It is a provocative title, and open to wide misrepresentation, but maybe it will get you past the first line out of inquisitiveness.
There are many ways to define a healthy gospel church, but If I were to take a poll of a hundred Free Church members (or members of any Gospel church to be honest) I wonder how many would define a healthy gospel church in this way:
A healthy church is one where its members ‘lay down their lives for each other’ (This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters’ I John 3 v 16).
Its not nine marks, its not even three – just one. And maybe it is overlooked as a mark because it moves the challenge away from looking at others, from the institution or from the Sunday performance, and focuses on where the Gospel lands in each of our hearts.
The text reminds us that to love like Christ is not natural love – it is not the same as family, romantic or friendship love – it is what God instils in our hearts when we respond to His Gospel in faith, and it reflects His love for us. So, at its very core, a healthy church family is one where the members love each other like Christ loves the church.
“a healthy church family is one where the members love each other like Christ loves the church”
That means practicing a love that puts Christ and others before our own needs. A self- emptying love, a love that is sacrificial and servant hearted. We lay down our lives for others. I believe that it means at least two things for us:
Firstly It means putting sin to death in our hearts as we relate to others. Being part of a healthy church means battling with the miserable remaining sinful nature that so often rears its ugly head when we interact with our church family. When we think the church is a just like a social club, and everyone owes us their perfection. When we treat the church like a commodity, and its people cheaply. When we gossip, bad mouth, can’t be bothered, don’t want to be inconvenienced, are proud and isolationist, take offense easily, make unreasonable demands, are unforgiving – you know what I mean.
‘We may have forgotten that we were in a pigsty before God threw His arms open to us’
We may have forgotten that we were in a pigsty before God threw His arms open to us – we were ugly and rebellious, and in desperate spiritual need, enemies of God and impotent to do anything about it, with bad spiritual breath and a rotten appetite, – yet, He loved us, to the full extent of his love. And in Christ, we are new people – from the inside out – and it means we love others differently, because we start looking at them, the way Christ looked at us. Its radical, and very different from what we often experience in society, and sadly sometimes, in church. But today, it is surely one of the most powerful apologetics for our discipleship.
Secondly, it means being generous to our fellow church members. This is not theological theory – it has a practical cutting edge. John follows on from his monumental statement in verse 16 by challenging those in the church with material possessions to show compassion and practical help to those without. It may involve denying ourselves the luxuries that we don’t need, if it means we can help those who have nothing. It surely involves not just material generosity, but generosity with our time, our homes, our cars, our knowledge – indeed everything that we have received as a gift of God’s overwhelming, unspeakable goodness to us. We lay it down before the cross, and at the feet of our brothers and sister who are in need. That makes a great foundation for a healthy church.
Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory (Psalm 115:1)
The vision of the Free Church of Scotland is to see a “Healthy Gospel Church for Every Community in Scotland.”
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