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5 Marks of a Biblical Church

In the beginning of Acts, we see a group who have experienced the death of their leader and the one they assumed to be the Messiah. They witnessed the resurrection of Jesus; something they could hardly believe themselves. Then Jesus was taken up into heaven.

Just before He ascended into Heaven, Acts 1:4-8, Jesus tells them,
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

They were to wait for the Holy Spirit, and this would give them power to be His witnesses to the rest of the world.

They must have been confused about what that all meant, but when the Holy Spirit came there were no more questions. What an amazing turn of events. They moved from praying and waiting to the sound of rushing wind and flames of fire. They couldn’t stay in the room…they spilled into the streets filled with excitement about what God was doing!

And talk about changes…

This small band of disciples, 120 in the upper room, who moments ago feared being found by the Roman soldiers rushed into the streets and share the good news about Jesus in languages they had never spoken before. And Peter, who denied even knowing Christ, stood in front of thousands and proclaimed, “The Messiah was here, but YOU killed Him. Repent and receive forgiveness”

Then we get to Acts 2:37-47. It says,

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Acts 2:42-47 is the most powerful example of what a church looks like when it is functioning the way God intends. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t have anything figured out. It faced difficulties and trials…but this gives us the foundational principles to be the Church.

It would be a mistake to think they could have created this church on their own. They were scared, they were hiding, they were unwilling to even acknowledge they even knew Jesus before the events of Acts 2 and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It is also a mistake to think we can create this kind of church on our own. We need God’s Holy Spirit to empower and lead us. Imagine, though, what would happen in our community if we became that church, and then imagine what would happen if we planted other churches like that in the communities around us.

I get excited just thinking about it. Thinking about the lives God wants to transform and rescue. The families God wants to heal. The people who need to hear about God’s love for them.

We can break this passage into 5 things that mark a church that is striving to be what God intends.

It is a church that seeks Truth.
It is a church that seeks to Worship.
It is a church that seeks to live in Community.
It is a church that seeks Growth.
It is a church that seeks live out God’s Mission.

So this week, let’s look at those more in depth.

Seeking Truth

I have always been skeptical. I questioned everything. I don’t believe things because you say so, and I ask a lot of questions…especially when the answers don’t seem sufficient.

I discovered many of my teachers and preachers were uncomfortable being asked the hard questions. Their answers were more rehearsed than reflected upon. They regurgitate what they were supposed to say, and they never gave me the other side of the issue.

I also discovered if I probed too much and asked the “wrong” question, or made them feel uncomfortable my faith was doubted. True followers of Jesus “trust and obey.” “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!” My problem was they hadn’t demonstrated God even said it. I wasn’t trying to create problems (most of the time); I just wanted the truth.

College and seminary were very different. Professors faced the tough questions head on, and the answers looked nothing like what I had been told. It was a struggle for me to reconcile the difference between my professors and my preachers. Why weren’t they willing to share this stuff? What was it about questions that scared many of them? Did they even know this stuff?

For a church to function biblically, Truth has to be a primary focus. Doubts, questions, & seekers are not to be feared. They are a sign people are seeking the truth…they are hungry for it. People who are afraid of questions and inquiry and disagreement demonstrate their lack of confidence in what they believe. So they either have hidden doubts of their own or they feel inadequate in their ability to discuss what they believe.

Both of which can be cured with strong biblical teaching and preaching and study focused on Jesus Christ. Acts 2:42 says, ““They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”

As a church we take the Bible VERY seriously. So seriously we are willing to question it, dig deep, challenge it, and allow it to challenge us. We take it seriously enough that I challenge our leaders to read it regularly. We ask God to give us insight into it. I hope that within any 2 year period you have read the Bible through.

Our goal is to study God’s Word with everything in us, and live it as Jesus showed us how. Because it isn’t about acquiring more knowledge…reading God’s Word is meant to transform how we live our lives as witnesses of the Kingdom of God at work.

This week someone mentioned that because of all the hubbub going on with the courts and social media they went back to their Bible so they could see what it said. That is awesome! That is what I desire for us as we seek God’s Truth.

Seek to Worship

We are hardwired to worship. Even if we are not worshiping God; we worship something. In a lecture at Oregon State University, Rabbi Ariel Stone said, “For all that it has been sullied and mishandled, there is apparently a need we have for [worship], something that we cannot as human beings do without.” Everyone of us gives our time, energy, money, attention, and homage to something…and that is worship.

