be churches that we consider that are promoting the works of man through what they teach and what they do. They will not be comfortable with declaring that the Bible is the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. The leadership will not be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, and they will fear man rather than God. The work of the flesh will be evident because genuine love will be absent and there will not be a consensus on the repository of the truth. The church will be characterized by those who are following one teacher or another and want their brand of Christianity taught from the pulpit. There will be disharmony and disunity and every work of the flesh. The eldership will not encourage faith in Jesus Christ and will try to manipulate the members of the fellowship often times straight from the pulpit. They will be deceitful workers in it for the money, glory or some other nefarious reason. This is definitely a church to run away from.
1But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such turn away! 2 Timothy 3:1-5
3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers, 4and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 2 Timothy 4:3-4
A church that we can call home will be characterized by love for the truth, love for the Savior Jesus Christ, love for His people and love for the sinner that motivates them to share the gospel and be gracious givers. They will love their leader, but will not so highly esteem him that he becomes their focal point rather than the Lord Jesus Christ. Their elders will exhort and teach them from the Word of God the Bible and they will not use the modern versions but will instead use the versions that are translated from the Majority Text. The believers of the church will believe that God works in their lives through His Holy Spirit, and the Spirit uses His Word to encourage His children in their faith and walk with the Lord and love for one another.
Before you even decide to attend a church, you can check out its website and see what it has to say about the Bible, and whether or not it has any of the catch phrases that are popular with many of the churches that are following the examples of either the post-modern, contemplative or church growth trends. One clear indication that they might not be a church worth visiting is the statement that they believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God in the original manuscripts. What they are in effect saying is that they don’t believe we have the Bible extant today and therefore they can play fast and loose with its interpretations. Beware of such churches! Another item to be wary of is if they promote certain man-made doctrines which cause division and turn away those who want to put their faith in Jesus Christ because of their unbiblical over-emphasis on God’s sovereign election without emphasizing God’s gracious call to sinners to repent and put their faith in Jesus Christ and His glorious work for us upon the cross when He died for our sins and then rose again from the dead for our salvation. By knowing the Bible and being led by the Holy Spirit we can find fellowship with other believers for our mutual edification and progress in our faith. May God graciously grant us godly fellowship with one another.