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  • Writer's picturePastor Chuck Cooper

Marks of a healthy Church. Part I

The Scriptures are written for our edification, to build us up as well as

guide us while making known the will, ways and nature of our creator.

They are indeed what Paul described them as to Timothy, a treasure.

They are described in many ways. The Psalmist says, Your word is a

lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalms 119:105). The Word of

God as it is spoken and taught lays before us a path upon which to


It is now somewhere between 49 and 51 A.D. and the Apostle Paul has

penned the words we find in I Thessalonians. Words of thankfulness

and appreciation. Words of instruction and reaffirmation. But I would

draw your attention to chapter one verses 6 and 7 where Paul writes a

word of reminder and says, “And you became imitators of us and of

the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of

the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in

Macedonia and in Achaia.” This we must remember was written

following Paul’s being in Thessalonica.

And what is the significance of that? Simply this. The Thessalonians

had no Bible; their scriptures were Paul himself. They were able to

read with unmistakable clarity the infectious and contagious message

of Christ. The scriptures they read was the life of Paul himself. He

made God visible and they simply copied him — Copy-Cat

Christianity. The way Paul lived embodied the sum and substance of

the Christian message. It was something to be imitated because it was

worthy of imitation.

Is your life filled with that kind of power?

We have shaped our churches to be a success-oriented, culture

obsessed with image and power and influence, and to worship the

current day idols of Health, Wealth and Pleasure. What we want to

produce is people with an image — not character — and it often has

little to do with the Christ of scripture.

In his well-known book, “To Change the World,” James Davison

Hunter (a sociologist) argued that the way to change the world is (1) to

gather elite people (2) who are close to the power, (3) who are part of

large networks and (4) who have abundant resources (5) to press for a


This is pure elitism and image building, and it sickens God himself.

John Nugent, in his exceptional new book “Endangered Gospel,”

contends the way of Jesus is the exact opposite: it is to gather the

unlikely who are not part of the systems of power and who are in

small networks and who have few resources but who embody the


Many churches today say they know the gospel is the message of the

church, but they whittle it down and repackage it and market it as

being conservative laced with moralism or values. They fear the actual

gospel knowing it will trim their membership cash.

“The most dangerous religion is not Islam, nor is it atheism. The most

dangerous religion is a form of Christianity that uses the name of

Jesus to keep people happy and healthy, but doesn’t call them into a

form of fellowship that showcases God’s Kingdom before the

watching world.” — John C. Nugent

We love a designer religion, a look, a shape, a form, style. Attractional!

We have become the Burger King Church, “have it your way.” We will

give you more of what you want and less of what you need.

If it’s not Designer it is “Purpose Driven” and if not that it is “High

Tech.” We are getting quite used to the high tech, with a quick

satisfaction of every need. Fashionable, elite and the list goes on, but

what has it brought us? What kind of people is the church producing

today? I ask you. Are you just a Christian by current standards, or a

disciple of Jesus Christ?

A church without community — we have traded community for an

atmosphere of clubbiness and conviviality. A gospel without Lordship,

that has sentimental appeal marked or governed by feeling, sensibility

or emotional idealism rather than reason or thought or most of all

reality (truth). A lifestyle without discipleship.

As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been

blurred with those of the culture. The result is a culture-led church.

Christianity Today printed a quote from one John Fischer:

“As the church today gets more and more hip —more and more need-

oriented, responding to the buttons that people push in their pews —

I find myself longing for more of a historical faith. I find myself not

wanting to have everything explained to me in simple terms. ... I’m

not even sure I want all my needs met as much as I want to meet God.”

(Christianity Today, April 26, 1993, page 37). We have created

consumers, we focus on what will sell, image, whether it be

reputation, appearance or status, health, wealth or pleasure.

Professor David Wells has said it best.

“The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not

inadequate technique, insufficient organization or antiquated music,

and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging

these scratches will do nothing to stanch the flow of blood that is

spilling from its true wounds,” Wells said. “The fundamental problem

in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially

upon the church, his truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his

judgment is too benign, his gospel is too easy and his Christ is too

common.” I might add simply, the church is often about the ABC’s —

Attendance, Buildings and Cash.

Now before some may criticize let me say, I am for bigger (and better)

but not at the expense of the best, truth unchanged, unchanging. I

have rarely pastored a church that didn’t grow (measurably). But I

must say that numbers only show something is going on, not that it is

good or bad, just something is going on. So, be careful how you judge.

Paul’s preaching to the Thessalonian Church was with great power. It

was not just impersonal information about God; it was more than

facts and studious explanations. Paul said to the Colossians in 1:28,

“We proclaim him, warning every man, teaching every man, that we

may present every man mature in Christ.” Preaching today has little

warning in it. Paul said we did not come to in words only, but in power

(I Thessalonians 1:5).

Much preaching is on hard times; it is often no more than filler. I like

the words of Halford Luccock as a student at Union Seminary

preached a sermon in chapel on keeping his sentences picturesque “so

that the ear was turned into an eye.” The Thessalonians imitated Paul

because they heard and saw a man worth imitating, a message

undeniably believable and a God Man — Jesus — worth everything

they had, were and more, their all, and that has not changed.

Remember, “The aim of preaching is not the elucidation of a subject,

but the transformation of a person.” In Part II we will see what it was

about the Thessalonian Church that made them a Model Church.

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