The apostle Peter gave a very solemn warning to the readers in 2 Peter 2:1. He said, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves”. Peter taught the readers that false prophets and teachers will be part and parcel of the Christian community.
There are immense concerns amongst Christians today that given the rise of social media, easy-to-access online sermons are propagating a popular gospel which is having much impact on evangelism, church attendance and activities in the name of Christ. Labels are given to some of these popular gospels like hyper-grace, prosperity or health-and-wealth gospels. Many proponents of these gospels have mega congregations or followings.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the conservative and traditional churches which hail the purity of their gospel and preaching according to the Bible. However, many of these churches are much smaller in size and often are limited in outreach programmes and impact on society. They are perceived as not dynamic or influential or relevant as compared to the mega congregations.
A genuine Christian wants to deepen his fellowship and relationship with God. Therefore, does it really matter which church he attends and what gospel he hears? Some argue that so long as one walks away from the Sunday services or church activities edified and being recharged for the coming work week, this alone is sufficient evidence of a genuine Christian church. Their needs are met and the gospel has been made relevant to their lives. This is all that matters even though there may be some exaggerations or seemingly “out-of-context” preaching or teaching or practices.
On the hand, there are many from the conservative and traditional churches who believe that faithful preaching of the whole counsel of God is everything and that the ministry of the church is not merely about meeting one’s needs. Faithful preaching or teaching may be bewildering or puzzling or discomforting or in a context in which the modern hearers may not understand or find it hard to accept. What matters is that the Bible is taught verse-by-verse and faithfully and it is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to convict. Preaching and teaching are meant for the mind and soul, and for the Holy Spirit to work on. It is not meant to address the feelings or emotions of the hearers. One extreme position is that the preaching of the word of God does not need any dressings or props or inducements to make it more effective.
If we are asked to choose one, which church will we choose? I like to suggest this is the wrong question! We want to have a church which is Bible-centred where the word of God is taught faithfully and powerfully. Such a church will be alive in Christ and it will be dynamic, influential and impacting the community. It is not either a lively and dynamic hyper-grace church or a seemingly Bible-centred dull church. This is a false dichotomy and a lie that the evil one is placing before Christians today.
We know that we want to be a member of a church where the whole counsel of God is taught faithfully, without “adding or subtracting” (Rev 22:18-19). We want to belong to a church which is sola scriptura. We want to be assured of our salvation and there is only one Saviour and that is Jesus Christ. Salvation is sola fide in Christ. In addition, we also want to be in a church where it is alive with the testimonies and the ministry of God. Individuals are excited about church life because they find the word of God being lived out in the body of Christ. The word of God is made alive in the functioning and ministry of the church. Peoples’ needs are met and members are enjoying the abundant life in Christ as promised in John 10:10. More importantly, the members are not afraid of death because they know that Christ awaits for them when they close their eyes for good on this earth. They know that death has been defeated and is no longer a sting on life (1 Cor 15:54-57). May I try to describe such an ideal church in Christ:
· The members encounter and experience the presence of God whenever they are involved in the church;
· The members are moved to actions through the teachings and preaching of the whole counsel of God without “additions or subtractions”;
· The members’ intellectual, spiritual and emotional needs are met through hearing His words;
· The members share their lives and resources in the community (body) life of the church;
· The members believe the church is a safe harbor for them when the storms of life are blowing the fiercest;
· The members believe it is their responsibility to reach out to the lost and are desirous to bring others to the church to hear and experience Christ;
· The members are motivated to impact the community through good works.
Some may argue that the above describe an ideal or heavenly church which does not exist on this side of heaven. However, if we do not build a church with the above attributes, what kind of church are we looking for? Are we prepared to settle for anything less?
As a summary, there is no perfect church on earth but it should not stop us from having ideals and working towards one based on the word of God. I once gave a talk and suggested a human litmus test for the relevance of one’s current church. The human litmus test is whether one would desire the church to conduct his funeral and whether he would entrust his family to the care of the church thereafter. If one has doubts in any of these decisions, I think the church would have much work to do to be relevant to the member.