The Difference Between an Outwardly Prosperous Church and an Inwardly Healthy Church

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile

I love the Church. And because I love the Church, I long for both her health and her peace. Sometimes in discussions with other people who love the Church, I find myself in some disagreement. Sometimes the disagreements are major and substantial—we see the world very differently. Sometimes the disagreements are matters of degree or emphasis—we see the world largely the same way but we lean in different directions.

I’ve sometimes been puzzled about why people who love the Church and want its health and peace find themselves at odds. This morning I’m convinced that sometimes the disagreements arise because we can use “health” and “peace” as synonyms when they’re not.

On Peace and Health

Many people think the church is healthy simply because there’s the absence of conflict. The members generally get along. They enjoy gathering together for praise and preaching. They cooperate on church projects and activities. No one seems to be upset or dissatisfied, and perhaps the church is growing, too.

That’s peace. Peace is beautiful. Peace is precious. We should do everything to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

But peace isn’t health. The health of the church is determined by its conformity to the Bible’s teaching at a number of points: faithfulness to the Bible’s teaching and the gospel; qualification and responsibilities of leaders; the progressive sanctification of its members; the practice of membership and discipline; and even the governance of the church. A church can be at peace while false things are sometimes taught, unqualified or disqualified leaders are at the helm, discipline and love are missing, and the church’s government is more worldly than biblical. People can get along and even grow in number despite all those things being out of whack. That’s because God is gracious.

But such a church is sick. It’s like a man who outwardly appears healthy, strong, active and full of life. But at his next doctor’s visit finds out unseen cancer cells have been devouring his bone marrow. You wouldn’t know he was sick looking at the way he enjoys life and peace. But inside he’s terribly unhealthy.

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SOURCE: The Front Porch