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Four Marks of the Healthy Church (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
January 24, 2023 3:00 am

Four Marks of the Healthy Church (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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January 24, 2023 3:00 am

We can all probably list some effective ways to grow a strong, fit body. But how can the local church ensure that it’s thriving and making a difference? Examine the four marks of a healthy church along with Alistair Begg on Truth For Life.



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Most of us have at least a few good ideas about how to grow a strong fit body. What about the body of Christ, the church?

How can we ensure that that body is thriving and making a difference in the world? That's our focus today on Truth for Life as we examine the four marks of a healthy church. Alistair Begg is teaching from the closing verses of Acts chapter 2. In the mystery of your purposes, we hear your voice, although it is only the voice of a mere man that speaks, because you have pledged that when your Word is truly preached that your voice will be really heard. This turns our focus away from the vehicle, and it turns our attention directly to the Bible. So we pray that we may lose sight of all and everyone besides the Lord Jesus himself, as he has made known to us in the printed page. For we ask it in Christ's name.

Amen. At the conclusion of the book In Search of Excellence, which of course is an old business book now—it's kind of like one of the grandfathers of these business books, the rash of which there has been ever since—the authors, in identifying the distinctives that were represented in the various companies that they considered, concluded by pointing out a number of factors which each of the companies or organizations shared. There were a number of them, and one which has always stood out to me and which I've never forgotten was this—that although these various companies were different from one another, in that some manufactured and others were sales and various products, etc., each of them shared this one characteristic—namely, that they did the basics well most of the time. Now, I mention that because in our consideration of the church, as we're thinking about the nature of the church—what is it, who's in it, how does it function, etc.—when we consider the church as it unfolds in the pages of the Acts of the Apostles, and then as we read the various letters written to these various geographical congregations, we have to conclude that under God, the impact that was being made by these churches was at least in some measure directly tied to this truth—that these churches were doing the basics well most of the time, that they weren't like many contemporary churches who think they're doing fine because they don't know what they're doing.

These individuals knew what it was they were to do, and then by God's enabling, they were seeking to do that wholeheartedly. So as we continue to think about the nature of the church—not in terms of its universal dimensions but in terms of its local expression this morning—it's very important that not only do each of the members of Parkside participate in a shared vision, which we are able to articulate because we understand and embrace it, but also it is very, very important that each of us is being constantly reminded of our core values. Or, if you like, to change the metaphor, as a body, we need to be constantly checking our vital signs. When somebody falls over and passes out, the cry goes out for a physician, the physician comes and immediately begins to check the vital signs of the individual, thereby determining whether this is a living body or whether it is, in fact, one that is no longer present.

And by means of these signs, of course, the doctor seeks to establish the state of health of the one under examination. To this end, we return to familiar territory for us as a church in the closing verses of Acts chapter 2, seeking to determine the health of our church by asking ourselves, What are the four distinctive marks of the healthy church? What are the four distinguishing marks of the healthy church? Now, obviously, there are more marks than these, but no church is healthy without these.

And they are as follows. Number one, that the church is learning. Number two, that the church is sharing. Number three, that the church is worshipping. And number four, that the church is growing. Learning, sharing, worshipping, growing.

Now, we'll spend probably the longest time on the first as we routinely do, but let us consider what it means for this church, as we discover it here in Acts, to be a learning church. We're told in verse 42 that they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching. Now, there is no great surprise in this inasmuch as Peter's preaching—that is, his teaching of the Old Testament and who Jesus is, combined with application and exhortation—that preaching by Peter had been the means under God, whereby we're told that some three thousand people had been added to the believing company. That is written there in verse 41. And remember that Peter—Luke with an eye for detail—would be very, very clear concerning these numbers. So it is that as a result of his preaching, this has taken place.

I want you to notice the way in which he addressed them. Let your eye run back up to verse 22, where his sermon begins. Men of Israel, listen to this. And then notice that the first word out of his mouth is Jesus. Men of Israel, listen to this.

Jesus. Now, the fact that he is prepared to stand up and say, Listen! is an indication of his authority. The fact that having called them to listen, he immediately leads with Jesus of Nazareth is an indication of his priority.

