Pop Christian author Philip Yancey, in a post in Christianity Today,Â says that he could usually sense the “aliveness” of a congregation within five minutes by observing some of the things that go on in a church: “Were people conversing in the foyer? Did I hear the sound of laughter? What activities and issues did the bulletin board highlight?”
He lists three qualities to look for to find an “alive” and “healthy” church:
- Diversity: “When I walk into a new church, the more its members resemble each otherâ€”and resemble meâ€”the more uncomfortable I feel.”
- Unity: “Perhaps a whiff of the fragrance of unity is what I detect when I visit a new church and sense its ‘aliveness.'”
- Mission: “Saddest of all are those churches whose vision does not extend beyond their own facilities and parking lots.”
He then disappointedly concludes that there is no perfect church, and the church is but “God’s own bold experiment: to allow ordinary people like us to embody his presence on earth” (emphasis added). In experiment after experiment since he created Adam, God has failed!
A church buzzing with all kinds of programs – healthy and alive? Yes, possibly. But is it a true church? No, not by that criteria alone. Even liberal, apostate churches that have unity in diversity and socially active meet his criteria.
In contrast to Yancey’s three qualities of a “healthy” church, the 16th century Protestant Reformers set the Bible’s standard for the “three marks of a true church”:
The true church is to be recognized by the following marks: It practises the pure preaching of the gospel (Gal 1:8; 1 Tim 3:15). It maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them (Acts 19:3-5; 1 Cor 11:20-29). It exercises church discipline for correcting and punishing sins (Mt 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5:4, 5, 13; 2 Thess 3:6, 14; Tit 3:10). In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God (Jn 8:47; Jn 17:20; Acts 17:11; Eph 2:20; Col 1:23; 1 Tim 6:3), rejecting all things contrary to it (1 Thess 5:21; 1 Tim 6:20; Rev 2:6), and regarding Jesus Christ as the only Head (Jn 10:14; Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). – 1561 Belgic Confession of Faith Article 29 Paragraph 2.
Gospel, sacraments, church discipline – the three marks of a true church. Read Acts 2:42. Also, a very useful article, “Finding a Church,” by Dr. Michael Horton.