In a previous post I listed the churches we plan to visit. The list is a narrow slice of possible good churches around us. Why so narrow?
First, we have a Reformed perspective. Reformed is a theological tradition that has its roots in the Protestant Reformation, and more specifically, it follows the theological foundations articulated by John Calvin and others from the Swiss Reformation. The major branches of Reformed movement include the Dutch Reformed, the Scottish national church and Presbyterianism, aspects of the Church of England and Episcopal, Puritans, Reformed Baptists, and Congregationalists.
Out of the branches in the Reformed movement, I divide the branches in into church government and the branches that have different views on the sacraments (or ordinances) of baptism and communion. The branches of government versus sacraments are almost independent of each other, but there are subtleties that influence each other. For now I will consider the government versus sacraments issues as independent of each other.
For government, the major forms are hierarchical (Episcopal, Church of England), elder led (Presbyterian), and congregational (Congregationalists and most Baptists). I side on the form of elder led without going into the reasons.
On the sacraments, the major division are those who hold that baptism is to be administered only to professing believers and those that believe baptism should be given to believers and children (and infants) of believing parents who are members of the church. I side with the latter, that baptism should be given to children of believing parents. This is non-negotiable to me because of the theology behind it. Baptism is a sign that those who receive it are members of God's covenant community, the church, and have the rights of belonging to the covenant community. Baptism does not confer salvation on those who recieve it, nor does it indicates personal salvation for the infants and children it is applied to. But just as circumcision indicated membership in the ancient Israel covenant community, the New Testament also indicates that baptism is to be given to families that are part of the New Testament and post New Testament covenant community, the Church.
The theological differences between the believers only baptism and the covenantal baptism that includes infants of believing families is very significant. Fir that reason, when I have a choice between a good Reformed covenantal baptism church and a good Reformed Baptist church, I will always choose the church that practices covenantal baptism, such as Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, conservative Reformed congregational, or conservative Episcopal. The difference is that big to me. It's more important than church government to me.
So, on the issues of sacraments, it's paedo or covenantal baptism. For church government, it's elder or presbyterian. Hence I prefer conservative Presbyterian or conservative Dutch Reformed that adhere to the classic Reformed confessions. And I prefer Presbyterian, PCA first, OPC second (or other conservative Presbyterian) based on being members of a PCA church and I know and have loyalty to the denomination.