The Marks of A Healthy Church-Part Two
February 04, 2007 | Randy Smith
The Marks of A Healthy Church-Part Two1 Timothy 3:15
Sunday, February 4, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith
Have you ever heard these statements?
"Once I get married, I will never again be lonely."
"I believe marriage will solve all my problems."
"Our feelings of love and passion will never fade after our wedding."
"My marriage partner will meet all of my needs."
For those of us who have experienced marriage, we laugh at these naïve and unrealistic expectations. Yet many enter this sacred union firmly committed to these beliefs only to be disillusioned and disappointed when reality hits home. And then when they realize that marriage is not meeting their false expectations (which won't take long), more often than not, they stand firm in their errant beliefs and blame the institution of marriage for letting them down. They exclaim, "I once tried that marriage thing, and it didn't work for me."
This same attitude possesses many churchgoers as well. They join a church with unrealistic expectations. A conflict is bound to occur. Immediately the church is pressured and blamed when she fails to live up to one's incorrect standards. The church can do everything that she is called to do according to the Word of God, but these individuals will often chafe, complain and eventually leave because they entered the church with false expectations. Sadly their expectations are crafted in their own imagination and not in Holy Scripture.
Unfortunately, this conflict of division permeates most churches today. Some resolution must occur. Something has to give. The way I see it, there are only two possible solutions. Either the church can change and become the institution the immature, carnal American churchgoer desires, or she can stand firm and educate people as to the true purpose of her existence and pray that the people will change.
These are the two dominant philosophies that influence most church decisions. One turns to humans for the answer. The other turns to the Bible. One seeks to please humans. The other seeks to please God. How we answer those questions here at the Grace Tabernacle will affect everything we do.
For God's glory and our unity, we must share the same expectations. That is why I have decided to spend three weeks on a brief series entitled, "The Marks of a Healthy Church."
I have chosen to hang this series on one verse from 1 Timothy 3. Paul in writing to his spiritual son Timothy said, "In case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).
This verse presupposes at least two things. One, that the church is owned by the living God. And two, that He is concerned about our conduct in the church. Therefore God has the final say as to how we conduct ourselves and thankfully He has spoken His clear expectations in the Bible. I believe we would do well to follow them.
Last week we covered three of these expectations: A commitment to teach God's Word, a correct understanding of the Gospel and a willingness to practice church discipline. This week in a very abbreviated sermon we will cover marks four through six as I find these three directives in 1 Timothy.
1. BIBLICALLY QUALIFIED LEADERS
If your Bibles are still open, the fourth mark for a healthy church is mentioned right here in chapter 3. In verses 1-13, Paul in this pastoral epistle stresses the need for biblically qualified leadership.
Though we rebel against it in our modern age, it is imperative that we have people in authority. Like a car without controls or an intersection without traffic lights or a home without parents or a world without God, it is impossible to have success in any organization without leadership.
Since God knows this and His character is one of order, God has called for and appointed leadership in every primary sphere of society ranging from the government to the workplace to the home. Likewise, the church is not exempt.
Since leadership is necessary, we must now ask the next question, what type of leadership is God looking for in the church? Here is where a multitude of false expectations enter the picture. Listening to what some are looking for in a church leader, it is possible to believe they are trying to hire a salesman, storyteller, politician, comedian or cruise director. But what does the Bible say? What are God's expectations for those who lead His church?
As Paul spends almost a whole chapter of this epistle outlining the qualifications for church leaders, there are two general spiritual traits that God expects from those who would lead His flock. See if you can identify them as I read 1 Timothy 3:1-13.
"It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Women (NIV- "wives") must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus."
Did you hear the two spiritual expectations for a Christian leader? One is all over the passage. A leader must be one who is "above reproach" in the domains of Christlike character. Second, and this one is hidden away here but further explained in Titus (1:9), is the leader's ability (primarily the pastor-elder) to teach and handle the Word of God.
Notice there is nothing here or anywhere in the Scriptures that says leaders must be perfect or they must comply with every request from the congregation or live up to every false caricature imposed upon them.
So many false expectations!
Yet some expectations are clear. When we search God's Word we see an expectation for elders and deacons, the two biblical offices for church leadership, distinct yet unified, functioning in their prescribed capacity. We should expect a plurality of elders, all possibly with differing gifts, yet equal in authority. We should expect our leaders to make the tough decisions, but always solicit input from the congregation and accept responsibility for their actions. We should expect leaders to lead by example and service, closely following the model of our Lord Jesus. We should expect our leaders (as I said earlier) to be "above reproach" in the Christian qualifications listed in Scripture. And I think it is fair to say, we should expect leaders in other areas of church ministry, especially those who oversee people and teach the Word of God, to abide by these same standards of character.
Here is what I expect in myself and our other church leaders: Men who are committed to exalting Jesus Christ and giving evidence of the Spirit's fruit in their lives; men who love and prioritize their families and the church, willing to serve them faithfully to the point of death; men who are sacrificial, hard-working and selfless and men who seek as their greatest goal others conforming daily to the image of Jesus Christ.
I believe this is what God wants to see in us. And though we are still improving, I hope this is what you want to see in us as well. I believe you do want that and I believe you do see that. How blessed we were to see that all of our deacons reaffirmed and a new deacon and new elder were accepted by unanimous approval of the congregation eleven days ago!
2. COMMITMENT TO DISCIPLESHIP
A healthy church must have qualified leadership and a healthy church must also be committed to discipleship. When I say discipleship I am basically talking about the desire to see ourselves and other believers mature in Christlikeness (1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 3:18).
