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Traits of a Healthy Church

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The early church was marked with traits that all churches should bear as marks of good health.

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What defines a healthy church body? This is a questions that can become very subjective very quickly. Many would define health by Sunday morning attendance numbers, or baptisms, or new members, or something tangible in that area. There are many things that can be used to determine the potential health of a church.
Mark Dever, founder of the Nine Marks ministry and pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. came of with a list of what he believes are the nine biblical marks of a healthy church, and not a one of them are numerically based. They are all spiritually, or practically based. They include things like, expositional preaching, Biblically sound theology, centered on the true gospel, conversions (salvations), how the church views evangelism corporately, what the church expects of her membership, how a church practices discipline, what their discipleship plan is, and a leadership team of a plurality of elders (or elder-led) (
There is no manual on how a church should operate, or even how a church should be structured, but through a careful study of the New Testament (especially the book of Acts), we can deduce logically how a church should be organized and what is expected Biblically of that church body.
This morning, we are going to cover three chapters of the book of know that sound like quite a bit of ground to cover, but if you look at chapters three through five, you seen that there are only two scenes that actually transpire in those chapters, and through a careful look at these three chapters, we will see some of these marks appear as marks of the early church in Jerusalem.
The Story Thus Far:
In the last section (chapters 1&2), we see the birth of the church. Jesus ascended to heaven before the disciples’ eyes, the disciples acted in obedience and went to Jerusalem to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers, and in one day, 3000 people came to a life-saving knowledge and entered into a relationship with Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Chapters 3-5:
In our text this morning, we are going to see quite a few things happen, but much of what happens revolves around one point: The early church acted in obedience. You can come up with all of the marks, and measurements you want to, but ultimately, church health boils down to one simple thing: Obedience. We learn from these few but important chapters that in order for a church to be healthy, she must act in obedience to God’s call and be bold in sharing the gospel with all people despite the circumstances.
Acts 5:27–32 ESV
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

A church must act in obedience to the commands of God in order to be healthy. defines obedience as, “compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority.” Sometime we tend to put obedience into a negative light, and when speaking of obedience to God, we tend to carry that same negative connotation, but the truth is obedience to God should never be put into a negative light. Obedience to God is a result of a relationship. Jesus said in , “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This is an if/then proposition. If we have love for Jesus, then the result of that love is to keep His commands. It’s that simple. Many times we think of submitting to God’s authority as something difficult, when in reality, it is no more difficult than keeping any of the many laws that our city, state, or nation have laid out before us. We don’t want to get a ticket, therefore, we obey the speed limit. It is a choice we make, and the same Goes for following God. If we have love for Him, then it would stand to reason that that love, would manifest itself in following what God has set before us. As a church, if we truly love God as we claim we do, then the result would then be manifest in following God’s commands, and His commands boil down to two simple laws: (1) love God, and (2) love others (cf. ). The apostles had grasped that concept early on in their ministry, and in spite of numerous attempts to silence them, they chose obedience to God and his command to spread the Gospel (). When speaking of healthy churches, this is a key factor in determining the true spiritual health of a group of believers in how well, they manifest obedience to the Savior, but we are going to see in this passage that not only is obedience a mark of a healthy church, it is the foundation that other qualities are built on.

A healthy church ministers to those outside the church

Let’s back up to the opening verses of chapter three for a moment, and let’s begin looking at some of the marks of a truly healthy church. The first mark we see, is a church that is focused on ministering to those outside the church. In verses 1-10, we see Peter and John going up to the temple, and as they entered in through the Beautiful Gate, there is a lame beggar at the doors of the gate that was asking for alms. This was a man that we presume was lame from birth because we read in 4.22 that this man was more than forty years old, and had been lame since birth. Peter and John come walking by this man, and he ask for alms (as he had done so many times before), and look what peter tells him in verse 6:
Acts 3:6 ESV
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”
Immediately, this man (who had been lame from birth) can now get up and walk, and not only does he walk, what else does he do? He goes dancing into the church, “leaping and praising God” (v. 8). Everyone recognized him as the one who always sat outside the Beautiful gate, and when they saw this miracle, they were “filled with wonder and amazement at what happened to him” (v.10).
What that means for us:
One of the signs of a healthy church is an outward focus. That means that we, as a church, are more focused on those outside the walls of this church building than we are on ourselves. All this building is, is a place for us to come meet God and worship Him. Most of us here do that once a week, so the question becomes, what are you doing with the other six days of the week? Is church a place for you to just come and socialize and then forget about it for the rest of the week, or is this a place where you come to be with God personally, and glorify his name?
Peter and John were going off to prayer time, and they passed a mane that we can only assume they had passed many times before, and this day, they stopped to minister to his needs. Peter offered him nothing more than a miracle. What made this day so special? God had gifted Peter with the resources he needed at that particular time to minister to this man in a way that would most glorify God. The man recognized the source of his healing and praised God for it.
God wants to do that in your life, and in the life of the church as well, but the question becomes, do we allow God to use us in those types of situations to reach someone outside the walls of this church? Or is this a place where we come to pay our dues and get served by the church? Part of God’s command is to love others, that doesn’t just stop at other Christians only, but those outside Christians circles that need to hear the Gospel.