And it is quite striking that his approach to things begins in this very, very forceful way. Every so often, people engage in dialogue concerning preaching. It's not uncommon for people to say, Preaching is an outmoded means of operation. People can't listen for more than seventeen minutes at a time, therefore you shouldn't preach for more than seventeen minutes. People have no interest in preaching, therefore you shouldn't preach.

You should do other things. Don't you realize what could happen if you gave up on preaching and so on? I've been invited to various places around the country now to essentially argue in defense of biblical expositional preaching, because there is such an absence of conviction concerning it.

Now, you see, the reason for that is because people don't understand what it is. If they think that preaching is simply a man getting a few things off his chest or a man who's been given an opportunity to talk for a period of time and say whatever strikes his fancy, if they think that in the preacher you have a salesman and in the congregation you have clients and in the gospel you have a product, then they say, I understand it. The salesman comes and tries to convince the potential customers of the validity of the package that he has to offer. And if he's good, he may be successful, and if he's poor, of course, it will be like the average sales call on a rainy Monday morning, where the person is unable to convince the person, and so off they go down the street and knock another door and try their best again. Do you have any sense of that here in Acts chapter 2? Man of Israel, he says, Listen! Who is he to say, Listen? What does he mean, Listen? This is Peter, the fisherman, standing up in the Jerusalem streets, shouting, Listen! But they're listening.

Why? Where does his authority come from? From the fact of his credentials? I'm Peter, you probably recognize me. I'm Peter, had a small private business, quite successful. You've seen me.

We were on the NASDAQ, actually. No, he has nothing. His authority comes when he says, Listen! Probably when he said to himself, Well, here we go, let me try it. Men of Israel, listen! And they listened.

He said to himself, This is remarkable. But where's the authority of the preacher? It's the authority of God the Holy Spirit. Because the Spirit of God loves to enable those who are prepared to say, Listen! and follow it up immediately with Jesus.

And the teaching which led to the conversion, which gave the basis for the learning church, was the kind of preaching that did not begin with an appeal to the felt needs of the people in Jerusalem. Will you notice that? He doesn't begin by saying, Good morning, how are you all feeling this morning? Oh, I know some of you are lonely, and I have a word for the lonely. I know some of you are trying to get rid of some bad things, and I've got a way of helping you.

And I know that some of you are looking for peace, and don't worry, because I have a section on peace, you know. Because he'd send out all of his people around the community, like in these presidential debates, and they went amongst, quote, common people, and they found out what common people wanted to talk about. And then when they found out what the common people—if that isn't an elitist posture we're talking about—then once they found out what all we plebs like to talk about, then they would come on and talk to us so that they would be able to be authentic and talk about the things that really matter, as opposed to saying a message, declaring a conviction, standing up and saying, Listen, Jesus!

Now, pay attention to this. Christianity does not start with us. The gospel does not start with us.

Examine the preaching of the apostles, and you will discover that they don't stand up and say, Do you want to get rid of this sin in your life? Do you want to get out on your own? Do you want to discover peace?

Do you need guidance? Where does he start? Where is the teaching to start? If a church that is healthy has teaching and learning as one of its vital signs, where does the teaching start? It starts with the objective, historical truth about Jesus. He says, This is who Jesus is, this is what Jesus did, this is where Jesus is presently, and this is why it matters.

And then it says, They were cut to the heart, and they said, What are we supposed to do? When they heard the gospel, they weren't thinking about themselves, they were thinking about Jesus. They attended, if you like, the worship.

A friend invited them, said, Would you like to come? They said, Fine. They proceeded through the early events, not sure what to make of it all. And then as the preaching began, they said to themselves, Well, I suppose I can endure this. I've made it through the rest of it. I wonder if there is anything that relates to me.

Probably not, they said. And then the individual told them about Jesus, that he was an historic figure, not a mythology, that his death on the cross was on account of sin, explained that there was forgiveness, a complete delete key on the computer screen of our lives, and a whole new file. There was forgiveness, and there was the power of the Holy Spirit for a brand-new life for those who would inwardly turn away from their sins and turn to Christ in faith and who would outwardly be prepared to let the whole world know by being baptized. And suddenly the listener said, I never heard anything like this before. I'm so glad he didn't talk to me about seven principles for being a better dad.

I'm so glad he didn't just give me a bunch of things. Listen to how Calvin puts it at the time of the Reformation concerning the nature of preaching. God, he says, deigns to consecrate the mouths and tongues of men to his service, making his own voice heard in them.

