By Prabhudas Koshy
(Originally Published in the Weekly of Gethsemane B-P Church Dated 15 January 2017)

There are all sorts of opinions about what should characterise a church. Many ideas are being offered to church leaders by the so-called church growth experts and business strategists who claim to have developed powerful ideas, having studied many opinion surveys of the people. Their ideas and activities are enthusiastically considered as vital to becoming an effective church.

It appears that churches which implemented the opinions of the ‘experts’ have grown in huge numbers. They recommend more entertainment in the church services – entertaining music, dance and light-hearted preaching, etc.

We should not be consulting the modern church growth experts for any counsel with regard to what sort of church we should be. Scripture provides us with very clear advice about the kind of church we ought to be. In 1 Timothy 3:15, it is said of the church that it is “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” Here we are given some very essential truths about what a proper church ought to be.

We must always be the house of God

Just as it is said in 1 Timothy 3:15, seven more times it is mentioned in the New Testament that the church is “the church of God”. The emphasis in this description of the church is that God is its originator and owner. The church is God’s design, and it is meant always to remain as God’s belonging.

And in contrast to the temples of dead pagan idols, Paul says that the church is of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15). Our God is actively moulding and guiding the church to be what He wants it to be. His church is being built by Him. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).

Every biblical church must therefore be God-centred rather than people-centred. A total dedication to God’s glory must be seen in all its ministries. Every church “ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1; cf. Galatians 1:10). Unfortunately, many churches today have a “consumer-focused” attitude in their minis-tries, thus working to please men rather than God.

A biblical church’s great concern is not to please the crowd but God. The main focus of its worship and ministry must be for the glory of God rather than making people feel good. In other words, a biblical church will not be preoccupied with people’s preferences but God’s will. When a church is man-oriented rather than God-oriented, it ceases to function as a biblical church.

Psalm 2:11 says, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” In other words, when we worship and serve the Lord, we must come with joy and thanksgiving that is tempered with a respectful fear of God. A solemn recognition of God’s greatness and holiness must prevail in the worship of God. So the apostle Peter wrote: “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17). We can come to God without terror, but that does not mean we can conduct our-selves without fear of His holiness and judgment. Concerning the early Jerusalem church, it is written: “And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43a).

A good church, therefore, will be conscious that its pre-eminent duty is not entertaining man but glorifying God. Certainly, a church should serve its people but only when that service brings glory to the Lord.

We must be loyal to God’s Word

The second characteristic of the early church was an unswerving commitment of its leaders and members to God’s Word. The church being “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), we must have high regard for the perfection and authority of God’s Word.

While the apostles preached and defended the truth of God’s Word, the members learned and obeyed the truth. Allegiance to God’s Word is a foundational trait of every good church. Acts 2:42 testifies to the continual devotion of the early church to the apostles’ teaching – “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” This tells us that the early believers were earnestly and perpetually dedicated to the apostles’ teaching; it also speaks of enthusiasm and excitement towards it. The Greek word translated “teaching” (didache) encompasses both the content and the manner of the apostles’ teaching. Understanding both of these fully will help us to biblically evaluate any church today.

Concerning the content of the apostles’ teaching, we have the testimony of Paul in Acts 20:20-21 – “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Later, he wrote: “For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

The manner of the apostle’s teaching was effective and pleasing to God. The following are some vital observations concerning the manner in which the preaching of God’s Word was done in the early church:

  • They preached God’s Word authoritatively and without apology. Paul wrote to Titus, a young pastor, saying, “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:15).
  •  They preached God’s Word in a relevant manner. In their sermons, they answered people’s questions and doubts; they rebuked sins and erroneous teachings; they ministered peace and joy through the exposition of God’s promises; and gave guidance to those who were confused and unsure of important choices in life. Their sermons were like divine counsels for people’s needs and problems (Titus 2:1-6).
  • Their messages were both evangelistic and instructional (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
  • They lived a life that was consistent with their preaching. Their lives were living sermons (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9; 1 Timothy 4:11-12).

It is most appropriate at this time to consider Calvin’s words concerning the kind of church that we should choose. While commenting on Acts 2:42, he said, “Do we seek the true Church of Christ? The picture of it is here painted to the life. He begins with doctrine, which is the soul of the Church. He does not name doctrine of any kind but that of the apostles which the Son of God had delivered by their hands. Therefore, wherever the pure voice of the Gospel sounds forth, where men continue in the profession thereof, where they apply themselves to the regular hearing of it that they may profit thereby, there beyond all doubt is the Church.”