(originally published in 2005)
But what is it that makes a church a sound church? We need to know this for one simple reason – as believers in Jesus Christ we are expected, yes, even commanded to join ourselves together with other believers in a local assembly or fellowship, referred to as a church (1 Cor. 11:18-20; Hebrews 10:25). And we must know what a church is and how it functions, for not every group that identifies itself as a Christian church is a sound or true church.
While it is right to want to join a church, it is wrong to join any group because they call themselves a church. Just as we are commanded to not neglect the local body of believers, we are also warned not to identify or fellowship with those who would proclaim false doctrine or place personal preference, and things like form and function above the truth of God’s Word (1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-5).
So what then are the marks of a sound church according to the Bible? We will summarize them into seven points. These seven things must be present for a church to claim rightly that they are a church that is obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ. A sound church is an assembly of believers in Jesus Christ where:
1. God is worshipped in spirit and truth – Rom.12:1; Philip.3:3; John 4:5-26
2. Prayer is central – Acts 2:42, 1Thes.5:17
3. Love for Christ and the Brethren is demonstrated – 1 Pet.1:22, Jam.1:22
4. The Word of God is faithfully preached, taught, and heard – Acts 6:4, 13:44; Rom.10:17; 2Tim.4:2
5. The Ordinances of Baptism and Communion are administered – Acts 2:42; Mat.28:19
6. Discipline of the membership is Biblically administered – 1 Cor.5:10-13; Mat.18:15-17
7. Church government and leadership as instituted by the Apostles is established – Acts 14:23, 6:2-3; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9
If these seven marks are present, the church can rightly claim to be a church of Jesus Christ. If they are not present, nothing else in the world qualifies them to be a church. They are but pretenders, a social gathering or a religious country club playing church if they are without these characteristics.
The New Testament church presented in the pages of Holy Scripture gives us the blueprint to follow as we seek to have Christ build His church through us. After all, we do not grow the church one bit, and anything we add to His building is frail and weak and will serve only to pollute the work He is doing. Again, let me stress this point. It is Jesus who builds His church (Matt. 16:18).
A true church can never be qualified by its size, location, budget, or by the building in which it meets! None of these factors makes it more or less a true church. In fact, in the pages of the New Testament, we see churches that fill whole cities while others consist of a handful of believers that met in individual houses. Some met in synagogues and others on the front porch of the temple in Jerusalem. Still others met in catacombs and underground caves. But they all had these seven marks in common and so were considered by God to be His church and were commended for their faithfulness.
Let us look for the next several days at each of these seven marks more closely so that we can be sure that the church where we hold membership is indeed a true and sound church.