Posts Tagged 'church growth'

Biblical Church Growth, Conclusion

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Here’s what Jesus said about church growth:

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 NKJV)

Our Lord made it crystal clear that it is His church and He is One building it. We forget that. The church you attend isn’t “your church.” The church I pastor isn’t “my church.” All churches belong to the Lord. They form His Body – the Body of Christ. Jesus is interested in His church growing, both in terms of spiritual maturity and in numbers, and He has given His church certain gifts to make that growth happen. Jesus builds His church but He does it through its members as they take advantage of the many gifts the Lord has given. Here is a sampling of those gifts:

Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God’s people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. (Ephesians 4:11 TLB)

God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, then prophesy whenever you can—as often as your faith is strong enough to receive a message from God. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If you are a preacher, see to it that your sermons are strong and helpful. If God has given you money, be generous in helping others with it. If God has given you administrative ability and put you in charge of the work of others, take the responsibility seriously. Those who offer comfort to the sorrowing should do so with Christian cheer. (Romans 12:6 – 8 TLB)

To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching, and this is his gift from the same Spirit. He gives special faith to another, and to someone else the power to heal the sick. He gives power for doing miracles to some, and to others power to prophesy and preach. He gives someone else the power to know whether evil spirits are speaking through those who claim to be giving God’s messages—or whether it is really the Spirit of God who is speaking. Still another person is able to speak in languages he never learned; and others, who do not know the language either, are given power to understand what he is saying. It is the same and only Holy Spirit who gives all these gifts and powers, deciding which each one of us should have. (1 Corinthians 12:8 – 11 TLB)

There are other spiritual gifts, but these are the ones most Christians are familiar with. God has given all Christians spiritual gifts to be used within the context of a local church. These gifts aren’t used in your office or at the library or in line at the grocery store. If you are a Christian, then you have at least one spiritual gift, but probably more than one, that God wants you to use in your church. When church members are obedient to the Lord in using their gift or gifts in their church, then their church will grow. It has to. God said it would.

Mature and immature members

As a church grows in both spiritual maturity and in numbers, all of a sudden there will be a mixture of mature and immature members in that congregation. It takes time for a Christian to become spiritually mature and we all mature at different speeds. Some Christians never mature. These “babes in Christ” love the Lord, they’re born again, they’ll go to heaven if they drop dead tomorrow, but even though they’ve been saved for 25 years, they’re still immature. Who knows why? These “babes in Christ” are the bane of my existence, and they may be yours, too. What do you do with them?

The Bible tells us that we who are strong must bear with those who are weak. Church growth takes place when strong members understand the weakness in others. For example:

  • There will always be a segment of the church that will be immature. They are the new converts who haven’t had time to grow yet. They are the worldly-minded members who make it to services on Sunday but that’s it. They don’t really have a relationship with the Body of Christ outside of that one, single hour on a Sunday. They are the members who rarely study or even read the Bible at home during the week. There will always be members like this in every congregation, and we who are strong must bear with them and help them to grow. We can’t punish them or ignore them.
  • As a church grows, sometimes things can get messy. Proverbs 14:4, in its own quaint way, gives us a precedent: Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox. Just so.
  • New members may be rough around the edges. Maybe they’ve had no good Christian role models and no discipleship since they found the Lord. Sometimes these new members are part of families that don’t understand what the Biblical roles of husband/wife/father/mother/children should be.

It takes time for Christians to grow and mature in the Lord and we who are strong must work with them. It’s not just the job of the pastor or of the elders. The apostle Paul – a strong member – understood this:

Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:1, 2 HCSB)

Spiritually weak and immature Christians are always, without exception, the cause of problems within a local church. That’s not to say that’s their intent, mind you. Sometimes it may be – some immature members are so because they are troublemakers – but generally speaking, in their ignorance these spiritual infants cause problems arising from their immature state. The solution to this problem are the mature believers in the congregation. As Paul wrote, “we who are strong” ought to be the ones reaching out to those who are weak. We are the ones who are to take the initiative. Paul uses the strongest word possible: obligation. The apostle is not making a suggestion here. Strong Christians are to bear with the shortcomings of the weak in love and understanding.

