This is a question that, I am sure, we have heard many people ask, and even many of us have asked from time to time. I have come across various answers to this, many of which fail to deal with the issue effectively. So, then, what is the right answer? How can we ever know, and how can we help someone else who is looking for the answer?
Let me point out that there is a fundamental error in that question. It assumes that “church” is a building, a house, or a group of believers. This is the definition that we have given to the church today. So, ask the wrong questions and you will get the wrong answers. We know very well, from the scriptures (Acts 7:48-49), that the church is NOT a place or an organization. It never was. Not in the apostolic days, not in the first three centuries of its existence. It only took the form we have today in year 330 AD, when the Roman Emperor Constantine converted the pagan (idolatrous) temples into places of “Christian” worship, and told the Christians, “behold, here is where you ought to gather and worship”. Hence the expression “I am going to church”. Neither is the church a human organization. The Lord Jesus said, “I will build MY church…” (Matthew 16:18). He didn’t tell His disciples, “Go out to the whole world and build churches”, neither do we see any of the apostles “planting” any churches.
The church is the body of Christ; she is His bride, not limited by geography or business-like structure. Of course, there are many mentions of local churches in the New Testament, but those are just assemblies of believers in specific towns and cities. And that was only a phenomenon of the beginning; because we know from history what happened to those local assemblies. They were all broken up, the brethren who comprised them tortured and killed, and many of them dispersed to the ends of the earth. Did that stop the spread of the good news? To the contrary, that was the way to spread them, and to give the push for the disciples to “go to all the world and make disciples”. As long as they were gathered in one place, the kingdom of God was limited to that place. God knew that, and then He sent pagan rulers to persecute and scatter those assemblies, thus sending worldwide sparks that would ignite the fire of His kingdom to all the earth.
But there was another problem. As long as those believers stayed “huddled up”, they got comfortable and developed a sense of being at home with one another. However, God’s plan was not for Christian communities, or else He would not make any mention on new heavens and new earth; He would simply convert the world into a gigantic mega-church. And any time His children missed that message, He made sure to repeat the actions that would have them go abroad and spread the news of the kingdom. And here is where today’s Christianity’s problem lies: we seek to be in a place where we feel comfortable, where we are together with other believers, separate from the sinners, and where the program is cut out according to our taste. We don’t like the music? We simply move to another “church”; is the teaching too harsh to our ears? We go somewhere else, where we get entertainment and have “a good old time”. And it is not unusual to go to great lengths and geographical distances to carry not the news of the kingdom, but our own dogmatic understanding of what Christianity is.
Why don’t we ask our brethren from China what church they go to? Or how about we find out from the believers in North Korea how they choose their churches? Simply, because there is no such thing there as a church building or denominations. And I am not referring to the “churches” that the state approves of; those are only groups that preach only peace and friendship, without the cross, without any need for repentance, and which pose no threat to the authorities. Any person found to believe in Jesus, in those places, are being tortured and executed together with their family members. For those believers, the simple joy of finding another genuine believer is a reason for celebration and for gratefulness for the Lord’s love and grace. And there are stories of such believers going to great pains, at the risk of their own and their loved ones’ lives, to find such a comfort in the person of a fellow believer.
So, what makes the difference between those believers and the kind we see in the western world? One word: purpose. And I am asking you, what is your purpose for seeking a fellowship of believers? Is it your comfort and convenience? Or do you desire to operate in the way that the New Testament admonishes us 58 times with the phrase “one another”? A person who has been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit understands that God has His purpose and He does everything to that end. And if He is the master architect and builder of His church, would He leave it up to us to decide where and how we fit? What is to say that He hasn’t placed you where you are now, so He can effect a change through you? And if he wants you somewhere else, wouldn’t He tell you so? Wouldn’t we know every detail of every step we should take to fulfil His purpose? The fact that many of us don’t know, is a proof of our faulty prayer life, but that’s a whole different topic altogether.
So if after reading all this you come again with the question, “so what church is right for me?”, I would advise you to shift your focus from your own self and place it on the One who matters, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ, our redeemer. When He said, “…the hour is coming when ye shall neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father. But the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for also the Father seeks such as his worshippers.” (John 4:21, 23, DARBY), He wasn’t referring to any distant event. Notice the “…and now is…”. That “time” started with His crucifixion. I pray that you are one of those worshipers, who are part of the solution and not of the problem. May the grace of God be yours always.