Characteristics of The Church ~ 20090118~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
1/18 The Church; What we are Called to Be and to Do
We're spending a few weeks looking at the church - who are we and why are we here – and examining ourselves to see if we need to make any adjustments so that we can more fully be who we are called to be.
We looked at Matthew 16 and we saw that the church is a community called out from the world, founded on the identity of Jesus and united by the new birth. The person and work of Jesus – that he is the infinite Son of God, our creator and redeemer, and that he came to die for our sins - is the rock on which the church is built. Individuals are made part of the community by the creative work of God causing them to be born again. Seeing Jesus for who he is is not a natural response to the facts; it is a supernatural work of God in the heart.
Then we looked at the origin and destiny of the church. The church was spoken into existence by the sovereign power of the Lord Jesus Christ, and she will overcome. The one who 'upholds the universe by the word of his power' (Hebrews 1:3) said:
That was a sovereign declaration of purpose, and it will infallibly come to pass. Christ's church will be established, and she will be victorious over death and hell. And we saw that the church Jesus was talking about is spiritual, not physical; the body of Christ composed of all true believers and only believers throughout history and all over the globe.
Today I want to look at the nuts and bolts of what it means to be the church. If we are a local visible expression of Christ's church, what should that look like? What should we be doing?
For that, let's turn to Acts chapter 2, where we have the record of the birth of the church. Jesus had commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit:
In Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, and Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, proclaimed the truth about Jesus. He declared the mighty works of God in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, and that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.
Through Peter's words God worked in the hearts of his hearers and ...
That day the church was birthed by the Holy Spirit. The question I want to ask today is 'what characterized the church; what did the church do?' The next verse answers our question:
Four things characterized the new church; apostles' teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and the prayers. These four things the newborn church devoted themselves to. This is what the church was committed to.
First on the list was the apostles' teaching. This is absolutely stunning when you think for a minute about the background of the apostles. They were a bunch of fishermen from the wrong side of town, a tax collecting thief, and a radical religious zealot. The portrait we get in the gospels is that they were clueless most of the time. Jesus would speak metaphorically, and they thought he was talking about food. Jesus tried to teach them about servanthood, and they argued about who was the greatest. They tried to tell Jesus what he should and shouldn't say. Jesus was on his way to the cross and they argued about who would get the positions of authority in the kingdom. He asked them to pray and they fell asleep. When he was arrested, they all ran away. When questioned, Peter denied he even knew Jesus.
Jesus himself said:
After the crucifixion, they all went into hiding. When they were told about the resurrection, they didn't believe.
These are the apostles whose teaching the new believers in Jesus devoted themselves to. These are the men that the church looked to for leadership and direction. No wonder Jesus commanded them to do nothing but wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them! There must have been a major transformation in these men. Jesus certainly packed much instruction into the 40 days between his resurrection and ascension. Praise God for the promise of Jesus
The apostles and their teaching served as the foundation of the church. The apostles taught that Jesus was the promised Messiah, King of the Jews, the fulfillment of all the prophecies, and that he was crucified as a substitute for the sins of the people.
Peter himself understood his role as foundational. In 2 Peter, he wrote to the Christians:
Peter knew he was going to die, and he wanted to leave a written record for the future. Later in the book he referred to Paul's writings as scripture:
The church was devoted to the apostles' teaching about Jesus, and we now have their teaching recorded in the New Testament. We must devote ourselves to the apostle's doctrine.
The second thing the believers devoted themselves to was fellowship. You wouldn't think fellowship would be something that you would have to devote yourself to. Fellowship should just happen naturally. Fellowship results from the sharing of interests or experiences. There is a certain camaraderie that naturally flows from shared interest. But the Greek word for fellowship is much deeper and richer than our English word. The word is koinwnia koinonia and can denote supportive friendship and encouragement, partnership based on a common belief, practical financial and moral support, personal participation and involvement.
The early church was passionate about a common theme – the apostles' doctrine. They were passionate about Jesus Christ. Jesus was the rallying point that united the believers. Because of their passion for Jesus, they took Jesus' command seriously:
This is no warm feeling for one another. This is not cozy conversation over coffee. This is not 'I will help you as long as it doesn't inconvenience me greatly or interrupt my plans'. This is a hardcore commitment regardless of cost to the bitter end. Come blood, sweat and tears, I will lay down my life for you for the sake of the Name. I am glad to sacrifice time and energy, family and convenience and comfort, even life and limb for my brothers and sisters in the cause of Christ. The fellowship that is mentioned here is a radical revolutionary counter-intuitive costly thing. This is the camaraderie of men in the trenches of war. Everything is at stake. Everything is on the line. Everything is sacrificed for the sake of the cause. One thing matters, and we will do what it takes. Brothers and sisters, we are in a war. Jesus has told us to storm the gates of hell and set the captives free. We need to live like we are in a war. We must devote ourselves to that kind of fellowship.
The third thing that the early disciples devoted themselves to was the breaking of bread. That sounds weird. Would they storm the bakery section of the local grocery store and destroy all the biscuits and bagels?
Breaking of bread was a symbol given by Jesus to remember his sacrifice
This is something the believers did regularly together:
Breaking bread together is an intimate fellowship with the believers and with the risen Christ
Breaking bread together, or taking communion, or the Lord's supper is a sacred act of worship and reflection on Jesus' finished work on the cross. Breaking bread is a tangible physical act of remembering Jesus. We must devote ourselves to remember.
The last thing mentioned in Acts 2:42 that the early church devoted themselves to is 'the prayers'.
Followers of Jesus are devoted to the prayers. Prayer is an intimate form of communion with God, and in prayer we come to God with the expectation that he is both able and willing to help us. Prayer is a personal conversation with the holy God. This is an utter impossibility apart from God's great mercy and grace. God is perfect in holiness and we are sinners that dare not approach him except for judgment. But through the blood of Jesus, God opened the way for us to approach him boldly and with confidence. God is a person, so we can address him in a personal and specific way. We can pray with confidence knowing that our prayers will be answered when they are in agreement with his will. Genuine prayer is not merely words, but a humble submission of our whole person to God. When we develop the habit of continual prayer, we orient our lives Godward. Prayer is primarily coming to God asking. We have needs and God has the supply. We are weak and he is strong. We are small and powerless and he is great and mighty to save. We are incompetent and he is all-sufficient. We are dependent and he is self-existent.
Let's look at the rest of Acts 2 and see the attitude of the church.
They were characterized by a sense of awe at the awesome works of God. They received everything with glad and generous hearts. The were constantly praising God. And by God's grace, they were multiplying.
Let us be devoted to the truth of scripture, the apostles' teaching, devoted to a rugged genuine hearty fellowship, devoted to remembering Jesus, his person and his finished work, devoted to passionately pursuing him in prayer and having our needs met and our longings satisfied in him. Let us be who we are called to be. Let us be the church.