For some it is a sports team. For others it is their job. For some it is their family. For another it might be a favorite hobby. Whatever we spend the majority of our time, energy, and money on…that is what we are really worshiping, and it isn’t always God. But if we are going to be the church God calls us to be…we must learn to worship Him.

There are different words used for worship in the Bible. They can be grouped into two primary categories: words focusing on the one being worshiped and words focusing on the one doing the worshipping.

shachah: “bowing down before an object of honor”
egid: “showing respect” or “doing homage”
gonu and gonupeteo: “bending the knee”
proskuneo: to kiss toward…it was falling flat out before…used of the Magi in Matthew.

The primary focus is on the fact that the one being honored and bowed down to is truly worthy of the homage they are being paid.

The second set of words:

abad: “service or work for God”
latreuo: derived from latris – “servant”
leitourgeo: means a work of the people. From which we get the word liturgy…meaning how the service is put together.

The focus here is on the person’s response…because worship is not just a thought in our head, it is expressed through action. We gather together, we sing, we learn God’s Word, we live in community, we do acts of service…all of these actions and more are acts of worship.

When I preached a message on this awhile back, I came to this definition of worship:

Worship is responding to God’s grace by humbly bowing ourselves to Christ and sacrificially serving God with our lives.

Worship isn’t about style…it isn’t about the music…it isn’t about how I feel or will feel because of it. It is giving God the honor He deserves and living a life that gives Him honor. For us, worship shows up in two key areas. Corporate worship and Personal worship. We must be committed to worshiping God as a gathered people on Sundays and in small groups…this is called corporate worship. We must also be committed to worshiping God each day in our own lives…that is personal worship.

Seek to Live in Community

In the 1940’s Dr. Rene Spitz became concerned when infants at an orphanage were dying despite proper nutrition and a sterile environment. Later he discovered the number of babies had grown so rapidly…many were not receiving any significant human touch. The rise in infant mortality was traced to this lack of human touch.

Dr. Ben Benjamin states, “touch is vital for survival in the very young,” and psychologist Dr. Robert W. Hatfield points out, “affectionate touch is vital for all human ages”. Research even indicates that healing is helped by human touch and hindered by its absence.

From the very beginning, human beings have had a fundamental need to be in community. We are created to love and be loved. At the same time, sin creates this opposing force to prevent real relationships from developing.

So we live in this tension. We have a God-given desire for deep relationships, but we also create barriers that keep us from being in real relationships.

What are some of these barriers?

Busyness
Newness…there are barriers to getting over meeting someone new.
Self-protection and fear…usually rooted in a lack of trust
Previous wounds
Lack of ability to forgive.
Inability or lack of desire to listen.
Over-inflated ego or the desire to always be right.

Acts 2 holds the answer in one, simple Greek word…koinonia.

Koinonia-means ”to share in.” It is sharing in the lives of other Christians. Sharing each other’s joys and pains. It is a deep connection between people.

We can’t develop this by just attending a weekend service. Real community happens as we share our lives with others, and for us the best place for that to happen is when we serve on a team together or join in a small group. We grow, we learn, we study the Bible, we pray for each other, we care for each other, and we trust each other. I am currently in the best small group I have ever been in in my life. We are able to express our doubts, fears, and struggles…and know that the other people love and care for us.

I want those kind of relationships for everyone in our church, and I want that for everyone in Huber Heights. Imagine what Huber Heights could be like if we were the church where people could come in and find a loving, caring, accepting, and forgiving place where they could find their way to God in community.

Growth

Talking about the need to grow a church has always been tough…not so much the need to grow spiritually, but the need to grow numerically. In a way it is like tithing…it can sound self-serving…like trying to build my own Kingdom.

I believe wholeheartedly that churches should grow by reaching the community with the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s love for them…but I have always hated that it starts with the idea of growing a church. A while back I realized we don’t grow by thinking about growing and focusing on the growth. We focus on building a healthy church that seeks after God and loves people. When we do that the growth will happen as God wants it to happen.

I’m a horrible gardener. I can kill a plant just by looking at it…it is my superpower! But I do know plants grow by being healthy…having the right soil, the right amount of sun, the right nutrients…water. They growth is in two key areas: a deeper root system and also by reaching out farther and higher.

Building a healthy church should be our focus. Growth is a result of a healthy organism, and healthy churches grow. And a Biblical church should be growing in two ways. It should be growing stronger by growing deeper in Christ and by growing farther in outreach to the community.

