True Church

I am sure we would be surprised to find out exactly why people actually attend church, or a particular church. Among the multitude of reasons that would be cited would be a nice building, a good youth program, an avid sports ministry, the use of visuals during the sermon, great music, perhaps it would be that person has “always” gone to that particular church or even that their parents had always gone there. Some may even attend, as strange as it may sound, for no other reason than the word “church” is in the name on the sign out front. And maybe, just maybe it is solely that particular church’s affiliation with a particular denomination which draws a person.

Of all the options, I think the more appropriate concern should be, “Is this Church demonstrating that which it was intended to be?”

Article 29 of the 16th Century Belgic Confession states that, “The [true] church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head.” Though not exhaustive, it does a nice job of defining a healthy local church. Many have speculated on the actual number of marks of a true church, but most conservative evangelicals are agreed that pure preaching based on the Word of God is near the top.

Acts 2:42-47 gives us a good blueprint of the “perfect” church. The new first-century church was enjoying incredible health due in part to their practices. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). They were engaging in sound teaching, incredible relational depth and identification in Christ (of which communion and baptism are memorials), communication with God, and of course we know the entire Book of Acts is pregnant with the promotion of the Gospel. Acts 2:47 tells us they were engaged in the practice of “praising God.”

There is a great acronym to help us summarize and remember the mission statement of the Church. It is W.I.F.E. The “W” stands for worship. This is not limited to music, but all forms of behavior and thoughts that serve to ascribe glory or worth to the Sovereign, demonstrating our love for God. The “I” stands for instruction, particularly that pure teaching from the Word of God that is imparting pure doctrine, correct biblical instruction. This would be characteristically taught from the pulpit, but also through discipleship – a dying practice within the Church. The “F” stands for fellowship, fellowship within the body of Christ, and obviously with Christ Himself. Is that happening? Are people loving each other; are there integrated relationships, and is there a love for God, or is it only a “Sunday thing”? Finally, the “E” stands for evangelization with the understanding that the Lord is causing growth, physical yes, but just as, if not more important spiritual growth.

The Church was very intentionally designed to be a place where spiritual growth happens, not a social club, or place where we can have our obligatory attendance booklets stamped each week. It is a gift from Christ to believers. My suggestion would be that if you are in a church, or if you are looking for one, that you would look at the marks of a true church. More specifically and more importantly that you would use Acts 2:42-47 as a litmus test to see if you are where you need to be, where God wants to plant you and use you for the building up of the body to His glory.