When you think of church, what is it that immediately comes to mind? Do you begin to think of a Sunday morning duty that must be checked off, watching the clock and counting down the seconds until the preacher finishes? Is it just something you do so that you can in some way justify calling yourself a Christian? Maybe thats not your idea of church at all. Maybe to you, church is the place of a majority of your weekly activity. Maybe you are involved in a multitude of ministries and functions within the body life of the church. Although intentions are good, church is more or less a place to submerge yourself in activities in hopes that your works in some way justify your claim to being a follower of Christ.
To some, church is a place of refuge. A place to have their personal needs met and to find escape from the painful circumstances of their lives. To others, the church is the reason they do not follow Christ, having been hurt at some point in their past by an harshly judgemental congregationalist or led astray with a false gospel by a preacher who was more of a wolf in sheep’s clothing than a true Shepard. It goes without saying that the church is not viewed by everyone in the same way. Through the years, the church has taken on many different identities. But Biblically, the true church of Jesus Christ only has one identity. Jesus gives us some character traits of what the church should look like in the book of Matthew.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13-16.
So much wisdom and direction is given here by Jesus as a blueprint to how his people…his church, are to be viewed. Jesus begins by stating that we as followers of Christ are to be the salt of the earth, and then asks the questions if salt loses its flavor how can that flavor be restored. True salt cannot lose its flavor. Salt is always salt, hence the salty flavor it carries.
I remember when I was a kid my parents sprinkling salt on their food. I was extremely picky and didnt branch out and try new things when it came to eating. I recall seeing my mom sprinkle salt on some vegetables while preparing my plate before dinner and I thought that by doing this, she had ruined a completely good meal! The green beans that I loved were now contaminated, or so I thought. Hesitantly I took a bite of the salt sprinkled green beans expecting to gag, and to my surprise I noticed that the salt had added so much more flavor to my meal!
To many ‘churches’ live bland spiritual lives, forgetting that they have been called to be salt, adding flavor to the world! We are to be different from the world. The church should be intriguing to the lost world. As they look at the church, maybe thinking that following Christ would ruin their meal of being fulfilled and happy, but once they try Jesus, realizing how very bland their life had been without him, and how great a joy knowing him brings to the soul!
Jesus further expounds on his exposition of what His church is to look like, saying that we are to be the light of the world, like a town built on a hill. That is to be a city that is set apart, that all the other pagan cities would look to as a light. Far to many churches today fall into the trap of feeling like they must relocate from being the town on the hill and move in with the pagan villages in the valley. They think that in order to contextualize the gospel and make it relevant, they must become less like Christ and more like the world. But if we begin to set the example that you can continue to look and act like the world while following Christ, we in turn water down the life blood of the gospel message making it no gospel at all. We are to be an uncompromising city on a hill. A beacon of light that cannot be put out by persecution or pressure to be more palatable and relevant to culture.
In these few verses in Matthew, Jesus just gave a description of what a healthy church should look like. But what does an unhealthy church look like? An unhealthy church is one marked by sermons the are very cliche. The preaching of the word in an unhealthy church is very moralistic and me-centered and are often described as ‘spiritual self help seminars.’ They preach on “what can Jesus do for me” instead of preaching “what Jesus has already done for me and because of that, what I now can do for Him.” The gospel is to be Christocentric in nature, not a man centered pep talk. It is to realize that Christ was and is the light of the world, and to be pierced to the heart by the price Jesus paid at Calvery so that we could have fellowship with Him! A healthy church is one where the gospel of Jesus Christ is radically proclaimed. There is no need to water down the word, because it is through the preaching of God’s word that God supernaturally invades hearts and begins to change them.
“Salvation comes from the Lord.” Jonah 2:9.
To often preachers think that they have to get people saved. But that is a task that a mere man is no more qualified to do than Ezekiel was to put together the dry bones in the desert all by himself. It was Ezekiels speaking the words of God to the bones that God ressurected those bones and brought life to them. Preachers are to preach boldly the word of God with a fire and passion faithfully, and God will bring what was once dead to life. Churches forget that the power of Christ doesnt lie in having a thousand different activities, but the power lies in preaching the word.
Another mark of a healthy church is a by product of expositioal preaching. It is personal evangelism. Unlike spiritual gifts, the chore of evanglisim was not given to certian individuals in the church, but to every person who is a true follower of Christ. Evangelism is simply speaking words. It is to proclaim the gospel in our communities, and to the people that God has providentally placed in our everyday lives. It is to share the news of Jesus Christ and his death, burial and ressurection to the masses. In the Exodus account, Moses argued with God when the Lord ordered him to go into Egypt and confront Pharoah, saying basically that he wasnt good at talking! But God didnt let Moses off the hook! He didnt excuse him from speaking the words of the Lord to the pagan Pharoah. In fact, God made Moses into arguably one of the greatest leaders in history, in spite of Moses fears and shortcomings.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes that we are to persuade others, even pleading with them in our everyday lives in all things pertaining to the Gospel of Christ, because we know the importance of knowing Him.
“Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.” 2 Corinthians 5:11.
The great preacher of the mid 1800’s Charles Spurgeon said this of the church;
“Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us… All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people. How else is there to be a Church on the earth? If it is right for anyone to refrain from membership in the Church, it is right for everyone, and then the testimony for God would be lost to the world!
As I have already said, the Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers. The Church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.” -C.H. Spurgeon
Did you catch how Spurgeon began this quote? He started out by acknowledging that the church had flaws! He acknowledged that the church wasnt perfect! How often do we complain about others in the church and get chips on our shoulders because things are not going ‘our way?’ To many seekers will come to church expecting it to accomidate and cater to their every need. Their musical preference, their worship style, their accomidations. But all along, the gospel call is for the children of God to die to themselves and put others before themselves, even at the risk of suffering, a trait that was exemplified in the life of Paul. But despite the church being imperfect, Spurgeon calls the church, “…the dearest place on earth.”
So again I ask, what is the church to you? Is the church the dearest place on earth to you? Not because of what it gives you, but because of what Christ has already given. Is it a place you come to serve or a place you expect to be served. Is the church a place where you come with a list of mental demands that need to be met? If so, then I would venture to say that you have a history of church hopping. As Spurgeon said, “…the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers.” The church was never intended to be a country club. The church of Jesus Christ a launching pad to the mission of Christ. Dont ask what can God do for me through church. Ask within the church, how can you be that city of a hill? How can I make his name glorified? Church is not about us. Its about Him! As John the Baptist said, “He must become more as I become less.”
“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,” Matthew 28:19.