A healthy church preaches the true gospel

Peter then goes into yet another gospel-centered sermon in the temple area to explain what the people had just seen. In this sermon, Peter recognizes the source of the healing of this man and explains it to those bystanders, and then turns it into a gospel-centered conversation by presenting them with a clear and compelling gospel and a call to respond in repentance.
What that means for us:
Mark Devers says that two marks of a healthy church are (1) expositional preaching , and (2) the Gospel. Here, we have a classic case of expositional preaching and gospel-centered preaching within the church body. Peter explained what God had done, and then presented the gospel followed with a call to repentance from those who heard the sermon.
Exposition preaching is important because it stays true to what God had intended to say to His original audience, and those truths can be seen as timeless and unchanging. Expositional preaching and teaching keep the focus on God and what He is saying and not what we want or desire to say, and not only that, but expositional preaching and teaching will stay gospel-focused and people will be able to grasp the truth that runs through the whole of scripture and that is that Jesus is the only way to God; however, forward progress for God is not marked with a smooth road, there are always obstacles along the way.

The preaching of the gospel can bring persecution

Notice as we move on to chapter 4, that once Peter and John started preaching the gospel in the temple, it did not go unnoticed by the religious establishment. The religious leaders became “greatly annoyed” (4.2) because of their teachings, and they arrested them and put them in jail overnight. When the next day comes, they bring Peter and John before the high priest (the same high priest that ordered Jesus’ crucifixion), and they are interrogated. Peter explains that the healing of this man came from a source none other that the person they had just put to death a couple of months ago. We also see that the religious establishment could not deny that a miracle had occured right before their eyes, so they find themselves in a pretty rough position, so what do they do? At the risk of a public uproar, the order Peter and John to stay quiet about what they are preaching, and notice Peter’s response in verse 19:
Acts 4:19–20 ESV
But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Acts 4:19 ESV
But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge,
What that means for us:
If you expect a problem-free Christian life, you’ve missed the point. Jesus said that following Him would bring persecution (cf. ). If we are obedient to God, we will experience persecution of some sort in some way. When we engage in sharing the gospel with the world we are engaging in spiritual warfare, and if the thought of that scares you, you must repent of that mentality. If you’re not experiencing some sort of troubles in your life because of your commitment to sharing the gospel, you must stop and ask yourself if you’re really actively sharing the gospel. The gospel calls all who believe in it to join the fight, and in order to do that we must join together as a church to share the gospel with the world in some way, shape or form.

A healthy church is a praying church

As we move on in chapter 4, we see that the church was united in prayer, and more specifically, they prayed for boldness. Peter and John were released to go back to the world, and immediately they recognized the battles that were going to rage because of their dedication to sharing the gospel, so they had a prayer meeting, and in that prayer meeting they prayed for boldness:
Acts 4.
Acts 4:29–30 ESV
And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
They readily recognized there was a threat brewing and without the boldness granted by the Holy Spirit, the mission was doomed to fail from the very beginning.
What that means for us:
It has been said, “the failure of any ministry is failing to pray.” Now, many of you are probably sitting here thinking to yourself, “but we have a strong prayer ministry.” While we are faithful to pray for the needs of our members, when was the last time we came together as a church body and were united in prayer for boldness for our church, or for the members of the church? And that may be a failure on my part to actually lead this body to that end, and I stand before you today telling you right here and right now, that I will personally do everything within my power to correct that, but (there’s always a but) each of you sitting here today must be willing to follow along with me to that end. Prayer is a spiritual discipline, and it take practice and effort and intentionality. Prayer is not just about praying for others, but it is praying to God that He will give us the needed resources to accomplish the mission that He has set before us, and that requires that we join together as one body in one heart and with one mind to pray to the end. This is non-negotiable. If we are to be an obedient church, we must come to God united in prayer for a common cause.

