What does a Healthy Church look like?
I greet you in the wonderful name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Today is Sunday. It is the Lord's Day. It is the first day of the week. It's the day on which in New Testament times, Believers would gather in order to worship Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Because we're under Day 10 of lockdown, we're unable to assemble, we're unable to meet. So, instead we have to share God's Word in this format, but this is not church. This is not the Ecclesia, it is not the gathering. It is a substitute for the time being.
I'm hoping over the next two weeks, we would see that. And so to that end, I've been teaching on the church. Last week, we looked at the question, “What is the church what?” It is the church Jesus Christ in Matthew 16:18 says, “I will build my church in against and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” He owns the church. He calls it “my church.” And not only that, Jesus Christ builds his church. He start off by saying “I will build my church.” Thirdly, Jesus Christ protects his church. The gates of Hades, coronavirus and the financial depression that may be coming like a freight train towards us, these things will not stand against the church that Jesus Christ built!
What is the church? Last week, we answer that question by using a definition that Jonathan Leeman had provided. We said that the church is; “A group of Christians who regularly gather in Christ's name, to officially affirm and oversee one another's membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom through gospel preaching and Gospel ordinances.” That's the church. That's the church we yearn for, that's the church we long for, that's the church we are looking forward to joining as soon as this lockdown is done.
This morning, I want us to look at “What is a healthy Church?” What makes Crystal Park Baptist Church Benoni such a healthy church, and I want to see what a healthy Church looks like from the following verses that we really focused on last week.
What does a Healthy Church look like?
Last week we looked at Act to 2:41 that those who believe the message were baptized and that day 3,000 people were added to their number. We considered those who believed, it was Believers.
Secondly that those who believed were baptized, were to be baptized, immersed, identified with Jesus Christ and his church.
Thirdly, those who believed were baptized and were added. We must believe, be baptized, and we must be added to the local church. And in our church, we do that through formalized church membership.
Now the following verses really recount what that early church in Jerusalem looked like. Let me read for you from verse 42 and following of Acts 2. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour all the people. Every day the Lord added to their number, those who were being saved.“
What did the early church look like?
- A Devoted Church
Well firstly, the early church was a Devoted Church, we see that in verse 42. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. We often say as a colloquialism, the journey of a million miles begins with the first step. In this case, the first step was verse 41. They believed! It was that moment of salvation! But the journey, the Christian journey, and in this case, the church’s journey was a journey of a million miles. And how is that achieved? Well, it is achieved through a lot of devotion. ‘Long ago, I ran an ultramarathon once. It was 50 kilometres. And in running it, the gun went off. I took that first step. In order to finish, in order to finish the 10, the 20, the 30, the 40 and 50 kilometres that were in front of me I needed to be devoted to the end. This is what the disciples were devoted to for the million miles of the churches Journey. Firstly to the apostles teaching.
In our day and age we say that doctrine is stale. So often, we hear around us. Well, that's a lie from the Devil! The reality is doctrine is life-giving. What we see in pulpits today: philosophy, psychology, antidotology, and just Story Time told from the pastor's perspective. That is all rubbish! The reality, is a healthy Church, the early Church in Jerusalem was devoted to the apostles’ teaching, which we have in God's Word.
Secondly, they were Devoted to Fellowship. They were devoted to loving one another. We trivialize fellowship down to cookies and tea after church service. But as we will see in our second point, fellowship extended to life together for these believers.
Thirdly, they were Devoted to the breaking of bread. And the breaking of bread here in verse 41, I believe is talking of communion. Communion is this picture in worship of us being a family. It's when the many are made one. It’s when God's people come together, rich and poor, black and white, English and Zulu, male and female, young and old. We are joined together in communion, joined together to Jesus Christ and join together in communion to one another.
The fourth thing that they were Devoted to was Prayer. The early church was a praying church. We see this the whole way through this story. In chapter 1, we read in verse 14 and they were gathered together and praying in anticipation for Jesus Christ sending the Holy Spirit. They were praying before a new disciple, a new apostle was chosen to replace Judas. In Acts chapter 3 again in verse 1, we see that the apostles, Peter and John were going up to the temple to pray. They were given to the worship of God in prayer as a regular activity in their day-to-day. In Acts chapter 4, after the very first persecution comes upon the church. They gathered the church together in verse 23, and then in verse 25 and 26, they pray to God and they pray to God for boldness in verse 31. And the place where they were meeting, shakes, and they go out filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the Word of God.
The early church was a Praying Church. They were devoted to apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.
- Unified Church
Secondly, we see that this church was a Unified Church. And we see that from verse 43, to the beginning of verse 47. It says, “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers we together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distribute the proceeds to all, as any head need.” Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, praising God and having favour of all the people.”
