In theology, I have learned what the three most controversial topics are:

1. Women in ministry

2. Creation/Evolution issues

3. Calvinism/Arminianism stuff

I would put them in that order too. Talk about these topics, and be prepared for a divided crowed. Blog one of these issues and get ready for the comments section to explode. Take a stand on one of these and prepare yourself to be assigned with some nasty label. Stay away from these issue and live long and prosper . . . or something like that.

As controversial as these topics are, I have also found that there is one greater than all of these. It is not necessarily in the area of systematic theology. It would fit better in practical theology. While those referenced above may get one’s blood boiling in the heat of the battle, there is one that has a greater more sustained and nuanced effect upon our disposition. I would call it “ecclesiology” (the doctrine of the church), but I think that such an academic designation would detract from its broader appeal. Simply put, it is How we do church.

I make it a habit to take breaks from my local assembly and visit other churches that are not of my ilk. Sometimes it is just a one time visit. Other times it is for an extended stay. (Some people are shifting in their seat right now, others have quit reading.) Sometimes it is a church with a “high” liturgy. Others it is at a church that would say “litur-what?” I do this for self-preservation. I do this for spiritual edification. I do this for ecclesiastical exercise. Most of all, I do this so that I can have grace.

I believe that one of the greatest grace killers that we can have in our lives is an overly critical spirit about other churches.

I was having lunch with a pastor not too long ago who only wanted to talk about another church in the area. His opinions about the way they do church were not favorable. Though he had never been to this church, he had heard enough. His church was a “Bible-centered Church for believers.” Their church was a “Seeker driven church for unbelievers.” In his opinion, they were too fast and loose with their accommodations to the world. They were trying to build bridges to the lost, but now they had taken on the identity of the bridges, not the Kingdom to where the bridge was supposed to lead. Though the Gospel was preached, it was only milk that they offered. In his opinion, they should have a “Meat unavailable” sign out front.

I was reading another local pastor who was going off about another pastor in the area. This time it was just the opposite. This guy led a “seeker” church (which essentially means that more than fifty-percent of the intentionality of the main church service is based on getting the lost saved). He came down hard on the other pastor because he was referencing Greek and Hebrew during his message. “The church is not a seminary,” he said. He emphasized that this will do nothing but produce high and mighty arrogant Christians, and will run the rest off.

The main point that both of these pastors expressed was that their church was the one right way to do church (or at least much more right than the other). Veer just a bit from their sanctified methodology and hands are no longer held in the missio dei.

I used to be this way. Let me rephrase: I am this way, but I am in recovery.

“Hi, my name is Michael and I am a Church critic.”

“Hi Michael.” 

My approach to evaluating churches is becoming quite simple. I am starting to be able to appreciate just about any church where the Bible is being taught and the Gospel proclaimed. There can be all kinds of things I would do different. There can be all kinds of weaknesses in other areas. But when I find a church where the word of God is consistently proclaimed, more often than not, I find the power of God. When I visit a church where the Bible is respected as the final authority, I find those who are on the same mission as I. When I find a church where people are led to the Gospel, I find myself among brothers and sisters. Most importantly, when I find a church where the Bible is believed, I am surprised. It is a rare treat these days. 

Sometimes we go to churches and think:

“Maybe the Bible is being taught, but it is not expositional. God is only slightly here.”

“Maybe it is expositional, but the music is compromisingly loud. God cannot exist in such chaos.”

“Maybe the Gospel is strongly proclaimed, but people don’t know what to do next. God is waiting for them to get to step two.”

“Maybe there is good discipleship, but the Gospel is not clearly proclaimed each week with an alter call. God does not appreciate the snub.”

“Maybe people open their Bible’s here, but they use the Message. God does not like the Message.”

“Maybe these people know doctrine, but I never see them at the downtown mission. God does not like inlets with no outlets.”

On and on we could go. Yes, we could do this about your church too. I promise.

I have to train myself continually to appreciate the methodology that others are using. I have to train myself to recognize God’s presence in any number of situations. I have to remember that the Bible does not give too many “hows” of doing church.