A healthy church takes care of its own

The last part of chapter four closes with a small paragraph about how the church was united not only in the cause of getting the gospel to the world, but how they took care of each other. The apostle were faithful to proclaim the gospel, and the believers took care of each other. Those that had gave, and those that needed were taken care of (this will come up again soon as the church grows larger every day). These people took this responsibility very seriously. This was how the ministry was supported.
What that means for us:
One of the major duties of the pastor is to “equip the saints for ministry” (cf. ). This is important to understand because the members had a responsibility to take care of each other. Understand that this wasn’t an obligation or a requirement, but it stemmed from the fact that the believers in the early church took the two great commandments very seriously. We tend to come to church strictly to “get fed” and then go home and forget about everything else, when in reality, this body exists to not only care for the needs of the community, but also other believers.
Acts 4:34–35 ESV
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Acts 4:34 ESV
There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold
Acts 4.34
Why were the members not needy? Because they took care of one another. We see back in chapter 2.45 they were selling what they had and distributing the proceeds to those as they had need. Now, this doesn't mean we need to go sell everything we have and give it to the church, but it does mean that we should be ready to take care of those within the body that have a need not only financially, but spiritually as well. If we see a need, the best act of obedience we can ever show is stepping up and do ing what we can to fill that need, and not push the responsibility on to one or two people within the church.
Why were the members not needy? Because they took care of one another. We see back in chapter 2.45 they were selling what they had and distributing the proceeds to those as they had need. Now, this doesn't mean we need to go sell everything we have and give it to the church, but it does mean that we should be ready to take care of those within the body that have a need not only financially, but spiritually as well. If we see a need, the best act of obedience we can ever show is stepping up and do ing what we can to fill that need,

A healthy church addresses known sin within the body

There are no perfect churches. Churches are made up of imperfect people. The early church had this experience as well. Meet Ananias and Sapphira. These two sold a piece of land they had and only gave part of the proceeds to the church. Now, we must understand that when the members of the early church sold things and gave it all to the church, it wasn’t a requirement, but something they did out of their heart in an effort to be obedient. So, they sell their land and kept part of the money back for themselves, and we see that once this was brought to their attention, they lie and tell the apostles that they only sold it for a particular amount, and what is the result of their collusion to cheat the church? God passed an immediate and permanent judgment on them.
What it means for us:
Church discipline is always a touchy subject. God requires that the church remain pure. That is evident throughout scripture. Jesus even laid out a method of church discipline, and the path it should take. we must be careful here to understand that the goal of church discipline is to handle issues of known sin as opposed to perceived sin. What I mean by that is, if someone is known to life an openly sinful lifestyle, it must be addressed, and not in a gossipy way, but in a tactful way one on one. It that doesn’t affect the person, then you are to take two or three witnesses with you to help correct the situation, and if that still doesn't work, then you must take it to the church (again with humility and tact). The ultimate goal is restoration and repentance (just like God’s plan of salvation). We are not to go on a witch hunt looking for the faults in others, but we must be watchful to handle any known issues that arise and take care of them scripturally. In order to be an obedient church, we must not shy away from addressing issues of known and open sin.

A healthy church exhibits a life of faith

There is a small paragraph here in verses 12-16 of chapter 5 that may seem inconsequential, but I think it is important to look at these verses. The church was spending time together and people were being healed and outsiders were being brought to the group for healing and they were all healed, and the end result was growth.
What it means for us:
The early church lived on faith. They became known for the things they could do. God used this to grow their faith and their church. They didn’t use a method or program, they had faith. As we walk step out on faith, their faith grew and the body grew as well. It has been said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The same goes with faith. The journey of faith requires taking that first step. It requires trusting God that if we act in obedience, He will bless that and take care of our needs.

A healthy church will be protected by God

The last scene in chapter 5 tells us of the apostles being arrested once again. The council meets and tries to decide what to do with these people that are teaching the gospel, and a Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel (who discipled Saul) steps up and tells them they are treading into uncharted territory, but recounts some other events in the past about those that had gathered a following. He basically says that if what they are teaching is not from God, it wont succeed, and that if it is from God, then they don’t want to be the ones responsible for going against God.
What it means for us:
Acting in obedience will bring about a protection from God that is inexplicable. If we line ourselves up with God’s will, we are assured divine protection. As I have said before, God will see to it that His plan is carried out in some fashion. It may not be the way we want it to, but in spite of persecutions, we can be assured that the spread of the gospel will succeed.
Acting in obedience requires faith. So the question remains, “how can we as a church make sure we are on the obedient side of God’s will?” That is a question we will seek to answer in the coming weeks as we continue our study of the book of acts. It requires faith on our part, and only the faith that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. If you don’t have that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I would urge you to ask Him into your life today by repenting of your sin and asking God to forgive you through the blood of Jesus Christ.
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