Does this mean if a weak member is engaging in some sin, we who are strong ought to ignore it? Of course not! Paul’s admonition here must be taken in context. Here is what he is getting at. We who are strong may have no issue with, say, listening to secular music on AM radio. But an immature believer may take issue with it – he may view it as being a sinful habit. We who are strong need to take HIS issue into consideration. When he is present, we refrain from turning the radio on. In love, we respect his feelings on the matter. To do the opposite – to keep the secular music blaring while he is present or to make fun of his belief as being infantile – is viewed as “self pleasing” or selfish.

This is what Paul means by “pleasing your neighbor,” or fellow member of the Body of Christ. In time the weaker member, with growth and maturity, may very well change his views on secular music. In the meantime, because we who are strong reigned in our freedom in Christ (to listen to secular music, for example), we kept a weaker member in church; we didn’t offend him and cause him to leave.

I used the example of secular music, but there are hundreds of things as innocuous as that hackneyed example that challenge a weaker believer’s faith.

Restoration

What if a fellow member has fallen into some sin? Does the church simply write him off? Again, we turn to Paul for a dose of ecclesiastical theology:

Dear brothers, if a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help him back onto the right path, remembering that next time it might be one of you who is in the wrong. Share each other’s troubles and problems, and so obey our Lord’s command. (Galatians 6:1, 2 TLB)

It’s supposed to take a lot of work to be a member of a church! All this caring and respecting; it’s a lot more than just showing up to listen to a sermon. We’re supposed to be watching out for each other’s spiritual well-being. Being a member like that is, as Paul put it, “obeying our Lord’s command.”

To another church, with a whole different set of problems, Paul wrote this pithy admonition:

Dear brothers, warn those who are lazy, comfort those who are frightened, take tender care of those who are weak, and be patient with everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:14 TLB)

Nowhere in that verse do you see the words “mock” or “cajole.” Instead, we get the impression that, again, the onus is on we who are strong to respect, care for, and love those who aren’t. The tendency is for the strong to expect too much from the weak. No church will grow in that atmosphere.

Don’t get frustrated!

It sounds like the spiritually mature and strong members of a church have a heavy responsibility. They do indeed.

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:9, 10 NKJV)

Paul wrote that because from time to time we do get tired. It’s not easy being a mature believer sometimes. It takes constant effort. But if you want your church to grow and if you want to honor the Lord, you’ll do what Paul says. You won’t grow weary. You’ll find the strength in your spiritual gifts.

The problem some churches have is that its strong members get weary. And they get frustrated and they get disheartened. Their solution is to just up and leave. They want to find a church where they’ll be appreciated.

But that’s not God’s solution.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58 NKJV)

Look at the words that describe spiritually mature Christians: “steadfast,” “immovable,” “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” To be “steadfast” means to be “personally faithful,” it means you will “stick to it.” Being “immovable” suggests staying faithful no matter what. It means remaining clearheaded and objective. It means remaining grounded on the Word of God. And “abounding” means that if you are a mature Christian you will always go beyond the minimum requirements. It means you’ll do more than enough.

And you’ll have to. There are plenty of immature believers in our churches and it’s our job to help them grow and mature in the Lord. There are more of them than there are of us. We have our work cut out. But Paul encourages us to keep on doing the work of the Lord; it will pay off.

There is help

…glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. (Ephesians 3:20 TLB)

Whatever you need, God is able to supply in abundance. You need wisdom? He’ll give you more than you think you need. You need strength? He’ll give you more than you ask for. You want to do more for your church and for other believers? God will supply you with what they need.

And that’s why a church that allows the Holy Spirit to move and work within its members is a church that grows, both in spiritual maturity and in numbers.

 

Biblical Church Growth

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Back in the late 1950’s, Universal International released one of my all-time favorite golden age science fiction movies: The Incredible Shrinking Man. Because of a freak accident – sailing his boat into a cloud of radio activity, because that happened so often in the 1950’s – a man begins to shrink. He gets smaller and smaller until he literally vanishes. It’s a creepy film, and of course it’s preposterous. But back then, Universal International made a fortune cranking out these types of crazy, highly entertaining sci-fi movies.