Our second point after then being a Devoted Church is they were Unified Church. The church was unified continually in a relational religion. Their love for one, was peculiar. It was filled and fuelled out of a shared passion, a common purpose to glorify God with their hearts and their minds. Our text says that everyone was filled with awe. The word “awe” is the idea of fear of God, reverence for God. Many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. God was confirming his Word, through the apostles to God's people. And he was affirming that through signs and wonders which were on manifest display to a watching world.
Not only that, we read that all the believers were together and held all things in common. We're not talking about a type of biblical communism. What we are looking at is Christian charity. And the reality is, this church, these 3000 thousand people that had been added, it was made up of people from all over the Roman World. From Medes, Persians, Mesopotamians, and people from Crete and even from further afield. The reality is they all gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, and then for Pentecost. Now, they were sitting in Jerusalem in this new church without income, and without mechanisms in order to support themselves. And so believers, out of their own volition, were selling me possessions in order to take care of the needs of people that were in their Church. It is a beautiful picture and one which may become very relevant to us as the church, as hard times are looking ahead.
Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple and broke bread from house to house. This devotion to meeting in the temple, is formal worship. This meeting together from house to house that this is informal fellowship. The bottom line is, the church was doing life together. And they broke bread from house to house.
- A Growing Church
Acts chapter 4:4, “But many of those who heard the message believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.” You’ll see in the in the slide graphics at the top how the church expands also geographically. Acts 5:14, “Believers were added to the Lord in increasing numbers - multitudes of both men and women.” Acts chapter 6:1, “In those days, as the disciples were increasing, later in the chapter verse 7 “…the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. In Acts 9:31, we see this jump into “…Judea Galilee and Samaria how they had peace and with strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, how the church increased in numbers.” A little later in the chapter, “So those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turn to the Lord.” In Acts 9:42, “This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.”
We then see the church being first in Antioch 11:21. “The Lord's hand was with them, and large number who believe turn to the Lord.” In verse 24 “…And large numbers of people were added to the Lord.” In Chapter 14:1 “In Iconium they entered into a Jewish synagogue, as usual and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. Chapter 14 toward the end of that chapter, “After they had preached the gospel in that town and made many disciples,” In chapter 16:5, “The churches were strengthened in faith and grew daily in numbers.” In Chapter 17:12,”Consequently, many of them believed,” the “them” here is the Bereans, “including a number of prominent Greek women as well as men.” The final closing remarks of the book of Acts in chapter 28, we have Paul in Rome in we read, “Paul stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And you welcomed all who visited him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.”
The bottom line is the church that Jesus built, the early Jerusalem Church, was a devoted church. Not only was it a devoted church, but it was a unified church and this devotion and this unification was attractive to watching world and so, in God's Providence, it was a growing church.
How might we apply this to Crystal Park Baptist Church?
Over the past decade at Crystal Park Baptist Church Benoni, we have applied Acts Chapter 2 in four ways, taking principles from verse 42 through to verse 47. We have sculpted four core values of our church. They are: Biblical Teaching, Fervent Worship, Loving Fellowship, and Passionate Evangelism. Let's take a look at each one of those core values one at a time.
Firstly, a healthy church is a Biblical Teaching church. We draw our faith from God's Word. We do that primarily in two ways: by focusing on expository preaching and then also focusing on biblical theology. Expository Preaching is, “When you make the main point of a sermon, the main point of a passage of scripture and then apply it into the life of our hearers.”
As far as Expository Preaching is concerned, in order to discern if you're in a healthy church or not, you can ask questions like: ‘does the pastor preach God's Word? Or “does he preach his own opinions?” “Does he allow scripture to set the pace and the tone of his preaching agenda?” or “Does he pick topics or use some other criteria?” Regarding Biblical Theology, you can also question does a church openly confess key biblical doctrines and do the leaders consistently teach according to sound doctrine.
We require our members to attend Sunday Services, sitting under the preaching of God's Word. We expect our members and each head of each family in our church to take responsibility for the Biblical Teaching of their own household. And then Bible Studies are an important part of our community. In them we probe the deep truths of scripture, and this is where we are discipled and where we can disciple others. And we encourage all of our members to take part in a midweek Bible Study.
So the first core value of Crystal Park Baptist Church is a healthy church is a Biblical Teaching Church.
Secondly, a healthy church is a Fervent Worshiping Church. One of our Elders, Warren Scott introduced us to number of T’s to help us think of worship, not just as something which happens on a Sunday, but something that happens in all of life. We talked about worshiping God with our: Time, Treasure, Talent and with our Testimony.
