Contributor's Blog

The Legacy of a Church

July 7, 2019 • John Lathrop

The New Testament has much to say about the church. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus referred to the church as “my church.” This is most certainly true. Acts 20:28 tells us that the church was purchased with blood, more specifically it was purchased with God’s blood. This is clearly a reference to the blood of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul tells us in a number of places that Jesus is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18). Ephesians 2:20 tells us that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.” Later in Ephesians Paul tells us that Jesus feeds and cares for the church (Eph. 5:29). In God’s eyes there is only one church. He lives in it in that He indwells every believer (Rom. 8:9). From what I have written in this paragraph it is clear that Jesus is very involved with the church.

New Testament Churches

As New Testament history unfolds we find that churches began to spring up in various places in the first century world. Churches were planted in Jerusalem, Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica. It is also clear that there were churches on Crete (Titus 1:5). In addition to the churches mentioned in Acts and in Paul’s letters there are also the churches mentioned in the book of Revelation. In Revelation chapters 2 & 3 we find mention of churches in Ephesus (which Paul also addressed), Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The churches listed above are not the only churches that existed, there were others as well.

The Distinguishing Marks of Churches

Some first-century churches have earned a reputation for themselves. What I mean is that when you hear the name of the city that the church is located in a specific characteristic of the church comes to mind. For example, the church in Jerusalem might be remembered as the first Christian church. The church in Corinth might be remembered for one of two things. It could be remembered for its division (1 Cor. 1:10) or its wealth of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 1:7; see also 1 Cor. 12). The churches of Galatia might be remembered for their battle with the false doctrine of the Judaizers. And if one mentions the church in Laodicea many Christians will automatically think of the one word “lukewarm” (Rev. 3:16 NIV).

Contemporary Significance

Up to this point I have called your attention to biblical texts and historical facts about some of the churches mentioned in the New Testament. We are now going to move closer to home; I am going to speak about the contemporary church. Every church, regardless of where it is located, or which denomination it is part of, is writing its history. Stated differently, every church is establishing a legacy. This brings us to a question. This question should be answered by every believer, it does not matter if you are a church leader or not. The question is the same for all. What will your church be remembered for? Then there is a related, and perhaps more important, question. What would you like your church to be remembered for?

If what you will be remembered for is not what you want to be remembered for then change needs to occur. I assure you that your desires for your church will not just happen. Some effort must be given to pursuing the goals that you have for your church. Whether you realize it or not you are currently writing history, your congregational history. This will be part of your church’s legacy. The legacy of your church depends on the participation of each member of the body. Though leadership may have greater influence, all believers are called to contribute to the health, growth, and impact of the local church. If your church has had a positive history and impact in the past it will require continued labor in order to keep it and build on it. If the history and impact of your church is not what you would like it to be it will take effort to turn it around.

Either way the leadership and the congregation need to be engaged in building a positive legacy. There are no perfect churches, but the good news is that a positive legacy can be built as we respond in obedience to the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Pet. 5:4 NIV) of the sheep. God builds His church by His Word, His Spirit, and His people, even though we are imperfect human vessels. May what we are doing now be remembered fondly by those in the future. But even more importantly, may we receive the approval of our Lord, that we have pleased Him with what we have done.

John P. Lathrop is a graduate of Zion Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister with the International Fellowship of Christian Assemblies. He has written articles and book reviews for a number of publications including: the Pneuma Review, the Africanus Journal of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Christian Trends Magazine, in India, and Berita Mujizat and Jurnal Jaffray, both in Indonesia. He is also the author of four books.