ARThe Household of GodChurch growth cannot be simplistically quantified. Find out how the church must grow in unity and love.How do we measure "church
growth"? Beyond growing numbers and physical expansion, the development of
the church Christ expects is the maturity of all the members. In His prayer for
His followers, the Lord asked that "they may all be one." Unity is the divine expectation of the
Lord for His household—and it is manifest by our love and magnanimity
towards each other.
Pick up any tract that introduces the church, and you will learn that the True Jesus Church was established in Beijing, China in 1917. Three of the early workers, once affiliated with other denominations, received the Holy Spirit and the revelation of the perfect truth concerning salvation. Under divine guidance, they set up the true church and began to preach the complete gospel.
By 1994, by the grace of God, the church had spread to over twenty countries in five continents with over 70,000 members in the free world. New church buildings are being continually dedicated to the Lord, and new members are being added to the fold. Although it seems that the church is progressing, should church development be gauged just by the number of church buildings and the size of its membership? Are they the only yardsticks?
In many cases, church dedication is the result of months and even years of preparation by local members. First, a suitable building has to be found or designed. Then, there is the construction or refurbishment work which requires funds. Finally, the actual dedication service itself has to be planned, and the logistics carefully worked
out to prevent any mishaps on the actual day. All these activities require manpower and dedication of the members. The rate of membership growth is indicative of the evangelistic spirit of local believers to propagate the salvation of God through special meetings, pamphlet distributions, personal preaching, and so forth. The dedication and zeal of the members should not be belittled.
But surely church progress extends beyond magnificent church buildings and membership size. Rather, the spiritual development of every individual member should be the determining factor. After all, the word "church" refers to a sanctified assembly redeemed out of the world by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus (Acts 20:28), rather than merely a Christian place of worship. When the members of this assembly remain "babes in Christ" (1 Cor 3:1), impressive chapels and expanding congregations are irrelevant. The question remains: are we still "babes in
Christ"? Where do we stand in relation to the expectation of the Lord Jesus towards His church?
The Lord Jesus, knowing that He would soon be separated from His disciples and
that they would encounter new challenges to their faith, did what every teacher who loves his students would do. He turned to the One whom He knew could help—He prayed to His heavenly Father. And in this prayer, we can see what was most important in His mind because He returned to this point again and again. In John 17:11, He asked His Father to "keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are." This phrase appears again in John 17:21 "that they all may be one", in John 17:22 "that they may be one", and in John 17:23 " that they may be made perfect in one." The unity of His followers is a key theme of His prayers. They have to be united, so "that the world may know that You have sent Me" (Jn 17:23). Today, His followers of the end time have to live up to this divine expectation.
Consider the church of the apostolic era. The author of Acts records how the believers were "of one heart and soul," and that there were no needy persons among them. All those with the means would take care of those in need, and everyone shared the same community spirit (Acts 4:32-35). Not only that, they also genuinely cared for one another's well-being. So when Peter was arrested, the believers made "earnest prayers" for him (Acts 12:5). Because of all that, the Lord blessed them and worked mightily among them. Many received strength and power from above to preach and perform miracles. What about the church of the end time? After all, she is the revived apostolic church, which according to one prophetic pronouncement, is to be even more glorious and splendid than her predecessor (Hag 2:9).
The experiences of the early church have shown us that unity is a vital key to achieving spiritual excellence. Believers of this common faith have to live together in harmony as the one family of God, with the love of Christ as their guiding and motivating force. If the church fails to be united, individual members would become easy prey for the devil. As the Lord Jesus once said: "the house that is divided will not stand." Indeed, there is much truth in the saying: "united we stand, divided we fall."
Church unity is a subject matter well expounded on numerous pulpits of the True Jesus Church. Ask any regular
churchgoer and he will tell you the need for church unity and quote you bible verses to support this assertion. On the surface, at least, we may conclude that the church is united. After all, are the members not working in church together? We all appear to be working comfortably with each other in discharging our responsibilities. But unity is more than just outward. More importantly, it is an attitude of the mind. The apostle Paul understood this and thus he encouraged the Corinthian believers to be united "in mind and thought"
(1 Cor 1:l0). Outwardly, we may appear to get along with one another and serve the Lord together, but just as important is whether we share the same rapport deep in our hearts. How does one really feel about their fellow brethren? Is there true unity "in mind and thought?"
In a typical church, we will find among its congregation believers of various age groups, different family upbringings, and varying levels of education.