Equally as creepy, but not at all preposterous, is the phenomenon of our times: the incredible shrinking church. Never before in the history of the America has the church of Jesus Christ had less influence than it has today. Almost without exception, although there are some, every denomination in this country is experiencing a decline in membership. Some are declining fast. The Presbyterian Church (USA), for example, is disappearing before our very eyes after committing a kind denominational suicide. But they aren’t alone. Name any mainline denomination you can think of, and you may be sure their numbers are shrinking.

Generally speaking, the influence of all institutions in this country is shrinking. We’ve entered a very cynical phase in American history, or maybe even world history, where people no longer trust or even respect once-venerated institutions. Trust in the government, for example, is at a historic low. That’s understandable given the many scandals of late and the glaring incompetence on constant display in Washington DC. Trust in the media has never been lower. Who thinks they are getting the straight scoop in any newspaper or TV newscast? Banks and insurance companies are not trusted. And forget about “big pharma!” Jack Weinberg, a student activist and advocate of free speech on the campus of Berkeley back in the mid 1960’s, coined the phrase:

Never trust anybody over 30.

Well, he’s now in his 60’s and he is in good company insofar as his philosophy is concerned. These days, nobody trusts anybody or any institution, including the church. And that’s a big reason for the decline in membership.

It’s interesting to see how different churches have tried to buck this shrinkage trend. We have the oddball “seeker sensitive” movement and the unlikely “non-church church” movement. We have denominations that have become so worldly, anybody deviant may join in. We have churches that resemble concert halls and pastors that resemble aged rock stars. Churches do these dopey things to attract more members.

Not that there is anything with wrong with church growth. The Lord wants His people to grow individually and He wants them to grow corporately. He wants His Church to grow and He has given special gifts to churches to make sure that growth occurs:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:11 – 14 NIV)

The last phrase there, “each part does its work,” is important. It says every church member is to use his spiritual gift or gifts within the context of his local church. When that takes place, the church will grow. There is never an exception to this. But it’s not automatic. When church growth doesn’t occur, there may be a reason for it:

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:19 NIV)

Again, it’s that last phrase that’s important: “God causes it to grow.” That’s not an insignificant point. It’s God who causes a church to grow. But, as Paul told the Colossians, if we lose our connection to the Head of the church, Jesus Christ, we won’t grow. When we don’t grow, at best we become stagnant, and at worst we turn into “the incredible shrinking church.”

We don’t want either of those things to happen. And they are both completely avoidable.

Each member must do his share

A church will grow – it must grow – when each member does his part as a member of the Body of Christ, not just a member of his local church.

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16 NIV)

You see, Paul understood the life of the Church in organic terms, not in organizational terms. A truly healthy church lies within the purview of the Holy Spirit working through each member of the Body of Christ. In other words, while it is correct to say, “God builds His church,” it’s not correct to think He does it in a vacuum. God does build His church, but He does so through its members, as they exercise the gifts He has given them.

These spiritual gifts, by the way, are within every single born again believer. There isn’t a Christian alive who has no spiritual gift. All Christians have been given spiritual gifts to varying degrees for the sole purpose of building up his or her church. That being true, each member of the church has a job to do that goes beyond warming up a pew every Sunday.

God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, then prophesy whenever you can—as often as your faith is strong enough to receive a message from God. If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If you are a preacher, see to it that your sermons are strong and helpful. If God has given you money, be generous in helping others with it. If God has given you administrative ability and put you in charge of the work of others, take the responsibility seriously. Those who offer comfort to the sorrowing should do so with Christian cheer. (Romans 12:6 – 8 TLB)

In this passage, Paul describes a total of seven spiritual gifts that have been distributed to members of the church. There are other spiritual gifts mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament (see the lists in: 1 Corinthians 12:8 – 10, 28, 29; Ephesians 4:11), but my point is each member has a function within his or her church. When a member fails to exercise his or her gift or gifts, something will be missing from that church – something God wants that church to have. When a Christian fails to affiliate himself with a local church, it’s not an exaggeration to say that that Christian is robbing a church of something God intends for it to have. A Christian who habitually skips church services is selfish and narcissistic, caring only about himself. If he cared for other Christians, he’d be in a church and he’d be exercising the gifts God has given him.

