"They [followers of Christ] were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." (Acts 2:42).
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is, "How do I find a good church?" This question has taken on added significance in recent years because of the massive impact televangelism has had on our culture. In all too may cases, worship has been replaced with entertainment, and fellowship has been transformed into individualism. In view of these cultural developments, it is critical that Christians have a handle on the ingredients of a healthy well-balanced church.
The first sign of a healthy, well-balanced church is a pastor who is committed to leading the community of faith in the worship of God through prayer, praise, and proclamation. Prayer is so inextricably woven into the fabric of worship that it would be unthinkable to have a church service without it. From the very inception of the early Christian church, prayer has been a primary means of worshiping God. Through prayer, we have the privilege of expressing adoration and thanksgiving to the One Who saved us, sanctifies us, and one day will glorify us. In fact, our Lord Himself set the pattern by teaching His disciples the Prayer of Jesus (Matthew 6:9-13).
Praise is another key ingredient of worship. Scripture urges us to "speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19). Singing psalms is a magnificent means for intercession, instruction, and the internalization of Scripture. In addition, the great hymns of the faith have stood the test of time and are rich in theological tradition and truth. Spiritual songs, in turn, communicate the freshness of our faith. Thus, it is crucial that we preserve both a respect for our spiritual heritage and a regard for contemporary compositions.
Along with prayer and praise, proclamation is axiomatic to experiencing vibrant worship. Paul urged his protégé Timothy to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires" (2 Timothy 4:2-3). Church leaders must once again produce in their people a holy hunger for the Word of God; for it is through the proclamation of God's Word that believers are edified, exhorted, encouraged, and equipped.
Furthermore, a healthy, well-balanced church is evidenced through its oneness. Christ breaks the barriers of gender, race, and background and unites us as one under the banner of His love. Such oneness is tangibly manifested through community, confession, and contribution.
Community is visible in baptism, which symbolizes our entrance into a body of believers who are one in Christ. It is a sign and a seal that we have been buried to our old life and raised to newness of life through His resurrection power. In like fashion, Holy Communion is an expression of oneness. As we all partake of the same elements, we partake of that which the elements symbolize — Christ, through Whom we are one. Our fellowship on earth, celebrated through communion, is a foretaste of the heavenly fellowship we will share when symbol gives way to substance.
A further expression of our oneness in Christ is our common confession of faith — a core set of beliefs, which have been rightly referred to as "essential Christianity." These beliefs, which have been codified in the creeds of the Christian church, form the basis of our unity as the body of Christ. The well-known maxim bears repeating: "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity."
As with community and confession, we experience oneness through the contribution of our time, talent, and treasure. The question we should be asking is not "What can the church do for me?" but, "What can I do for the church?" The tragedy of modern Christianity is that when members of the body hurt, too often we relegate them to finding resources outside the walls of the church. That is precisely why the apostle Paul exhorts us to "share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality" (Romans 12:13).
Finally, a healthy, well-balanced church is one that is committed to equipping believers to be effective witnesses to what they believe, why they believe, and Who they believe. In the Great Commission, Christ called believers not to make mere converts but to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). A disciple is a learner or follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, we must be prepared to communicate what we believe. In other words, we must be equipped to communicate the evangel (good news). If Christians do not know how to share their faith, they have never been through basic training. The gospel of Christ should become such a part of our vocabulary that presenting it becomes second nature.
We also must be equipped to share why we believe what we believe. As Peter put it, we must "always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account [reason] for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15). Too many today believe that the task of apologetics is the exclusive domain of scholars and theologians. Not so! The defense of the faith is not optional; it is basic training for every Christian.
In addition to being prepared to communicate the 'what' and 'why' of our faith, we must be empowered to communicate the Who of our faith. Virtually every theological heresy begins with a misconception of the nature of God. Thus, in a healthy well-balanced church, believers are equipped to communicate such glorious doctrines of the faith as the Trinity and the deity of Jesus Christ. It is crucial that we, like the early Christian church, come to understand more fully the Biblical concept of the priesthood of all believers. Clearly, it is not the pastor's calling to do the work of ministry single-handedly. Rather, the pastor is called "for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:12–13).
In short, we know we have discovered a good church if God is worshiped in Spirit and in truth through prayer, praise and the proclamation of the Word; if the oneness we share in Christ is tangibly manifested through community, confession, and contribution; and if the church is equipping members as witnesses who can communicate what they believe, why they believe, and Who they believe.Worship, Oneness, and Witness equal WOW!
Adapted from Hank Hanegraaff, The Bible Answer Book (Nashville: J. Countryman, 2004)
You know that the stands we take on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, in the Christian Research Journal, and through the ministry of CRI are not motivated by popularity or political correctness but by the certain knowledge that ideas have consequences. This, of course, is precisely why we continue to emphasize those three poignant words …because Truth matters.
In 1831 a 19th century dogma with profound consequences was being birthed in the British Isles. That year John Nelson Darby left the Church of England and joined a separatist millenarian group. Darby contended that God had two distinct people with two distinct plans and two distinct destinies. Only one of those peoples — Jews — would suffer tribulation. The other — the church — would be removed from the world prior to the second coming of Christ. Darby’s speculative spin on Scripture leads inexorably toward a nightmarish ending. And most frightening of all, very few realize that the modern version of this belief reaches its logical conclusion in a nightmare that would dwarf the Holocaust.
Truths like this must be shared — but we can’t do it without your help. Every month we rely on God’s provision through friends like you to produce more broadcasts, books, and other resources that fearlessly confront ideas that have led millions astray.
And when you partner with us again today with a gift of $25, $50, $100 or any amount God calls you to give, we want to thank you with a copy of Hank Hanegraaff’s fast-paced novel Fuse of Armageddon. Give $100 or more, and he’ll personalize your copy!
In Darby’s day, his followers were content to wait for their version of the end times to become reality. Today, some modern proponents are taking the next logical step — advocating active participation to ensure the horrors of Armageddon become a self-fulfilling reality. In Fuse of Armageddon (co-authored with Sigmund Brouwer) Hank uses the power of story to communicate how this is destined to play out in the days and years ahead. Hank has “put flesh on the bones” of the logical truth propositions put forth in his non-fiction work The Apocalypse Code.
Our prayer in offering the book as our “thank you” for your support today is that it will help you, or someone you love, to biblically re-evaluate this popular end-times idea. It will give you an insight into what is happening today in the Middle East, and help you ask yourself if what we’ve been told is the only godly response may not be in God’s will at all.
No matter how popular an idea is in the churches around us, it must still be measured against God’s infallible repository of redemptive revelation, the Bible. Your continuing ministry partnership is not only deeply appreciated, but vital to equip more Christians with the tools of discernment, and to speak the Truth in love to the non-believing world.
Together, we are making a difference! So please, send your gift of ministry support today, and when you do, don’t forget to request your copy of Fuse of Armageddon. Remember, for your gift of $100 or more Hank will personalize your copy. Thank you for helping to produce more life-changing broadcasts, books, and other resources!