Summary: Here are 16 essential characteristics of a healthy and biblically sound church.
WHAT DOES A NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH LOOK LIKE?
By Owen Carey and Eric Hanson
Within Christian circles, many people have some idea of what a New Testament Church is. There is a widespread problem, however, of incomplete understanding of this. We tend to not see the whole picture that is laid out for us in the Bible. This paper is a tool, for the purpose of helping us to envision the fullness of what is meant by the term New Testament Church.
The vision of Hosanna Church is as follows: “To build a genuine New Testament Church, which is both a family and an army”. What does this mean? In order to answer that question, this paper presents the notable characteristics of a healthy, balanced, biblically normal Church. They are not presented in a particular order of importance. Indeed, they are all important. They are also life giving, liberating concepts, which empower people to walk away from sinful patterns of life, and become more and more like Jesus.
One Caveat: Learning accurate New Testament Church theory will not, by itself, cause us to live together in (agape) love. It will not cause us to share that love with the World around us. Nothing except for “doing the will of the Lord from a pure heart”, will produce this Christlike way of living in us. This paper, therefore, is more about doing than mere knowing. Let’s follow Jesus. (James 1:22-25)
1. Jesus Christ is the Church’s Foundation.
Jesus Christ himself, and loving devotion to Him, is the only proper foundation for the Church. Jesus explained that the wise man who builds his house upon the rock is the man who hears the teachings of Jesus and obeys them. (Luke 6:47-8) Over the long run, obedience to the Lord can only flow from loving Him. We love Him because he first loved us. (I John 4:19) He drew us to himself, by being lifted up on the Cross to die for our sins. (John 12:32) This is how He loved us first.
Some new churches start out with a big bang! There is immediate growth, but soon they begin to flounder. Apathy or complacency sets in. and then, all too often, there is a split. There is a lack of clear and godly shared vision. The once pure waters of the Holy Spirit’s flow become muddy. Progress eventually grinds to a halt, and some churches, only a few years old, even disband.
Why would this happen? In John 15, Jesus said that he desired fruit, but not just any old fruit; rather, “fruit that remains”. What prevents this from happening in many cases? It usually comes down to a foundation problem. What was the main emphasis of the group? If you discussed the church with its members, back when things were hot, what was their conversation centered on? Here are some of the usual topics.
• A gifted leader, locally or nationally
• A reaction against some other church
• Some secondary doctrine, (other than Salvation) emphasized to the point of becoming a litmus test
• Fighting the Devil emphasized more than drawing close to the Lord
Some questions also arise about how the church was planted.
• Was it the result of a church split, rather than a church planting team sent out in a healthy, Acts 13 way?
• Was there wise apostolic and prophetic oversight of the church planting process?
• Was there humility in the whole process, or was there an attitude of superiority over other believers in Jesus Christ?
The only proper foundation is Jesus Christ himself, and a simple and pure devotion to Him. Paul was clear about this. (See I Corinthians 3:10-11.) Jesus said I will build MY Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18) He also said that anyone who does not do His will, is like a foolish man who built a house on sand rather than rock. (Matthew 7:24-27).
What does it mean to be devoted to Jesus? It means to be “constantly diligent to”, to be “loyal”, to be “faithful” to following Him. Devotion is the key here. Otherwise, as you learn much, you can become puffed up and leave your first love, (Revelation 2:1-7) substituting religious pride or pet doctrines. It’s simple actually. The question for each of us then, is this. Are we centering our hopes and church life around Jesus the Christ and His Kingdom?
The centrality of Jesus Christ is the overriding characteristic of any genuine New Testament Church. He alone is Lord. He is the Head of the church. It is Jesus Christ whom we look to as Lord, Savior, and sender of the Holy Spirit. He is also the one who will one day return to planet Earth in glory and power as King of kings and Lord of lords.