Fri, Apr 23, 2010 A Great Church – 1. A Place to Belong
Acts 2: 41 - 47
There is a sense in which we have become a church of friendly strangers. While it’s relatively easy to come to WPBC, it’s not always so easy to make friends and feel at home here. We’re hoping to change that. God made us as social creatures. No man is an island, no one is made to live entirely alone. We were made for friendship, for family, for deep, caring relationships. When we don’t find that, we search high and low until we do.
Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in. How refreshing to be with people and not have to pull out your CV to prove your worth. That is what the body of Christ is.
Acts 2 offers us a snapshot of the early church. This is the very earliest picture of what Christianity looked like in the beginning. I am impressed by the first and last verses of this passage. v.41 tells us the church began with 3000 conversions in one day. v.47 says that people were being saved daily and added to the church. In between describes what happens when God breaks loose in a group of ordinary men and women. This is not religion or ritual but the reality of Christ at work in the midst of his people. With this as the foundation, let’s look at 5 marks of a great church.
1. Solid Grounding in the Word of God v. 42
The early believers devoted themselves to the “apostles’ teaching.” They put a high priority on knowing the truth. Sometimes you see churches with names like “Apostolic Church of God in Jesus’ Name” and you wonder, “What makes a church apostolic?” A church is apostolic if it follows the teaching of the apostles found in the NT. To the extent that we at WPBC follow the NT, we are an apostolic church.
This means that the Word of God must be the foundation of the church. We do not depend on the latest poll or public opinion to decide what we believe or what we will do. God still guides his church today through his inerrant, inspired, totally truthful Word.
We must seek to know what God has said in his Word and then prayerfully apply it to our own situations.
Our conviction is that all life is sacred in the eyes of God and deserving of our protection. We oppose legalised abortion. Where did that conviction come from? Certainly not from our politicians. We came to that truth by simply reading the Bible and discovering what God says about unborn human life. Ditto for homosexuality, adultery, lying under oath, and a host of other contemporary vices that grip our nation. We aren’t confused about any of those things because we can read the Bible. Therefore, we don’t appoint task forces to decide what we believe about abortion. We simply stand on God’s Word without regard to whether or not this makes us popular with the powers that be.
Some churches would not agree. At WPBC we are progressive in methods but conservative in our theology. As the old hymn says, “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in his excellent Word. What more can he say than to you he hath said, to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?” If this be true, then each person should ask this question: Am I learning more about what God says and how to apply it to my life?
2. Vital, Life-Transforming Worship v. 42, 46, 47
Vital worship played an important role in the early church. Our text makes this clear in 2 ways. v.42 and 46 mention “breaking of bread"—probably a reference to a meal followed by the Lord’s Supper. v.47 adds that they were “praising God.” The passage seems to suggest a sustained atmosphere of praise and worship that permeated the early church. They didn’t have just 1 “worship service” but evidently gathered daily to sing, praise, and share the Lord’s Supper together. One gets the sense that this was –
A. Active Worship. “Worship is a verb.” Implies activity – clapping, raising hands, bowing, kneeling and so on. When I preach, you should let me know how I’m doing - listen and say “Amen.” Respond in words and actions.
B. Uplifting Worship. v.43 says that people were “filled with awe” as they met together. People came with a mix of fear and
excitement, wondering what God would do next.
C. Attractive Worship. v.47 - the early Christians had “favour with all the people.” Even unbelievers were amazed by the things they heard and saw and wanted to know more about it.
This is not an issue of style. After all, the worship of Acts 2 was synagogue worship brought over into the early church. If we were somehow transported back in time, we would not understand their songs or the Scripture reading or the sermon. Yet God blessed their worship and infused it with his Holy Spirit.
Simple test for worship: Does our worship whet our appetite for God? Biblical worship lifts you out of your own world and creates in your heart a hunger to know God better. Style is almost irrelevant as long as people come into contact with the living God.
3. Caring Relationships with Other Believers v. 42, 44, 46
v.42 tells us that the first believers were devoted to “fellowship” - means to share something in common. The passage fleshes out this concept as we learn that they were “all together” (44), they met together in the temple courts (46), and they ate together (46).
This passage mentions 3 times that they ate together. One gets the idea that shared meals played an important part in the life of the early church. Eating together is one mark of a united church. Sometimes people grumble about it. But it’s not just a psychological fact that people like to eat together. It’s not just a gastronomic reality. It is also a biblical truth. In the earliest days of the church Christians ate together. I believe that the church that eats together will stay together, will play together, will pray together, will grow together in every sense of the word. The early believers were all together all the time.
