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When I use the expression “the N.T. church” what image comes to your mind? Do you see a church that looks like anything you are familiar with today? I am convinced that God wants us to compare the church today with the church of the 1st Century.
The teaching of the apostles, as ambassadors of Christ, developed a unity of practice and doctrine among the churches of the N.T.
- 1 Cor 4:17 – 7 For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church. Paul’s message was the same in every church.
- The scriptures purposely describe the early church, even in the formation and function of individual congregations, to erect a pattern for all time, every age.
- Last week we looked at the church at Thessalonica as an example of a successful N.T. church.
- Tonight I want to consider the 1st church – the church at Jerusalem.
I. Its Beginning: We are familiar with the beginning of the church at Jerusalem, as it also marks the inauguration of the church universally. The events of Acts 2 fulfilled numerous O.T. prophecies concerning the arrival of the kingdom of God and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It also marks the first time the gospel of Christ was preached, and thus the beginning of men’s responsibility to the law of Christ universally.
A. The church at Jerusalem began just as every church after it would begin – through the preaching of the gospel, and the individual response of faith and baptism.
- Acts 2:40-41 0 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. vs. 47 – And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
B. the church established on the day of Pentecost became a launching pad for the gospel in all parts of the world. Jesus had earlier prophesied that the work would begin here.
- Acts 1:8 – But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
C. After the dispersion of disciples in Acts 8, the gospel is preached elsewhere and churches spring up from Judea to Antioch to Rome. Throughout the Biblical period, this first church continued to play a significant role in the preaching of the gospel.
II. Its Mission: God designed the church with a specific mission. The Lord’s church has had enormous impact on the world as a result of the work of local churches functioning in the way that God designed for them to function. It is hard to argue against the success of the Jerusalem church. Within a short time the church grew to up to 10,000 people (5,000 men – Acts 4:4). This is obviously a growing successful church. What were they devoted to?
- Acts 2:42 – 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
A. These activities describe a spiritual agenda that is by God’s design. The church is not a social club, such as the Kiwanis Club or the Red Cross. Although they were very concerned with the physical needs of one another, the primary goal of their association together was preaching of God’s word and the advancement of God’s spiritual work. When a physical concern was brought to the attention of the apostles, they clearly enunciated the direction of the work of this church. Acts 6:1-5 – Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. 2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said,”It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude… The care of the widows was a vital part of the spiritual work (the apostles did not dismiss the report, but gave into the hands of spiritually qualified men) But there was a priority between serving tables and the ministry of the word, and the apostles said they could leave the word to serve tables. We must not either. Go back to Acts 2:42 and take a closer look at the activity of the Jerusalem church.
B. What did they do? They were continually devoted to:
1. Apostle’s doctrine: We must be devoted to the apostles’ doctrine.
a. The church at Jerusalem was dedicated to teaching others about Christ. Even with the Apostles among them, they recognized their individual responsibility to teach and preach. They taught hose to house, and “those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” ( Acts 8:4) Later in chapter 15 they accepted the apostle’ teaching.
2. The term “fellowship” –literally means “sharing” ; joint participation. How did they continue steadfastly in sharing? Read the next verses…44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. They willing shared each others’ lives…
a. Notice the reoccurrence of this mutual involvement in Acts 4:32-35 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
b. This mutual involvement was:
- entered into by everyone – notice the word “all” three times.
- a natural response to their desire to reverence God – It was a response to worship (everyone was filled with awe). We cannot worship God and remain isolated from each other.
- was genuine and spontaneous, never forced. It was a sincere desire to be involved with others. We see in Acts 5. Ananias and Saphirra prove to be the exception that God does not tolerate because they are insincere.
- was personal sacrifice. – it cost them something to be involved in one another’s lives.
c. This is the picture of fellowship that unfolds before us in the early church. It is as much of an expression of authentic Christianity as baptism for the remission of sins and the one true church. When we look at the expression of fellowship (involvement) in the rest of the N.T. we find the word (Koinonia) about 20 times – expressed in one of two directions:
- in the sense of sharing something with someone, such as food, money, encouragement, time, etc.
- in the sense of sharing in something with someone; such as a mutual endeavor, a hurt, or even a common salvation or relationship in Christ. It is never something done alone. I must be involved with others.
3. The breaking of bread: This is a reference to the practice of the early church to commemorate the death of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Although we are not given any more details concerning this element of worship and the Jerusalem church, we are able to reconstruct the pattern for taking the supper from other passages.
a. worship (including those activities that we do together while assembled) is a priority for the local church. We are to be continually devoted to coming together to worship. Hebrews 10:24-25 – 24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
4. Prayer: The Early Church Prayed – with a view toward accomplishing its purposes.
a. It did not take Satan long to raise his hand against God’s church. In Acts 12 Herod murders James, and arrests Peter with the same intent. Notice how this distressing scene is described. Acts 12:3-5 – 3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. 5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. After God’s angel delivered Peter from prison he went to the house of Mary and found a group of disciples praying (12:12)
b. The prayers of the church are presented as the first line of action, not a passive last resort. God honored their work with true and immediate blessing.
c. Prayer was vital to the work of the apostles. Acts 6:4 – 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” I suggest that much of that prayer was prayer in behalf of others. Paul prayed for others often. For the Roman Christians: Rom 1:9-10- 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers, 10 making request if, by some means, now at last I may find a way in the will of God to come to you.
Conclusion: The church at Jerusalem is a model church for us. It also shows us the proper organization of a local church (with elders and deacons). It did its work unassisted by any human organization and with its own resources.
This church was not made up of perfect people (Ananias & Saphirra), but it was successful in every way. It is significant to recognize that the church under consideration was brand new. Over 3,000 new Christians huddled together in the streets of Jerusalem – no building, no earthly organization (except the apostles), no church programs or structures, not even a completed copy of the law they were under. But they were successful because they did what God gave them to do in God’s way.
It honored its Lord, even in the face of great opposition. All of Satan’s efforts to destroy the Jerusalem church were unsuccessful. The individual faith of the Christians there was the shield that protected it.
Can we be this church?