How to know if a Church is led by the Scriptures.

When we think about what a church should be like, whether we are church-hunting or examining the health of our own church, there is one main thing we typically say we want. We want a church that follows the Bible. But what does that actually look like?

When considering what it means for a church to be led by the Scriptures, there are five main characteristics that will be present. A Scripture-led church will have:

  1. The Bible present in the worship service as the church reads, prays, and sings it.

When we walk into a church the first thing we should ask is, “Is the Bible here?” If the Bible is not present in the life of a church, in the services of the church, then the Bible does not lead that church. There are three primary ways we should find the Bible present in a church service.

First through Reading.

One of the instructions Paul gives Timothy is to devote himself to the public reading of God’s Word. It is almost unfathomable how often and clearly modern Christians ignore this command. There are many churches we walk into that simply do not read the Bible in a public forum at all. The lack of public reading immediately signals a lower view of the Scriptures. It is not sufficient to simply read the Bible at the congregation. We want the congregation to feast on the Word by engaging the Word that is read thoughtfully and purposefully.

Second through Prayer.

Prayer is an appeal to God that declares we are insufficient on our own and need God’s help and provision to continue on in the faith. Prayer is also the work of the Spirit who helps us communicate with the Father in the name of the Son. As an appeal to God through the help of the Spirit, prayer is most efficient when we pray the words the Spirit himself has given us in Scripture. If a church cares about the Bible, then they will have significant prayer time using the Bible, focusing on eternal matters and glorification of God in all things.

Third through Song.

Worship is always a complicated and divisive conversation, but one that is incredibly important. Good and bad theology are most frequently and readily spread through singing which means that the church should show careful attention to the substance of the songs they sing. The weakness of a lot of churches is that they spend more time thinking about the style and quality of the music rather than the words. The church can address this weakness by using the Scriptures to guide the selection of songs used in worship. A church does this primarily by singing the words and themes that the Bible develops in clarity and avoiding songs that are not about the themes of Scripture or are so vague in their words that they could mean anything.

  1. Expositional, experiential preaching of the Bible.

The second marker we should look for in a church is the nature of the preaching. Paul tells Timothy to preach the Word in season and out of season. This calling is an important and central aspect of the rhythm of a local church. It also means that the Word is to be the driving force as the preacher does his work. Alastair Begg defines expositional preaching in a helpful way: “Unfolding the text of Scripture in such a way that makes contact with the listeners world while exalting Christ and confronting them with the need for action.” This process of preaching puts the Scripture in the driver’s seat. The preacher submits the sermon to the text of Scripture. Expositional preaching works through submitting to the book’s natural style, genre, and argument. It teaches us how to read the Bible as the original authors wrote it rather than as assorted texts for the purpose of proving a topical argument. It submits the church to the rhythm of the Bible rather than the rhythm of the world, which is what happens when we preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.

  1. The Bible as the foundation of the church’s catechesis.

The third thing we should see is a church that uses the Bible as the foundation for its catechesis (its discipleship processes). We should find a prominence of the Scriptures in the discussions and Sunday school classes of any church that has the Bible driving its rhythms and DNA. The driving engine in a Sunday school class is what takes up the most time and is the most prominent topic of conversation. A Bible-driven class is going to spend 90% of its energy and time considering God’s Word and 10% dealing with the regular prayer requests of its people. Sunday school classes that consume the majority of their time discussing what is happening in the students’ lives have an earthly focus. The church that disciples with a foundation of anything other than the Bible will find that it does not have the answers to the tough questions that the world creates.

It is important to note that the Bible as a foundation does not mean there is only one method used in catechesis. Throughout church history there have been many methods of corporate Bible study ranging from creeds, confessions, and catechisms to Socratic dialogue and expositional lectures. The method is not the most important concern when determining whether a church is Scripture led; the substance is.

  1. The Bible as the church’s final authority over all decisions and structures.

The fourth characteristic of a Scripture-driven church is that every decision about direction, vision, structure of the worship service, and programs is going to be dependent on what the Bible says. Often what happens is that a church will either begin the conversation about what it should do and how it should do it with one of two questions. The first question is: “What does the Bible say about this?” The second question is: “Will this be an effective pragmatic solution?” Both of these questions are important, but one is more important than the other. A church that prioritizes what works over seriously considering what God says about various issues is not a Scripture-led church. A church that prioritizes the first question represents a corporate heart that desires to submit to the Scriptures and obey the heart, commands, and patterns God has established for us through his Word.

  1. Individual devotion and submission to the Bible.

The final characteristic we should find in this type of church are members that are personally submitting themselves to the Bible through prayer, meditation, study, and application. They are living their lives wanting to submit themselves to what the Bible says. This characteristic starts at home with the value placed on the Bible and its teachings and is evidenced by daily devotional practices and the exercise of family catechesis and worship. This church has members who not only show up to church and engage the various parts of worship but have an earnest desire to know more about God, His word, and His ways. They allow the Word of God to affect their inner being with diligent study and consideration. They come to Sunday school prepared to open God’s Word together and learn what it has to say. They ask questions so they can grow in the knowledge of the truth. These practices are a priority in their lives for their own well-being and the good of their family. They relish thoughtful engagement with God’s Word in the context of the local fellowship and they read good books written by saints who are far away in time and space.

If these markers are not present in a church, then it is not led by the Scripture. With all these things in mind, we must then ask ourselves two important questions: Are we attending a Bible-driven church? and, Are we living a Bible-driven life?

3 thoughts on “How to know if a Church is led by the Scriptures.

  1. Pastor James,
    You are a “heavy thinker” and I am always impressed with your intellect particularly in the ministerial realm. I am definitely in agreement with most everything you say particularly point # 5 Individual Devotion and Submission. I also believe that much of what you are saying probably “goes over the heads” of most of us ordinary Christians who are often too busy with our everyday existence in a world that is seemingly in chaos all of the time especially politically. I look forward to the day we can be at home with our loved ones who have preceded us in joining our glorious Father in Heaven. Thanks for being a doctrinally sound and good pastor.

  2. This is an excellent article, James. It’s easy to read, practical, to the point, and full of truth. Thank you for taking the time to organize this information and write it down for us.

    It’s wonderful to be part of a Bible-teaching church! It’s a privilege to be part of Christ’s church!

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