This is the third part of our series ‘What is the Church?’
In Part 01, we focused on the Founder and Head of the Church, who is Jesus Christ.
In Part 02, we defined what Church is - the ekklesia or ‘called out’ assembly of people who believe that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah, the Son of the living God. The universal church consists of these born-again believers from the Day of Pentecost until the Lord’s return.
In Part 03, we will look at what does the church actually do?
Acts 2:42-47 (KJV) And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
On the surface, a church gatherings could resemble a variety of other kinds of gathering: community picnic, sporting club, a fun day out. From all appearances, church people dress and act can look like others: laughing, talking, eating, and listening.
Yet, the church is distinct from any other type of human gathering. Using the above text of Acts 2, here are some of the main things that churches can do:
1. Apostles’ doctrine (teaching, Bible study, etc.). In Acts, the church was instructed in the things that the apostles of Jesus learned while He was with them - as well as what the Holy Spirit taught since the Day of Pentecost. For us today, ‘apostles’ doctrine’ means the teachings of Scripture, practically applied to our lives today. When people don’t know or understand the Word of God, they will go into error (Psalm 119:105; Matt. 22:29).
2. Fellowship (koinonia): Sharing, caring, communication, communion, fellowship, association, participation. Christian fellowship is far more than ‘a few mates’ spending time together. It means deep sharing spawned out of deep caring (see point 6). The church should be inclusive, not exclusive. Unfriendliness, cliques, and snobbery have a no place in a Biblical, Spirit-filled church;
3. Breaking of bread: can mean the breaking of a large, oblong loaf a bread. It can mean food of any kind, like a normal meal. We often associate this with the Church ’ordinance’ of holy communion, also known as the Eucharist. Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal Christianity has two ordinances. Water baptism and holy communion. One ordinance we do once; the other we do regularly. There were probably meals eaten ‘at church,’ not just taking communion.
4. Prayers: The Greek word proseuchē can mean a simple prayer aimed to Almighty God. It can also speak of a place of prayer, like a synagogue or the open air. Regardless of the venue, the power of corporate prayer is undeniable.
5. Acts of power (V. 43): The church is a place where the ‘supernatural’ is ‘natural’ or normal. They were clearly a Spirit-filled community (Acts 2:4) and acts of power were the result. While many churches treat the supernatural aspects of Christian living as belonging only to the First Century AD, the century-old outpouring the of the Holy Spirit is meant to enhance our connection to the supernatural.
6. Community (V. 44-45): Believers were together and shared in common. This means they took care of each others needs. It is like a family. Some people look at this as a ancient form of communism; but it was not. Communism was coercive, the church voluntary; communism was atheistic, the church totally God-centred; communism failed, the church thrives. In the western world, we would do well to recapture the sense of community where ‘caring and sharing’ are normative; the Christian Church is the best place to do it.
7. Praise and worship (V. 47; Hebrews 13:15): We are called to be a Spirit-filled (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:16; Jude 20), in order to function powerfully and properly. Praising God, along with prayer and the other things mentioned, truly set the church apart. The born-again, Spirit-filled church is a church that praises God continually and whole-heartedly. God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3) and miracles occur in the atmosphere of praise and faith. Other items not directly mentioned in Acts 2:42-47 include:
8. Pastoral care: (I Peter 5:1-3). Contrary to popular opinion, the church does not exist to ‘meet my needs.’ It exists to honour, worship, and serve God. Yet, because of the spirit of koinonia and love, the church is meant to be a place that truly cares for its own. Pastoral care is important but it need not be limited to full-time pastors. The members of the caring sharing community can all provide care for its members. That’s one of the benefits of home groups; it spreads the pastoral care load around.
9. Obedience: attending church is in obedience to God’s command (Hebrews 10:25); yet church is not just a duty, but a delight.
10. Discipline: (Matthew 18:15-17; II Corinthians 13:1-10). Church gives us not just fellowship, but accountability. It allows good, Godly, mature people to speak into our lives. Without discipline, we will go astray. It is for our good.
When the church properly functions properly, Acts 2:47 is fulfilled:
1. Praising God;
2. Favour with the people;
3. The LORD will add to the church those who are being saved.
Next time: what is the mission of the church?