Don’t believe me? Read on:

Don’t just pretend that you love others: really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with brotherly affection and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically. (Romans 12:9 – 11 TLB)

Contextually, this takes place in a church. There is more to the church than a place where offerings are taken up, couples are married, and then buried. The church is the one place on earth where a Christian may participate fully in the ministry of Jesus Christ through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I cannot conceive of how miserable a Christian is who doesn’t go to church. The Spirit within him is grieving, and he can surely feel that. What kind of person can continually turn a deaf ear to the call of the Holy Spirit? What kind of person thinks nothing of grieving the Holy Spirit week after week after selfish week?

Every member is important!

Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together. So it is with the “body” of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12 – 22, verse 12 cited TLB)

The church cannot do without a single member! You see, a church is like a human body. That’s why we call it “the Body of Christ.” The human body has all kinds of different parts and each part is important. In a church, there are all kinds of different people with all kinds of different spiritual gifts and all those people are important in the life of that church. Dr. McGee tells an interesting story about this very subject:

After I had spoken at a baccalaureate service in a prep school in Atlanta, I went to a doctor’s home for dinner. He asked me if I knew which was the most important part of my body while I had been speaking. I guessed it was my tongue. “No,” he said, “the most important part of your body today was a part nobody would think of. It was your big toe. If you didn’t have a couple of big toes, you wouldn’t have been able to stand up there at all.

Even members you never really see doing anything, may be doing a lot. We can’t all be preachers, thank goodness. We all have different gifts and they’re all important, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the church. Churches grow when members let the Head of the Church work through them.

Instead, we will lovingly follow the truth at all times—speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly—and so become more and more in every way like Christ who is the Head of his body, the Church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly, and each part in its own special way helps the other parts, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (Ephesians 4:15, 16 TLB)

There’s no selfishness there, is there? Christians – church members – are to worship together, exercising their spiritual gifts together, and growing in strength together.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12, 13 NKJV)

God is doing the work in us and through us as we participate in the life of the church. This kind of growth can’t take place outside of the church. That’s why you don’t find mature Christians out of the church. They’re the ones in the church.

Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father, the God from whom all help comes! He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God. Just as we have a share in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. (2 Corinthians 1:3 – 5 GNB)

There is no denying that something special – something supernatural – takes place in the church. Members are nourished from above and from within and from each other. With all that going on, that church is bound to grow, both spiritually and numerically. But if members don’t do their part, the church’s growth will be stunted. Fact is, the church is woefully handicapped by lazy or nonfunctioning members. Even the best of churches will never reach its potential when it is being hindered by selfish members, always wanting but never giving.

STUDIES IN ACTS, PART 4

 

MARKS OF A DYNAMIC CHURCH

Acts 2:37—47

In some senses, the Church of Jesus Christ has never had it so good. We, as Americans, are fortunate to be living in a country that, for the most part, does not stop us from engaging in many different forms of evangelism. Given our freedom to do the work of the Lord, why are so many churches struggling to survive? With three hundred million citizens in the country, why isn’t every church in America flourishing and growing?

The answer to that question comes to us when we study what made the early Church tick. Many churches today use various “business” models to promote growth, but Peter and the apostles didn’t have any “business” models to emulate. All they could do was simply trust in the Lord and use the only resource they had: the Word of God empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Dr. Luke, chronicler of the early Church, gives us a kind of check list of what that Church did, and what they did caused them to experience incredible success. Before looking at the good doctor’s check list, it should be noted that everything the budding Christian congregation did in the first few days after the Day of Pentecost they did in response to Peter’s sermon. It wasn’t the Holy Spirit alone that caused the early Church to grow, it was a combination of the power inherent to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)

This was the initial response to Peter’s sermon, the listeners were “cut to the heart.” That phrase comes from a long Greek word katanysomai, and it’s a very strong verb seen only here in the New Testament. It means “to pierce, to sting sharply, to stun, to smite.” This is the most vivid description of the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting the human heart of sin in the entire Bible. So deep was the anguish of the people that they cried out, “What shall we do?” Peter’s inspired answer gives us the marks of a dynamic church.