Today I sat at a certain worship service of a church I do not normally attend and saw so many things that I could criticize, come down upon, and get worked up over. Here and there I had to stop myself. At my best moments I knew, as the Bible was being taught, that I was at the house of brothers and sisters. I knew that God works in spite of all our methodologies. I know that we are all traditionalists at heart. There is no one perfect way to do church. But there is a way to kill grace. And if grace has died, what have we got?

How do we become children with regard to our criticism of other churches? How do we unmake our beds of methodological triumph? Who’s victory are we proclaiming when we look down on other Bible believing churches? Why are we so territorially inclined?

“Hi, my name is Michael and I am a critic of Church methodology.”

“Hi Michael.” 

Don’t get me wrong. I have a particular way in which I would conduct a church. A bit more traditional than some. A bit more progressive than others. Neither high-church nor low-church. But my way is not the right way. It is not necessarily even more right than another. It is just my way, with its relative strengths and weaknesses. I am glad God gave us this freedom. I think it is why the church can shape itself in every culture and in every period of history.

In my opinion, to say that there is a “biblical liturgy” or a biblical way of doing church is about as unbiblical as we can be. It is a grace killer. And in the end, it is not the Spirit of God you are quenching in that church, it is the Spirit of God in you.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    31 replies to "Grace Killer #1: “Biblical” Ways of Doing Church?"

    • Ed Kratz

      Great thoughts! I will say that I think the Bible does give some guidance in terms of what should be present, such as is outlined in Acts 2:42. I have come to the increasing conviction that as long as a church has these elements and genuine growth and service is present and fostered, it really doesn’t matter what type of liturgy is followed (yes ALL churches have some form of liturgy). I believe its a matter of where you can grow and serve. If your doctrinal convictions are not in alignment with a particular assembly, growth will not happen so don’t go there. But for those for whom it is aligned, it will. Be respectful. If we belong to Christ, we are members of the same body.

    • Jeremy Myers

      I’m assuming you would also apply this grace to people of the house church movement? I see lots of churches today saying that house church people really aren’t in the church, and vice versa.

    • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Brandkamp and John Calvin Hall, heidi mitchell. heidi mitchell said: Competitive churches: […]

    • Craig Bennett

      Michael. Allow me to high five you! 🙂

      Though I do disagree with your statement in that there is no perfect way to do church… there is and its called “love”


    • Ed Kratz

      Touche. You always have to one up me.

    • Gammell

      I managed to expose myself to a wide enough variety of churches when I first became a Christian that I developed a strong appreciation for the variety of church expressions fairly quickly. The criticism snare I fall into is going the other way where I’m overly-critical of my own church. I’m far more aware of our own faults and the lingering issues can readily breed an unhealthy frustration in me. Sometimes it seems much harder to show grace when it’s closer to home.

    • […] the whole thing here. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← That’s My Kind […]

    • Mike

      If we could only use our gifts to find ways to improve our own church would we have something to share with others. And that begins with each member.

    • God has led me in my experience as a Christian to be involved in many different types of churches. (I joke that I am transdenominational.) I would agree that where the gospel is preached (and there is love) God is at work and we can get so head up about methodology that we miss what God is doing.

    • Kurt (from Seattle)

      Thought-provoking, Michael. Quite often I consider how grateful I am for Reclaiming the Mind. I do agree with Lisa Robinson. It’s interesting because I finished reading The Church Awakening by Chuck Swindoll about a month or so ago and there’s a quote in there by Bill Hybels about how Willow Creek had some adjusting to do to get the believers maturing. So, yes, along with Lisa, I think there are non-negotiables (essentials) and negotiables (non-essentials)…just like we learned in the theology program.

    • From The Balcony

      Hi Michael – as always, I appreciate you. However, this post was not my favorite. Why?

      While I can wholeheartedly agree with you about the state of the church today, one of the biggest problems in the church is that they really don’t understand the biblical concept of grace.

      Your statement “It is a grace killer” saddened me. How can anything possibly be done by any flawed human being or flawed church that can kill something that belongs to God to give…..that only He can give?

