Five Marks of a Healthy Church

What do you have to do to celebrate your 90th birthday? Or in Peggy’s case, your 94th? Do listen to Peggy’s story, which is now online. We don’t know what Her Majesty the Queen’s exercise programme has been like over the decades. We will probably never know if she has had a personal trainer, or how often she went to the gym. How she has coped with a gruelling daily schedule of public and private engagements for more than 70 years I do not know.  Along the way she must have eaten an awful lot of rich food at state banquets, business lunches and garden tea parties. I suspect one reason Her Majesty has enjoyed a long reign and healthy life has been because of regular appointments with her doctor. When was the last time you went to see your GP? Not just when you were sick. When was the last time you saw your GP for a health check? You know, blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, kidney function, glucose, PSA, etc. Its free so, no excuse.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Assuming you love your family enough to have visited your GP recently, do you have an annual health checkup? Do you know the date of your last one? And your next one? Is it in your diary?  You service your car. Which is more important? And assuming you do see your GP regularly, if you have been given advice on diet or exercise are you following it? And if your GP prescribed medication to lower your cholesterol or reduce your blood pressure, do you take them daily? And are you encouraging your family to have their health checked regularly?

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

If you really love your partner, or your children, or your parents, I suggest it is even more important having an annual health check, than remembering their birthdays or your wedding anniversary. It shows you care more about their future than about your past.  Proving you love those closest to you may mean making a phone call tomorrow morning. Tonight we are thinking about the marks of a healthy church from Acts 2:42-47.

Just as our physical body is made up of many parts, so a healthy church is made up of healthy Christians. An infection or injury in one part of our body will affect the whole. 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us,

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26-27)

So, as we explore Acts 2:42-47 lets remember that like them, we are a church of individuals. We must each take responsibility for the health of our church. Lets see what we can learn from these five marks of a healthy church.

 “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:42-47)

John Stott calls this “a beautiful little cameo of a Spirit-filled church.”

There are at least five distinct reasons why Christians met together.

  1. They were a learning church

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). John Stott observes,

“The very first evidence Luke mentions of the Spirit’s presence in the church is that they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching. One might perhaps say that the Holy Spirit opened a school in Jerusalem that day; its teachers were the apostles whom Jesus had appointed; and there were 3,000 pupils in the kindergarten! We note that those new converts were not enjoying a mystical experience which led them to despise their mind or disdain theology. Anti-intellectualism and the fullness of the Spirit are mutually incompatible, because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth… On the contrary, they sat at the apostles’ feet, hungry to receive instruction, and they persevered in it. Moreover, the teaching authority of the apostles, to which they submitted, was authenticated by miracles: many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles (43). The two references to the apostles, in verse 42 (their teaching) and in verse 43 (their miracles), can hardly be an accident. Since the teaching of the apostles has come down to us in its definitive form in the New Testament, contemporary devotion to the apostles’ teaching will mean submission to the authority of the New Testament.

A Spirit-filled church is a New Testament church, in the sense that it studies and submits to New Testament instruction. The Spirit of God leads the people of God to submit to the Word of God.”[1]

This is why Timothy is instructed, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” (1 Timothy 4:13).

That is why our weekly bible study groups are indispensable if you wish to grow as a Christian. Hearing sermons is important. Personal Bible reading and study is important. But there is no substitute for discussion and learning in a bible study group. If you are not in one, lets talk. The church grew deeper through Bible study.
They were a learning church.

  1. They were a caring church

“They devoted themselves…to fellowship…  All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together.” (Acts 2:42, 44-45)

Again, listen to John Stott,

“Koinōnia (from koinos, ‘common’) bears witness to the common life of the church in two sense. First, it expresses what we share in together. This is God himself, for ‘our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ’, and there is ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’. Thus koinōnia is a Trinitarian experience; it is our common share in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But secondly, koinōnia also expresses what we share out together, what we give as well as what we receive. Koinōnia is the word Paul used for the collection he was organizing among the Greek churches, and koinonikos is the Greek word for ‘generous’. It is to this that Luke is particularly referring here, because he goes on at once to describe the way in which these first Christians shared their possessions with one another: all the believers were together and had everything in common (koina). Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (44–45). These are disturbing verses.”