1. Repentance: “Repent…” (verse 38)

The essence of the people’s question was,  “How can we receive forgiveness of sins and find salvation?” Peter answers their question simply and to-the-point. The very first thing they needed to do was repent. The Greek word Peter used is metaneo, which means “to change your mind,” or we might say “change your way of thinking.” Peter urged his listeners to change their minds and attitudes with regard to Jesus Christ. Instead of rejecting Him, they needed to accept Him as Lord.

The fact that mataneo is written in the imperative, shows just how important it is. It is very first step any sinner must take in becoming a Christian. Repentance signifies that a person’s mind has been changed completely so that now he consciously and actively turns away from sin and to Christ as his Lord and Savior. But repentance isn’t just a first step, although it is that, it must be a continual state of being for the believer; he must live in repentance. Repentance causes a person to literally think and act in complete harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. This has to be done daily, as is suggested by Paul’s wonderful admonition in Romans 12:2a—

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

2. Baptism: “Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ…” (verse 38)

Peter continues with the next mark of a dynamic church: water baptism. As a public testimony of their repentance and new faith in Jesus Christ, Peter urged the people to be baptized in water. This was to follow repentance in the life of the Church just as it did in the ministry of John the Baptist:

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Mark 1:4)

Of course, water baptism was a very familiar religious exercise to the Jews; whenever a Gentile wished to convert to Judaism, he had be baptized in water. This showed to all that he was now in complete agreement with the tenets of his new religion. But this baptism was different; different even from John the Baptist’s baptism, for he never baptized anybody “in the name of Jesus Christ.” The word “name” is of vital importance in understanding what it means “to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.” That term, “name,” includes the full revelation concerning Jesus Christ. In other words, when a new believer is baptized “in the name of Jesus Christ,” he is, among other things, showing that he is now in agreement with everything Jesus taught and stands for.

Not only does water baptism identify a believer with the Person and teachings of Jesus Christ, it also demonstrates to all two things: (1) That a spiritual work was taken place inside the person. That spiritual work can’t be seen from the outside, so water baptism is a dramatic way to show everybody on the outside what has happened on the inside. (2) That this new believer is beginning his walk with Jesus Christ by being obedient to Him. It was Jesus’ wish that all of His followers be baptized in water, so by being baptized in water shows that we are being obedient to Him.

3. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (verse 38b)

The third point of Peter’s sermon is also the third mark of a dynamic church. Notice that Peter calls the Holy Spirit here a “gift.” Peter is not talking about “the Gifts of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:1; 14:1). The “gift of the Holy Spirit” (singular) is another way of describing what happened to the 120 believers on the Day of Pentecost. “The gift” is simply the Holy Spirit Himself given to individual believers to minister salvation and the benefits of grace and mercy of Christ’s redemption to those believers.

Being a gift, you don’t ask for it or pray for it; the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to you when you fulfill the prerequisite of being in a state of repentance. The “Gifts of the Holy Spirit” are something else altogether. While the gift (singular) of the Holy Spirit is given to the believer to work within him and to make the benefits of salvation real to him, the Gifts (plural) of the Holy Spirit are given to believers “for the common good” and these gifts are given sovereignly, “just as he (the Spirit) determines.”

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:11)

Paul, after listing all the Gifts (plural) of the Holy Spirit, urged his readers to pray that they would receive some of them—

But eagerly desire the greater gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:31)

So, while the gift (singular) of the Holy Spirit is a gift we get without asking for it, the Gifts (plural) of the Holy Spirit may be asked for and desired, and the Spirit in His wisdom will give His various gifts to the ones who will use them as He sees fit.

Further more, this indwelling of the Holy Spirit is considered by Peter to be, not only a gift, but also a promise. In what sense is the gift of the Holy Spirit a promise? Peter probably had in mind what Paul would later teach his Ephesian friends—

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:12—14)

4. Devoted to teaching, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (verse 42a)

This begins what distinguished the early Church from all other religious groups of the day. The members of this new faith were fervent about their new-found faith and that fervor was manifested in several different ways, first off by a serious study of “the apostle’s teaching.” That phrase means simply that these new believers turned continually to the apostles for instruction in the teachings of Christ. The fact that this is listed first among many distinguishing features of the early Church seems to indicate that learning the teachings of Jesus Christ was not only the focus of the Church but its whole reason for being. In other words, where the Word of God is not regularly taught and preached, no matter how many members or adherents a so-called church may have, it is not a church by New Testament standards.