      Certainly we need to show love within the church — and charity among the brethren on those things non-essential to the faith. But a grace killer? For me, this post was a distortion of the understanding of God’s grace.

    • Ed Kratz


      I did not mean it kills the grace of God. It kills our grace to each other.

    • Ed Kratz

      Jeremy, absolutely. But I am not quite there with Internet churches. They still make me cringe with no sign of letting up. 🙂

    • Craig Bennett

      Regarding the church. I believe it should represent the story told in Luke about the prodigal son. I wrote about it here in regards to how we treat fallen pastors and other brethren..

      Often I find many churches / brethren too much like the sulking self righteous brother… when it comes to critiquing our family…

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      “In theology, I have learned what the three most controversial topics are:

      1. Women in ministry”

      #1 is related to “Biblical” Ways of Doing Church.

      It should be noted that with complementarianism or Biblical Patriarchy women are indeed in ministry. There are just a few offices that God designed, intended, and specified for men only. For how His Church is to be ordered for His Glory.

      Carry on.

    • Ed Kratz

      Kathy (On the Balcony)

      If anything I think this article is all about the grace of God. When we are overly and unwarrantedly critical about activity in the body of Christ, it shows we have forgotten about God’s grace towards us. Because of His grace, we should extend that to others.

    • John T 3

      Michael you said -“to say that there is a “biblical liturgy” or a biblical way of doing church is about as unbiblical as we can be.” Simple question for you then if the Bible is the final authority on all matters how can there not be a biblical way to how a church should operate?

    • Dave Zierenberg

      @John T3 – as I understand it, the Bible is the final authority on all matters it addresses, not on all matters in general, as there are many areas it does not address, such as “paper or plastic.” In that vein, I think CMP’s point is that it doesn’t give us a liturgy – a specific way to do church. It doesn’t tell us:
      How often to observe communion
      What type of music
      How much music before the sermon and how much music after
      What instruments to use (or not use)
      Method of teaching (topical or expository)
      When to meet – morning, evening, which day
      What to wear
      How big the cross should be
      Should there be a cross?
      Pews or individual chairs?

      The list could go on. There are no prescriptive passages and almost no descriptive passages about how to do church.

      I’m curious – do you personally hold to the regulative principle?

    • Leighton Tebay

      On one side we have uncharitable judgments of churches that aren’t like ‘ours’ and on the other side there is an ecclesial relativism that has developed in which anything goes as long as it ‘works.’ Increasingly we evaluate what works based on how much money and people are involved. The church in the western world is slowly dying and instead of turning to scripture we turn to consultants, conferences and big names to lead the way.

      While I don’t waste my time critiquing other churches I am disconcerted that we have in a sense given up on the notion that the bible is still relevant the realm of ecclesiology.

    • John Metz

      Thank you for this post. I have read you blog for a while now and am beginning to appreciate some of the things that I am sure rankle some folks. Your ability to accept those with whom you may disagree about many things is admirable. There is a trend to look for things to exclude others as a way of evaluating groups rather than the opposite approach — looking for what we can accept in a group. I do enjoy the fact that although you have definite theological beliefs, you exhibit a generous attitude toward those who hold other positions.

    • cherylu

      Hi Michael,

      I’m finding it kind of humorous that the topic that you usually find even more controversial then the ones you listed as the top three has only gotten twenty one responses in two days time! This crew must not be following the norms you have seen in the past.

    • Dan

      Pastors (CEO’s) in general I think are a little more myopic about the condition of the church. I appreciate that you have taken steps to remedy this, but am saddened that as a recovering critic use your recovery to critique critics by using discussion killing antidotes such as “grace killer”: a label that could be very well applied to Paul. Tebay said that the Church in the western world is slowly dying. I agree. Its difficult to grasp the fact that there are so many churches in America and yet we still slaughter millions of babies each year, institutionally teach the next generation there is no God, lead the world in exporting porn, vote for spending the fruits of the labor of the yet born, abandon our wives and husbands, just to name a few bad health indicators. Taleb said: the Western Church is dying. Oddly, Pastors seem to be the most oblivious to this fact beyond their fixation on the declining fiscal heath of the corporation over which they preside.

