Acts 2: 41-47
The Marks of a Great Church
The Church at Jerusalem serves as a model for every
church on what God expects His churches to look like. The Church at Jerusalem was not seeking after greatness, but she attained it because each member did what God called them to do.
In the Bible we see two extremes: the Church at Jerusalem and the Church at Corinth. The Church at Jerusalem did things right while the Church at Corinth did things wrong. Inside the Church at Corinth there was contention, carnality, and corruption.
The Church at Jerusalem was very different: everybody was involved and interested. The members gave, prayed, witnessed, and worked.
Tonight, may we make the Church at Jerusalem our pattern and seek to be that kind of Church.
In our verses tonight we are gong to behold what the first church looked like at beginning. I want you to see how our text defines what it is that makes a church a church. There are a few defining characteristics, or marks, or essentials of the church that this passage lays bare. So let’s go back through the passage and see what are the marks of a great church.
I. It was marked by TRUTH - “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine”
“Continued steadfastly” - persistence, it means, “to be earnest toward, . . . to persevere, be constantly diligent, . . . to adhere closely to.” These disciples were wholeheartedly committed to, passionately dedicated to, zeroed in on and focused upon the things mentioned.
Here was a church based on the Word of God. It says they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine. They were a church that taught and preached the word of God.
Don’t ever, ever allow anybody to stand in this pulpit who
is not committed to teaching and preaching of the word of God. That’s a vital thing.
When Paul writes to Timothy and Titus he says the same
thing over and over. Preach sound doctrine. Preach the Word. Preach the word.
It is no accident that doctrine comes first. It should always come first. Precept should determine practice. Experience must always be tested by doctrine not doctrine by experience.
We live in a day where churches often minimize and even disdain sound doctrine. Instead, emphasis is placed on emotional
experience and feelings.
In the last three letters that Paul wrote to his younger pastors, Timothy and Titus, you find him emphasizing again and again the need for sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:13, 16; Titus 1:9). In his final appeal to Timothy, just before his martyrdom, Paul gives the strongest possible admonition (2 Tim. 4:1-2a). He goes on to warn Timothy that the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but will accumulate teachers who tell them what they want to hear.
A great church must be devoted to sound doctrine.
A great church places a high premium upon the truth of the Word of God.
Has not downsizing become a major factor in business
economics? Major home staples such as coffee, soap bars, washing powder, napkins, paper towels, frozen foods, and dozens of other items have been downsized in recent years. Practicing commercial deception, the manufacturers’ packages oftentimes still look as large as they formerly did but do not contain the same amounts, having been gradually reduced in content. Purchasers are paying more while obtaining less, without clear notification.
On a religious scale, the same tragic process is occurring today, as the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3) is being downsized by many church leaders.
A. DOWNSIZING THE SCRIPTURES
In many churches, modern translations are
gradually replacing the accurate, reliable KJV. In some churches, the saints are getting less and less of the KJV and more and more of the new translations based on the apostate liberal critical text.
The NASV and the NIV are just two of the many
versions available to a gullible religious public today. Yet the average Christian believes he still possesses the same content as his former KJV.
The verbal preservation of Scripture, the triune God, the deity of Christ, the blood atonement of Christ, the resurrection of Christ, and the old fashioned doctrine of repentance are representative of the truths that are being downsized, diminished, and deleted.
B. DOWNSIZING THE SERMONS
Many sermons today have been downsized with
regard to doctrine. Solid Biblical exposition of Scriptural doctrines is being diminished, neglected, and ignored. A feel-good easy lifestyle Christianity that emphasizes happiness rather than holiness is replacing sound Bible teaching.
The "elders" in a rapidly growing "Bible" church in
Southeastern Maine were asked by a newspaper reporter to define the reasons for the swift attendance growth the church was experiencing. Believe it or not, the elders in this "Bible" church reported that one of the major reasons was the "de-emphasis upon… doctrine!"
Bible doctrine never goes out of date! Neither does Biblical terminology!
The duration of services and sermons is being downsized. We now have preacherettes, preaching sermonettes, that are producing Christianettes!
Even the direction of the sermons has changed.
Eternal values are out, while temporal values are in; holiness is out, while happiness is in.
A return to the Biblical scriptures and Biblical sermons is an urgent imperative.
Economic downsizing may succeed in the business world, but it must never be utilized in the spiritual realm. The faith once delivered to the saints has a set of Scriptural dimensions that must never be altered or changed. Toying with God’s unchangeable declarations is dangerous and diabolic activity.
See II Timothy 4:3.
People refuse what they need - sound doctrine
People receive what they like - own prejudices and preferences dictate what they want. The churches of today have disregarded the truth but not the early church.
III. It was marked by the TIE - the tie which binds our hearts is love- they continued in “fellowship.”
Here was fellowship born out of love for each other.
The early church had fellowship.
We all have the same common eternal life. We all have the same Spirit of God. We all are gonna spend eternity together. God’s design is for His people to fellowship. This young beautiful church had fellowship.
We cannot have love for Christ and not love His children (I John 5:1).
