7 To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[c] that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. 14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians,[d] both to the wise and to the foolish. 15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.” (Romans 1:7-15 ESV)
The Delectable Mountains, also known as “Immanuel’s Land.” It is 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 explain the encouragement, knowledge, experience, watchfulness and sincerity of the church. The church are the followers of Christ. They are disciples of Jesus. This includes both pastors and parishioners. Both clergy and congregation.
It is within the regular gatherings of the church that each member is encouraged in their daily walk, given knowledge from God’s Word to discern truth from error, to be mutually strengthened by shared experiences in order to comfort one another, to provide careful watchfulness in order to guard the young and weak from evil and wrong, and to sincerely acknowledge and confess our sins while at the same time seeking to make things right.
The relationship between a church’s leaders and the congregation is a special one. It can be and is the source of great blessing and encouragement. It is one which the Apostle Paul and the Church in Rome were well acquainted. Paul loved them and they him, even though at the time of his writing a letter to the church, he had yet to personally meet them. Amazing.
First of all, what are the characteristics of a church which does not necessarily indicate whether it is biblically healthy? You may be amazed.
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. 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.”
Pastors and church leaders are grateful for the faithful giving of God’s people here, and the ministries conducted because of people’s faithfulness. However, 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 Pastor Randy Smith 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, this does mean that 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? No offense to those who ride Harley Davidson Motorcycles.
While these examples are not necessarily wrong in and of themselves, they do not biblically indicate whether a church is, or is not, healthy. In fact, 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?
More to come. Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!