      BTW, Good blog, Thx

    • Ed Kratz

      The controversy here is more subtle, like I said in the post. It happens in the background, not so much in forums of debate such as this. I think the reason is because it is very hard to actually make a case for traditionally held emotions, but it is easy to continue to hold them.

    • Liam Moran


      Interesting article. Your points were very clear.

      I think that there needs to be a balance here. There are times when criticism is needed. In light of eternity, we need to be constantly evaluating our ministries in light of Scripture. Clearly, we should be gracious in so doing (Prov. 16:24). Yet, at the same time, I do not think we are being grace killers by simply offering criticism (hopefully it is constructive).

      I do agree though, there are some who are simply entirely too critical, judgmental and even legalistic. I have met some that have almost nothing positive to say about any church or ministry and are always looking for something to criticize. Some people do not even go to church or rarely go because they cannot find one good enough for them. I think this attitude can be one of pride can be a grace killer.

    • John From Down Under

      I never thought Michael’s posts advocated abstinence from critiquing. That’s the no brainer part. It’s HOW it is delivered that’s the issue. Lisa R touched on this topic a couple of times.

      The ‘discernment’ movement has given tremendous momentum to this problem. Case in point, this reaction from a Christian author taking issue with Tim Challies on this very thing, basically criticizing him for being ‘too soft’. Sadly some of the examples in those ‘correction’ ministries are so disgracefully carnal that are an embarrassment to Christianity.

      It seems that when we ‘know more’ than the person we criticize, there is often a lurking temptation to belittle them (openly or subtly), with our tone or our choice of words. We also tend to cross over from judging what they say, to judging who they are. Aggression becomes our comfort zone and we tend to spend more time doing what we like as opposed to what we ought!

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      1. Women in ministry”

      Here’s a recent excerpt that addresses this topic quite well:

      “Biblical equality is rooted in the creation of human beings, male and female, in the image of God. It is an equality of being, not an equality of doing. That men and women have different roles to play in creation does not make one superior and the other inferior. It is all too common for advocates of “biblical equality” to engage in a subtle game of obfuscation, conflating the larger issue of women in ministry with the more narrow question of women’s ordination. Their aim is to marginalize opponents of women’s ordination by making it appear as if they oppose women in ministry altogether.”

      Biblical Equality or Soft-Core Feminism?

    • Tanya Reddin

      As someone searching for a church to belong to, this post did not help me in the least. I still don’t know what church I should go to. I’m looking for the “alleluia” chorus to be sung by a magical host of invisible angels during some part of the service. My family has visited 6 different churches, 4 of which we could see ourselves being a part of. One had a liturgical service, one didn’t have instruments, one had pews and big cross, one even used real wine in their communion, but they all preached the word of God. We got “something” out of every church we visited i.e we worshiped. The people were all friendly, they didn’t make us sign any contracts, and no one asked us to be baptized. How do we figure this out except to wait for that host of angels to start singing at the right church???

    • […] grace killer #1: “biblical ways” of doing church? February 21, 2011 amicit Leave a comment Go to comments excerpt from parchment & pen […]

    • […] Church" variety) had an interesting blog more or less about what we're talking about here. Regardless, none of them converted simply because they liked how it looked, sounded, or smelt and […]

    • Robert Eaglestone


      “Hi. My name’s Rob, and I’m a church critic.”

      With me, the issue has come from the opposite direction: many of my friends are in other denominations. I am therefore forced to either (1) consign them to a diminished grace and a woefully stunted spiritual life, or (2) rethink the church.

      So what do I think about my Pentecostal friend who is now Roman Catholic? And my Presybeterian friend who is also now Catholic, via the Charismatic Episcopal church? And my Church of Christ friends? And my Methodist friends? And my Lutheran friends? And my E.V. Free friends… oh no, I’m not Southern Baptist anymore, I’m one of THEM now! So do I now get to look down my nose at my ex-fellow Southern Baptists? Aiiiieeeeee…

      Slowly I’ve been forced to consider what the important bits are, and ignore the rest. There are still hurdles, problems, issues, terminology, theology, et al, but churches don’t have to look much like SCC at all.

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