John Stott asks,

“So did the early Christians imitate them, and should we do so today? At different times in church history some have thought so and done so. And I do not doubt that Jesus still calls some of his disciples, as he did the rich young ruler, to a life of total, voluntary poverty. Yet neither Jesus nor his apostles forbade private property to all Christians… It is important to note that even in Jerusalem the sharing of property and possessions was voluntary. According to verse 46, they broke bread in their homes. So evidently many still had homes; not all had sold them. It is also noteworthy that the tense of both verbs in verse 45 is imperfect, which indicates that the selling and the giving were occasional, in response to particular needs, not once and for all… At the same time, although the selling and the sharing were and are voluntary, and every Christian has to make conscientious decisions before God in this matter, we are all called to generosity, especially towards the poor and needy.”

So they met together to help and encourage one another – literally to give courage to one another and build one another up, especially in the face of opposition and persecution. The church grew deeper through Bible study. The church grew warmer through fellowship. They were a learning church. They were a caring church.

  1. They were a worshipping church

“They devoted themselves…to the breaking of bread and to prayer”… Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God” (Acts 2:42, 46, 47).

The definite article indicates this was a remembrance of the Last Supper and not just a meal, although they did share meals together regularly as well. Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Christians met together to eat – formally and informally, in the Temple courts and in their homes. The Lord’s Supper is known as a ‘sacrament’ (along with baptism and marriage) which speaks of God’s provision for his people.

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread,  and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

The bread and wine are in no sense a sacrifice (or literally the body and blood of Christ), but rather signify the gift of salvation and point forward to the Messianic banquet we will share in heaven. John Stott makes these observations,

“If joy in God is an authentic work of the Spirit, so is the fear of God. Everyone was filled with awe (43), which seems to include the Christians as well as the non-Christians. God had visited their city. He was in their midst, and they knew it. They bowed down before him in humility and wonder. It is a mistake, therefore, to imagine that in public worship reverence and rejoicing are mutually exclusive. The combination of joy and awe, as of formality and informality, is a healthy balance in worship.”

The church grew deeper through Bible study. The church grew warmer through fellowship. The church grew stronger through worship. They were a learning church, a caring church and a worshipping church.

  1. They were a praying church

“They devoted themselves…to prayer” (Acts 2:42)

This would have been both individual prayer as well as corporate prayer. When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he gave a model or pattern beginning “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). Significantly, the word Jesus used for “Father was “Abba” meaning “Daddy”.  Christ Church is open for prayer every day from 8:30-5:00 Monday to Friday, and we encourage you to attend our weekly Monday morning prayer meeting as well as our monthly First Wednesday mission prayer meeting and use the monthly prayer guide in your daily prayers.

Our Archbishops, Justin and John, have called the Church of England to pray during the nine days before Pentecost.

From the 8-15th May. The back room of the extension is being set aside as a special place in which you can pray during that week.  The church grew deeper through Bible study. The church grew warmer through fellowship. The church grew stronger through worship. The church grew more focused through prayer. They were a learning church, a caring church, a worshipping church and a praying church.

  1. They were an evangelistic church

“… praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)

Here is John Stott again,

“Those first Jerusalem Christians were not so preoccupied with learning, sharing and worshipping, that they forgot about witnessing. For the Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit who created a missionary church. As Harry Boer expressed it in his challenging book Pentecost and Missions, the Acts ‘is governed by one dominant, overriding and all-controlling motif. This motif is the expansion of the faith through missionary witness in the power of the Spirit.… Restlessly the Spirit drives the church to witness, and continually churches rise out of the witness. The church is a missionary church’ … From these earliest believers in Jerusalem, we can learn three vital lessons about local church evangelism. First, the Lord himself (that is, Jesus) did it: the Lord added to their number. Doubtless he did it through the preaching of the apostles, the witness of church members, the impressive love of their common life, and their example as they were praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people (47a). Yet he did it. For he is the head of the church. He alone has the prerogative to admit people into its membership and to bestow salvation from his throne. This is a much needed emphasis, for many people talk about evangelism today with reprehensible self-confidence and even triumphalism, as if they think the evangelization of the world will be the ultimate triumph of human technology. We should harness to the evangelistic task all the technology God has give us, but only in humble dependence on him as the principal evangelist. Secondly, what Jesus did was two things together: he added to their number … those who were being saved (the present participle sōzomenous either being timeless or emphasizing that salvation is a progressive experience culminating in final glorification). He did not add them to the church without saving them (no nominal Christianity at the beginning), nor did he save them without adding them to the church (no solitary Christianity either). Salvation and church membership belonged together; they still do. Thirdly, the Lord added people daily. The verb is an imperfect (‘kept adding’), and the adverb (‘daily’) puts the matter beyond question. The early church’s evangelism was not an occasional or sporadic activity. They did not organize [occasional] missions (missions are fine so long as they are only episodes in an ongoing programme). No, just as their worship was daily (46a), so was their witness.

