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  What Is the Church?

Acts 2:42-47

Jim Davis

One Sunday morning, the preacher noticed little Alex was staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church.

It was covered with names and small American flags were mounted on either side of it. The seven-year-old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the preacher walked up, stood beside the little boy, and said quietly, "Good morning, Alex."

"Good morning, preacher," replied the young man, still focused on the plaque. "Preacher, what is this?" "Well, son, it's a memorial to all the young men and women who died while in the service."

Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little Alex's voice was barely audible when he asked, "Which service, the 9:45 or the 11:00?"

We can be almost as confused about the church as this little boy was about those dying in services.

If you go through the yellow pages of the phone book, you can find a church to teach almost anything you want to believe. You can find a church to help you express yourself in worship in almost any way you feel comfortable. A very common call I receive is people inquiring, "Do you have a contemporary or a traditional worship service?" I have discovered one thing about answering this question, no matter how politely you answer, if you don't have the kind of worship service they are looking for they will not respond positive to your invitation to them to attend the service.

We have many members of the church of Christ looking for a worship service that makes them comfortable. They are also looking for congregations to teach them what they want to be taught.

In consideration of all this, I would like to ask, "What is the church?" Is it a place? Is it an organization? Is it a set of doctrines? Is it a particular style of worship? Is it a fellowship of people? Is it a religion? We may think that every church is made up of all these things. This is true, but do these things in and of themselves make us the church of Christ? What actually makes us the church of Christ? And perhaps the most important question of all is this, "Does what we believe about the church really make any difference?"

If we want to know what the church is we need to lay down the yellow pages of our phone books and pick up our Bibles. The most concise description of the original church is found in the following verses.

Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he 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. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)

The Saved Added to the Church

In the last sentence of these verses Luke writes, "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." The King James Version says, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." (Acts 2:47 KJV) This one sentence describes the church as those who are being saved. Of course, in the context of the passage it is understood that they were being saved from their sins.

Luke reveals that those being added to the assembly of the saved were those who were called upon to repent of their sins and to be baptized.

Acts 2:36-39
"'Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.'

"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?'

"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call'" (NIV).

The primary issue with the church of the first century was salvation from sin. The promise of salvation here in Acts 2 is for all persons for all times. The call that is extended to all is not to come and join a church so you can be saved; the call is to be saved so that God can add you to the assembly of the saved. Salvation is found from sin as we obey Christ's call to repentance, it is then that God adds us to his church.

The New Testament portrays Christ as head of his body, which is his church (Ephesians 1:22-23). Then Paul says that Christ is the savior of the church.

Ephesians 5:23, 25-27
"For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (NIV).

The church can't save us, but Christ can. However, this raises a question, "If the church can't save us, is the church important?" The church is as important as your salvation. If it is important for you to be saved, then the church is important, for the church is made up of those who have been saved. To say the church is unimportant would be the same as saying salvation is unimportant.

It is easy to lose sight of what the church is today because most want to define the church by a body of doctrines, a style of worship or a set of rituals. The first church we read of in Acts was a church the moment the first person was baptized into Christ. It was a church before it sang its first song of praise to God; it was a church before it had its first communion. The church came into existence the moment the first person was baptized into Christ upon his/her repentance from sin and baptism into Christ. Membership in Christ church is dependent upon only one thing---you must allow Christ to save you from sin and add you to the church.

Acts 2:40-41
"With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day" (NIV).

Church Devoted to Apostle's Teaching

Luke records that the Lord was adding to the church those who were "being saved." I like the term "being saved," for it is indicative of a continual action. This makes it clear that those who became members of Christ's church continued to enhance their lives by sincerely seeking Christ's will for their lives after baptism.

When you die with Christ in baptism, you are resurrected to a new live in Christ.

Romans 6:3-4
"Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (NIV).

Being saved doesn't stop the moment Christ adds us to the church. It is true that being saved places us in a state of grace where our sins are no longer held against us, but grace also holds us responsible to continue in the teaching of Christ in an attitude of repentance as we seek to allow Christ to salvage our lives from sin.

