Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Strong and Healthy Churches

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Strong and Healthy Churches”
First Published: October 31, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, here in the First Epistle, in thinking together about “biblical priorities for our life and ministry together as a congregation,” we began asking ourselves what are the qualities of a healthy church? If someone asked you to list some of the more important characteristics of a strong, healthy congregation of believers, what would you say? There are certainly a number of good answers that could be given to that question, and we began our response by noting two in particular: (1) a love for expository Bible preaching and (2) a passion for biblical worship exploring this issue by pointing to two in particular. Today, I suggest two more:

3. A Devotion to Biblical Doctrine. We live in a day and age when “doctrine” is out and “my personal opinion” is in! And what’s worse, even in the church “doctrine” and “theology” are associated in the minds of many with “as dry as dust!” But the Apostle Paul wanted biblical doctrine (which just means “teaching” or “truth”) to be the staple diet of the church, and a matter of passion for ministers and members alike. That’s why he said in 2 Timothy 1:13-14 “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”

Imagine that! He views doctrine (“the standard or pattern of sound words”) as a treasure to
not only to be retained, but guarded! That’s just one reason the we want to have a congregation full of Christians who are enthusiastic, excited about, knowledgeable of and devoted to rich, biblical doctrine. We want to encourage Christians to know and love and live the truth. We want Christians to appreciate that truth is for life. That doctrine is for daily living. That theology matters.

4. A Vital, Practical, Personal Godliness. Godliness, or what the old Puritans used to call “piety” is “the life of God in the soul of man” (to borrow Henry Scougal’s famous phrase). I do not mean that true spirituality is merely soulish or disembodied, James 1-2 will correct that misunderstanding quickly, as will Romans 12:1-2. But in the Bible, true religion flows from the heart. Evangelicals used to understand that. But one does not have to be a sleuth to detect a marked deficiency of piety in the membership and even the ministry of the church in our own time. We can remember giants in the land, and we feel ourselves midgets. Indeed, for some, the very word “piety” is held in great suspicion as the vestigia of a kind of pietistic revivalism that we are better off without. And yet Calvin himself viewed the Institutes as a “sum of piety” rather than a summa theologia. We need to foster personal piety in the ministers and members of the church. We need to recognize our own spiritual poverty and challenge one another to strive for devotion in love to God and experience of the love of Christ. Paul was concerned to see personal godliness flourish among the Ephesians Christians, and so he told them that he prayed in this way for them: “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”(Ephesians 3:14-19) That is a prayer for personal godliness. May the Lord make it true of us too.

We’ll continue these thoughts next week. Meanwhile, I’d still love to hear your thoughts on the marks of a healthy church!

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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