The church is a “community of faith.” This idea of togetherness is so important because we live in increasing isolation from each other. Our technology has made it easier than ever to avoid human contact. Look at the average family. We have our own cars, our own rooms, our own phones and computers. We can work at home if we want, thus avoiding the messy problem of dealing with people face to face. Our quest for more privacy has come at the cost of enormous personal loneliness.
Here is the question to ask yourself: Who encourages me and holds me accountable in my Christian walk? God never intended that you go it alone. If you can’t answer that question, you need to reach out and start building those relationships.
4. Seeing the Power of God through Prayer v. 42, 43
The early church was devoted to prayer. But don’t skip past the next verse because there may be an important connection. “Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43). I wonder if those 3 things shouldn’t go together: Prayer … Awe … Wonders and Signs. Is it possible that miracles happened precisely because the believers prayed so fervently that an atmosphere of awe made such things possible?
Matthew tells us that Jesus was not able to work many miracles in some cities because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58). Could such a thing be true today? I know it’s possible to go off on a tangent about “signs and wonders,” but I also think it’s possible to go off on a tangent in an unbelieving direction as well.
I will leave you to ponder the matter yourself. But let us recall the words of Jesus as he cleansed the temple: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). Christ intended that his people would pray and that as they prayed, they would pray for the nations, and people from all the nations would come and pray with them. It is no exaggeration to say that the Christian church was conceived in a prayer meeting.
By the way, do you know how to get rid of your enemies? Pray for them! That’s what Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, 45. It may or may not change them, but it will certainly change your heart attitude. You can hate your enemies or you can pray for them, but you can’t do both at the same time.
A great church devotes itself to prayer. And while a church may be large and active without prayer, it cannot be truly great without prayer. The question is very simple: Where have I seen God at work in my life in answer to my prayers?
5. Practical Ways to Minister to Others v. 44, 45
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Some say this was an early form of communism. That’s wrong. However, it does suggest a “commune-ism” of sorts in the early church. Evidently the believers lived together—or perhaps in close proximity to each other. Certainly they combined their resources to meet the needs of the poor in their midst.
I find it most interesting that as far as we can tell, no one told them to do this. They evidently did it on their own. Such a concept seems foreign to modern Christians—especially those in the West who value their personal possessions as part of our birthright. Why give up your hard-earned rands for the sake of the poor? In Acts 2 the answer is simple: They valued people over possessions. They must have taken Jesus seriously when he spoke about not laying up treasures on the earth. This teaching is very threatening to many people today so it is easier to find a way around it than to deal with it. While I agree with those who say that we are not commanded to do exactly as they did, I also think we shouldn’t ignore their example either.
So the question is this: How are you using your gifts to help others in a practical way?
Acts 2 paints the picture of an attractive church. Here is a church with no building, no paid staff, no programs, no choir, no organ, no band, no contemporary worship, and most amazingly, no web site. Yet they seemed to get along pretty well. 3000 people joined the church in one day and people were being saved by the Lord and added to their number daily. That’s not bad, is it? Wouldn’t you like to be part of a church like that?
They had none of the “stuff” we consider so crucial—yet they reached people by the thousands. I’m not arguing that the “stuff” is bad, only that their “stuff” (the 5 points I mentioned) is better than our “stuff.” Ours is external—theirs touches the spirit.
Perhaps this explains why the church is growing fastest in so-called “third world” countries where they aren’t encumbered by the “stuff” we have. (I’m not arguing that these external items aren’t useful for the gospel. They are, but they don’t constitute the heart of a great church.)
So what made the early church so attractive? It comes down to one thing and one thing only: They shared a common faith in Jesus Christ. On the Day of Pentecost, people gathered in Jerusalem from all points of the compass. The early church sprang from a “mixed multitude” of differing ethnic groups, skin colours, cultures, and languages. Their shared faith in Christ drew people to them.
Here are 3 key words that reveal the “secret” of the early church: Unified … Magnified … Multiplied. The believers were unified, Christ was magnified, and the church was multiplied. The world has nothing like that. It can counterfeit that reality, but it can’t duplicate it.
What does a great church look like? Here is the answer from our text: Founded on the Word of God, Practicing vital Worship, Promoting caring Relationships, Devoted to Prayer, Ministering to those in Need
Where those things are present, these 5 results are sure to follow:
1. Healthy on the inside 2. Attractive on the outside 3. Filled with joy 4. Continual conversions 5. Presence of God everywhere
What happened in Acts 2 is not unique. It is possible whenever the church is the body of Christ and not simply an institution. This is God’s plan. It still works today.
“Our Father, we pray to be this kind of church and this kind of people. We read these words and our hearts cry out for this kind of reality. Show us anything in our church that hinders your work. Open our hearts to one another and to you. Make us of one mind and one heart. May unbelievers be attracted to Jesus by what they see in us. Amen.”