A Healthy Church
What makes for a healthy church? Certainly, the faithful preaching of God’s Word. Certainly, the faithful teaching of God’s Word. Certainly, Christ-exalting worship that faithfully proclaims the greatness of God, extolling the trustworthiness of His promises, the marvelous depths of His mercy, and the richness of His love. And while all of these things are certainly necessary for a healthy church, they are still not enough for a church to be considered healthy. What else is necessary? Christian service.
When it comes to the preaching of the word, the teaching of the Word, and the singing of the Word, if it does not result in Christian service, then it was all for naught. Why? Because even if we have right doctrine (orthodoxy) without right practice (orthopraxy), our doctrine only leads to a faith that is on par with demons. In James 2: 18-20, James writes: “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”
James, the half-brother of Jesus, doesn’t give us any wiggle room here; if our faith doesn’t produce right thinking (orthodoxy) and right practice (orthopraxy), it’s about as useful as an uncashed check. Sure, theoretically you are rich, but until you go and cash it you don’t actually have the money and it doesn’t do you any real good. Consequently, we need to cash in heaven’s check.
At this point, for those of us who have read Romans, the warning light is blinking and we are nervous that a bait and switch has occurred. We were offered salvation by grace through faith alone, and we know that our works played no part in it, but now we are hearing about a faith that works. So, which is it? I thought no one gets to boast? James seems pretty boasty here with all of this talk about his works instead of Christ’s works as Paul does in Romans. So, who’s right, Paul or James? Of course, the answer is both. How? Because as James tells us, though we are saved by faith alone we are saved by a faith that does not remain alone. Which means we are saved by a working faith, not a sit-on-the-couch demonic faith.
Bringing this back to the criteria for a healthy church, it means that a church can have all of the right thinking in the world but can still be spiritually dead as a doornail because their faith is dead. And this isn’t because they failed to “do more” or “try harder,” it’s because they are spiritual cadavers who are in desperate need of a living faith that is at work within them willing them to work. What does living faith look like then? It looks like a church body actively and joyously using its gifts for the glory of God and the good of His church—and we must never forget the joyous part. So, when we ask, “is our church healthy or not,” a better question to ask is, “does our right doctrine result in right living?” Or better yet, “do we see the saints being equipped for the work of the ministry through the preaching, teaching, and worshipful singing of God’s Word which results in action? Does it result in obedience to Christ and the great commission to go into all the world preaching the gospel and making disciples of all nations? If not, our church, like our faith, will be as healthy as a corpse.