Monday, October 22, 2007

John Armstrong on What Makes a Healthy Church


I just received John Armstrong's e-mail news letter. Here is a portion of it. If we lose our focus on Jesus and the cross, then we are dead in the water...

What Truly Makes a Church Healthy?

What Paul is saying is actually quite plain-a healthy church is not established on human talent, conventional wisdom, or sociological/market-oriented insights. Why? Because "[T]he foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men" (1 Corinthians 1:25). "For," Paul adds, "what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5).

What Paul is teaching is patently obvious-the healthiest congregation, at its very best, must revolve around the primacy of the person of Jesus Christ. And we do not proclaim our theology, though inevitably we must have one that helps to produce health. We surely do not embrace and promote a philosophy, though we must think deeply about the ultimate issues posed by various philosophical questions. And we should not make liturgy, institutional well-being, numerical growth, or denominational and special interests our raison d'ệtre. What we are called to do, if the church is to be truly healthy, is simple really.

We must unapologetically make Jesus Christ the centerpiece of everything we preach, everything we pray, and everything we seek to do in this world.

No other reading of the words of the apostle¯"For I decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2)¯make any sense at all if we miss this point. Everything else, important as it may be, is secondary. This must be primary.

Martin Luther understood this text to be the very center of all true theology and faithful Bible reading. He wrote, "There is not a word in the Bible which is extra crucem, which can be understood without reference to the cross." And the great English theologian P.T. Forsyth put the same truth this way: "You do not understand Christ until you understand his cross."

If my reading of Paul is faithful, and it seems self-evident that it is, then a church does not revolve around a pastor, as important as this office and ministry is for a healthy church. There are two extremes to be avoided by this observation. First, a healthy church will almost always have a healthy pastor, or several healthy pastors. But this is not the primary thing to focus the church's ministry upon. Second, the elders and/or deacons (or church councils) are not the central thing in the life of your church either. It is important that you have godly and faithful leaders. Don't misunderstand me. But some seem to think that if you get the right leaders and the right system of leadership in place you will have health, ipso facto. (I have seen this emphasis fail time and time again over the past thirty-five years of ministry.) But if the proper emphasis is not on our leaders, then it is not on us as the congregation either. We are not the center of attention, as shocking as that sounds to modern Christian ears. To understand this point about what is truly primary would, I am convinced, lead to the true health of many Christians and thousands of local congregations. Read these words slowly and carefully:

The church is not about you, it is about him! Christ is Lord and you are not!

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