Some time ago while visiting at one of our churches, I heard a brother say, "I'm enjoying my church fellowship more than I ever did in my lifetime." I replied, "And what are we going to do to keep it that way?"
We always have a tendency to degenerate. Think of Israel's glorious beginning and how they degenerated. Look at the beautiful beginning of the early church, yet it was not long until some were turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, denying the only Lord God that bought them. We have on record the beautiful start of the Reformation and the Anabaptist movement in the sixteenth century. Then we read of the apostasy in Holland and Germany where church life almost became extinct. It will always take work to keep our fellowship healthy.
An ideal is a standard in its highest state of perfection and excellence. Thus we could say we are looking for ideals that comprise the perfect church. Do we ever attain to a perfect church? No, there is no perfection in this world. What then? Shall we give up and not strive for perfection? The Scripture indicates that any standard less than perfection is too low a standard for the child of God or for the church of God. In Colossians 1:28-29 the Apostle Paul says that the purpose of his preaching and teaching was to make "every man perfect in Christ Jesus." Then he adds, "For which I also labour, striving according to His working, which worketh in me mightily." He had not yet reached perfection himself, but was striving toward the same goal. According to Ephesians 5:27, the church will be without spot or wrinkle when Christ presents it unto Himself. Until that time we will need to work on the spots, and keep ironing out the wrinkles. The best spot remover is the blood of Jesus Christ and the best wrinkle removers are the Spirit of God and the Word of God.
The Church at Thessalonica was a model of healthy congregational life. In I Thesssalonians 1, Paul commended their work of faith, their labor of love, and patience of hope in Jesus (v.3). In verse 8 he commends them for their community and country wide witness. Yet in I Thessslonians 4:1,10 he encourages them to "abound more and more." One of the surest ways of decline is to become satisfied with ourselves. When we become satisfied with our spiritual attainments we come to a standstill and are in danger of a downfall.
The foundation of healthy church life is the preeminence of the IDEAL PERSON, Jesus Christ. He must be the focal point of our worship, the pivot around whom our love, our devotion, and our loyalties revolve. In Sunday morning services, in prayer meetings, in Bible conferences, and in revival meetings we study Jesus Christ. And there is so much more to learn about Him. He is all in all. In all things He must have the preeminence.
Another foundational ideal is the provision of Christ's cleansing blood. In our physical bodies, as our blood carries nourishment to all parts of the body, it also picks up the impurities found throughout the body and brings those impurities to places where they are expelled from the body. In the body of believers, Christ's blood carries our sins away as far as the east is from the west, cleansing us from sin and making us healthy.
A third ideal is to have leadership who seek to guide every member toward perfection (Eph 4:11-12). The purpose of Christ giving leadership gifts to the church is that the body would grow "to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (v.13).
For healthy congregational life we also need the ideal of constant prayer. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Eph 6:18). Are we praying for each other as we ought to be? Romans 12 says that we are to be instant in prayer. When we hear something about someone that is unfavorable, what is the first thing we do? The first thing we should do is talk to the Lord about it, instead of talking to the first person we see. A good prayer plan at times is to use the alphabet to think about people we could pray for. Start with those whose names begin with A, and think of something you can pray for about that person.
As we relate to each other in the congregation, we need the practical ideal of love. Read I Corinthians 13 and say your name in place of the place of the word charity, then strive to live up to it. It is possible for us, like the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:15), to possess and defend what we believe to be the full Gospel, including our practice of separation from the world and nonresistance to evil, and be a sick, fallen church because we lack the greatest of all ingredient of a healthy church, brotherly love. In our church gatherings, it is ideal to have a special meeting place and a special meeting time. If the service starts at 9:00 AM, the ideal is to be there several minutes before 9:00 and calm ourselves before the Lord. The Bible says, "Be still and know that I am God." While every family experiences emergencies that may make them late occasionally, tardiness should be the exception rather than the rule. If we have any business that makes us habitually late to church, it is time to change businesses or revise our schedules.
Some other ideals include having as nearly perfect attendance as possible to our local congregation, and every member participating in our services in some way. A warm handshake, a kiss of love, a cheery "God bless you", and a smile also contribute greatly to the health and fullness of joy in church fellowship. We come together to see Jesus Christ in our services, and we want to see Him in each other.
We can contribute to the health of our congregation when we all sense our responsibility to come with a contribution. Bring a prepared lesson, a testimony, an open ear, and bring an offering. All that we have is from God, and our tithes and offerings are a recognition of His divine ownership. If a renter refuses to pay his rental fee, we would say he is robbing his landlord and he ought to make it right. If we are robbing God, do you think it might be a good idea to make it right with Him and pay up?
There are also a few things we should leave at home when we come to church. We do not need to bring along our businesses or the meal we plan to serve to our guests when we get back home. And we certainly do not need any chewing gum. It does not contribute to our spiritual health.
Ideally, for the highest level of spiritual health, we need to come hungering and thirsting for the things of the Lord. The manna from heaven is what nourishes our souls. The children of Israel never got indigestion from manna. They became sick when they grew tired of manna and desired other things. If we come to church with a desire to be fed, we can be filled and anxious to come back for another filling of manna from heaven.
As we come into the holy sanctuary of God, we are experiencing the ultimate in Christian fellowship. Apostle Paul referred to this fellowship as sitting "together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Let us come together appreciating the greatest gatherings that can be held on this side of eternity, until the day when Jesus Christ presents the church unto Himself without spot or wrinkle.
— Myerstown PA