It is interesting how Bible words do not always have the meaning we attach to them. Take for instance the word “sound.” I wonder how often we have the New Testament usage of this word clearly in our minds when we use the word. It primarily means “wholesome, healthy.” The Greek word rendered “sound” relates to physical well-being (Lk. 5:31; 7:10), and being made “whole” (Acts 4:10). The original word used here gives us the English word “hygiene.” When is a person physically sound? A person is physically sound when all parts are working as God designed them to work. Acts 3:1-8 is a good example of a person restored to physical soundness.
Paul used it with reference to healthy teaching as opposed to unhealthy teaching. The idea of soundness these days has fallen on hard times. Soundness involves maintaining a standard laid down by God. There are those who espouse spiritual soundness and those who oppose it. Paul described an unsound situation in 1 Corinthians 13:2. Some brethren gain a name for being strong along certain lines. They develop courage and boldness, but may lack meekness and kindness. Truth also requires love and forbearance.
Churches of Christ in Paul’s day faced dangers of apostasy, as we do today. There was then, and still is, the need for complete commitment to the truth. How can we tell when religious teaching is healthy or not? What tests apply? The test that really matters is the one Paul gives: “the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (Vs. 3). Would that include the book of Acts? Epistles? And the book of Revelation? Yes, in view of the fact that all scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
What should people look for in a congregation with which to worship? Human standards are endless: people look for large churches, small churches, trendy churches, traditional churches, progressive churches, conservative churches, modern churches, old fashioned churches, churches that don’t look like churches, churches with preachers that don’t look or sound like preachers, etc.
Years ago I received a phone call from someone who said a certain church is not “conservative.” “They use their building for things I would say are unscriptural.” It is telling that the point of reference is conservativism, not soundness. Conservative is not always sound! I sometimes get calls from people looking for a sound church in the area. If you are traveling you want to find a sound congregation to visit. Let’s note a few markers of identification that would show if a church is sound.
Sound Teaching on Salvation
It used to be said as a criticism of some preaching that a certain sermon could be preached in any denomination in town. That is a criticism that conveys a perceived weakness and lack of doctrinal distinctiveness in a sermon. Such a criticism is sometimes deserved, but not always. I am certain that I have preached many sermons that could be heard in any denomination in town. With the exception of the gospel plan of salvation it might be accepted without so much as a raised eyebrow. Why? Because there are many sound Biblical principles that most religious people will agree upon without any scruples.
Denominational people, although in error on the plan of salvation, the nature of the church, the work of the Holy Spirit, and particulars regarding worship are, however, strong on many of the moral issues that plague us today. Should we not be preaching the moral standards of Jesus Christ? There are some churches that would quickly terminate a preacher’s services if he proclaimed the Bible’s teaching on moral issues with the same fervor as many denominational preachers.
A preacher cannot always drive home the fundamentals that make us distinctive from denominations in every sermon, except for maybe a phrase or two, including the gospel plan of salvation. The subject is not always different from what others might believe and teach. If one preaches the whole gospel of Christ, he will be distinctive enough over the long haul.
A sound church is where you hear the truth about what to do to be saved. A Biblical response to faith, repentance, confession, baptism and faithfulness. If a church compromises in this area, they are not sound. Some may relax NT teaching on baptism by saying, “This is just our tradition.” Or “One baptism is as good as another,” when there is only one baptism (Eph. 4:5). A sound congregation will teach that we must continue to be faithful to be saved. They will encourage members to grow and press on to spiritual maturity. A sound congregation will point people to Jesus. Sound teaching along with Christ-like living have a power to win souls to Christ.
Sound Teaching on Worship
Worship must be “in spirit and in truth” (Jn. 4:24). “In spirit” means according to the New Covenant/Spirit; not the Old Testament letter. “In truth” refers to the realities of the New Covenant; not the figures of the Old Covenant. Simple New Testament worship is followed each time a sound church assembles.
What is included? Singing, Lord’s Supper, prayer, giving, teaching. When this principle is understood you will never hear the claim, “I like mechanical instruments along with singing because David used them,” or, “I believe in tithing because of what the Old Testament teaches.”
Sound churches know that worship can be both scriptural and passionate. By “passionate” I don’t mean that you are jumping up and down and swaying with the music. It means you worship from the heart and because you mean it! It is not a service you tolerate till the last Amen. Sound churches are not concerned with trying to grab the attention of visitors and convince skeptics, but with glorifying God in all things.
Romans 12 is what I like to call “the other love chapter” of the New Testament. It should help guide a congregation in the principles of love in daily practice. Members of a healthy congregation genuinely love each other and look for opportunities to help each other (1 Pet. 1:22-23).
Do members have a willingness to sacrifice for others in time of need? Some brethren are hot-headed and ready to separate from any who disagree with them in matters of judgment. See, Romans 14. Things resulting from lack of soundness have to do with disruption in personal relations: “envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprives of the truth” (Vss. 4-5). Such negative elements come from those who are unsound in their teachings and have a bad effect on those who hear them.