5. Devoted to fellowship, “They devoted themselves to…fellowship…” (verse 42b)

It is significant that Luke places fellowship right after learning as something that distinguished the early Church. This idea of enthusiasm among believers for their faith was demonstrated in a common bond at worship, at meals, and in sharing their resources with each other. Christians then, as they should now, visibly showed their unity in Christ by being unified with each other.

6. Devoted to Communion, “They devoted themselves to…the breaking of bread… (verse 42c)

To say that is phrase “the breaking of bread” has been debated over the years among Bible scholars would be an understatement. On the one hand, some scholars think Luke was referring to an ordinary meal, either eaten at a central location (ie, a church potluck dinner) or meals eaten in various member’s home. These scholars see a link with fellowship; the idea being eating together in any location was part of the fellowship these early Christians practised.

On the other hand, there are scholars who think Luke is referring to a memorial meal, like our Communion service, where believers gather together to remember and commemorate Christ’s sacrifice. This seems to be the more logical choice, especially as it is followed by “prayer.” Also, in the Greek the definite article, “the,” precedes “bread,” making it “the bread,” which suggests that the early Christians partook of the bread, or special bread which had been set aside for a special purpose.

7. Devoted to prayer, “The devoted themselves to…prayer.” (verse 42d)

The text literally reads, “the prayers.” This probably refers to corporate praying, not private praying. In other words, these prayers would have been formal prayers. This makes complete sense. Most of these new believers came out of Judaism, a religion full of formal prayers. In their enthusiasm for their new faith, the new Christians took their old forms and reshaped them to fit their new beliefs. This again fits well with the notion of fellowship. Whenever the new Body of Christ met, they prayed together.

This, of course, does not mean these believers didn’t pray at home, but it does mean that the early Church was distinguished by their praying corporately.

8. Wonders and signs, “Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.” verse 43)

There is some debate as to whether “everyone” refers to members of the Christian community or to those who had not come to follow Christ. It probably refers to both believers and non-believers. When God’s Word was preached it was confirmed by signs and wonders, and these things were seen by both those who already believed and those who did not believe. Notice that these signs and wonders were performed by “the apostles.” This is in line with what happened in Mark 16:20,

Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.

When modern Christians read things like this, we wonder what’s wrong with the Church today? Why are there no “signs and wonders” accompanying our preaching? No matter how charismatic/pentecostal leaning you may be, it honestly seems that the signs and wonders of the early Church were unique to them, not to us. That is not to say that God has stopped answering prayers or that miracles of healing don’t happen today. But these early years of the Church were unique in God’s timetable, and they have never been repeated since. The infant Church needed special, divine help in those early days. Remember, they had no Bibles, no set doctrines they could turn to, no history to fall back on, no seminaries or minister training schools, they didn’t even have an infrastructure through which to evangelize. Everything the early Church did was “off the cuff,” they had to “learn by doing.” To help them, God gave authority to His Word through the manifestation of the miraculous. People would stop, listen, and many times heed the Word, not because they recognized it as coming from a holy book, but because the man preaching it was also healing the sick.

Today, the Church has the full revelation of the mind of God: the Holy Bible. The Church also has over 2,000 years of Church history to point to. When a preacher preaches from the Word, the Word is its own authority; the Word is its own confirmation; it needs no sign or wonder to verify it. In fact, Jesus talked about people who looked only for signs and wonders as a basis for faith:

Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” (John 4:48)

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” (Luke 11:29)

Furthermore, it seems as the apostolic church wound down, there were fewer and fewer miraculous signs. As the Church grew in numbers and became established, it seems as though the ministry of the Word was preeminent with no signs or wonders. The second-generation of pastors and teachers relied more on the exposition of God’s Word, the Old Testament and the new writings of Paul and the others, than on the miraculous. If signs and wonders were to continue indefinitely, then we have to wonder why, for example, Timothy was never healed of his stomach ailment and why Epaphroditus, a church worker and possibly a pastor, was deathly ill, and of course, Paul was never in the best of health, apparently, since he had his own personal physician traveling with him most of the time, Dr. Luke. If signs and wonders were to continue, there would be sick Christians today.

