Saturday, November 19, 2005

Characteristics of a genuine church

Commenting on 1 Thess 5:16-20 ("Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."), William Barclay wrote:
"Verses 16-18 give us three marks of a genuine Church.

(i) It is a happy Church. There is in it that atmosphere of joy which makes its members feel that they are bathed in sunshine. True Christianity is an exhilarating and not a depressing thing.

(ii) It is a praying Church. Maybe our Church's prayers would be more effective if we remembered that 'they pray best together who also pray alone'.

(iii) It is a thankful Church. There is always something for which to give thanks; even on the darkest day there are blessings to count. We must remember that if we face the sun the shadows will fall behind us but if we turn our backs on the sun all the shadows will be in front."

These are good points, but I personally believe that there are also other additional marks of a genuine church (e.g. the two subsequent verses reveal two more). The Christadelphian community has always emphasised the importance of sound doctrine, but what other characteristics distinguish a "genuine church" from the others?

Worship is central in a genuine church.

I believe another characteristic of "a genuine church" is that Worship is a central part of the life of the church and its members. Worship is not optional. It is not an "add-on". Worship, if it is true worship at all, should reflect a major commitment on the part of the worshipper(s) to give glory and honour to God.

Whether we sings hymns or use contemporary music styles, there should be a commitment to excellence. Musicians should select music appropriate to the occasion and take time to rehearse it. Teachers need to spend time in meditation and preparation. It saddens me when I see musicians choosing hymns or music only minutes before a meeting which will incorporate worship, or hearing teachers say they have not prepared their message for a meeting on the following day. This shows a lack of respect for the One Whom we worship, and for our fellow-worshippers.

A genuine church will grow.

A living church is a growing church. Any living organism will grow. When it stops growing it begins to die.
The same is true, I believe, of the church.
  • "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:47)
  • " ... more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number" (Acts 5:14).

Is there any good reason top believe that a dying church is a healthy church?

A genuine church grows because it takes "the Great Commission" seriously.

There are a couple of versions of this Commission by Jesus to His church:

Matthew 28:19-20 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

Mark 16:15 "He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation."

Similarly, Jesus also said:

John 15:16 "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last."

Luke 14:21 "Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame."

A genuine church is Christ-centred.

I have been criticised by some Christadelphians in the past for saying that the church should be Christ-centred, and have been told that the church should, in fact, be "God-centred".

However, Scripture says that:
  • Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Eph 4:15; 5:23; Col 1:18). In fact, He is "the head over every power and authority" (Col 2:10) and "all power in heaven and earth" has been given to Him (Matt 28:18).
  • Jesus has been exalted to the highest place and has been given a name above every name (Phil 2:9-11).
  • "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form" (Col 1:19; 2:9).

Because Jesus is "the image of the invisible God", "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being" (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3; cp. John 1:18; 14:9; 2 Cor 4:4) a church which is Christ-centred is therefore God-centred. We cannot be God-centred unless we are Christ-centred. Jesus said "He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him" (John 5:23).

John made a powerful allusion to the tabernacle in the wilderness which was positioned in the centre of the camp of Israel, when he said of the Word-made-flesh that He "made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14), which literally means He "tabernacled" among us, or "pitched His tent with us". As the tabernacle was at the centre of the camp of Israel, so Jesus Christ is the centre of the church, the place where God dwells among His people.

What does this mean in practice? A Christ-centred church will honour Him with its praises, giving Him glory (e.g. Rev 1:6; 5:12; Heb 13:21; 1 Peter 4:11; 2 Peter 3:18). A church which honours the Father alone with its praises does not practice the Truth in relation to the supremacy of the Son.

I personally feel that it was a backward step when the revisers of the Christadelphian hymn book changed a much-loved hymn, "Allelulia, sing to Jesus" to "Hallelujah, sing of Jesus." The change suggested that we should not address our praises to Him who is the Head of the Body, to Whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given, and Whose name is above every name. If so, then the revision is a sad denial of a foundational Truth, and an indication that the doctrine of God-manifestation is either ignored or not understood by those in the Christadelphian community who should know better.

Let's give Jesus His rightful place as the object of our praises.

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