Back To The Basics ~ Acts 2: 42-47
My candidate sermon at St. Luke Joy in September of 2019 was on this text. For me, this is the gold standard passage for a church body (any group of believers). Luke gives us an inside look at the essentials of the early Church – what were they doing? What was their mission statement? Here we see the 'why' behind our purpose as a body. In this passage, we are given/shown all the tools and markers needed to be an obedient congregation. All things build upon or flow from such devotion.
This text clearly shows a simple 'if - then' equation – one we should have faith in! IF we commit to these things – THEN this will be the results! It seems so simple! Yet – how often we fail at living up to this standard. We try to make Church so bloody complicated! We lack faith in the process and struggle to trust God. We always want to add to the Apostle's model (even though they learned it from Christ!) We move things around, take out ideas, or add other priorities.
Beloved, hear this text as a reforming call back to the basics. Consider this text - a test/filter that we should always use to guide our goals. What then are the essential marks of a healthy, gospel church?
1.) The Apostles' Teaching
First and foremost, they continued steadfastly/devoted (single-minded faithfulness) in the apostles' doctrine – that is, the twelve and those that were with Jesus in His ministry. They relied on the apostles to communicate to them who Jesus was and what He had done. They relied on their witness! Jesus sent out the seventy with this word, in Luke 10:16, "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me."
Teaching and growing in understanding is vital to Christian discipleship. Jesus did not just say to make converts and move on – He said 'make disciples – teaching them to OBEY EVERYTHIG I have commanded to you' (Matthew 28: 19-20).
How has the Apostle's teaching been given to us? How are we taught these things? Via their written testimony in the Holy Scriptures. We know that their testimonies and letters were carefully written down and passed through the early Church. We have more manuscripts (copies) of these testimonies (gospels) than almost any other ancient text.
Even the Apostle Paul wrote of the 'passed on' teaching. In 1 Corinthians 15: 3-4, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (OT), that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures."
It is, therefore, the pastor's/teacher's job to be unoriginal, in the sense that we don't have our own doctrine, but the apostles' doctrine.
2.) Fellowship of Believers
Our God – is a God of fellowship. His very being exists in the perfect fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God created us to not only be in fellowship with Him but with others. It is built into our very DNA – isolation can kill us/drive us mad. No man is an island. The first thing 'not good' with creation was that Adam was alone.
Even Jesus did not operate in isolation. Since He was 100% human – He felt and needed fellowship – remember when He was praying in the garden? Matthew 26:40, "Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Couldn't you men keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter."
Has not the Covid-19 pandemic taught us this truth? Sure – you can get some teaching online or through the T.V… but you CAN NOT get fellowship! And you cannot get teaching that knows you and has fellowship WITH you. Church (the ekklesia) is not just about hearing a message – it is about BEING together – DOING life together – sharing and carrying each other's burdens.
We see the natural overflow of good fellowship in 44-47. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people."
The Church is meant to worship God and learn His Word together, but it is meant to do more; God wants us to share our lives with one another. Our culture is dying for such fellowship. Everyday technology has made us more isolated and lonely. We all drive into our garages, shut the door, turn on the T.V. and go to bed. This is not how it should be!
Depression, anxiety, mental illness, suicide – is all rising because we are failing to emphasize genuine gospel fellowship! Do you know that when you fail to show up on Sundays, Wednesdays, or for various events, that you harm your brothers and sisters? It is like an empty seat at the dinner table. The body suffers from your absence. Fellowship is not a suggestion in Christ's Church. Fellowship is not an option – it is essential!
We can do a better job of this at GlenHaven. Start by inviting someone to lunch after Church. Invite a person you do not know very well at our Church to your house for dinner. Start a small group Bible study or game night. Make time for others – encourage others – fan the flame of Christ in one another! Don’t wait or expect your pastor to do all the fellowship for you - Or innate it. Fellowship is on YOU!
Our fellowship is unique – it is not like the world's fellowship of darkness. The Greek word for fellowship is 'koinonia,' having the idea of association and participation; it means to share in something.
As Christians, we share the same Lord Jesus, the guide for life, love for God, desire to worship Him, struggles, victories, job of living for Him, and the joy of communicating that gospel to others/each other.
Hebrews 10:24-25, "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
3.) Communion (the breaking of bread)
Part of our fellowship together is taking part in the scarcement (an act of divine grace) of Holy communion. This was likely a shared meal that led into a time of remembrance and acting out of the last supper. This was done in accordance with Christ's commands (Luke 22:19).
During the time of communion, we not only remember the sacrifice of Christ – but spiritually commune (dine) with Him and all believers across the world. Communion is quite literally being served every second of every day around the world.
Communion is not to be taken lightly. It is a sacred command and action. It represents repentance, sacrifice, grace, and faith. Paul gave us specific instructions for this meal in 1 Corinthians 11. Communion is not a suggestion, meant to be placed to the side or in the back of the Church or self-served. It must be blessed appropriately, along with a gospel presentation and call to repentance. Paul speaks of the dangers in taking this lightly, 11:27-32,
"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world."
Failing here – we fail everywhere. Prayer is the furnace of gospel community. There is nothing more powerful than a community in prayer. A praying church is a terrible thing to the forces of evil.
God invites us into a relationship with Him. He has made/making intercession for us. When we pray, it is the same as when the high priest came before the Ark of Covenant after making the appropriate sacrifices. It is like standing on mount Sinai with Moses. – in fact it is better! What an honor! What a privilege this is! Not only that, but we have the Spirit of God interceding for us!
Paul says in Romans 8: 26-27, "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God."
Here we see the primary purpose of prayer. Not that God is our wish maker, or magic genie in the sky- prone to our desires but rather – when we pray – we become aligned to God's will! Prayer changes us!
Oswald Chambers said, "Prayer is the exercise of drawing on the grace of God." God speaks through prayer – the Spirit recenters us, hears us, and speaks for us and enhances our faith.
Are you in a community of prayer? Are you praying with others? Start a prayer group! Come to church prayer events. There is nothing as powerful as believers united in prayer. Once again – don’t wait for your pastor or session to do this for you – take initiative.
When we devote ourselves to the Apostle's teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer – things happen! This is our calling – this is what the Church is to look like. We must never lose these marks. The Spirit of God communes and saturates such a community.
(v.43), "Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles." If you devote yourself to these things, you will see God's hand at work. The people lived in a holy awe and reverent fear (Phobos). The Church operated under a supernatural expectation – that God was with them and in them – able to overcome/transform any barrier or situation.
(v.47), "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved." This is God's prescription for church growth. If we take care to follow the model of Acts God will take care of growing the Church Himself. All growth is artificial unless God does it. God will pull His people into His community. He will grow a community that is obedient to relationship with Him.
We do not want artificial growth at Glenhaven. We want disciple-making. I want to see a healthy church – under the Lordship of Christ. I'd rather have five honest, healthy, Christ-followers than 500 entertained, un-saved, unhealthy Jesus/Glenhaven fans. We are not fans – we are followers, servants – family – the body of Christ Jesus.