Intro: If we wanted to begin a “church of Christ” in another community how would we accomplish it?
Our question concerns a local church. Only God could begin or establish His church. We noticed that historic event as recorded in Acts 2 in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit directed this event. But Jerusalem was not the only church of the NT. The scriptures use the word church to describe local assemblies of God’s people. There are churches of Christ today. How are these churches established? Is there a connection between the original church at Jerusalem and this church here?
- “Established 33 A.D.” – really? How can that be?
I. The Planting of the Seed. The Beginning of the church at Jerusalem provides a pattern for churches today. We cannot teach the nature and work of the church apart from the Jerusalem model.
A. But local churches of Christ today are not dependent on establishing some type of line of succession, imagined or real, from the church of the first century. Catholicism teaches that God intended to guarantee the progression of the unaltered truth to future generations through an apostolic succession from the first century to today. The original apostles appointed bishops and deacons in the church, who then also appointed bishops and deacons to replace them, down to our day. Thus the church, under the supervision of these apostolic successors, became the source and guardian of the truth.
1. One of the so-called church fathers, Irenaeus of Lyons, who was a student of Polycarp (who, in turn, was the student of John the Apostle) wrote: “Those that wish to discern the truth may observe the apostolic tradition made manifest in every church throughout the world. We can enumerate those who were appointed bishops in the churches by the apostles, and their successors down to our own day, who never taught, and never knew, absurdities such as these men produce. …[I]t is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church-those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father.
2. There were no Popes for the first 600 years. No way to affirm a succession of Popes back to the apostles. The Bible does not support this doctrine. Apostles were qualified to be such by being eye-witnesses, and no mention of succession. They witnessed to others through the scriptures.
3. How then can a church today claim any solidarity with the church of the NT? The credentials that apply here are explained by Jesus in the parable of the soils… Luke 8:11 – “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” A true church of Christ is no built through its association with any other church.A true church of Christ is validated through its relationship with Christ alone…
B. The growth and reproduction of the church is dependent on the seed – the word of God. Acts 8:1-4 “Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. Satan may have thought that if he could destroy or disrupt the Jerusalem church that God’s purposes would be turned back. But God’s plans for the growth of the church was not dependent on the Jerusalem church. In fact, it was through the scattering of the Jerusalem church that God’s plan would advance.
1. The seed would be planted by individual Christians who preached the word and followed in the apostolic message. Acts 8:5-8 “Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with a loud voice, came out of many who were possessed; and many who were paralyzed and lame were healed. And there was great joy in that city.
C. The church has the potential of being a source of great joy in a joyless world. The message of the gospel is a message of hope and joy. Later in Acts 8 a Spirit guided preacher is sent to the searching heart of the Ethiopian and brings the same message that was preached at Jerusalem. He planted the seed. It brought obedience and joy. Acts 8:35-39 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.
II. The Seed Meets the Soil – Acts. 14 –This is a story of sowing the seed and encountering different types of soil. Vs. 1-4
A. Paul and Barnabas take the gospel to Asia Minor. Antioch (of Pisidia) moving southeast to Iconium, then to Lystra, then to Derbe. This is a thrilling story of how the gospel takes root and many people are brought to Christ. This is a success story. And there is a developing pattern in each city:
B. There is an initial acceptance of the message, and the preachers are encouraged. But not long after the persecution arises and there is a conflict. Through the power of God the confrontation comes to a head, suffering ensues, and the church grows, and God is glorified. .. And then the pattern starts over again because the preaching continues.
III. What are the important elements of the apostle’s work that have application to us today?
A. They preached the gospel (vs. 21) – the same message or seed) in each city. There was no effort made to accommodate the message because of the persecution. Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 2 Corinthians 4:5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. It is always important to keep the message in the front. We cannot attempt to evangelize through making ourselves look appealing and substitute that for the message. (“We are just the church you are looking for” – instead of “this is just the message you need”.)
B. They “made disciples of the Lord” (vs. 21) –Making disciples is what Jesus wanted – Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
1. This passage points to the goal of every evangelist who preaches the gospel, every church that begins a personal work program or a visitation program, every teacher that talks to their neighbor about Jesus – we must make disciples.
a. This involves both baptizing & teaching.
b. Luke 6:40 A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.
C. They “strengthened the souls” (vs. 22) How strong is your soul? Jesus is concerned with making the inner person stronger and healthier – 2 Cor 4:16-18 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
1. We struggle to distinguish between the physical and spiritual, the inner and outer person. If I ask you, “How are you doing” what is the most common reply? To what were you referring? Probably had in mind your body. We mention those things that may be wrong with out bodies – pain in my back, headache, etc. But how are YOU doing? The inner person. Romans 12:2 – And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. We need to strengthen each other’s souls. Use the word to change and improve attitudes. Educate each other on what God’s word teaches. Pray for each other for spiritual development and improvement.
D. They “exhorted them to continue in the faith” (vs. 22) We must make sure that we are not quitting. Some of us may be on the verge of giving up. Who are the most vulnerable, and what can we do to encourage them?
1. Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, Gal 6:9-10 “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. 2 Thess 3:13 “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.
2. Luke tells us that Paul and Barnabas exhorted these brethren to not give up by saying “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” There is not more important message of encouragement to give to those who truly desire to do God ‘s will than that. You and I must suffer.
3. When Paul wrote the church at Thessalonica he was worried that the hard times they were experiencing might turn them away from their previous commitment. 1 Thess 3:1-5 Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith, 3 that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this. 4 For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know. 5 For this reason, when I could no longer endure it, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain. – But Timothy brought Paul a good report – they were remaining steadfast. – Are you?
E. Notice in verse 26 it says they were commended to the Lord for work they had completed. They had done their job – But the book of Acts closes on an unfinished story. Whatever happened to Paul in that prison? What about the apostles commission to make disciples? It is an ongoing process.
Conclusion: We have a serious charge before us: We must
- Preach the gospel
- Make disciples
- Strengthen Souls
- Exhort each other to continue in the faith.