Continuing our walk through Mark Dever's What is a Healthy Church? on Wednesday nights, in our C-Groups, here is the synopsis of what we talked about: If we took a video camera out on the Mizzou campus or on the streets of downtown Columbia, and we asked, "What is a church?", what would people say? What if we asked, "What does a church do?" Or, even, "what are problems in the church?" What kind of answers would we get? And would the answers be much better if we took our interviews into church foyers in America? Probably not. I think it's safe to say that most people don't know what the church is, and what she does. Is the church just a building that supplies religious goods and services? No.
Dever argues in his book that the church is primarily a people. As we saw last week, it's a family, a body, a fellowship. It's not a building. This is how many might answer the "what is the church" question. And it's not a statistic. We shouldn't view our churches as these masses of people, these numbers, that represent whether we've succeeded or failed. They are people-- sinners with joys, hurts, struggles, and annoying habits that make you want to scream sometimes.
Many have said that what sadly matter the most to many American church leaders today are the ABCs-- attendance, buildings, and cash. If we have those things down, we're set. If we're growing in those directions, we've succeeded. However, these are not given biblically as the ways we should measure our success. Look at the Bible from the front cover on, and you see some pretty godly people who didn't get much in the way of results. Our task, as Dever argues so well, is to be biblically faithful. We are to proclaim and obey God's word. He will handle the results.
Does this mean that the ABCs don't matter? Of course not. In Karis, as our numbers have risen, they represent people-- real people who have been impacted by our ministry and who have bought in to our vision. Regarding buildings, although we are excited about our current Gathering site, as well as the exciting one that awaits us in the fall, we hope to have our own facility downtown someday. Buildings for people represent permanence and stability. Plus, we would like to one day have a place we could open up to the downtrodden and marginalized in downtown Columbia. Considering cash, increases in offerings represent Karis becoming less and less reliant upon outside support from other churches. Our increased giving means that we're beginning to walk on our own two feet. Therefore, the ABCs aren't irrelevant or necessarily wicked. They just shouldn't be our focus. The church must be a living, growing organism, but it is the Lord who handles the growth, while we commit to being faithful to Him and His word.
So we have established that the church is a people. Obviously, though, the group of thousands watching the Mizzou football game this weekend in San Antonio do not comprise a church. It is a group of people, but more particularly, as the Reformers have said, it's a group of people who gather to hear the gospel preached and to receive the sacraments of the church. Many of us, though, have been in congregations where those things happen-- we wouldn't call them cults or false churches-- but they're not exactly healthy. Dever calls a health church a "congregation that increasingly reflects God's character as His character has been revealed in His word." This is what we're going for. We're not just striving to not be heretics. We pray to become a church that is healthy and God-honoring.
Through the Bible's storyline, we see God's desire to have healthy, God-honoring people. Adam was made in God's image to image that glory to the world. Tragically, Adam fell, and that image was marred. Still, however, God's image was not lost completely. God then created a people, the nation of Israel, and gave them the call to image His glory before the fallen world. They, too, failed. Like Adam, they were kicked out of their "garden," out of the Promised Land. Jesus came and did what Adam and Israel did not do. He imaged God perfectly. Not only that, He died for all of us that failed so miserably in displaying God's glory. He then created a people, His church, who are being restored into God's image. We are the New Israel, called to do what the old nation could not do. Now, with the New Covenant promises having been fulfilled, we can glorify God, imaging Him to a fallen world. We are still fallen, though. Only at the last day will we fully be restored to God's image. But that is God's purpose for us. Yet His kingdom has broken into the here and now. He wants us to be healthy, God-honoring people now as His church.
Well, then, how do we become that sort of people? Simply put, we hear and obey God's word. Dever traces in the book the Bible's storyline again, showing how, throughout Scripture, men and women are separated by whether or not they listen and obey the Lord. This is the path to true health as a body. Looking in the New Testament, at 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, we see how the Bible is meant to be our sufficiency as a people. It will accomplish God's purposes for His glory. It will meet our every need.
Next week, we will look at the first mark of a healthy church: expositional preaching. This is the first step we take when we embrace the idea that God builds healthy churches by His word. We gather as a people and actually hear God's words proclaimed with passion.
Let's return to our opening questions. The church is a people. It is meant to gather to hear God's word through the preaching of the gospel, see God's word through the presentation of the ordinances, and then take both to the world. What's wrong with the church at large? We're not healthy. We may be, at some level, doing things characteristic of a true church, but we're not imaging God's character in all it's glory. And the world we're trying to reach notices. By God's grace, let's be refreshingly different Karis. It won't be easy. But God is with us.