Just finished reading The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop (a very helpful book, by the way), and in the final chapter the authors provide a number of questions meant to help assess the character of your church that I thought were well chosen:
- Is your congregation clear on the gospel? If you were to ask random members of your congregation what the good news of the cross is, how would they answer your question? There’s no reason eave a congregation of new believers couldn’t be able to do this well. But in many of our churches, we’re not there.
- Is your congregation telling others the gospel? Church planting is the natural result of evangelism, and it won’t work well without it.
- Do your church members teach God’s Word to each other? Is yours a church culture where it’s normal to encourage each other with Scripture?
- Does your congregation take their responsibility seriously to guard each other from sin? Are those conversations both honest and grace-exalting?
- Is most of the pastoring in your church done by the congregation? Is it unusual for a pastoral problem to come to your attention where ordinary members of the congregation are not already at work?
- Do you already see a breadth and depth of relationships that cannot be explained by natural bonds alone? Have these types of relationships come to characterize your congregation?
- Does your congregation trust its leadership? Or is it still typical that disunity erupts when leaders make a challenging decision?
[T]he church consists of people who are incorporated into Christ and each other like the ingredients of a cake: none for himself, but instead each is blended with the others in the fellowship of love. Luther himself depended on the “consolation of the brethren” (consolatio fratrum) whenever he suffered inner turmoil and temptation – especially in the year 1527, when he was plagued by illness, the loss of friends, and various forms of Anfechtung. Communion meant true communication with Luther, through word and sacrament, in the giving of oneself to Christ and to one’s neighbor. Just as Christ emptied himself for the world on the cross (Phil. 2:5-11), so the Christian is to empty himself to his neighbor in love.
– Erich W. Gritsch, quoted in Embodied Hope, p. 132.
God freely employs the faith of others, expressing itself through prayer, to sustain and uphold the faith of the suffering Christian. Faith is not simply the means through which a person becomes a Christian but also the essential manner of the Christian life. The wounded believer often depends on other saints to sustain them through seasons of suffering…Yes, the individual was called to believe, but the faith can in fact only be lived within an organic connection to the locally constituted church. One of the regular ways the body of Christ maintains its health, even as parts of the body are attacked with disease, is for the other parts to carry some extra weight. When a person’s ankle is broken, they instinctively place more weight on the strong leg. This is not because they despise the weak leg but because it can only return to full health if its burden is borne by the other limb. Similarly, Christians bear one another’s burdens (cf. Gal 6:1-5)….Thus in our own distress, when we find it easy to doubt God’s grace and provision, the body of Christ gives shelter and sustenance under the canopy of their faith. As the body of Christ we can together face any worries about divine apathy, judgment, or abandonment. The flame of individual faith weakens when it is alone, but in true community the fire of faith illumines the night.
– Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, pp. 126-127.
The tendency today is to minimize truth in favor of organization, and men are telling us with unwearied reiteration that the greatest tragedy of the world is the disunited church. But the tragedy, the greatest tragedy, as I understand the New Testament, is not the disunity of the church, is not the fact that the church is divided into groups and denominations, is not that we are not all in one organization, but that all the sections are preaching a false message and there has been a departure from the truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. If we were all brought together and formed into one organization, that is no guarantee that the message preached would be true.
– Lloyd-Jones, Expository Sermons on 2 Peter, p. 128.
Here’s a good roadmap for a church to follow:
- BIBLE: The word of God does the work of God through the Spirit of God in the people of God;
- LOCAL CHURCH: The local church is the primary place where the Kingdom of Heaven impacts the kingdoms of this world;
- EXPOSITORY PREACHING: Consecutive expository preaching by the pastor-teacher is the best normal diet of the local church;
- MEETINGS: The meetings of the local church are for both edification and evangelism (with no sharp distinction between these)
- MINISTERS: The ministers of the local church are all its members;
- FOCUS: The local church should focus on doing a few things really well;
- SACRIFICE: The local church exits for the sake of others;
- PRAYER: Prayer lies at the heart of the local church.
– Mark Ashton, former pastor of St. Andrews the Great (StAG), quoted in Persistently Preaching Christ; Fifty Years of Bible Ministry in a Cambridge Church, p 13.
Unity should be evident in the way Christians talk to and about one another, in forbearance and forgiveness, in fellowship of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. It involves a recognition of our brotherhood in baptism and a practice of table fellowship. It is a unity in faith, in life, in practice, in water and bread. An invisible unity is not a biblical unity. Visible division is incompatible with the New Testament’s portrayal of the church.
– Peter Leithart, The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church, p. 21 (emphasis added).