Let’s Read: Why Should We Love the Local Church—Beauty Demonstrated
By Davy Ellison
Mr Universe/Miss World
If there was a Mr or Miss Church competition and you were on the judging panel, what would you be looking for? What characteristics or features would be high on your list of desirables for a church to be considered a contender for the title of Mr Church or Miss Church? If you are anything like me—and if it is anything like the Mr Universe and Miss World competitions—mere externals are the immediate things that come to mind.
In the chapters that we have been reading and meditating on over the past month, Dustin Benge points us to two things that should make that list. They are not mere externals, however, but vital dispositions for any church to adopt if its beauty is to be demonstrated.
Defending the Truth for the Sake of Worship
The church’s beauty is first demonstrated in it defending the truth for the sake of worship. The church must protect the truth. Benge puts it this way:
The truth is her mission. The truth is her message. The truth is her reason for existing in the world . . . Jesus came to bear witness to only one truth, God’s truth, the only truth that exists. The only truth that will be standing when heaven and earth pass away (Matt. 24:35). (pp. 40–41)
The truth that Jesus bore witness to is the truth that the church must defend for it is the truth that will remain standing at the end of time. Naturally, being so dogmatic about the truth is not easy, especially in this day and age when everyone is encouraged to simply live their truth. But defending the truth is necessary. For, “Unless we are held captive by God’s word, the very heart of the church is susceptible to Satan’s cunning deception” (p. 40). Despite the claims of our culture which confuse many, the source of truth is strikingly simple: the Bible. Benge explains that “The truth meant to be heralded by the church is found in a book” (p. 41). The church must defend the truth of Scripture.
There is a glorious purpose in this necessity. The church must defend the truth of Scripture because doing so promotes true worship. If, as Benge argues, “Worship isn’t born in the void of our conscience but proceeds from truth” (p. 45), then it befits the church to defend truth for the sake of worship. A significant way in which protecting the truth demonstrates beauty is that it promotes true worship—worship informed, inspired and superintended by the truth of Scripture.
Godly Shepherds who Feed the Flock the Gospel
The church’s beauty is demonstrated secondly by it appointing godly shepherds who feed the flock with the gospel. This is of course predicated on defending the truth for the sake of worship, but it is a further application of that reality.
Godly leadership begins with the appointment of elders, whether paid or voluntary. “A church radiates the beauty of Christ only when they are faithful to appoint men who themselves are beautiful in character and holiness,” or to put it another way, their “heart must beat in rhythm with the heart of Christ, both privately and publicly” (p. 49). The ministry of elders is then supplemented by the ministry of deacons, and there the church must appoint individuals who “beautify the church by caring for those who have no one else to care for them” (p. 50). These different offices in different, but complementary, ways guard the church and promote its beauty.
One facet of the beauty of godly leadership is found in their feeding those in their care with the gospel. Leaders who hold fast the gospel message serve both God and his people:
No church has the freedom to tamper with, tweak, add to, or subtract from the good news of Jesus Christ—we are just to herald it. For there is nothing more beautiful and lovely in the sight of God than the extricating of sinners from the kingdom of darkness and delivering them to the kingdom of light. (pp. 59–60)
It therefore befits elders and deacons to resist promoting their own agendas and champion only one: the gospel. After all, “Feeding the flock of God is a fundamental duty in contributing to the beauty and loveliness of the church. As God’s truth is proclaimed, men and women are saved and sanctified, and the church is made beautiful” (p. 56). Those who are fed the pure unadulterated gospel, by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit, are saved and sanctified. This is beautiful.
The next time you are weighing up the beauty of a local church, ask two questions: Is it defending the truth for the sake of worship? Is it led by godly shepherds who feed the flock the gospel? If the answer to these two questions is yes, the church is beautiful.
Questions for Reflection
- Is the Bible central to church life in your local church? How can you make it more so?
- When it comes to electing church leaders how might we avoid entertaining a popularity contest?
- Pray now for your local church, asking God to help it demonstrate its beauty by defending the truth for the sake of worship and by godly shepherds feeding the flock.