Sunday, October 02, 2005

Eleven Characteristics of a True Church

1. Devoted to God through Jesus Christ
This is a minimum requirement for everyone committed to the community. Baptism is the entrance rite of the community, and regular statements of commitment to the Father and the Lord Jesus are made.
Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9; John 14:6-9

2. Committed to one another
The congregation is committed to each other to be involved in each other’s lives. This means that they meet together, are accountable to one another, will work on agreement on essentials and be patient with each other with differences.
Hebrews 10:24-25; I Corinthians 12:13-21; John 13:34-35

3. Obedient to Jesus
This means that there is constant growth in knowing what Jesus requires and in practicing those requirements. It also means that when a committed member fails to obey Jesus, there is repentance or some kind of discipline process.
Matthew 12:50; Matthew 7:21-29

4. Spirit-filled
This means that the church is guided by the Holy Spirit to do as Jesus said. This guidance is toward love, peace and joy and is accompanied by spiritual healings, exorcisms, prophecies, and speaking in tongues.
I Corinthians 12:3-7; Mark 16:16-18; John 14:26

5. Participating in acts of worship
Acts of worship that are emphasized are prayer, praise and the Lord’s supper. Also included are singing, giving, fasting and prophesying.
John 4:23; I Thessalonians 5:16-22; I Corinthians 14:26

6. Helping the needy
This specifically means providing for those in need among the congregation, but also includes acts of charity among those outside the congregation.
Acts 4:34-35; Luke 12:33; Galatians 6:10

7. Building each other up
Churches are committed to seeing all the members grow in their maturity in Jesus. They assist each other in this by using what talents and gifts God has given them to support each other in living for Jesus. This could be done through teaching, Scripture quotes, singing, giving, prophesying, speaking in tongues, and many other ways. It also means that churches purpose to honor the lower ones of the congregation, never dishonoring anyone.
Romans 12:4-8; Ephesians 4:11-13; Mark 9:35-42

8. Involved in outreach
The church of God is committed to reaching out to those who need to hear the message of Jesus and of his kingdom. This outreach is not only words, but action, through teaching, prayer, service, hospitality and love.
Matthew 10:27, 32-33; Mark 16:15

9. Persecuted
The true church of God is attacked by those who find the truth of Jesus and the cross to be unacceptable and even immoral. The more involved in outreach, the more persecuted the church is.
John 15:18-21; Matthew 5:10-12; II Timothy 3:12

10. Servant leadership
The community of Jesus is led by those who are committed to serving others, not forcing others to do the will of the leaders. The leaders are gentle, prayerful, merciful and filled with the wisdom of Jesus through the Spirit of God.
Luke 22:25-27; Philippians 2:5-11

11. Part of a larger Community
Any individual community of Jesus recognizes that they are not alone, but a part of a larger, worldwide community of Jesus. They seek to be accountable to that community and to give to that community as they are able.
II Corinthians 8-9; Mark 9:38-41

So, are you "scandalized" by my list? Perhaps you are uncomfortable because many churches you know of—perhaps even your own—could not be characterized in this way. I will say that some churches exemplify some of these characteristics better than others. But every church of Jesus, I believe, will have some of each of these.

And it is interesting that for most American churches the component 9 is missing completely. I think it has to do with thinking too often that we are a part of this system, either that the United States is "Christian" and we have to restore it to its former glory or that it is close to reaching the ideal ethical system through the democratic process. Either ideal makes the church a part of the world, and thus we lose our prophetic voice. If we lose our prophetic voice, then we have nothing to be persecuted about.

Jesus, however, had no problem with being a scandalous man. And we lose out of part of who we are as a church because we decline to be scandalous.

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