So far in this series we've said that you need to choose one that will 1) highly esteem Scripture and the preaching of the gospel, 2) rightly administer the sacraments, and 3) exercise church discipline.
But, like the 80's rock band Heart, we have to ask, "What about Love?"
You can make the argument that if the three marks of the church mentioned above are observed, then you will likely have a church of love. Preaching the gospel will facilitate love. The Sacraments point us to the love of God in Christ. Church discipline, you might say, is a form of "tough love" for those who are erring.
All this is true, but we should not forget that Scripture teaches that a true congregation of Christ will demonstrate heartfelt, mutual love. One of the main themes of 1 John is that of loving the brethren. Indeed, John makes love one of the primary tests of faith. It follows then that a congregation that loves Christ will be one that manifests love.
Of course, we ought to distinguish what we mean by love. We live in a culture that is quite lost when it comes to the idea of love. In our paganized society love can mean anything from a wishy washy sentimentality to a masochistic acts.
Biblically defined though, love is obedience to God's law. Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." Jesus also said that the commandments could be summarized with the law of love: Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. In sum, God's law is the gauge of love.
But how do you know when a congregation is expressing love? Perhaps it might be helpful to ask yourself the following kinds of questions:
- Do these people worship as if they really love God and want to adore him? Or does it seem that church is more for networking or routine?
- Are the people really engaged with the worship or are they just going through the motions?
- How do these people talk? Do they express reverence for God?
- Are their concerted efforts to fellowship with one another and enjoy each other's company? Or is Sunday worship a "hit and skip" kind of thing?
- Do these people respect their leaders and seek to take care of the elderly? Do they have children, and are they really showing them affection, or are they more concerned with their own well being?
- Are these people genuinely concerned for my well being? Will they have me into their home and support me in prayer? Do they share their gifts and graces with one another or do they tend to keep to themselves?
- What are their marriages like? Is their obvious sacrificial love among the couples? Or do they joke about marriage and disparage it?
- Are they giving regularly and even sacrificially?
- Can these people be trusted? Or do they go back on their word a lot?
- Does there seem to be an attachment to materialistic things?
Okay. By now you probably realize that this is an outline of the 10 commandments. But that's the point. A congregation that loves is one that is keeping the commandments.