When we speak of marks of a church we are speaking of its various principles, characteristics, and practices, which work together to make it a healthy or sound church. So, we are answering the question, What does a healthy church, according to the Bible, look like? Acts 2:41-42 serves as a summary of important marks of a healthy church – teaching, fellowship, ordinances/sacraments, prayer. The following includes these marks and more. Many of these marks are closely related, and it goes to show the interconnected nature of the life of the church. While the following marks are not total or complete, they do represent a true and healthy church.
1. Sound Teaching and Understanding of the Gospel
An essential mark for the existence of a true and healthy church is its embracing of the biblical gospel. The gospel is the message of Christ that pertains to salvation, and therefore the gospel is fundamental to a church’s vitality (life and growth). Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Tim. 1:13-14; Heb. 2:1; 5:11-14; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; Jude 3
2. Proper Administration/Observance of the Ordinances
The ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper are for those alone who have made a valid profession of faith. They are a sign and means of God’s grace upon his covenant people. They are accompanied with the word (Scriptures) and sustain and strengthen our faith with the word.
- Baptism 28:19; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12; 10:42-48; 16:30-33; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12; 1 Pet. 3:20-22
- Lord’s Supper 22:14-20; Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 11:23-26
3. Church Discipline
Christ is concerned with the purity and faithfulness of his Church. The practice of church discipline is one way in which this purity and faithfulness is maintained. This is closely related to the previous mark (proper administration of the ordinances), as baptism is to be withheld from those who have not a valid profession of faith, and the Lord’s Supper is to be withheld from those who have previously made a profession of faith but are living in open and unrepentant sin. The final stage of church discipline is the removal of the person(s) from the fellowship of the church. The purpose of church discipline, however, is not retributive but restorative – the hope that the person(s) will eventually be restored to the fellowship through repentance. Matt. 18:15-20; Acts 5:1-11 (This seems to be a unique event that was obviously not restorative.); 8:18-24; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 1 Tim. 1:3-11; Tit. 1:5-16
As Christians, we are united together as a body, the body of Christ. We are a fellowship, sharing a common bond – one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. God does not save us and leave us to ourselves; he brings us into the fellowship of his people. Christians are not to live independently from the rest of God’s people. Baptism itself, which is not a private ordinance, is performed by another, in the presence of the church, and therefore it entails membership into a local body of believers and submission to the church leadership. Jn. 13:34-35; Acts 2:41-47; Eph. 2:19-22; 4:1-16; Heb. 10:23-25
5. Separation from the Ways of the World
This does not mean separation from the world, for we would have to be taken out of the world. It is separation from the ways (ideologies and practices) of the world that are contrary to God and his word. In other words, there exists a concern for continual holiness and righteousness. This mark is, of course, closely related to the mark of church discipline. Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Eph. 4;17-5:21; Col. 2:6-8; 1 Pet. 2:9-12
6. Plurality of Elders
While a church may exist without elders in its early stage of life (at its first planting), it must work toward discerning men who are spiritually qualified and gifted to serve in the office of elder/overseer/pastor/preacher-teacher. The biblical model is that of a plurality of elders who fit certain moral, ethical, and ministerial qualifications. Prov. 11:14; Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9; Heb. 13:7, 17, 1 Pet. 5:1-4
7. Centrality of Preaching
The word of God is central in the life of the church, and therefore pastors must make the preaching of the Scriptures of central focus and importance in its worship. Why? It is God’s word, and as God’s word it is truth, authoritative, powerful, and effective; it creates, saves, instructs, and edifies as the Holy Spirit works through the word. For at least these reasons, the preaching of the word should be central in the life of a church. A church that is centered on the word, and putting the word in practice, is sure to be a healthy church. Ps. 19:7-11; 33:6; 119:9, 11, 105; Ezek. 37;1-10; Jn. 17:17; Acts 6:4; 1 Thess. 1:4-5; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 1 Tim. 3:15; 2 Tim. 3:15-4:5; 2 Pet. 1:2-4
Essentially, prayer is communication with God in the name of Jesus Christ and in reliance on the Spirit. Prayer expresses our dependence upon God, for we lay our requests before him, trusting that he will answer our prayers according to his will. Biblical prayer consists of adoration toward God, confession of sin, thanksgiving for God’s grace and mercy, and supplication (or request) both for ourselves and for others. This can easily be memorized with the acrostic, ACTS: Adoration. Confession. Thanksgiving. Supplication. God also works through our prayers to accomplish his purposes. It is important that we pray both individually and corporately, and that when we pray we do not do so in order to show off our religious devotion, but endeavor to do so with humility and a focus toward God. Ps. 5:2-3; 145:18-19; Prov. 15:29; Dan. 9;1-23; Matt. 5:44; 6:5-13; Mk. 11:22-26; Acts 1:14; 4:23-31; 13;3; 14:23; Rom. 8:26-27; Eph. 6:18; Phil. 1:4, 4:6; Col. 4:2-4; 1 Thess. 5:17; Jms. 5:16-18; 1 Pet. 3:7; Jude 20
Fasting is abstinence from food, and sometimes water, for religious purposes (e.g. repentance, humility, mourning, ministerial wisdom). Although fasting is not as vital and regular as is prayer, this does not mean that fasting is not important for the Christin life (both individually and corporately). A church should be willing to commit to fasting when there are important ministerial decisions to be made, or when repentance is needed. It is important to keep in mind that fasting is often accompanied with prayer and worship. The physical act of fasting has no spiritual merit in itself, but must reflect our heart’s attitude and have the intent of seeking God (drawing near to him), for then God will bless it. Fasting, like prayer, is to be done quietly, not boastfully. Deut. 9:18-19; 1 Sam. 7:4-6; 1 Kings 21:25-29; Ezra 8:21; Neh. 9:1-3; Ps. 35:13-14; Isa. 58:1-12; Jer. 36:6-9; Matt. 4:2; 6:16-18; Acts 13:2-3; 14:23
10. Evangelism and Missions
The Great Commission is Christ’s mission for the whole Church. This, however, is played out by the faithful obedience of local churches as they pray for and actively work toward the expansion of the gospel both locally and abroad, among the nations. While sending missionaries to other places of the world, especially to unreached peoples, is important and necessary, not every local church will have the means to do so. At the very least, every church should serve as salt and light in their immediate communities, as well as commit to praying for other churches and missionaries in the gospel ministry. Matt. 5:13-16; 28:17-20; Mk. 16:15-16; Lk. 24:46-49; Jn. 20;21; Acts 1:8; 13:1-4; Rom. 15:20-33; Col. 4;2-6; 3 Jn.