Sun. a.m. AGCC 8/16/98
(20th anniversary Sun. a.m. service)
"FOUR CHARACTERISTICS OF A HEALTHY CHURCH"
TEXT: Acts 2:42-47
INTRO: What makes a healthy Church? There are more seminars today on how to build a mega Church, how to increase finances, how to build a Church staff, seminars on curriculum, culture relevance issues, etc.
What is often lacking however is how to build a "healthy" Church by Biblical standards!
The Church after the day of Pentecost appears to be the healthiest and most powerful, it is the model we often look to as the "Ideal Church," so it seems fitting that if we want to discover how to have a healthy Church we learn from the example of it in the book of Acts immediately after the day of Pentecost.
What makes a healthy Pentecostal Church? What makes a Church alive and vibrant, healthy Churches that are alive are not so by accident!
ILLUS:Live churches are constantly changing. Dead churches don't have to.
Live churches have lots of noisy kids. Dead churches are fairly quiet.
Live church's expenses always exceed their income. Dead churches take in more than they ever dreamed of spending.
Live churches are constantly improving for the future. Dead churches worship their past.
Live churches move out in faith. Dead churches operate totally by human sight.
Live churches focus on people. Dead churches focus on programs.
Live churches are filled with tithers. Dead churches are filled with tippers.
Live churches dream great dreams of God. Dead churches relive nightmares.
Live churches don't have "can't" in their dictionary. Dead churches have nothing but.
Live churches evangelize. Dead churches fossilize.
PROP. SENT: The Bible clearly shows us what makes a healthy Church, they are the characteristics of God's plan for His Church to be triumphant, they are doctrine, fellowship, worship, and evangelism.
I. COMMITMENT TO CONTENT 2:42a,43
A. Devotion 2:42a
1. It is interesting to note that the 4 qualities of the early Church are all introduced by the statement that the CHURCH devoted themselves to them.
a. There is nothing "casual" about their commitment as a Church!
b. I wonder if this could be said of the Church today?
2. The idea of "devotion" here means "to be constant" or "steadfast toward."
a. Someone once said that "God does not have a casual relationship with anyone!"
b. The Church cannot afford to have less than devoted followers of Christ.
3. We are living in a day when devotion to God is at a all time low!
ILLUS:Percentage of Americans who are churched: 62% In 1776: 17% today -- Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, "The Churching of America, 1776-1990," (Rutgers UP, 1992). "To Verify," Leadership.
4. The early Church was healthy because the early Christians were passionate about their commitment to Christ!
B. Doctrine! 2:42a,43
1. The first thing stated that this Church was devoted to that made them healthy is DOCTRINE!
a. It is rare for this to be considered of utmost importance today in Churches!
(1. The bible said that a characteristic of the last days would be that people will "not endure sound doctrine." II Tim. 4:3
(2. While it is tragic that the world cares nothing about doctrine, it is an even greater tragedy when the Church does not care that much about doctrine!
b. Too often, even in some revivals, doctrine is pushed aside for
c. Healthy experiences however must be guided by doctrine, and not the other way around!
2. All healthy revivals in history had as a characteristic an INCREASE emphasis on preaching and the Word, not a decrease!
a. Lasting revivals are nourished by solid biblical preaching.
b. Momentary revivals that last only like a brushfire usually are evidenced by an avoidance of preaching in favor of experiences.
3. The Bible is quite clear on the importance of the Word, Rom. 10:17 "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God."
a. Sometimes the Church can be misled into thinking that other things are more important than the Word of God, emphasis sometimes shifts to physical needs over the Word of God.
b. We must be careful not to neglect the Word in favor or other things as greater priorities!
ILLUS:A missionary in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, reports that recently an African pastor passed through on his way home to Chad, where civil war was raging.
"What would you like to take to complete your forty-four pounds of baggage allowance?" asked the missionary. "Sugar? Powdered milk? Medicine?"
"If I could have some Bibles or a few good books..."
"How's that?" the missionary asked.
"Back home we lost everything in the war, and we learned to place less importance on that which passes away and more importance on that which lasts."
The missionary mused: "Was I dreaming? We have heard so often 'The hungry stomach has no ears' that we misread the Epistle to the Romans to say, 'Faith comes from what one eats,' instead of 'Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.'
"We must not fail to share our bread with those who are hungry, but neither dare we forget that 'man shall not live by bread alone.'" -- Charles Daniel Maire. Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 3.
4. It is no accident that Doctrine was placed at the top of the list here!
II. COMMITMENT TO CARING 2:42B,44-45
A. Devotion 2:42b
1. While doctrine was at the top of the list, it did not mean that these other items were LESS important, they were AS devoted to the rest of this list as doctrine!
a. Here the devotion is to CARING for one another.
b. Called here "fellowship."
c. It was devotion that moved them to act toward one another.
ILLUS:In Booker T. Washington's autobiography, Up from Slavery, Mr. Washington recalled a beautiful incident of an older brother's love. He said the shirts worn on his plantation by the slaves were made of a rough, bristly, inexpensive flax fiber. As a young boy, the garment was so abrasive to his tender, sensitive skin that it caused him a great deal of pain and discomfort. His older brother, moved by his brother's suffering, would wear Booker's new shirts, until they were broken in and smoother to the touch. Booker said it was one of the most striking acts of kindness he had experienced among his fellow slaves. What a beautiful illustration of "bearing one another's burdens," which we are admonished to do in Galatians 6:20. --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 117.
