According to Philip Yancey, here are three signs of a healthy church:
(1) Diversity. As I read accounts of the New Testament church, no characteristic stands out more sharply than this one. Beginning with Pentecost, the Christian church dismantled the barriers of gender, race, and social class that had marked Jewish congregations. Paul, who as a rabbi had given thanks daily that he was not born a woman, slave, or Gentile, marveled over the radical change: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
One modern Indian pastor told me, “Most of what happens in Christian churches, including even the miracles, can be duplicated in Hindu and Muslim congregations. But in my area only Christians strive, however ineptly, to mix men and women of different castes, races, and social groups. That’s the real miracle.”
Diversity complicates rather than simplifies life. Perhaps for this reason we tend to surround ourselves with people of similar age, economic class, and opinion. Church offers a place where infants and grandparents, unemployed and executives, immigrants and blue bloods can come together. Just yesterday I sat sandwiched between an elderly man hooked up to a puffing oxygen tank and a breastfeeding baby who grunted loudly and contentedly throughout the sermon. Where else can we go to find that mixture? [Ben’s answer: A hospital waiting room, but more on that a different day. There appears to be a good analogy there.;-)]
When I walk into a new church, the more its members resemble each other—and resemble me—the more uncomfortable I feel.
(2) Unity. Of course, diversity only succeeds in a group of people who share a common vision. In his great prayer in John 17, Jesus stressed one request above all others: “that they may be one.” The existence of 38,000 denominations worldwide demonstrates how poorly we have fulfilled Jesus’ request. I wonder how different the church would look to a watching world, not to mention how different history would look, if Christians were more deeply marked by love and unity. Perhaps a whiff of the fragrance of unity is what I detect when I visit a new church and sense its “aliveness.”
(3) Mission. The church, said Archbishop William Temple, is “the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” Some churches, especially those located in urban areas, focus on the needs of immediate neighborhoods. Others adopt sister churches in other countries, support relief and development agencies, and send mission teams abroad. Saddest of all are those churches whose vision does not extend beyond their own facilities and parking lots.
In my visits I never found a perfect church (nor should we expect to, if the New Testament gives any indication). But when tempted to judge, I simply remind myself that disappointment with the church traces back to God’s own bold experiment: to allow ordinary people like us to embody his presence on earth.
Read the whole article: Denominational Diagnostics.