We are saved solely by the grace of God instantaneously when we place our faith in Jesus. To use theological terms, we are redeemed, justified and adopted into His family the moment we trust Christ. However, once saved, we begin the exciting process of maturing in our faith, progressively developing into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). We call this the process of sanctification.
Any true church must take seriously this responsibility. Maybe you have heard it said, God has spiritual children but He does not what them to remain spiritual babies (1 Cor. 3:1-4). We must not only desire to grow in our faith, but as selfless Christians, we must also desire the growth of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must be willing to pray for them (Col. 1:10; 1 Thes. 3:11-13) and come alongside them when possible to help them mature in Christlikeness. At the end of the line we need to answer two questions. How much did I mature in the faith? And how much did I help other believers mature in their faith? Both of these questions deal with the issue of discipleship.
The Apostle Paul had a great passion for discipleship. In Colossians 1 he said, "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me" (Col. 1:28-29).
He sought to disciple the churches through his preaching and teaching. And he also made it his goal to work personally with a few individuals one-on-one. Paul sought to reproduce himself in others. As he said in 2 Timothy 2:2, "(He) entrust(ed Himself) faithful men who will be able to teach others." He wanted to pass the torch so others would be prepared to faithfully serve God as he did once he was called to his eternal destination. And possibly his closest disciple was Timothy. Right here in 1 Timothy 1, verse 2 he referred to the young man as "my true child in the faith" (Ac. 16:3; Phil. 2:19-23; 2 Tim. 1:2-7).
And what was Paul's purpose in all of this? Ephesians 4:13, that those whom he worked with might mature "to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." Spiritual growth in himself and others - that was Paul's purpose. And that must be our purpose here at the Grace Tabernacle as well.
In his book, Mark Dever said, "A healthy church has a pervasive concern with church growth - not simply growing numbers but growing members. A church full of growing Christians is the kind of church I want as a pastor. Some today seem to think that one can be a "baby Christian" for a whole lifetime. Growth is seen to be an optional extra for particularly zealous disciples. But be very careful about taking that line of thought. Growth is a sign of life. Growing trees are living trees, and growing animals are living animals. When something stops growing it dies" (Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, p. 200).
Parents, how would you feel if your newborn never grew? Our heavenly Father shares the same spiritual concern for His children who have been born again (1 Cor. 3:6-7; Col. 2:19). As a matter of fact, He takes it so seriously that He has given us the Holy Spirit. So it stands to reason if we have the Holy Spirit living within us, these should be some fingerprints of His existence. We should have the desire and ability to increase in holiness.
It was the great theologian Jonathan Edwards who concluded that true Christian growth is not ultimately evidenced by spiritual excitement, religious language, knowledge of the Scriptures, zeal, love for the church, or confidence in one's faith. According to Edwards, while all these things may be evidences of true Christian growth, the only certain observable sign of such growth is a life of increasing holiness rooted in Christian self-denial (Treatise Concerning Religious Affections).
A healthy church is committed to discipleship, having a vital concern for increasing holiness in the lives of its members. There should be some evidence that we (individually and corporately) are progressively growing into the holy image of Christ.
3. SOUND BIBLICAL DOCTRINE
Qualified leaders, commitment to discipleship and lastly this morning, a healthy church must be committed to sound biblical doctrine.
How would you answer these questions? "Who is God?" "What was the purpose of Christ's coming?" "What is the role of the Holy Spirit?" "How does a sinner get saved?" "Why did God create the church?" These and a host of other questions all center on the topic of doctrine.
Now I know when I speak of "doctrine" I might create unfavorable connotations in your imagination. Just say the word "doctrine" and many think of boring academia, hostile debates, and mind wrenching discussions with little practical basis. And that is unfortunate because doctrine is ultimately about God (who doesn't identify with any of these), and doctrine is essential to the health of the church.
You see, our doctrine is determined by our interpretation of Scripture and our doctrine once determined will shape the way we worship God and conduct ministry. Right doctrine will lead us in a God-honoring direction. Poor doctrine will shipwreck our purpose.
Paul made this explicitly clear when he wrote in 1 Timothy. Right from the get-go in chapter 1, verse 3, he told the young pastor, "As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines" (also see verses 4-7; 6:3-5). Beginning in verse 1 of chapter 4 he warned, "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons." Yet by way of contrast in verse 6, Timothy is told, "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following."
Elsewhere Paul told Titus to appoint elders able to "exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict" (Tit. 1:9). Titus himself is called to "speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine" (Tit. 2:1; cf. 2:7). All this is so important because as Paul said in 2 Timothy, "The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires" (2 Tim. 4:3).
Whether or not it is formally defined or whether or not it is good or bad, every church is guided by her doctrine. The only questions are: Do we believe doctrine can be shaped like a wax nose, or do we believe doctrine is based on the unchanging character of God? And are we willing to permit the world's attitude to dominate the thinking of the church, or are we willing to go to Scripture alone for the basis of what we believe?
I think there is a big football game today, right? Could you imagine if each player entered the field with different expectations?
As I mentioned during the introduction, we must enter marriage with healthy expectations. The church is no different. Since God created both of these blessed institutions, may we shape our expectations not on popular opinion or feelings, but on the foundation of His Word.
So what are God's expectations for the church that we covered the past two weeks? We learned a healthy, God-honoring church must be committed to: Biblical instruction, a correct understanding of the Gospel, church discipline, qualified leaders, discipleship and sound doctrine. As the Lord permits, we will conclude this series next week with the remaining marks.