By Dave Jenkins, Crosswalk.com
Before we can ask, “Which denomination is the right denomination and is there one?” we need to understand something of the Church's calling and thus of every Christian. Scripture teaches there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Such teaching helps Christians understand the unity that is theirs exists because they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). In Ephesians 4:3, Paul appeals to Christians for the character qualities of humility, meekness, patience, and love, which are necessary to the preservation of unity.
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 2:10, teaches that the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), by which He reveals (1 Corinthians 2:10), and teaches (1 Corinthians 2:13) those whom He indwells. Such a process is what theologians call illumination, where the Holy Spirit helps the people of God interpret Scripture.
Every Christian is to read and study the Word of God correctly (2 Timothy 2:15), in prayerful dependence upon the illumination of the Holy Spirit. In the real world, not every Christian who possesses the Holy Spirit obeys the teaching of Scripture.
There are Christians, Paul says in Ephesians 4:30, who grieve the Holy Spirit. One reason there are so many different interpretations and denominations is that some do not listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit in the Word of God. Some other reasons include the following:
Some people who claim the label “Christian” are not Christians, for there has been no real transformation in their hearts or lives. It is impossible for the non-Christian to correctly interpret Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:14), for they have no illumination of Scripture, which is why even being a pastor or theologian does not guarantee one’s salvation.
In John 12:28-29, Jesus prays to the Father, “Father, glorify your name,” and the Father responds with an audible voice that everyone hears. Even so, the crowd interprets the voice differently, “The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.” Everyone heard the same thing, a plain statement from heaven, yet everyone heard what they wanted to hear.
A Lack of Training
2 Timothy 2:15 teaches there is no shortcut to proper biblical interpretation but to study it. One example of this was Apollos, a powerful and persuasive preacher who was ignorant of Jesus and salvation. Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:24-28). As a result of their training, Apollos preached Jesus Christ from the Word of God.
A Wrong Emphasis on Tradition
Biblical interpretation goes wrong when it is filtered not first through the Word, but the established traditions of the church. Concerning tradition and the Bible's teaching, far too often, tradition is given the place of prominence. When this happens, the authority of the Word is diminished, and the authority of the church leadership opinions, not the Word of God, are given supremacy.
Devoted to Biblical Doctrine
Christians need to prioritize what Scripture teaches, but also avoid being dogmatic about where Scripture is silent. The best example to follow is the Early Church in Jerusalem in Acts 2:42, where there was unity because they were steadfast on the Apostles’ Creed. Today there can be unity in the Church but not apart from biblical doctrine, and only when we are grounded in the Word.
The Analogy of Faith
During the Reformation, the Reformers aimed to stop speculative and wrong interpretations of Scripture by setting forth the principle of the analogy of faith, which means Scripture is its own best interpreter. Christians, according to this rule of biblical interpretation, are to interpret Scripture according to Scripture.
According to the analogy of faith, Scripture is the supreme judge in interpreting the meaning of a particular verse in light of the whole teaching of the Bible. Behind the idea of the analogy of faith is confidence in the Bible as the consistent and coherent Word of God. The governing principle of the analogy of faith is to guide biblical interpretation.
Sensus Literalis and Biblical Interpretation
Sensus Literalis is the principle that governs an objective interpretation of Scripture. Sensus Literalis means Christians must interpret the Bible in the sense it is given. For example, parables are to be interpreted as parables, symbols as symbols, poetry as poetry, historical narratives as historical narratives, and letters as letters.
Literal Interpretation and the Clarity of Scripture
Challenging biblical passages are challenging for a reason, but they are to be interpreted in light of the clear biblical passages on the subject. Though all Scripture is clear, not all biblical passages are equally clear. For example, numerous heresies have erred on that particular point and forced conformity to the obscure passages rather than to the clear biblical passages.
As a result, these heresies have distorted the whole Bible. If something remains unclear in one part of the Bible, it is made clear elsewhere in the Word of God. Further, let’s say we have two biblical passages that can be interpreted in various ways. In such an instance, we must always interpret the Bible in such a way as not to violate Scripture’s unity and integrity.
Interpreting Scripture Literally
The Bible is to be interpreted literally, which means the Word of God is not to be handled as a secret codebook to unlock the world’s secret mysteries. Christians are to read the Bible like any other work of literature. In doing so, our goal is to read the Scriptures correctly.
By reading the Bible literally, we are accounting for the biblical authors' intent and the literary conventions of the particular style they used to address Bible readers. For example, we do not read poetry the same way we read the historical narrative of the Bible, for poetry employs rich imagery that serves as a figurative depiction of reality. The historical narrative gives an orderly account of what exactly happened.
As Christians, we read the Bible literally; the goal in doing so is to get the plain sense of the text to arrive at the meaning of the biblical passage. While inspiring the Word of God, the Holy Spirit guided the human authorities to employ literary styles such as poetry, proverb, narrative, sermon, epistle, and many other styles.
The Lord used these genres so that the people of God would know that He gave them to us for His Word. While there are rules for each of these genres, we are not to violate them for the sake of allegorical readings that do not connect with the meaning of the biblical text.
Why Does This Matter?
Reading the Bible is critical for Christians, but we are to do so according to proper hermeneutics, the art, and science of biblical interpretation, taking into account the various literary styles. If we fail in this, we will get the wrong meaning. The plain meaning of a passage is best for reading poetry as poetry, narrative as narrative; we will get the meaning controlled by the text and arrive at the proper interpretation and application of the biblical passage.
Finding a Good Bible-Based Church
Many people struggle to find a good Bible-based church or denomination. As you look for one, please consider asking yourself the following questions in light of the church’s statement of faith. If the answer is no to these, then you should avoid this church. If the answer is yes, they affirm these things, it’s a safe place to begin to go and sit under the preaching and teaching of the pastor. In addition, always learn more about the church before committing as a member:
1. Does the church affirm that the Bible consists of the Old and New Testaments and that Scripture is inspired and inerrant?
2. Does the church affirm the doctrine of the Trinity, which is the position that there is one God who exists in three simultaneous, distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
3. Does the church affirm the deity of Christ, that Jesus presently has two natures: divine and human?
4. Does the church affirm that Jesus is fully God and fully man right now and that he was resurrected in a glorified body?
5. Does the church affirm the personhood of the Holy Spirit?
6. Does the church affirm that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone without any works (or baptism) necessary to obtain or maintain salvation?
7. Does the church affirm that Adam and Eve were the first people who ever existed and that they were created by God?
If your answer to any of the below is yes about a church, then you should avoid that church:
1. Do they support homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle to biblical marriage between one man and one woman?
2. Do they affirm that a practicing, unrepentant homosexual can be a true Christian?
3. Is water baptism necessary for salvation?
4. Do they teach universalism that all people will be saved apart from personal saving faith in Christ?
5. Do they affirm the prosperity gospel or support the ministries of prominent leaders who preach it?
6. Do they have unbelievers on the pastoral staff or the worship team?
7. Can the believer lose their salvation?
8. Is evolution what God used to bring us into the world?
Other Questions Worth Asking
1. What style of worship does the church have?
2. How often do they take communion?
3. Does the church allow children in the sanctuary during the service?
4. Has there been a church split recently? If so, why?
5. Do they only hold to the King James Version?
Picking a church to attend is a subjective endeavor. Different Christians have different criteria. Perhaps the questions above might help you better determine whether or not a church you are looking into is worth attending.
I hope this helps you biblically evaluate any church or denomination you are considering as you make that vital decision with greater confidence.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to Sarah Jenkins. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and is the Host for the Equipping You in Grace Podcast. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Parler, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.