That first century church was devoted to the apostle's teaching. The picture here is that they devoted themselves to understanding the will of God for themselves. Two many in the religious world are relying upon what they are told, rather than seeking to know Christ for themselves.

Those seeking Christ in the first century were personally searching the scriptures for themselves. We need to know for ourselves, what others say may be helpful, but we need a personal knowledge of Christ's will.

Acts 17:10-12
"As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men" (NIV).

A devotion to the apostles teaching went beyond simply embracing an intellectual knowledge of Christ. The result of their devotion was that they persevered in or they adhered to the apostles teaching. They carried out their Christian responsibilities. They did not seek salvation and then forsake Christ.

Today the word doctrine is used in a technical sense. It refers to abstract views contained in the Bible. It refers to a collection of teaching, but in the first century continuing in doctrine referred to adhering one’s life to teaching of Christ. It meant that they accepted their Christian duties with extreme devotion.

There is a ministry to be done in setting forth the teaching of Christ, but there is another ministry that is equally important, that is living the word.

Acts 6:1-4
"In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word'" (NIV).

We must grow in grace and knowledge.

2 Peter 3:17-18
"Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen" (NIV).

Church Devoted to Fellowship

The first century Christians was not only devoted to the word, but they were also devoted to the fellowship of fellow believers. This idea of fellowship meant a participation in whatever befell the church. They participated in conversation, in prayers, in dangers, in sharing of property, as well as breaking of bread. They were banded together with common interests, with common dangers, with common conflicts despite their differences in opinions.

Acts 2:43-47
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he 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" (NIV).

The first century disciples met together in the temple. They weren't just there, but they were devoted to meeting at the temple. As Jews they had been accustomed to meeting at the temple daily for prayer at nine in the morning and at three in the afternoon. They did not constantly stay at the temple, but they were there daily.

Can you imagine the commotion at the temple after Christ death? Christ no doubt was the hottest topic of the day. The veil of the temple had been torn into at Christ's death. What an opportunity to tell others about Christ.

Acts 5:12-14
The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number" (NIV).

Fellowship went beyond simply meeting for worship services. "All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." There was a richness about the first century fellowship that seems difficult for us to grasp. They fellowshipped at the temple, from house to house, and from person to person as they sought to help those in need.

There was a special concern for the needy.

Acts 4:31-37
"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

"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.

"Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet" (NIV).

The phrase "by hook or by crook" is an old expression that is now seldom used. Its origin goes back to the Middle Ages when many of the forests belonged to the feudal landlords. The peasants were not permitted to cut down the trees, but they were free to take for heating and cooking all the underbrush and twigs they could reach "by hook or by crook." This meant that whatever could be trimmed with a pruning hook or pulled down with a shepherd's crook was theirs. Although the landowners seemed benevolent in allowing this, it actually served their own ends, for it kept their wooded areas clear of undesirable growth and dead limbs which needed to be removed anyway. This illustrates the way unregenerate men often give. They gladly part with the things they don't need and even bestow favors on others. These gestures may soothe their conscience or cater to their pride but are contrary to the warmhearted attitude God desires.

Acts 6:1-4
"In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word'" (NIV).

Continuing in the apostles’ doctrine necessitated continually talking to each other about God. It meant that they continually helped each other. Their fellowship was not broken. Their motivation for doing so was made possible by a continued focus on what Christ had done for them. The breaking of bread, or what we call the Lord’s Supper or communion was the single means to keep them focused.

There was simplicity and a singleness of heart that ruled as they devoted their lives to each other. Eugene Peterson says a "Community ... means people who have to learn how to care for each other."

Conclusion:

The invitation Peter gave to sinners on Pentecost was short and simple.

Acts 2:40-41
"With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day" (NIV).

Although Christ is the Savior of the church, there is a sense in which you must save yourself. You must accept Christ’s salvation.

This is something that the church cannot do for you. The church is made up of only those who are saved, but the church cannot save you. Christ will save you and add you to the church.

 

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