Yet true unity can still exist despite these differences. What it requires is for us to remember that by the amazing grace of God, we are members of His household.
in Love and Care for Others
We are of one spiritual family, and the rapport we have with our brethren within this spiritual family should be even stronger than the one we have with our own physical family. When we truly care for one another the way we would our own flesh and blood, then we are on the right track towards achieving true unity. This is because when we truly care, our actions towards one another will be born of love. When one of our brothers fails to keep the words of God or does wrong, we have to counsel or even reprimand him. Our words, no matter how serious, will be underlined with love and compassion. As part of the process, we will also search our hearts to examine whether we have done our part in praying and taking care of him. Perhaps if we had spent more time talking to him and building up a better relationship with him, he would not be in this position now. If we really care, we will not be quick to judge or to condemn. We will not be applying God's righteousness too liberally and forgetting His mercy. Instead, we will give equal importance both to the righteousness and mercy of God, and not exercise one without the other.
When we truly care, our words and deeds will be sincere, reflecting how we feel in our hearts. For example, consider the times when we greet a brother at church and ask after his well-being. Do we really care how he is doing from the depths of our hearts? Are we really concerned about his well-being? Or is our greeting a mere formality, something that is expected of us as True Jesus Church members? In truth, does it really bother us that this brother is going through a difficult period? We tell ourselves, everyone has his own problems; his affairs are not my concern. The way we think and feel will tell us whether we are genuinely concerned brethren, or mere hypocrites who do not mean what we say.
Moreover, as members of God's household, our care has to extend beyond those whom we like and can get along better with because we share common interests. It has to encompass those whom we do not really like, those with whom we do not always see eye to eye, and even those whom we may, at times, find quite irritating. In other words, we have to reach the stage where we accept our brethren the way they are. It doesn't stop us, for example, if that brother is very conservative in his thinking, or that this sister is too outspoken. We can still care for their spiritual and physical welfare. If they ever need us, we will be there for them.
Genuine care also requires that we be more sensitive towards the needs of others. It requires that we get to know one another. This is because if we shut ourselves away in our own world, oblivious to what goes on around us, we shall never know who is missing from church services, and we shall never notice those "little ones" who do not have many friends, who quietly come and go each week. We have to have fellowship, so that we can understand others' needs. Only then can we become the good Samaritan, not the indifferent clerics.
in Magnanimity towards Others
In this results-oriented world of ours, human magnanimity is fast becoming a rare virtue. Society has taught us that regardless of our efforts, it is the bottom line, the profit margin or the end result, that matters. If we fail to deliver, we are deemed unsuccessful, even though we may have tried our very best and have worked faithfully and loyally to the best of our abilities. If we are not careful, such a mindset will enter the church and hinder spiritual growth.
In many aspects, members today are more blessed. We have more opportunities to study the Bible through organized activities such as spiritual meetings, bible camps, short-term theological seminars, and Religious Education classes. These spiritual activities enable us to build up our knowledge of God. We develop better understanding of our roles as Christian soldiers of the last days. We strive to propagate the gospel, and participate in different aspects of the church ministry. We set high standards of what the church of God should be like, in line with the teachings of the Bible.
Overtime, as we become more involved in the church and our interaction with other church workers increase, we may come across areas that fall short of our expectations. We do not see the results that we expect. We become impatient with the current condition of the church.
Instead of finding positive ways to help the church overcome her inadequacies, we may just sit there and express our dissatisfaction over the way things are. We forget Jesus' teaching on the discharging of one's duties in the holy work. In the parable that centered on service in Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus' main emphasis was always on the faithfulness and loyalty of the servants rather than on the outcome, because the servants have been given "each according to his ability" to serve the master. Today, we have to be magnanimous enough to acknowledge that perhaps our brethren have tried their best, based on the abilities that God has given them to carry out the church work. When we see that there are areas that require improvement, we willingly provide whatever assistance that is needed to help the church prosper. It is easy to give armchair criticisms, but such comments are not beneficial and may even harm the church.
Magnanimity is one virtue that cannot be absent in any family, let alone the family of God. We have to learn to be more tolerant of the failings of others, while upholding the words of God. The strict code of conduct and high spiritual standards that we may set for ourselves cannot be applied to others blindly, without first considering their different circumstances. Until we learn to practice magnanimity, the church's spiritual prosperity will not be an achievable reality.
Many signs of the last days, as prophesized in the Scriptures, are already being fulfilled. Whether we realize it or not, time is not on our side. We cannot afford to be complacent, thinking that we are already saved since we are members of the True Jesus Church, and all we need to do now is to build more church buildings and increase the congregation numbers. Quantitative growth in itself is insufficient. It has to be complemented by the qualitative growth of each and every one of us. We have to assess where we stand in this aspect. Are we really united as a church? Do we truly care for our brothers? How magnanimous are we towards one another? Answers to these questions may indicate whether we, as a church, have made any spiritual progress.