Sabbath Recorder (July/August 2020)
June 1, 2020
Summary: Written for the *Sabbath Recorder,* this short article begins to explore a Biblical framework for church health.
God has big plans for his church. These plans include us. He is actively working in the world to make one people out of many groups—to bring together individuals from every tribe, language, people, and nation. I can’t tell you why he chose to include us beyond the basic reality that he loves us and wants what is best for us. When he called us to repent, to believe, and to follow, he called us to be part of his church and part of his big plans.
From the very beginning, God designed his church to display his wisdom in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 3:9-10). He calls us to demonstrate his love on earth (John 13:34-35). He expects us to announce to people everywhere God’s call to be reconciled to him in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Then, when the time is right, he will give us a role in his reign on earth (Revelation 5:10).
The church is not an accident of history; it is the gathering God created to craft a people in the name of Jesus who are transformed by his Spirit to embody the character and will of God (Ephesians 3:11).
While he has made the church to be an organization of humans with all the confusion that brings, God makes clear throughout the New Testament that the church is much more than a simple system for organizing people—God calls the church the very “Body of Christ” (Ephesians 1:23).
This image of the body is used to explain why people in the church are not all the same. For a body to function well, all parts need to do what they were designed to do, wholly value the contributions of the other parts, and coordinate their activity for fluid motion. God’s church functions like that. Each person must serve in the way they can, value the service others provide, and be willing to coordinate activity (1 Corinthians 12).
God wants his church, the body of Christ, to work well. Consider this description of how the church works: “But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ. From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
God is working to make his church match that description—to be a healthy body. When we speak of healthy churches, this image from Ephesians should spring to mind—a group of people who speak God’s truth, love each other deeply, and mutually pursue God’s call to maturity in Christ.
Embedded in this image of God’s healthy church are human leaders, placed there by God to equip believers in their walk together (Ephesians 4:11-14). We can see an example of this equipping in Timothy’s ministry. After one of his trips to Ephesus, Paul left Timothy behind to help the church through a variety of issues. Paul wrote back to Timothy several times to encourage him and to help him stay the course. While Paul provided a lot of advice to Timothy in the letters we have, he provided a very simple summary of the work of the leaders God places in the church: “The goal of our instruction is love, flowing from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). The sincere faith described people who were not pretending, people who truly trusted God. The good conscience described people who could make good moral decisions, decision-making informed by the revealed will of God. The pure heart referenced people whose inner drive had been attuned to the Spirit’s call, people who want what God wants. But the heart, conscience, and faith were not the final goal of teaching; That final goal was bringing people into the fullness of God’s love. Unsurprisingly, this goal for individual instruction produces the kind of people needed for God’s healthy church.
Love, heart, conscience, and faith are great ways to describe healthy Christians and healthy churches. Yet, sometimes we have a hard time moving from those small but packed words into what they really look like in life. Years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a best-seller entitled All I Really Needed to Know, I Learned In Kindergarten. The book was based on a series of simple maxims you might hear in Kindergarten and stories to illustrate how those applied to adult life. People were thrilled to be reminded of the simple things that sometimes get lost in a complex world.
After describing the healthy church in majestic language through the first few chapters of Ephesians, Paul turned to simpler language to help people see how they could play their part in making the church be what God designed it to be. He was encouraging the people in the church toward love, flowing from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. His style wasn’t quite as pithy as Robert Fulghum’s (that wasn’t his goal), but he gave us a list well worth considering. Paul wrote, in essence, if you want to do your part in the church God is creating, do these things:
The list Paul wrote isn’t just for you, it is for all of us—working together. God has big plans for his church. He has given it an incredible role in this creation. He’s given us an image of his healthy church and called us to participate in what he is creating.
Listen for this call to health. Listen for his call in your life. Listen for his call in your church. Listen for the language of healthy leaders and healthy churches. And, when the time comes, dive head first into the coordinated activity to which Christ has called us as his body.