For us to grow, we have to grow deeper in our relationship with God first. Our mission as a church is to extend the Kingdom of God by helping people take their next step closer to God…and one of the best ways to help others take their next step is to take our next step. To grow in our faith so we can help those around us grow in theirs.

Then, and only then, can we grow by reaching others. We do this by inviting others to come to church with us. We do this by serving others with acts of kindness. We pray for those around us.

Over the past year we have grown as a church. Our aim is to do that again by this time next year, but our focus is not just on growing. Our focus is on being a healthy church that loves God and love our neighbor and being a place God blesses.

Mission

My return to God came because I started asking the question about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. In our search for meaning and purpose…we often start in the wrong place. We ask questions about who we are and what we are good at doing, but if we are to come up with the right answer, we have to start by asking, “What is God doing?” and “How does He want me to fit into it?”

As a church we look for where God is working in the world around us, and ask, “How can be part of that?” And when we start looking to fit into God’s mission using our gifts, talents, abilities and involvement to make a difference…we will find meaning and purpose for our lives that is more deeply satisfying than anything else in this world.

To be part of the Mission of God means we care about what God cares about, and just a cursory reading of the Bible tells us God cares about the broken, hurting, poor, and those rejected by the religious establishment, and who are unwelcome in polite society.

Love is not the first word most people use to describe the church…and the reason is despite all our talk of grace…we really don’t understand it. Grace means we have received something we don’t deserve from someone who didn’t have to give it to us. We can’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. We may not even know we need it.

But if we can’t love and forgive others, it is a sign we have not really understood grace. God loves and values us beyond our wildest understanding. He offers us forgiveness and hope when he doesn’t have to, and out of that we are asked to love and forgive others in the same way.

He is not asking us to let people off the hook for the evil they have done…He is just asking us to let Him to be the convictor of sin and their judge…to free ourselves from that responsibility and allow the one who fully knows right and wrong to make the call. He is asking us to be grace-filled toward others because we have been given grace.

This is the Kingdom we are called to represent. A Kingdom that loves and heals and cares for the unwanted and unloved. And we are the ambassadors of this Kingdom representing Christ and speaking for Him in this foreign country.

We learn to speak His words. We learn to do His actions. We proclaim His message…that God’s power and rule is breaking in to our world and people can find love, forgiveness, and wholeness through Jesus Christ. That is our message. And WE are the ones sent out to proclaim it so when people look at us…they will automatically think, “That is how Jesus would treat me!”

God has chosen to use us to fulfill His mission of love and transforming renewal in this world.

Conclusion

When I was in college, we were required to take a course that exposed us to different ministries. From wealthy, suburban churches to inner-city homeless shelters. Part of the course was a trip to Washington DC.

One of the most talked about parts of the trip was the day we were to pose as homeless people on the streets. On Friday night, we dressed up in our “homeless gear” and slept in our clothes. When we woke up, we couldn’t take a shower, and they dropped us off at various locations around the city.

We were to wander the city doing whatever level of homeless activity we could. I tried begging for money only to be cussed out. I also attempted a nap on a steam grate.

That night when we returned to the hotel, we were ready to change our clothes and take a shower, but our professors called us into a meeting room and announced that 6 of us would be going to church just as we were at that moment…which meant no shower or clean clothes.

I wasn’t chosen, but Dwayne, one of my roommates, was. By the next morning Dwayne stunk so bad no one wanted to ride in the same van with him. In the middle of January, in the coldest weather spell DC had seen in 10 years, we were driving 15 miles to a church in the suburbs with the windows down.

When we got to church…it was HUGE!!!! The parking lot was full of Jaquars, BMW’s, Mercedes, and other very expensive cars. The pastor’s message was essentially that if God loves you and you are obedient to God and you give as much money as you can to God then God will give you more money! People cheered when the offering was announced.

I thought Dwayne was in for a very rude experience. Dwayne was in rags. He smelled horrible. We were his friends and we didn’t want him around…how was this church going to respond?

They responded with love. Dwayne was hugged by more people than you can imagine. They told him about different ministries that could help him. He said later that he felt overwhelmingly loved by that church.

Whatever I thought of their theology and preaching, I certainly couldn’t fault their love for the outsider and the broken.

You know it doesn’t matter if we have the best theology and the most biblical everything…if we can’t love people with the kind of love God gives us it will all be for nothing.

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