Following Jesus 173
Following Jesus: The Progress of the Pilgrim.
When we began this biblical study of Pilgrim’s Progress we began with the reality of the sinner’s great and heavy burden brought on because of the sinner’s sin. The only hope for relief from the burden of guilt and shame is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When God removes the sinner’s burden through the truth of the cross, the believer in Christ begins his/her journey to heaven. However, along the way the pilgrim encounters difficulties, spiritual battles with the devil, temptation from the world, and doubt and despair brought about by his own remaining sin. Is there any relief from this constant struggle? Bunyan believed there was. He it called this place of relief for the Christian the Delectable Mountains.
The Delectable Mountains, is also known as "Immanuel's Land." John Bunyan described it as a lush country from whose heights one can see many delights and curiosities. It is inhabited by sheep and their shepherds, and from Mount Clear one can see the Celestial City.
The Delectable Mountains depict and teach that there is a place or environment for the believer where he can find encouragement, knowledge, comfort, watchfulness and sincerity of other pilgrims. The Delectable Mountains is the church.
First of all, what are the characteristics of a church which does not necessarily indicate whether it is biblically healthy?
To begin with, money. A church’s great and abundant financial budget, resources and income does not mean it is biblical or healthy. In fact, Jesus praised the church in Smyrna, which was known for being persecuted and poor (Revelation 2:8-11). While financially poor, they were spiritually rich. In fact, the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:10 in describing in part the marks of a healthy church and ministry, “as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet making many rich, as having nothing, yet possessing all things.” Money and financial resources, while good, does not mean a church is biblical or healthy.
Additionally, size, or the lack thereof, does not necessarily mean a church is biblically healthy or unhealthy. Bigger is not necessarily better. As my friend and colleague of mine says, “Bigger and better may be very American, but it isn’t very biblical.” Many would point in objection that the Book of Acts records the number of souls saved as numbering in the thousands. (Acts 2:41, 47). However, this was the church at large, and not a church in particular. The numbering indicated what God was sovereignly doing in saving souls to become members of the universal church, and not necessarily a mandate for a particular church to focus on becoming numerically bigger. Large churches may not necessarily be alive and healthy, and small churches are not necessarily dying or dead.
Finally, popularity. If a church is enjoying widespread popularity among the culture or even the community, it may not be an indication it is biblically healthy. The question remains, why is it popular? Is it popular because it serves good coffee, possesses high energy music, and ministers to people who ride Harley Davidson Motorcycles? While these items are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves, they do not biblically indicate whether a church is healthy or not. In facts, the Bible says in James 4:4 that friendship with the world is to make oneself an enemy of God.
Then what are the indicators a church is biblically healthy? What then are the characteristics which make for a biblical atmosphere within the church for encouragement and blessing, which could be likened to Delectable (delicious, appetizing, delightful and appealing) Mountains? Let us examine Romans 1:1-15.
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