Whenever God is pleased to bless their labor, he makes their doctrine efficacious by the power of his Spirit. And the voice, which is in itself mortal, is made an instrument to communicate eternal life. That's preaching!

And that is the kind of preaching that causes learning. And it is the kind of teaching which understands that God can use any kind of mortal voice to communicate his message. The significance is not in the personality of the one who speaks. The significance is not in the gifts or the background or in the calling of the one who speaks. The significance is in the Word that is spoken. And the question the congregation needs to ask is, when I go and listen and when I go to learn and when the person says, Listen, do they tell me about Jesus?

Because as you look, that's exactly what he was doing. Richard Baxter, again, who was the vicar and kitterminster in an earlier generation, says to his congregation—no, says to a group of gathered Anglican clergymen, he says, it's no small matter to stand up in the face of the congregation and to deliver a message of salvation or damnation as from the living God in the name of the Redeemer. It is no easy matter to speak so plain that the ignorant may understand us, and so seriously that the deadest heart may feel us, and so convincingly that those who contradict us may be silenced. Why? Because of the power of the personality of the one who speaks?

No! Because of the authority of the message that is conveyed. Now, if you take your Bibles—and I hope you will—and do your homework, you will discover that what I'm saying is absolutely the case, that the focus of his preaching was on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Later on, Peter puts it, he says, Christ died—historical fact—for our sins—theological implication. Therefore, something needs to be done—moral application. Christ died—historical truth. Why did he die? For our sins.

Whose sins? Now, this is so very important. In fact, he makes it clear to his readers—and I can't go through the whole sermon, or this will be at one point will become the totality of our study—but the fact is, if you look carefully, you will discover that speaking to a largely Jewish audience, he does what a Jewish audience would expect—in that he provides the assurance of the truthfulness of the fact he conveys by introducing two witnesses to that truth. In the Jewish court of law, every assertion had to be backed up by two witnesses for it to be valid. And so he says, Here is the story about Jesus. Call the witnesses, number one. Call the prophets. Isn't this what the Old Testament prophets said?

He said, There you have it. Call witness, number two. Call us as the apostles. Because, as in verse 32, we are all witnesses to this fact. So in proclaiming Christ, notice that he is not actually giving his testimony.

And may I give to you just a word of exhortation and guidance in relationship to this? The reason that many of us find ourselves all snarled up in our attempts at personal evangelism is because we start from the wrong place. We start to tell people what Jesus means to me. Which, of course, is a lovely thing to be able to say.

But that's not the issue. Because let's say you're having coffee, and you say, you know, and I'd like to tell you what Jesus means to me. Someone else in the group is waiting for you to finish your last sentence, so they can say, I'd like to tell you what Buddha means to me. And then someone else inserts and says, you know, I'd like to tell you what has happened to me since I started to go to that New Age congregation, and all that that means to me.

And suddenly, the whole conversation is completely up the left. Nobody knows how to get it back on track at all, because it's all about what it means to me. What do you say? That he means nothing to us? No, of course, he means everything to us, but that's not where we start. We've got to start and say, Listen, Jesus of Nazareth… Now, let me tell you about the historicity of Christianity. Let me tell you about the theological implications of Christianity. Let me tell you about the mission of Christianity, and let me tell you about the wonderful truths that will come. And then, having said all of that, if you would like, I can tell you at what point along the journey of my history I intersected with this truth.

But I'm not arguing for Christ on the strength of my experience. I am declaring Christ on the basis of his historicity and the basis of the theological underpinnings, and that, you see, what the apostle did here. That's where the church was born, and that's how the church learned, and that's how the church proceeded. And, loved ones, that is incidentally why we endeavor to do what we do here in trying to encourage you to be those who are very, very concerned about the Bible. The three thousand of them immediately took themselves off to kindergarten—that is, into biblical kindergarten—and they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching.

They said, That was terrific stuff. What an amazing sermon he preached, and I understood perfectly how the Old Testament fit with the New Testament. The penny dropped. I turned to Christ. I am a new creation.

