Culture Change, Mission

The Marks of the True Church, Part 1


I would like to believe that a distinctly, authentic Church is a Christ-centered, mission-driven, people-focused, community-transforming church. But what does that mean?

This opening illustration frames this discussion. A missionary in Africa was once asked if he liked what he was doing. His response was shocking. “Do I like this work?” he said. “No. My wife and I do not like dirt. We have reasonable, refined sensibilities. We do not like crawling into vile huts through goat refuse. But is a man to do nothing for Christ he does not like? God pity him, if not. Liking or disliking has nothing to do with it. We have orders to ‘Go,’ and we go. Love constrains us.” –Our Daily Bread.

I want to begin this by discussing the churches in the Book of Acts. The struggle I run into when talking about the Church based on what was happening in Acts is that we tend to see those churches through rose-colored glasses. These marks are not all characteristics of the Churches in Acts.  We see the explosive growth, we see the unity, but we fail to look at the flaws. And to be honest, all churches have flaws. Here is what we know about those early century churches.

  • On that first Pentecost 3,000 souls were added to the church in Jerusalem.
  • The church was founded on strong biblical teaching and sound doctrine.
  • The believers had a habit of gathering together daily for prayer and the breaking of bread.
  • The result of this growth in the faith led the people to a life of generosity.
  • There was unity as the worshippers gathered daily in the temple.
  • Yet, it was not all happiness and joy; there were still deep and at time heart-wrenching conflicts.

As we set out to lay the marks of an authentic church we use as our foundation the missional churches of Acts.  However, this time we will pull back the veil and reveal more than just the positives we tend to highlight. We need to be prepared for all the issues the churches in Acts faced. As a matter of insight, “Whenever you attempt something great for God and His kingdom, Satan will do everything possible to derail those attempts.”  There are seven marks that this article will examine in some detail.   We begin with the most critical.  Any church needs to have strong Biblical teaching.

  1. Strong Biblical Teaching.

“The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.” Acts 2:42

At the heart of any authentically missional church is the gospel message of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. If we are preaching anything but Christ and Him crucified, then we are doing harm to those outside of God’s grace.  The world needs strong biblical teaching from the church because the natural tendency of the human heart is to drift back into the mode of trying to please God by doing good and in doing so feeling the full weight of God’s wrath.  You can hear that in Luther’s words just how deeply he felt the weight of God. How deeply he was tormented by his sins and how that sin weighs on the heart of the sinner.

“Though I lived as a religious leader without reproach, I felt, with the most disturbed conscience imaginable, that I was a sinner before God. I did not love. Indeed, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners.” Dr. Martin Luther

The quote points to just how deeply Luther felt convicted by God; how Luther was profoundly aware of his sinfulness and the impact of God’s judgment on him for his sins. At the heart of the Reformation, this was the tension with the Roman Catholic Church over the issue of solid biblical doctrine. The Catholic church taught Christians they had to earn the merits of Jesus’ forgiveness. Nothing was free. Christ’s death for them was only a starting point; there was much more the sinner needed to do to achieve salvation. That need to earn forgiveness lead to a deeper faith crisis.  Now Christ’s death and resurrection are not enough.  If that were the case, this uncertainty left many good faithful Christians feeling the weight of being inadequate. Very little has changed today.  This issues of trying to appease an angry God runs through the lives and hearts of many religions. An authentic mission church points people back to the grace, but good works cannot and will not save us. When we approach the throne of God with only our good works as a sacrifice, we quickly realize just how inadequate that appears before a perfect God. To extend our pitiful gifts to the God who created the universe seems quite small.

Deep down the human heart knows that we are born in sin and have no legitimate way to earn the forgiveness of those sins. The frustration that humanity has when attempting to earn favor with God through works is the feeling of being mistreated. Unfair treatment angers a lot of people, especially people like Luther who desperately want to play by the rules.

The first mark of the Church is foundational, to point the saint and sinner back to the cross of Christ and the grace of God. Luther like many souls are feeling the full weight of God in their life, but the true Church leads the troubled soul to the knowledge that Jesus took that pressure to Calvary’s cross on their behalf.  Now nothing in our past is too big even for Jesus to forgive, nor anything is too big that the blood of Jesus cannot cover. The Church proclaims to the world God’s relentless grace.

The second mark of the authentic missional church is the church founded on an empowering prayer life.  Check in on Thursday’s as the four-part series continues.


Other posts in this series: