The Pattern for Church Growth (3)
…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… Ephesians 4.13
This must be read in immediate connection with what goes before; as if he had said, ‘What is the highest perfection of Christians? How is that perfection attained?’ Full manhood is found in Christ; for foolish men do not, in a proper manner, seek their perfection in Christ. It ought to be held as a fixed principle among us, that all that is out of Christ is hurtful and destructive. Whoever is a man in Christ, is, in every respect, a perfect man.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 4.13
From unity to maturity
In churches where truth provides the foundation and framework, grace governs all relationships, and peace increases individually and throughout the congregation, there a platform of unity can be constructed, on the basis of which a mature body of believers can rise.
Healthy, growing churches are churches where unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God are a defining feature and continuous objective. Without such unity, it will be impossible to lead the church to those higher marks of maturity which indicate a congregation growing “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
We must work hard to maintain such unity by keeping it continually in focus and shoring up any chinks that may appear in that platform. We cannot take this duty for granted. By continuous instruction, through the promotion of fellowship and mutual love, by example of church leaders in all areas of ministry, and working with every member of the congregation, we must make sure that truth, grace, and peace are flowing together unto unity, for without unity, no church, regardless of its size, can be said to be truly healthy.
On the platform of unity, then, church leaders must work to shape the congregation unto maturity in Jesus Christ. This entails four areas of congregational growth and development, each of which is achieved, sustained, and advanced by truth, grace, and peace.
Marks of maturity
A healthy, growing church is continually making progress in Christlikeness. In Ephesians 4.13-16, Paul is not describing the development of individual believers in the image of Christ. He is outlining that to which we all (v. 13)must come in the Body of Christ as that Body takes on more of the marks reflective of increasing Christlikeness. He indicates four markers toward which church leaders and members must work.
No longer children. Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews all complain about those believers and churches which have become stunted as infants and youth in their growth in the Lord. Churches must not be content for members or for the congregation as a whole to be children in the faith. Children lack discernment, tend to be undisciplined, make foolish choices, drift easily into wrongdoing, and shun hard work and responsibility. They must be taught in their youth to overcome these sinful tendencies, or they will never achieve the maturity of responsible adulthood.
So it is also with churches. Churches that are no longer child-like are keen on truth, abound in grace, and share the peace of Christ. They make wise choices; they are sensitive to matters of right and wrong and truth and error, and know how to come down on the side of wisdom in all their decisions and actions. They worship in full understanding of the purpose of worship; participate actively in being and making disciples; and maintain an active and fruitful witness in their community. We must build on the unity our congregations enjoy to promote such corporate spiritual growth in discernment, wisdom, and responsible church life.
Speaking the truth in love. Churches that have discernment and are responsible and maturing in all aspects of church life will speak the truth in words of grace, and that both within the congregation itself and beyondthe congregation in the larger community.
The grace church members share with one another in their times of study, fellowship, teaching and learning, worship, and hospitality will be characterized by conversation and activities designed to build others up in Jesus Christ. Similarly, when church members are dispersed throughout the community in the places that make up their individual callings, they will always be ready to share the hope that is within them, and to share that truth with grace and peace.
Congregations that are growing into Christlikeness have, like Jesus, lips flush with truth, grace, and peace, which they use to edify one another and to proclaim the Good News of Jesus in their community.
Every joint supplies. In a healthy, growing church, every member has discerned his or her place of ministry and is working diligently and fruitfully to serve the Lord there (more on this topic next time). In too many churches, 20% of the people do all the work while 80% regard themselves as the objects of the ministries of the few. This is not a mark of congregational health. Where truth, grace, and peace pervade and flourish, there everyone will hear the Lord’s calling to His Kingdom and glory, and stand forth to be sent as He was sent into their own part of His Kingdom field (1 Thess. 2.12; Jn. 20.21).
Increase of itself in love. Consequently, a church that is maturing in Christ in these ways will be characterized by love for God and neighbor above all else. All the forms of one-anothering, burden-bearing, mutual edification, shepherding, and sharing will exist and abound as the love of Christ flows throughout all the members of the congregation, increasing devotion to God and commitment to the Body of Christ.
These are the marks of Christian maturity. They have nothing to do with how many people identify with or attend the church, how many staff or facilities the church supports, or how contemporary or innovative it is in its programs and ministries. They have everything to do with truth, grace, and peace being worked like leaven throughout the loaf of the congregation, so that the whole body together grows into “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Pastoral Hope Initiative
Prayer for Revival: A Jonathan Edwards Reader
Studies in Christian Worldview
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“He exhorts them to strive to attain to the perfecting of faith, the essence of which is to hold fast to Christ as true and perfect God. Do not measure him by some human measure. Measure yourself by regarding him as perfect God in the fullness of his deity.”
- Ambrosiaster, Epistle to the Ephesians 4.13
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).
Maturity in Christ
- T.M. Moore
- June 28, 2018
From a platform of unity, churches can grow on to maturity in Christ.
The Pattern for Church Growth (3)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.