I have been thinking about what a church ought to look like, and there has been much ink spilled on this topic, so I intend only to make some general remarks. At the end of this blog you will find some recommended books.
First, a church must promote and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Well, what is the Gospel exactly? Funny you should ask. Paul tells us in a brief statement, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. That Christ died for our sins shows us that his sacrificial death was one of vicarious atonement, that is, he paid the penalty we deserved. And it was according to the Scriptures means that God ordained his suffering to happen, see Isaiah 52-53. He was buried (put in a tomb) shows that Christ really did die. He rose from the dead on the third day shows that he overcame the last enemy, death, by the power of God, see Psalm 16:8-11 for example. If a church fails to preach forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ, it is not a church. If a church fails to preach that the wrath of God was poured out upon His Son, rather than His children whom He has called, it is not a church. If a church lacks the Gospel, it is merely a self-help, God-has-come-to-make-your-life-easier, ear-tickling, human-centered support group. Find a church that preaches the Gospel.
Second, a church must promote the reality of the world. This world is ruled by our King, Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18), however there is darkness in the world and this darkness is ruled by the Devil. The reality is that everyone is a sinner (read Psalm 14) and enslaved to sin and are bound to their master, see John 8:44; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 12:9. If a church fails to teach the reality of sin, there would be no need of the Gospel, thus they would lose point number one above, and no longer be a church. If a church fails to teach the reality of sin, all you will find is the God-loves-you-just-the-way-you-are nonsense. God hates sin (read Psalm 5:5). God loves righteousness and they way we become righteous is through the blood of Jesus which makes us holy and acceptable before the throne of the Almighty.
Third, a church must teach the whole counsel of God. This includes the Old Testament and the New Testament, all 66 books of the canon. I know some preachers and teachers have their favorites, I am enamored with the book of Revelation, for example, but I do not limit my teaching or preaching to my hobby-horse. We cannot fail to teach from Leviticus because it seems to be “boring”, it is as every bit the word of God as the red letters in the Gospels. I would like to add a sub-point to this point, call it 3a. A church must believe what the Bible teaches. For example, a church ought to believe the historicity of Adam and Eve. Adam is counted in the genealogies of the Old Testament as a historical figure, see 1 Chronicles 1:1. Adam is considered historical by Jesus when he discusses the creation of man, see Matthew 19: 4-6; Mark 10:6-9; and he mentions the son of Adam and Eve, Abel in Luke 11:48-51. Paul holds to the historicity of Adam in his letter to the Romans, see 5:12-14. If the bible holds to the historicity of Adam, so should we. In fact, the existence of a literal Adam is a key component of Paul’s teaching of justification! So, sub-point 3a, find a church that believes what the Bible teaches, or else it might not be a church.
Fourth, a church must promote holiness. I have been to my fair share of churches that say, “Jesus Christ has freed you from the Law, this means you can do whatever you please.” Hmmm…really? Maybe they forgot to read what Paul says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” Romans 6:1-7. If a church fails to teach holiness and rebuke sin, it fails to be a church, see Leviticus 20:26; Matthew 5:48; and 1 Peter 13-16.
Fifth, a church must proclaim that Christ is coming back. If a church fails to teach and believe that Christ will return one day all our hope, struggle, sacrifice, and suffering are in vain. Paul says, in his letter to the Corinthians, that “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” 1 Corinthians 15:19. Why is that? Well, because if you are a follower of Christ you will face persecution, and you will suffer, see 2 Timothy 3:12. Why would we suffer if we have no hope of everlasting joy? Why would we suffer if we have no hope of heavenly reward? Why would we suffer if there is no resurrection? Why would we suffer if there is no justice? If Christ is not coming back, then we are to be pitied most of all. If your church does not preach that Christ is coming back, it might not be a church, find another.
Sixth, a church ought to cherish children. God does. The covenant with Abraham is a great example. God promises to Abraham that he will be a father of many nations and that “all the families of the earth will be blessed” through him” Genesis 12:3. God promises him children and fruitfulness and to establish His covenant with Abraham’s offspring, Genesis 17. God gives Abraham a sign of His promise, circumcision, and this sign is to be administered to all of Abraham’s children, even the children in his home that are not biologically his are added into the covenant, Genesis 17:11-13. God cherishes children and includes the children of believers into his covenant community even though they have never made a decision for Christ. Have you heard that phrase before? “Make a choice for Christ”? Kind of silly when we realize that the Covenant of Grace is not our choice for Christ, but his choice for us. That is how it has always been. Abraham did not choose God, God came to Abraham. Abraham’s descendants did not choose God, God chose them and established them by the sign of circumcision. The same holds true today. Baptism is a sign and seal of what God has done for us, not what we choose to do for Him. Find a church that cherishes children, after all, the God of the universe became a child.
That was my last point. I am certain there are more to add, of course (like prayer, community, proper worship, and the sacraments) . I always look forward to some feedback.
Here are some books