As we see, attend, and fellowship with various churches and ministries,it is important to discern if they know the Lord and how well. Here are some things to look for as you find new sources of spiritual guidance and leadership. I mentioned this briefly already. The same things apply to finding a new church or fellowship to join.
How is Jesus treated?
This is always the bottom line. If a church considers Jesus to be the archangel Michael, there is a real problem. If Jesus is never mentioned, there is a real problem. You can tell a lot by how a fellowship treats Jesus. There are several scriptures here that can help guide us.
Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. [I Corinthians 12:3 ESV]
This seems to be literally true. A heathen cannot actually physically say the words Jesus is Lord (maybe they can, but it never happens). I suspect it is possible for an author to write the words—but it never happens either that I have ever seen.
Beyond that, you can tell a lot by how much Jesus is talked about in sermons, newsletters, and conversations with the membership. If the Lord is working actively within that church, they will be talking about Him. If you cannot get them to talk about Jesus, you should probably continue looking for a “real” fellowship. There should be fresh testimonies.
When the leadership of the church is actively allowing the Lord to work among them, He does so. As a result, you should be hearing stories about what He has done in the past few days. If not, be careful.
Know them by their love
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. [John 13:34–35 NRSV]
This one is much more problematic. It is certainly true, but so few people understand what love is that is it easy to be led astray by looking for this. The word used here is agape. This is the love God has for us. It is a love by decision:
“an exercise of the Divine will in deliberate choice, made without assignable cause save that which lies in the nature of God Himself” [Vine’s].
It is an impossible love for humans—without the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This is a strong, compassionate, empathizing love by decision—having nothing to do with the worthiness of the one loved.
- This is not eros: sexual, physical love exclusively and privately tied to the one loved that ebbs and flows—comes and goes.
- This is not phileos: brotherly, family love with all the warm fuzzies and affection, excusing faults that might need to be confronted
Brotherly love has its place, and it is a good thing. But it is not usable in identifying a true Godly fellowship. Most groups do pretty well with phileos when dealing with people they like who fit their paradigm. For strange, unusual, injured, or challenged people phileos does not go very far.
- This is not storge: love for an object or thing, as in I love my car, my knife, my goat, my skateboard.
Agape is a love for the unlovable—those who really need the Lord and our love. I don’t know about you, but this is what I need. And this is what the world around us needs. To find it on Sundays in a worship service is a rare experience indeed.
Do they teach the New Testament
I have found (seen and experienced) that churches which teach exclusively from the old testament tend to be legalistic and they are usually not open to the move of the Holy Spirit. Of course, this is a gross generalization. It’s a small indicator, and nothing as serious as a church that never mentions Jesus.
The manifestation of gifts
This one is epidemic. There are very few churches that allow the gifts of the Holy Spirit in public services any more. Even so called Pentecostal and charismatic churches rarely have any gifts present. Though this is not a heresy issue, it does indicate that the leadership is probably not asking the Holy Spirit to take control of their meetings. It is a fearful thing for service leadership to give up control to the Holy Spirit. It is very rare.
Any church that does not give the Holy Spirit control will have a very compromised ministry. The Lord Jesus is the head of the church as a whole and all of the individual little groups within the larger organism that makes up the Body of the Messiah. He is the leadership of the Kingdom of God. The basic issue is simple. As always, the Lord will not take control. You must give him control. If the leadership does not ask the Holy Spirit to do that and expect it to happen, the power of the spirit in ministry will be absent in your church services.