9. Generosity, “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (verse 45)

Luke is not teaching a kind of “Christian communism” here, or even “Christian socialism.” This sharing of resources was not a divestment of wealth; it was a willingness on the part of all believers to place their possessions at the disposal of all those believers who were in need. The aim of the early Christians was to abolish poverty so that the needy were no longer among them, and it seems as though they actually reached that goal:

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. (Acts 4:33, 34)

It’s interesting that this is totally different from how the Lord met the needs of the Israelites. When the Israelites traveled through the desert for 40 years, it was God who provided for them. They were all on the same economic level; there were no rich and no poor. Not so with the Church; from its earliest days, there were both extremes of the economic scale represented, and it was up to the members of the Church to look after each other. We learn later on that there are Gifts of the Spirit given to believers to help with that.

Luke does not say that the rich sold all their possessions, merely that from time to time, those with wealth willingly gave some of it into a kind of general fund, out of which those who had need could be helped.

10. Corporate worship, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.” (verse 46)

Here, Luke shows that the early believers in Jerusalem expressed their new faith through daily observance of the customs associated with their Jewish heritage. This gives us a glimpse into how these early believers thought of themselves: they had seen the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures in Jesus Christ. They met in the Temple courts, prayed, praised, and studied Scripture. For now, their lives were exemplary in every way and these new, enthusiastic believers didn’t pose a threat to the religious leaders.

Key is noticing that the early Church not only fellowshipped and worshiped at home, but also in public, regularly. This public, corporate worship provided a powerful witnessing tool. Their new faith could be seen by all. It would seem that this fact alone would drive a death knell in the modern “home church movement.”

11. Glad meal times, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God…” (verses 46b—47a)

This new faith caused love to grow among the members of the Church; it was as though they couldn’t get enough fellowship. Fellowship is important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the idea of accountability. When we fellowship with other believers, we will be apt to watch our behavior so we don’t have lots “explaining to do” when we meet with our Christian friends for dinner. Also, we human beings tend to become like the people we spend time with. It’s important that your closest friends be of the same faith as you, so that there can be a mutual encouragement experienced during times of fellowship.

12. Favor with other people, “…enjoying the favor of all the people.” (verse 47b)

Here is one mark of a dynamic church that doesn’t necessarily last all the time. It certainly didn’t for the church in Jerusalem, which would eventually be persecuted and driven out of town. Jesus Himself indicated that following Him could result in difficult times:

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

However, just because we may encounter “persecution” on account of our faith, that doesn’t mean we should expect it or do things to curry it. In fact, local churches should strive to have sterling reputations in their communities, while understanding that we can, in no way, control what anybody thinks of us.

13. Growth, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (verse 47c)

Here is a verse that is often misunderstood. It does not mean that a dynamic church is big church. It does not mean a dynamic church is always a church that is growing in numbers. All Luke is saying here is that those who were being saved were joining the church. Whether or not your congregation is growing is not necessarily an indication that your church is doing anything right or wrong. Today, the Lord is still adding souls to His Church and is still calling sinners to become citizens of the Great City called Zion. It is t the Lord who does the adding, not the pastor or the evangelist.

Having said that, if modern Christians were as committed to their faith as these early believers were, we no doubt would experience church growth similar to what they experienced in Acts. There are many “carnal Christians” in the Church today, and a “carnal Christian” isn’t just a person who thinks dirty thoughts all day long or engages in bad behavior. A carnal Christian could simply be somebody whose priorities are “out of whack.” It is the carnal Christian who seldom thinks about personal evangelism. It is the carnal Christian who can engage in a conversation on just about any topic but gets tongue-tied when it comes to talking about Jesus. Let’s take stock of ourselves to see if the witness of our faith measures up to the confession of our faith!

(c)  2011 Witzend

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