With our time, we expect our members to gather for Lord's Day meetings. We encourage our members to have Ministry in the life of our church. We have a number of Ministries which run on a Sunday, such as: Preachers, Worship Leaders, Service Coordinators, Corporate Prayer Leaders, Communion Leaders, Scripture Reader, men to Give Thanks for the Offering, Door Greeters, Counters, Designated Medics, Tea and Coffee Fellowship, Dishwashers, men to take up the Collection and Distribute the Elements, a team assigned to doing Notices and another team assigned to Media. Another place where you might get involved with your time is in the area of Mercy Ministry. We distribute food parcels to people in our church that are struggling and we distribute a type of vitamin fortified porridge to the homeless in our community as well as to school children in need of a lunch. This might be an area where you can give time.
And in the third place is in the area of Prayer. We have a number of midweek prayer meetings and Sunday Prayer Meeting. And this is an area where we need people to step up. If you are gifted in this area, if you want to serve in this area, we need Prayer Warriors within the context of our church. We can worship God with our time.
We can also worship God with our Treasure. We expect members to give to Crystal Park Baptist Church in order for the church to run well and we expect that giving to be sacrificial and proportional and joyful. We expected it to be a God-glorifying Act of service. We give thanks to the Lord for so many generous members in our church, and we also give thanks for a financial committee, which is dedicated to transparency in the area of finances.
We need Talented people and none less in our worship teams. If you are gifted musically, this might be an area that you can get involved in. If you are gifted as a sound technician, we need some technicians and projectionists in order for our services to run fluidly.
With our Testimony, we expect our members to share their faith with the family, friends, co-workers, and we expect them to invite people to Crystal Park Baptist Church, that people might be exposed to the ministry here.
The truth is we love our neighbours at Crystal Park Baptist Church, even as we love ourselves. You can figure out if your church is a Biblical Church, if it's a Healthy Church, if it's a Loving Fellowshipping Church, by asking questions like, does the church promote church membership and take church membership, seriously seeking to ensure that its members faithfully attend. And does it encourage members to fulfil the biblical one another':
Loving one another, in caring for one another, and seeking for one another's good?
Does the church promote Biblical Church Discipline?
Does it lovingly, patiently, practice Church Discipline?
Does the church and Disciple and encourage Spiritual Growth in the life of its Believers?
Does it expect its members to be equipped?
And Does the church encourage its members to Disciple one another the norm in the church?
And so, a healthy Church, the Jerusalem Church, and Crystal Park Baptist Church is characterized by Biblical Teaching, Fervent Worship, Loving Fellowship, and then lastly Passionate Evangelism.
We are reaching out to our city, Benoni and beyond with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does your church faithfully proclaim the gospel message as delivered once to the saints, That Jesus died for the sins of many?
That he rose from the grave in victory over sin and that all men, everywhere are called to repent and put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and their Saviour?
Does the church teach about conversion; that you must be born again!?
Now this new birth is a gift from God and is given to a believer that he might exercise faith which is also gift of God.
Is that taught from the pulpit? Is there a Biblical understanding of Evangelism?
That it is a responsibility of each person in the church to take the gospel message out into a world which is filled with darkness and to your family, friends, co-workers, making them aware of the good news that Jesus Christ died for the sins of many?
We encourage our members to get in many of the Evangelistic activities that we have are Crystal Park Baptist Church, whether it be School Evangelism, Clinic Evangelism, whether that be Evangelism and Service to First Responders in our community, and whether that be as Street Preaching, or door to door. All these activities we do, because we believe in Passionate Evangelism, with God using the church as the vehicle to take the good news into the world.
Well, it brings us to an end of today's teaching and this is the second week in our series at looking at the church. In the first week we looked at, “What is the local church?” And this week we've looked at “What does a healthy Church look like?” and the answer as we've discovered in Acts 2:42-47, it is a healthy Church. It is a Biblical Teaching Church, a Fervent Worshipping Church, a Loving Fellowshipping Church, and a Passionate Worshipping Church.
I hope that's the church that you're missing out on the Sunday as you sit in lockdown in Benoni. I hope that you are hungering and thirsting to be back in her as the church gathers and assembles and meets once again when the lockdown is lifted. I'm looking forward to seeing you. I'm looking forward to being with you. I'm looking forward to praising God together with you, that he might be glorified in this life even as he will be glorified forever and ever in the life to come.
Next week, we're going to look at this body; the church, which God so loved that he gave his own Son to purchase her with his blood. I trust that I'll see you next week Sunday. May the Lord be with you. Amen.
Let's close in a word of prayer.
Father God, I do ask that we would love the things that you love, that we would desire the things that you desire. I pray LORD God that even as you build your church in Benoni, you would according to your kind mercies and grace, use us as your instruments to do it. That we would glorify you in this life, even as we will one day glorify you in the life to come. This I pray in the wonderful name of Jesus Christ. Amen.