A. To have fellowship, we must be truly saved.
Those added to the fellowship were those whom the Lord was saving (2:47). While some who were not saved may have attended both their large gatherings and their home meetings, they were not truly a part of the fellowship until the Lord saved them.
We get saved by putting our trust in Jesus Christ as the one who bore the judgment for our sins on the cross. As soon as a person gets saved, he shares Christ in common with all others who are saved. Salvation by grace through faith in Christ is the basis of all true fellowship.
B. To have fellowship, we must be together.
You can’t have fellowship if you don’t gather with the church.
If you only attend the Sunday morning service, but never spend time getting to know the other saints on a deeper level (house to house or restaurant to restaurant!), you will not enjoy the fellowship that God intends for you.
C. To have fellowship, we must labor together in the things of God.
“All that believed were together.” WHAT A STATEMENT
D. To have fellowship, we must share together.
The believers were so bonded that if one was in need, the others did not feel they had the right to live on in prosperity without giving up something to meet the need. So they would sell possessions and use the money to meet the needs of the poor in the church. They were a sacrificial people.
If we have this world’s goods and see
our brother in need and close up our hearts against him, we should question whether God’s love abides in us (1 John 3:17)
III. It was marked by the TABLE - “breaking of bread”
Now some would say this verse does not allude to the
Lord’s Supper, but it would hardly seem necessary to state
that these Christians kept on eating their daily meals.
The Lord’s Supper represents the most hallowed time a church gathers. It is an act of worship and reflection which ought to be the best attended service of the church.
We seem to have lost some of the majesty and mystery of the Lord’s Supper in our day which is evident by the neglect of attention and attendance upon it. It is a time of deep reflection upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is a time to consider the greatness of our Lord, the mystery of the providence of God in calling us out of sin and into His grace. It is a time to consider the depth of our unworthiness and the solitary worthiness of our great God.
The Lord’s Supper keeps our priorities and focus right since when we partake in it we remember the gracious work of Christ and how we are Christians because of what He has done, not because of anything we have done.
It is quite likely that the Lord’s Supper was often combined with the so-called "Agape Feast," which was a gathering of the brethren to enjoy fellowship with one another around a meal. They each shared what they could so that none would be lacking. However, the focal point of the meal was that time in which the Body observed the Lord’s Supper. At its very core, it was a magnificent time of worship.
The Table causes us look back at the Cross. We should never get far from the cross.
Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
Near the cross, a trembling soul,
Love and mercy found me;
There the Bright and Morning Star
Sheds its beams around me,
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.
Near the cross I’ll watch and wait
Hoping, trusting ever,
Till I reach the golden strand,
Just beyond the river.
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.
IV. It was marked by the THRONE - “in prayers”
While the early church cherished their times of prayer, it seems that the modern church does not have much time for praying. How the modern church has drifted from the early pattern of the church!
Any pastor knows that if you want to kill your attendance at a service, just announce that it will be a prayer time. No wonder there is so little revival in our land and so little spiritual power in our churches. The church today has snubbed the prayer meeting as if it was a non-essential part of our church life.
The attention to "prayers" that the early church gave should cause us to re-think our own prayer lives. Do you limit your praying by failing to avail yourself of the breadth of prayer? Do you spend time regularly in prayer?
In our personal and family life, prayer ought to be a normal, frequent response when a personal problem arises or when you talk about someone who is facing a problem. Prayer acknowledges our total dependence on the living Lord.
There is nothing else in which the church has departed more notably and more lamentably from the early church than in this matter of prayer. We live in an age of hustle and bustle, of man’s efforts and man’s determination, of man’s confidence in himself and in his own power to achieve things, an age of human organization and human machinery, human push and human scheming, and human achievement, which in the things of God means no real achievement at all.
I think it would be perfectly safe to say that the church was never in all its history so fully, so skillfully, so thoroughly, and so perfectly organized as it is today. Organization without God’s power is nothing.
I believe that the devil stands and looks at the church today and laughs as he beholds how the church depend on their own scheming and powers of organization and skillfully devised machinery. He does not care if we have our beautiful church buildings, our multi-thousand-dollar church organs, our brilliant university-bred preachers, our wonderful quartets, our Bible conferences, and our special evangelistic services. It does not in the least bother him, if we just leave out of them all the power of the Lord God Almighty sought and obtained by the earnest, persistent, believing prayer.
However, you let the devil see church on its face before God in prayer, he trembles for he knows that his day in that church or community is at an end.
“Prayer is the key that unlocks all the storehouses of God’s infinite grace and power. All that God is, and all that God has, are at the disposal of prayer. Prayer can do anything that God can do, and as God can do anything, prayer is omnipotent.”
No one can stand against the church that knows how to pray. The Lord God Omnipotent works from such a church him and works through such a church.
Note verse 47. They had favour with all the people--commending themselves to the people. When God’s children dwell steadfastly in unity, it commends itself to other. When God’s people dwell steadfastly around the things that the early church did, it is a convincing testimony to the lost and there the Lord commanded the blessing of souls being saved.
When the church manifest sincerity, united in affections and efforts, steadfastness, and earnestness in the cause of Christ, it may be expected that this church will behold many being added to the church of such “as shall be saved.”