2. Devotion finds a way to express itself!
B. Decision 2:44-45
1. They did not just look at their own lives and their own needs, they cared
deeply about one another, so much that under the difficult circumstances of the first century they even pooled their resources together and shared them so that they could all live in an environment of difficult persecution.
a. The Christian life is not just a set of doctrines, but is the WORD MADE FLESH just as it was in Christ, but now in us!
b. Even as Christ gave Himself for us, we are to give ourselves to one another.
2. It is the acts of love and fellowship that let others know that good doctrine is at work in our lives!
a. it is often the practical stuff that shows God's love and the power of the Word!
ILLUS:A man came to the pastor one time and said, "I don't know what's wrong with my life, but that first Christian joy I knew has passed by. I still live a moral life. I go to church. But how can I recover the lost radiance of my faith?" His pastor said, "this is what you should do: go to the store and buy a big basketful of groceries and go to an address of a poor family I will give you. Then when you have given your gift, you sit down with them to find out what they need. Let them know that you are interested in them and that you are their friend. Then lead them in the Lord's Prayer before you leave, and the radiance will come back."
b. Devotion to doctrine is measured by those doctrines lived out in our lives!
3. Real devotion cannot be devoid of action, or it is just sentimentality and not spirituality!
a. It is not devotion to just "FEEL" for our brothers and sisters in Christ if we can do something to minister to them.
b. We are living in a society that has separated feelings from actions, let this not be true in the Church!
III. COMMITMENT TO COMMUNION 2:42C,46
A. Devotion 2:42c
1. It is interesting that communion of the saints (fellowship) is followed with communion with God!
a. It was John in his first epistle that linked the vertical with the horizontal!
b. One cannot have fellowship with God that does not have fellowship with his fellow believers, and vice versa!
2. Because God's Word is alive, doctrine has to flow somewhere through us, towards God and towards one another!
3. Being "devoted" to doctrine, fellowship, and now COMMUNION reflects an effort, a constant striving towards something, in this case worship or communion with God!
B. Discipleship 2:46
1. This third area of devotion of this healthy Church is "COMMUNION" which represented "worship" of God.
a. As true disciples, we are to be a worshipping community!
b. The early Church was characterized by its fervent worship & prayer!
c. The Apostle Paul severely criticized the Corinthians for their improper communion services because they had become nothing more than just a meal, and even at this they didn't take any consideration for one another in their eating with each other!
(1. The poorer members sat there with little to eat, and their richer brothers and sisters in Christ did not even share with them their own abundant meal!
(2. They had lost the sense of worship in communion, and in the Church!
2. Their devotion to worship (represented here by communion) was to be fervent and real … directed to Christ as the symbol of the communion elements.
a. Too often today worship has become a formality or ritual!
b. Worship is not just an act or a programmed list, it is to reflect the passion of our hearts, and show a devotion so strong that we cannot be sidetracked by other things when Christ is being focused on!
ILLUS:A missionary tells of a woman in India holding in her arms a weak, whining infant, while at her side stood a beautiful, healthy child. The man of God saw her walk to the banks of the Ganges River and throw the robust youngster to the crocodiles as an offering, and then turn toward home again still clutching the sickly child to her bosom. Tears were running down her cheeks when he stopped to question her concerning her shocking actions; however, she proudly replied in defense of her conduct, "O sir, we always give our gods the best!"
3. Unsaved people will not be turned off by a passionate worship service, the world has had enough of empty rituals and meaningless dogma, it is hungry to know that there is a real God worshipped by real passionate disciples!
IV. COMMITMENT TO COMMUNICATING 2:42d,47
A. Devotion 2:42d
1. Their devotion is equal in all directions, hence the reason why these four characteristics are compounded together with the same word of devotion!
2. The Church cannot pick and choose what characteristics they will be devoted to, we are simply to be devoted to them all!
B. Declaration 2:47
1. The fourth thing this healthy Church was devoted to is communicating the joy of salvation!
a. Evangelism flowed out of their devotion!
b. Their devotion was so powerful that they enjoyed the "favor of all the people…and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
2. This fourth area really has two directions of communicating:
a. "praising God" - prayer
b. "adding to the Church those who were being saved" - evangelism
3. This last item reflects the Church's passion to speak to God and the world!
a. No doubt these are connected like fellowship - if it doesn't happen vertically, it is not likely to happen horizontally!
(1. A praying Church is an evangelizing Church!
(2. An evangelizing Church is a praying Church!
b. The early Church was a praying Church, this fueled their evangelism!
c. The Church or Christian that has learned to speak to God will have no problem learning to speak to men!
ILLUS:I'd rather be able to pray than to be a great preacher; Jesus Christ never taught his disciples how to preach, but only how to pray. -- D. L. Moody, Leadership, Vol. 1, no. 1.
4. A healthy Church evangelizes because it is in contact both with God and with people!
a. It can't help but share what it is all about!
b. As others witness the devotion and life of a healthy Church they are attracted to the Gospel and the Church!
5. The best form of evangelism is to be a healthy Church and to be healthy Christians!
a. We would need far fewer seminars on Church growth if we would heal the Church internally rather than just expend energy on external things!
b. If the early Church could be healthy without money, without buildings, without Gospel Publishing House, without Church growth experts, it can be healthy today to!
6. The four characteristics of a healthy Church are always within reach to those who are devoted to living them!
7. The healthy Church is a GLORIOUS CHURCH!
8. LET US BE A GLORIOUS CHURCH!!!
CONCLUSION: The early Church was healthy because it was full of love for God and His Word and love for one another. The Church today can be healthy too if we are willing to allow God's Spirit to do a similar work in us and be devoted to doctrine, fellowship, worship and evangelism!