Give me more of that information. As opposed to the average preaching, which is pathetic, it's got all of the passion of somebody reading from the yellow pages. The fellow has bumped up against a box. Nobody knows why he's there. He doesn't know why he's there, and everybody wishes he wasn't there. And the reason that there is so much of a disinterest in preaching is because there is so much lousy preaching. Why do people not listen to preaching?

Because most of it is no good. Do you understand that I can preach the same sermons if you would pray harder, and they will be ten times more effective? Just the same sermons. Because for a meaningful preaching event, you need an expectant praying preacher, and you need an expectant praying congregation.

And when the expectations meet at the throne of grace, whereby both preacher and listeners are looking to God rather than to one another, then suddenly there's a divine chemistry that takes place there, and everybody's surprised. The preacher says, Listen, and they actually listen. Children pay attention. They don't get it all, but they get some of it. People are going home, and the children are saying, I learned this. And the parents are saying, I can't believe you learned that. They didn't get the whole sermon, but they got enough. And they knew that God was there, and they knew that the Bible was important, and they knew that their mom and dad were supposed to be learning the Bible so that they could then teach them the Bible.

That's what was happening. That's where you have a healthy church. And where you go to worship, where the Bible is denigrated, where the sermon lasts for six minutes, where there is no concentration on the apostles' doctrine and teaching, I'm telling you, the church is unhealthy.

And not only unhealthy, it is unbiblical. People say, Well, why do you make such a pressure of the priority of the pope at a park site? Why do you do what you do? Why are we working our way through the Luke's Gospel?

Why are you doing that? Well, I don't really know any other way to go at it. And also, because if I do that, then the Bible sets the agenda rather than me setting the agenda. So we look to the Bible, and the Bible decides what we're going to preach and what we're going to teach. Because last week was verse 21, this week's verse 22.

You don't have to be a genius to figure that out. So nobody can come and say, Oh, I wonder what his hobby horse is this Sunday. And this is going to be true at every point in our congregation if we're going to be a healthy church. That's why the elders are supposed to be men who are able to teach.

And that's why parents have a responsibility in it. Coming from Scotland, as I did, I have a wonderful heritage in relationship to this. I have a vivid recollection of my father, even when I was a small boy, the age of some of you children here this morning. And although he wasn't sure that I was paying attention, he would always turn the Bible up for me, and he would always hold it in his shaky hand, and he would always point out exactly where we were. When the minister said verse 32, he pointed to it, verse 32. At that point, I may have been looking out the door, but he still pointed to it. And when he said 37, he still pointed to it. And he pointed to it all the way to the bitter end. And many a Sunday, I'm sure he must have closed the Bible and said to himself and said to my mother, You know what? I don't even know why I opened the Bible and point to it.

I don't think that kid pays one bit of attention to anything I'm doing with him. And here I am this morning to bless his memory for pointing to it. Pointing to it. Are you in a church that's pointing you to Jesus? You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg explaining that Christianity begins not with us, but with the objective historical truth about Jesus.

We'll find out more tomorrow. The vitality of the church is displayed and strengthened when we gather together for worship. The book Corporate Worship, how the church gathers as God's people, helps you understand what the Bible says that ought to look like. You'll learn why God brings his people together to function as an outpost of his kingdom, as a holy temple, and as the body of Christ. The book Corporate Worship is written by Matt Merker, who is a well-known hymn writer.

You can request your copy of the book today when you give a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate or call us at 888-588-7884. At Truth for Life, we care deeply about the local church and about the men who are called to lead it. In fact, our mission statement reflects that passion. We're committed to teaching the Bible with clarity and relevance so that unbelievers, believers, and local churches are all transformed and pastors are committed increasingly to teaching from God's word. To encourage and equip pastors, Alistair hosts an annual conference on the importance of getting back to the basics of pastoral ministry. The conference is held at Parkside Church just outside Cleveland, Ohio. This year's conference is May 8th through the 10th. Alistair will be speaking along with his guests Colin Smith and Herschel York. If you work in pastoral ministry or serve in church leadership, you can register online now for Basics 2023 at basicsconference.org. There's an early bird discount when you register before February 1st. I'm Bob Lapine. Some people attend church out of a sense of duty. They do it reluctantly. Tomorrow we'll find out how you can make each Sunday a day of joyful, reverent celebration, a day that sets the tone for the entire week. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-24 21:16:49 / 2023-01-24 21:26:14 / 9

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