Praise and proclamation were both the natural overflow of hearts full of the Holy spirit. And as their outreach was continuous, so continuously converts were being added. We need to recover this expectation of steady and uninterrupted church growth… The Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit. So a Spirit-filled church is a missionary church.”

On Saturday morning 14th May, the Church Council have invited Alan Hulme, the Diocesan Advisor for Parish Development to come and give us some training in personal evangelism. We could all do better at sharing our faith. Please sign up in the corridor to attend this important morning together. The church grew deeper through Bible study. The church grew warmer through fellowship. The church grew stronger through worship. The church grew more focused through prayer. The church grew larger through evangelism. We have observed five marks of a healthy church.

John Stott concludes,

“There is no need for us to wait, as the hundred and twenty had to wait, for the Spirit to come. For the Holy Spirit did come on the Day of Pentecost, and has never left his church. Our responsibility is to humble ourselves before his sovereign authority, to determiner not to quench him, but to allow him his freedom.

For then our churches will again manifest those marks of the Spirit’s presence, which many young people are specially looking for, namely biblical teaching, loving fellowship, living worship, and an ongoing, outgoing evangelism.”

Earlier I challenged you to think about how having an annual health check shows you care about those closest to you.  Well, starting today, we want to show we care about your spiritual health in the same way. From today there will be a significant upgrade to our pastoral care provision. Besides the pastoral care team which meets weekly to discuss and pray for those in need, we undertake to visit within 24 hours of a church members going into hospital, we offer to visit everyone who joins the church family and within a week of anyone requesting a visit. As your pastors, Simon, Will and I am responsible for your spiritual health in much the same way as your doctor is responsible for your physical health. Often, unless a disease so overcomes us that our doctor or pastor is made painfully aware of it, there is no regular time when I can sit down with you and discuss the health of your spiritual life. Therefore we are requesting an appointment with you – at least annually.

You should have received a copy of the Spiritual Life Check-up[2]. If not there are more copies at the back of church. I am requesting that you do the check-up questionnaire not as a test, but as a tool for diagnosis, to help alongside a proper diet and exercise program that will bring about your best spiritual health.  Since pastors (or doctors) can help only if we allow them, this is entirely voluntary, we are suggesting:

  • Set aside an hour of uninterrupted time in which to thoughtfully answer these questions.
  • Keep your answers only to yourself, to be shared with God alone and maybe your spouse.
  • Make an appointment with Simon, Will or myself for a half hour spiritual check-up in the next few weeks.
  • We will ask you three questions –
  1. When did you become a Christian?
  2. How is your Christian life going – are you encouraged or discouraged, and do you have any problems or questions that are holding you back?
  3. What are you doing to serve the Lord in the church family and in the world – what are your gifts and/or how can we help you find and use them?’
  • You are then at liberty to raise anything that you want to discuss confidentially in the light of your spiritual life check-up.
  • Trust God to use this to help you grow in your walk with the Lord.

We look forward to meeting up with you soon. Please phone one of us to make an appointment. Let us pray that our church grows healthier and more fruitful in the year ahead. Lets pray.

“Dear Lord Jesus, from your wisdom, please guide me and give me, each day, that which is best for me, for your glory, for the building of your church and the extension of your kingdom. In Jesus name. Amen.”

 

[1] John Stott, The Acts of the Apostles, The Bible Speaks Today, IVP.

[2]   Dennis L. Wayman, The Spiritual Life Check-up: Discovering spiritual illness must precede the cure  http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1983/fall/83l4088.html

Wallace Benn, The Baxter Model: Guidelines for pastoring today. http://www.fows.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=79%3Athe-baxter-model

 

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