[Church health is about numbers, finances, programs and excellence?]
Your typical Sunday morning greeter to a new visitor – “Welcome to Our Church. Glad you’re here to worship with us. You’ll find that we are a growing, healthy Church.”
Your internal dialogue, behind your pasted on smile, “Yeah… we’ll see.”
So how do you judge a healthy church? Do you have a top five or top three list?
1. Well known preacher – celebrity preacher?
2. People coming – success by numbers?
3. Worship Experience – Hill Song music?
4. Response Time – Altar calls and impromptu flag waving sessions?
James is about to give us some clues to what makes a healthy or unhealthy church. James uses the word for ‘synagogue’ to show these Jewish Christians how they were treating people who came into their assemblies, house churches or places of worship. Reading James 2:1-13 we get the feeling that James is looking for more than merely a worship experience as a way to measure church health.
Pimped out Pews and Health [our standards or God’s standards?] vs 1-7 James tells us that these Christians were showing favoritism in who they ‘offered their pew’ to. If a person of status or obvious wealth came through the doors they would invite them to sit in their own seat. If a person who was obviously poor or had a low social status they would direct them to the ‘standing room only section’ or tell them to ‘pull up a piece of floor’. They felt that their church looked far more healthy with the ‘right people’ in the pews. James calls them evil judges. In fact he points out how they are behaving entirely opposite of God who has chosen those who have seen their own poverty, their own neediness, their lack of resource and hopelessness. These Christians were falling over themselves to please the same wealthy people who were taking them to court and displacing them from their lands and homes. These are the ones who in word and deed were blaspheming the name of Jesus. They shouldn’t be receiving royal Church treatment but loving, direct church discipline.
A Start Measure of Health [moral obligations] vs 8-11 Confronting these celebrity worshiping, status honoring, gold digging Christians James turns to the moral law first, Leviticus 19:15-18; Deuteronomy 16:18-19; Proverbs 28:21. The moral obligation is to treat every human being with the same dignity, value and worth that God has created them with. They are as valued to God as you are. Much more could be said about this… but I’ll leave that for you to think through.
The Final Measure of Health [gospel obligations] vs 12,13 and 1 James moves our attention to a greater law, a law he has mentioned before in chapter 1:25, a perfect law. It is called the law of freedom. It is the law for those who have experienced the freedom of coming to Jesus Christ. The law that has been founded in God’s mercy over payment, grace over judgment, friendship over enmity. This is a recognition of the Gospel so fully in one’s life that mercy, grace and the relationship of friendship is extended to all those we come in contact with- no matter their personal status, their income or if they make our pews look better.
If that is not evident in our lives, homes and churches than James accuses us of holding “the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory, with partiality.” Withholding the work of Jesus in our prejudices would be a gross abuse of the grace of God shown to us at the cross.
Are you encouraging the Church towards a healthy demonstration of God’s grace from the pew and beyond?