Friday, 13 March 2009

The New Testament church in Acts...

June 18, 2008

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim In the light of His glory and grace.
Oh soul are you weary and troubled, no light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!"

Still thinking about the whole “our church” thing, I don’t think the big deal is to decide to stay or leave… the deal is to walk with You moment by moment, day by day…

If You keep taking us to “this church”, then we walk with You, worship You, focus on You, be centered on You there (and then we will also by extension be part of the body-life as we reflect You and Your love to others); if we happen to end up somewhere else while walking with You, that’s okay too… as long as it’s because You’ve walked us there… not because of “our preferences”!

We are responsible primarily to YOU! We are to be where You place us! Even where You have placed us, You are the Center.. if we keep our eyes and heart focused on You, obedient to You, trusting You… then we will share, take part in, the body-life in the way that You want us to.

And if people say, “But we need you to…” then we just take it to Jesus – and if He walks us into it, we go ahead – and if He doesn’t, we just say, “I have to obey God rather than man… Perhaps He has someone else for that “job” … or perhaps He is starting something new or different, and that job/ program/ whatever has finished its usefulness for this time.” Of course, not everyone will understand… but our first responsibility is to God… and He promises to lead us by His Spirit! (John 16:7-33) (and Psalm 91)

When I read of the New Testament Church in Acts, I see:

- many saved (proclamation of the Word by the power of the Holy Spirit – people were evangelized first – and then brought into “the church gatherings” for edification, teaching, growth, to be served and to serve, and for worship!

Acts 2:42-47 The new church:
- Who? The apostles and all those who believed (under the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - in unity, One God)
- When? In the days following Pentecost (the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and dependence upon Him is foundational and ongoing – and critical)
- Where? Jerusalem initially (but then scattered abroad to the ends of the earth as God worked and led [He is in control!] through earthly events and circumstances to spread his Word and His Church – one great body, yet in so many places and throughout time)
- What? Believed, baptized, learning doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, wonders and signs, unity, shared all things, daily in the temple [as long as it was available] , eating together, glad and sincere, praising God, favor with all the people, more people being saved daily as THE LORD ADDED, one mind
- Why? Obedience to the command of Jesus
- How? By the power of the Holy Spirit

Also: Acts 4:22-31 prayed… and kept on praying.. and were given boldness to witness for Jesus as they were filled (and kept on being filled!) with the Holy Spirit – even witnessed before their enemies, the religious rulers, etc.

Acts 4:32-37 all believers share all things in common, so there are no needy among them

Acts 5: 1-13 holiness (purity) required: people died when they tested the Spirit of God (lied to the church – and to God) – sin not tolerated

Acts 5:14 ff:
- held in high esteem by the people (exemplary lives, miracles, etc)
- multitudes being added (by the Lord!)
- signs and miracles by the apostles
- healing from physical illness and unclean spirits
- rescued from prison by the angel of the Lord
- witnesses of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, exaltation, purpose
- rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name
- taught Jesus as Christ every day – where? From house to house and in the temple (which at that time was NOT the “church building” but rather the major gathering place of all the people of that Jewish theocratic nation [might be the equivalent of the malls and business and entertainment areas of our materialistic nation!] – the temple was a “house of prayer” and the place of Jewish sacrifices, not a "church building"

Acts 6:1-7
- as problems arose in the church, they were dealt with as:
- the 12 apostles summoned the congregation (“multitude”) of the disciples
- the problem was explained
- the leadership refused to water down their ministry of the Word and prayer by taking on responsibilities that others could handle: they devoted themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word
- the congregation selected men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, to be put in charge of the needs of the body (but not of buildings, programs, etc.)
- the apostles prayed for them and laid hands on them (a kind of ordaining – sending forth under the power of the Spirit – not just for the preachers)

Acts 6:8ff – even Jewish priests were being saved
- Stephen (not an apostle!) performed great signs and wonders, and spoke the Word powerfully by the Spirit and wisdom

Acts 8:1-8
- great persecution of the church in Jerusalem
- those scattered preached the Word wherever they went
- many signs and wonders through Philip
- crowd responded as they saw the signs
- people baptized in the name of Jesus: then the apostles laid hands on them and prayed for them to be filled with the Spirit

And so on….

In the Acts and in the epistles, in the descriptions of actual “gatherings” of the church , we read of:
- several people giving, by turns, a word from the Lord
- scripture
- teaching by mature believers (also took place individually, in homes and as people worked together, etc)
- songs, hymns, spiritual songs – led by various individuals within the group … as the Spirit led
- prophecy (bringing a Word given by God – sometimes about the future)
- words of wisdom, knowledge, tongues and interpretation
- all things done for edification, not for monetary gain, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not for personal attention
- orderliness (take turns!)
- “testing the spirits” (does what is being said and done line up with God’s Word? With Jesus’ teaching and life example? With the Holy Spirit’s speaking to the body?)
- subjection of women to their husbands
- principally met in homes (thus numbers were limited in the gatherings), sometimes in outdoor places
- ate meals together – shared their food etc
- celebrated the Lord’s Supper together
- local churches would be started by one evangelist/ missionary/ apostle (or a small team working together) who would stay long enough – a year or two – to teach (daily!) the new believers – even work with them in their jobs! Share meals together, etc – then appoint (under the Spirit’s guidance) men worthy to become elders, to continue to lead and teach,
- the church itself was the gathering of believers for fellowship and body ministry – not essentially an evangelism tool: evangelism was done out in the community – Jesus commissioned all believers to be His witnesses, wherever they were, wherever they went

Does this sound like “church” as we are familiar with it? If not, do we just quit and become “free range Christians”? (Is that biblical? How does it line up with the scriptural injunction to not neglect the gathering of yourselves together?) Do we start new gatherings of like-minded people? Do we window-shop at other gatherings to see what God is doing there and where we might fit in? (Hopefully NOT because we happen to personally prefer what their program ‘does for me”…) Do we stay put and pray for a moving of the Holy Spirit – upon ourselves and those we are among?

I think that these are different possibilities (and surely there are many others!) … and I think that it is NOT up to us! It’s up to God… what’s up to us is to stay in close personal relationship with Him, keep asking Him to keep filling us with His Spirit – “ask and you shall receive” – keep trusting, obeying, growing in faith and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ – carefully listen and follow day by day, moment by moment, the leading of the Holy Spirit, not worrying about “down the road”?

And loving and serving the brethren (and proclaiming the gospel/ witnessing to others in our daily lives) as God leads us and gives us opportunity, day by day, moment by moment, wherever we are.. reflecting and sharing His love, serving God and others, under God’s direction and the Spirit’s power, just as Jesus did! I think THAT is church!

Let God be in charge!
Walk toward Him in the light!
Love Him, abide in His love… and love His body, His family… and share His good news with others! Amen!

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