In this month’s little letter, I’d like to begin by sharing a passage from a book. The book in question is called, The Church – its polity and ordinances and it was written in 1879 by Hezekiah Harvey. It’s a riveting read! The chapter that I’m sampling deals with the fundamentals of what it means to be part of a church. Harvey explains that church members should be unified behind certain common goals:
Membership, therefore, involves a personal obligation to promote the objects of the body as expressed in the covenant. These objects are three: 1. The social, united worship of God . . . 2. The perpetuation and diffusion of the gospel . . . 3. The sanctification of its own members . . . The church, thus comprehensive in its scope, looks upward to God, outward upon the needs of a lost world, and inward to the processes of sanctification in the souls of its own members; the neglect of any one of these grand objects of its organization imperils its whole design.
Hezekiah Harvey The Church, 1879, reprint 1982, pp. 35–36
In short, we are to be tirelessly engaged in worshipping God, evangelising the world and lovingly nurturing those who have accepted Christ as their Saviour and Lord. Simple and brilliant!
When I came across this passage several years ago, I was very excited by it. It dawned on me that Harvey had, in fact, summarised many of the books that I’d read about church management in a paragraph. To give a single example, Rick Warren published The Purpose Driven Church 116 years after Harvey published his book. Warren asserts that there are five elements – or, as Harvey would have said, ‘grand objects of its organisation’ – that ensure the health and growth of a church. According to Warren, we should be:
- Warmer through fellowship
- Deeper through discipleship
- Stronger through worship
- Broader through ministry
- Larger through evangelism
Harvey’s words encompass Warren’s points: 1 and 2 in ‘nurturing’, 3 in ‘worship’, and 4 and 5 in ‘evangelism’. This, of course, does not detract from Rick Warren’s excellent book and the many ways in which the Lord seems to have used it as a blessing to local churches. My point is simply that a century has not altered the fundamental components of what churches should be doing. In fact, it could be argued that Church has always been about worship, evangelism and nurture. Matthew 22:37-40 states:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’
The greatest commandment is to worship! Similarly, Hebrews 10:24-25 encourages us to nurture our Christian brothers and sisters:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
We are persistently exhorted to stand alongside Christ in proclaiming His coming kingdom and His great sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Evangelism is encapsulated by Jesus’ beautiful words in Luke 4:18-19
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
The observations of Harvey (and Warren and many similar others) could be described as essential realisations for any church. If our gathering fails to genuinely worship, fails to proclaim the Good News and fails to offer care for its members, then we are in danger of coming to a miserable end. If, however, we can gather with a common desire to: ‘look upward to God, outward upon the needs of a lost world, and inward to the processes of sanctification in the souls of [our] own members’, then we can expect the health and growth and endurance of our fellowship.